Wednesday, January 16, 2008


One of the problems with living in Houston is that we don't really have winters here. Well, that's not that much of a problem, of course. Not having real winters means that we don't have to deal with snow, high winter heating bills, or frozen pipes; and that is a good thing. However, the fact that the temperature in Houston might get below freezing three or four times a year certainly does put a damper on wearing winter clothes; and winter clothes usually have more style than summer clothes. Winter has tweed and flannel and loden. What does summer have? Linen? I like linen just fine, but it really can't compete with tweed for character. And winter has sweaters, too. I love sweaters. They're useful, and there are so many characterful sweaters available, from chunky hand-knit Aran sweaters to colorful Fair Isle ones to cashmere in every conceivable configuration. I have an Aran sweater, and I like it very much. The problem is that in the two years I've owned it, it's gotten cold enough to wear it exactly twice.

So what's a sweater-loving Houstonian to do? Well, fine-gauge merino sweaters have provided the best answer that I know of. They come in a wide array of colors, and they're just the right weight for Houston winters. And, since the good ones are knitted from high-grade merino wool, they're also decidedly unscratchy. Best of all, they're ubiquitous. Here are some sources:
  1. Brooks Brothers -- Brooks will typically sell these in about 5 or 7 different colors in four different styles: polo, V-neck, crew neck, and sweater vest. List price is around $90, but they're forever running sales. Right now, all of their winter sweaters are 50% off. These are made in Hong Kong, and they're not bad. But the wool isn't as fine as I would like, and they have trouble holding their shape after repeated wearings. They also have a tendency to pill.
  2. Four in Hand -- Four in Hand is based in Brooklyn, New York, and it is run by Jonathan Fischer. Jonathan's merino sweaters are made in Italy by Sartori, which does private-label work for several big-name designer labels. He has crew necks, polos, mock turtlenecks, and cardigans in three or four colors per style with prices ranging from $80 to $130, depending on style. In my favored style, the crew neck, the sweaters are less expensive than the ones from Brooks Brothers, and they're much better. The wool is not scratchy at all. They hold their shape, They don't pill appreciably, even after a lot of wearings. They're great sweaters, and they ought to cost more than they do. And, of course, Jonathan is a fantastic merchant all the way around.
  3. Zimmerli -- Zimmerli is known for its fantastically expensive underwear, but they make other knitwear, too, including fine-gauge merino sweaters in many, many colors and just about every style imaginable. They're the best that I've seen. The merino is extremely fine, and the knit is thin and hard-finished. They're durable, and I have never seen them pill AT ALL. They're also the most expensive of the three that I've mentioned, ranging in price from $144 for a sweater vest to $195 for a polo sweater. And they've recently discontinued the turtleneck (who cares?) and the crew neck (what are they thinking?).
There are other makers out there, of course, ranging from Gran Sasso (which makes private-label sweaters for just about every independent men's store in the United States) to LL Bean (made in China), but I don't have a whole lot of experience with them. Given the options that I have and the number of these sweaters that I need, I probably won't try them, either. For my money, Zimmerli offers the best quality and Four in Hand the best value.

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