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The Irish sweater: a fashion staple with a rich history

The wool sweater is one of those garments that you most readily associate with the cold winter and autumn days. However, it is also a great garment to wear on a crisp summer or spring day. An Irish sweater is perfect for any season because it is made of wool that is warm, soft, breathable, and moisture-wicking. The Irish sweater or Aran sweater is not only an iconic garment in Ireland with a rich history behind it, but it is also a fashion staple that has become widely popular outside of Ireland as well. Its appeal lies not only in its authentic Irish look and feel but also in its ability to add style and depth to any look. 

The history of this wonderful sweater starts at the turn of the 19th century in the small islands of Inishmore, Inishmaan, and Inisheer, which together are known as the Aran Islands. The Aran Islands are famous for preserving Irish culture and traditions and the knit patterns of the sweaters are a stark example of that. The widely believed theory is that the cabled designs are inspired by the ancient Celtic knot patterns. The cables also resemble fisherman’s ropes, which represent safety. Another popular stitch is the diamond, which symbolizes wealth and prosperity. This would be incomplete without the honeycomb, which celebrates hard work and its rewards. The basket stitch stands for the desire to have a good catch. The moss and the blackberry bring you closer to earth and celebrate the wealth of nature. The Tree of Life is a Celtic symbol of harmony and interconnectivity of the phases of life. All of these stitches have their own history and symbolism rooted in Irish culture and way of life and this is what makes Irish sweaters so authentic. 

Irish Sweaters Made of Merino Wool

Traditionally, men’s Irish wool sweaters were made from undyed sheep’s wool and as it is stated they were traditionally knit for men only. This is an important cultural aspect because Ireland is renowned for its rich shepherding tradition. The sweaters were first knit from coarse, oily wool for the brave fishermen of the Aran Islands to protect them from the harsh weather. Nowadays, Irish sweaters are mostly made from merino wool. This is a very fine wool with exceptional softness, breathability, and moisture-wicking capacity. Although you probably associate Merino wool with Ireland, its history actually starts in Spain. Merino sheep originated in Spain around the 12th century and Merino wool quickly became famous for being one of the finest wools. However, it only started to be exported to other European countries in the 18th century. Over time, Merino wool has become more and more popular and this also affected the production of Irish sweaters. People wanted softer and more lightweight sweaters that would preserve that heavy and rustic look and the craftsmen and craftswomen behind the Aran sweaters managed to make that happen.

Apart from their unique history and symbolic significance, Irish Aran sweaters are also a fashion staple. They are distinctive thanks to the thick patterns that give them a more three-dimensional look and feel. Irish sweaters attracted mainstream attention in the 1950s when the famous actress and icon Grace Kelly was photographed wearing one. By the end of the ’60s, the Irish sweater was featured in Vogue magazine. These events kickstarted an era of commercial success for these garments. In the last few years, the sweater has had a comeback in cinematography, music, and high fashion. From Chris Even’s Irish sweater look in Knives Out to Simone’s Rocha’s 2020 collection inspired by the knitting tradition of the Aran Islands and Taylor Swift wearing a women's Irish wool sweater in a photoshoot for her album Folklore, it is clear that there is a revival of this classic look. 

Irish Sweater Styles

The fashion appeal of the Irish sweater lies in its incredible craftsmanship and the authenticity behind it, as well as for the homey feeling that it exudes. Besides, it is a versatile garment thanks to the fact that it goes well with almost anything and that it comes in many different styles. The most popular Irish sweater’s style is the crew neck sweater. 

  • The crew neck style first appeared in the form of T-shirts. Crew neck t-shirts were first developed in 1913 for the US Navy and their purpose was to keep sailors warm and cover their chest hair. The crew neck style began to be incorporated in all kinds of tops, more prominently in sweaters. The crew neck sweater is best worn with a T-shirt underneath. It can also be worn on top of a shirt, preferably without a tie. The tie works much better with a V-neck Irish sweater. The V-neck has a more recent history than the crew neck. It became popular around the 1960s. A V-neck sweater works very well with a shirt and a tie underneath or a button-down dress.
  •  Another classic look is the turtleneck sweater. This is people’s favorite in the cold season. Turtleneck Irish sweaters are not only snug and warm, but they also look great both as slim fit as well as chunky sweaters. They can be worn under a blazer for a more casual professional look, or they can be worn by themselves with a pair of jeans or a skirt. 
  • The cowl neck Irish sweater is another classic for Aran islands knitwear garments. It is distinctive thanks to the chunky neckline that almost resembles a draped scarf. Its appeal lies in its very feminine look that accentuates one’s neck gracefully. It goes well with almost any type of pants or with a nice skirt.
  •  Another interesting style is the shawl collar Aran sweater . The shawl collar style comes from the American military sweaters. It is very versatile because it works perfectly for black tie events, but it also goes very well with a casual sweatshirt or t-shirt underneath. 

Each style has its own unique charm because it accentuates the intricate stitching of the Irish sweaters in a different way. The most important thing is that each style preserves that feeling of authenticity that is so characteristic of the Irish sweater. Browse the Tara Irish Clothing men’s Irish sweaters selection and women’s Irish wool sweaters collection and find your all season’s favorite garment.

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