My friend Hunter, facing the cold of Tennessee after too much time in Texas, declared he wanted to know who “makes the best wool sweaters ever”. When pressed, he simply stated he wanted a “REALLY GOOD” wool sweater.
When it comes to woolens, as with most things, you can spend as much, or more, than you want. Inis Meain has been a hot label, and I’m sure makes a fantastic sweater, but the price is out of reach for most. Likewise, Brunello Cucinelli surveys the sweater world as royalty, but not only might the sweaters soften you to death (h/t voxsartoria), but they could bankrupt you.
There are the traditional British makers, but they ain’t what they used to be. Pringle has become a fashion brand while old stalwart Alan Paine has gone offshore.
So our criteria are wool (not cashmere), thick rather than thin (thin has its place), and made in a Western country while still being within the realm of affordability. I’ve also focused on crew necks rather than v-necks or zip necks, and I’ve avoided argyles and Fair Isles (I love both) in favor of more basic options. I admit a bias toward a country of manufacture where one imagines the sweater ought to be made. A good sweater should not be a disposable thing, but if treated well can last for years and years.
The most iconic standard is the Shetland sweater, and the most iconic name in Shetlands is the J.Press Shaggy Dog. Still made in Scotland–where they ought to be–one pays a bit of a premium, but if you catch them at the right time you can get them on sale.
Not everyone prefers the brushed wool, and O’Connell’s offers a traditional Scottish made Shetland as an alternative. There are cabled options, which I like, and the price is lower, too.
If you prefer a little more visual interest in your sweater, a preppy classic is the L.L. Bean Norwegian sweater. Featured in The Official Preppy Handbook, the Bean Norwegian disappeared for a while but returned a couple of years ago by popular demand.
There is no shortage of sweater options, but the key is finding the price to quality sweet spot. Depending on your style preference, the choices above should fit the bill.