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The Fair Isle knit is one of the cosiest essentials of the season. Since Paul McCartney made it his thing in the 1970s, the classic festive piece fast became a winter mainstay that’s no longer reserved for folk singers or isolated novelists in wind-swept cabins. The thick, Scottish style not only keeps you warm through cold-weather seasons, but it looks effortlessly cool, and is an easy way to add some colour and pattern to your outfit without going too bold or too Christmassy – which is why we believe it deserves a place in your modern day wardrobe – even though it has a storied past. Let us elaborate.

There are a number of theories about where the Fair Isle knit – a technique used to knit patterns in multiple colours – originated. It may have been that a ship from the Spanish Armada was wrecked on Fair Isle carrying a similar Moorish pattern knit; it may be owed to the Vikings; or it may have made it's way to Scotland through trade routes with Baltic nations. Whatever its true origin, it’s likely that the women of the Shetland Island of Fair Isle would already have been adept knitters, who quickly picked up the intricate pattern and made it their own.

Today, Fair Isle knits are not exclusively made in the Shetlands and are knitted using hand framing machines rather than the traditional double pointed needles, but the style lives on and has continued to gain popularity in the last century. 

The style really made its mark on the fashion scene in 1921 when Prince Edward, who was considered something of a fashion icon at that time, began wearing them publicly. Now they’re an international cold-weather favourite.

And it's no wonder. Fair Isle knits add a subtle, heritage-style point of interest to an otherwise plain sweater, making them an excellent choice for dull winter days when you want to bring a little something more to your look. It’s still refined and rooted in British history, but makes an impactful statement that you don’t need to be a royal or a Beetle to pull off.

So how do you pull it off in a way that feels right for today? We'd suggest pairing yours with tonal cord trousers and smart shoes for an easy yet considered winter outfit that will serve you just as well in the pub as it would braving the Shetland elements.


Words: Ella White
Photography: Angus Williams
Styling: Freddie Kemp