The Greatest Sweater Of A Generation?

April 19, 2018

Daniel Day-Lewis likes clothes. He is a second generation Anderson and Sheppard customer, and once studied how to make handmade shoes. His choices can be a bit eccentric, but I appreciate his willingness to be daring. He can wear the hell out of a suit. Plus, he acts; or used to, anyway.

So when he wears a cool sweater, you can be pretty sure it’s not the selection of a stylist or magazine trying to get an advertiser’s wares into the photo. In a shoot for W magazine as Phantom Thread was being released, Day Lewis wore his own clothes entirely, including a fantastic patterned knit. Rumor was that it might be hand-me-down from his father, which would be a nice story. The sweater subsequently caused a stir in knitting circles, and the knitters got to the bottom of it.

The sweater is a gansey style, the origins of which are in fishing communities in England. (Etymology is not totally clear; and is sometimes linked to Guernsey, an island in the English channel.) These sweaters hit all the squares on the “coveted menswear” bingo card–they have a deep history, are designed to be utilitarian, were often handmade, are practical but archaic, and exist at the crossroads of functional design and decoration. Similar to aran styles, the original sweaters were handknit (often by fisherman’s family members) with no side seams, drop shoulders, and an identical front and back. That way, they could be turned around to even out wear and therefore last longer. I don’t often think of sweaters as outerwear, but ganseys are intended to block wind and water, to a degree. Whether the wool has particularly weatherproof properties is up for debate. Each sweater has a decorative pattern knit into it, so visually, they have a lot more textural interest than a plain Shetland crewneck.

Day Lewis’s sweater, apparently, comes from a maker called Flamborough Marine, an outfit that still makes the sweaters entirely by hand (h/t the Tweed Pig). It’s pretty close to their Staithes model, although allegedly Day Lewis’ knit is custom, intended to match a sweater of his father’s. It looks great on him. Flamborough’s knits are not impulse buys, however, at $500-$600. They do sell a kit so you can knit your own, should you dare, for about $150.

There are other options for similar fisherman’s sweaters, although not all with the provenance of Flamborough’s. Inis Meain often offers a gansey styleJ. Crew’s Wallace and Barnes has as well (look also for “Guernsey sweaters”). A Guernsey-based company offers a plainer style at a reasonable price. You can always check ebay.

See also Derek’s guide to buying a good aran sweater.