I’m always interested in clothing that is different. Other than the fancies of fashion, very little changes in menswear. So if a piece is cut, woven or treated differently, I want to know why.
North Sea Clothing sweaters are different. They are itchy. They smell funny. And they have extremely long ribbing on the waist and cuffs.
These are all deliberate ways to try and recreate knitwear from the 1920s and 1930s that was used by seamen, explorers and general outdoorsy types. The founder of North Sea, Neil Starr, used to deal in vintage clothing and loved the old naval sweaters that came in. But eventually the supply dried up. Several years later, he decided to recreate them.
The sweaters are itchy because they are made with untreated British wool. No merino, no cashmere and, for the cream sweaters, no dye. The ‘Explorer’ that I got a while ago was unpleasantly itchy to start with. Neil recommended washing it (on a gentle, cool wash) and the it was much improved. I’d still recommend wearing a shirt or long-sleeve T-shirt underneath it though. m
The lack of treatment also means the sweaters smell of sheep. The lanolin, the natural oil sheep have in their wool to keep the water out, is left in. This makes the sweaters highly water resistant. Apparently some people love it, others don’t. I like it, in the same way I like the dirty patina on a waxed jacket. The lanolin will come out with washing though, so that smell doesn’t last forever.
The cut comes from those old naval sweaters. Extended ribbing on the cuffs and at the waist meant that when you stretched to pull on a rope, or climbed a ladder, the sleeve or body didn’t ride up and let in the cold sea air.
The design has been modified slightly in other ways. Those old submariners had very big, open necks, so they were easy to pull on over overalls (slightly contradictory, that) and short arms so there was no risk of anything getting stuck in machinery. The body has been slimmed down as well, which together with the long ribbing makes for a very flattering cut.
North Sea Clothing sweaters are all knitted in England. And for between £125 and £165, they are good value. But most importantly, they do what they're meant to: they are very warm. The Explorer is my default cold-day sweater, with a bespoke tweed overcoat and a pair of Wolverine boots. Nice.