Paul Galvin: Nice knits!
Jumpers, sweaters, pullovers... Paul Galvin wonders if the wool is being pulled over our eyes
Published 16/04/2011 | 05:00
When is a jumper not a jumper? When it's a dress, that's when. Yes, men of Ireland -- and beyond, as I gather this column is now being read from NYC to Sydney -- it brings me no particular pleasure to tell you that all those years of jumper wearing have been a sham.
Those early childhood memories you hold so dearly of mommy telling you to lift one arm and then the other, as she stuffed your pudgy arm down the sleeve of an itchy woollen Aran pullover, are not what they seem.
Pullover? How apt! It was a pullover all right, moms. Ye pulled the wool over our eyes. Ye didn't dress us, ye cross-dressed us! I need to phone my counsellor.
In the name of research, I searched for a definition of the word 'jumper'. There are three, two of which are pretty straightforward. Only in the convoluted lexicon of couture could a word as common as jumper mean something completely contradictory.
The word in a sporting context couldn't be more straightforward: Jumper -- one who jumps. Mechanics the world over are in no doubt that a jumper is one half of a pair of leads used to start a car engine. They haven't been duped into using them as earrings.
In a fashion context, it has to mean something entirely opposed to what it should: Jumper -- a sleeveless dress worn over a shirt. Excuse me while I question everything I thought I knew.
Maybe my American aunts were right all along: it's sweaters I've been wearing all these years. After all, a sweater is a crocheted or knitted garment worn over the upper part of the body. As opposed to one who perspires a lot.
Whatever it was I was wearing this week, it's not entirely my style. Jumpers or sweaters are a bit boring for my liking. The navy, fine-gauge, woollen hooded pullover is very cool, though. Made by Oliver Spencer and stocked exclusively in one of my favourite stores in Dublin, Indigo & Cloth, the fabric and fit make it something I would definitely wear.
Indigo & Cloth is located on South William Street in a basement that's quite easy to miss. It took me a while to locate it, but I suspect that's just how the owner Gareth Pitcher likes it.
Stocking exclusive labels and attractive to a certain type of customer who values well-made, unique clothing, this is not so much a store as a space; a real New York-style boutique with a minimalist appeal and a selection of great magazines, books and mini-zines to browse or buy -- it's one of those stores where shopping is an experience. They also cater for women with labels such as Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair and Nude Johansson, a women's line from ACNE.
Like ACNE creator Jonny Johansson, Oliver Spencer is remarkable in that he's a self-taught tailor and designer. For me, that gives clothes and a brand a certain appeal. Indigo & Cloth likes to champion unique labels that have an individuality and independence that sets them apart. A bit like this independent boutique itself. And I'd like to champion them for that.
Spencer is a British designer whose tailoring and craftsmanship makes his clothes feel like garments; well-constructed and durable. If there's a difference between a piece of clothing and a garment, then this jumper is it. For me, a garment is a really authentic and traditional piece of clothing.
A good mate of mine who likes his threads and knows his brands advised me years ago to buy a John Smedley jumper. I never did. I should have.
Smedley is another British designer in the traditional mould making polo shirts, shirts, cardigans and pullovers using very fine merino wool and jersey. The merino wool in the polo shirt is a fabric so fine that you hardly feel it on you. I love the colour, though polo shirts aren't really my thing.
What can I say about the oatmeal cardigan and floral shirt? I could be eaten for breakfast wearing that. Though the colour of the cardigan is nice, florals are not really my thing.
I have many cardigans and have worn them for years. I'm not a fan of woollen ones, however, as I like a slimmer silhouette. They're versatile and can work with many different looks. I've gone right off them in the recent past, though, and started wearing shirts buttoned at the top and open at the bottom over T-shirts and vests.
It's funny in fashion how you can wake up one morning and cringe at the thought of wearing something you loved going to sleep. I'm sure cardigans will make a return soon. It's a fickle business.
The 1980s weren't a great time for jumpers. I remember wearing some awful creations when I was young -- woollen ones with ridiculous patterns -- though I remember a few decent ones too, such as a grey sweater with 14 on the front that I wore back to front, so I had the number on my back.
Then there was a red-and -grey one, which was a little like an Arsenal jersey. Urban Outfitters and Topman do sporty, college-type sweaters which are cool but difficult to wear in Ireland. When do you wear them? They're quite warm and carry prints and slogans, so they need to be worn as outerwear in order to be seen. The trouble is, our winters can be too cold to wear them without a coat and any decent summer's day we get is too warm for them.
They're a real symbol of Americana culture, which I'm a fan of, and they look great in reds, navys, greys and orange. I like to wear them with layers, as they are usually cuffed at the waist and can ride up your back. Long T-shirts or striped vests layered underneath really add to the look. Spring is probably the most suitable season to wear them, but they're tricky in my experience.
Speaking of tricky experiences, writing this piece was quite a voyage of discovery. We young Irish lads were reared wearing jumpers. Our mothers dolled us up into our very first jumpers when we knew no better. We grew up thinking they were the norm.
We took off our school jumpers every evening and threw on a jumper to go play in. We watched our dads throw on his work jumper every morning.
Saturday came and we used our jumpers for goalposts as we played soccer for hours. Then Sunday morning came. Dad threw on his Sunday jumper, I threw on mine and off we went to Mass. We stood among the masses and there was no shortage of more jumpers in the chapel.
So let me figure this one out. Jumpers are actually dresses. Sweaters are in fact jumpers. And pullovers? That's just a word our mothers made up to justify the lies.