This past weekend I finally got a chance Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film Blowup after being recommended it countless times over the past year. Overall, the film is a mod-era masterpiece, but there was one scene in particular where the main character Thomas, a photographer played by David Hemmings, traipses through a park, snapping off frames of a couple in the distance, that I keep coming back to. The scene is beautiful and brilliant, but I must admit, that’s not why this scene stuck in my mind. Wearing a pair of Beatle boots, stark white denim, a button down shirt with the collars undone, and a forest green jacket, Hemmings’ outfit, which would become his uniform for much of the film, had me considering the remaining few cold months ahead.
A couple years ago, while I was down in the D.C. area on a break from school, I stopped into the Smithsonian to check out a Norman Rockwell exhibit that was put together using pieces donated by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, both of whom are avid collectors of Rockwell’s work. The concept behind the exhibit itself was fascinating, as two modern American cinematic storytellers humbly paid homage to a painter who’s artistic style had greatly impacted their own creative endeavors.
Sitting in a suburban backyard on a sweltering summer afternoon, the only thing on my mind isn’t the intoxicatingly sweet air, but a pullover cable-knit sweater sitting in my drawer back home. A sweater much the same as Irish fishermen wore back in the fifties, yes just the fifties, because while we all assume that those cream colored cable-knits are some sort of ancient Irish tradition, they’re nothing less than modern.
Truth be told, they don’t even root back to Ireland proper, but actually the Aran Islands off the western coast of Ireland. For centuries families across Ireland and Scotland had been knitting in cable formations, with each having their own unique design that was passed down through the generations. And then during World War One, the fledgling fishing industry on the Aran Islands became short-staffed. With all their workers away, the island community turned to young women from across Ireland and Scotland to fill the gaps.
These girls made a living picking guts and bones out of the daily haul but at night they sat in dimly lit rooms and knit while they told stories of their childhood homes. After a while they began sharing their respective designs with each other, joining together all of their various styles of cable-knits into one sweater with many patterns. Named after the Aran Islands, the sweaters were made from thick, neutral wools that were quick and easy to weave together. The girls soon realized that their knits were an industry all their own, setting up shop around the Aran Islands, selling the sweaters and building their reputation.
Eventually the sweaters jumped the Atlantic Ocean and became popular across America and oddly enough it was only then that Irish fishermen began wearing the sweaters. The tight cable patterns could not only withstand the blustery sea winds but had the ability to become soaked without the fishermen even noticing. It was for these same reasons that the sweaters caught on in the New England yacht community, as evidenced by icons such as JFK and Steve McQueen (yes those names again) who could be seen proudly wearing an Aran sweater out on the water. On dry land, the sweaters have remained an icon in their own right, a clever way to break up the monotony of a solid layer. Traddy but not traditional.
Each morning when we wake up we are all faced with a similar dilemma; how to dress for the day ahead. For most of us, this is a preference led exercise, guided by what pieces we feel would look good on that given day. But the question of what to wear takes on new meaning when your life depends on the outcome. This is the quandary that Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were faced with in 1953 during their journey to the summit of Mount Everest. Hillary and Norgay’s sartorial decisions were literally a matter of life or death as they prepared to brave temperatures that fell well below zero and an increasingly thin atmosphere. The two adventurers stayed away from puffy, down stuffed jackets that would limit their mobility during their ascent. Instead, they opted for pullover long bodied anoraks as their top layer with streamlined, non-bulky layers beneath. This strategy provided protection and warmth without interfering on their climb, ultimately granting them success where seven teams had failed before.
While it is highly unlikely that you’ll be preparing for negative twenty temperatures like Hillary and Norgay were, there are still many lessons that we can pull from this pair as we enter into the cooler months: First, the pullover anorak is a fantastic option as a top layer. The fully sealed off body and shortened opening prevent any wind from permeating through the jacket, saving the wearer from an uncomfortable chill. The lack of a long zipper also opens up the possibility for an additional pocket front and center on the jacket’s face, providing easily accessible storage. Something that certainly came in handy for the explorers in keeping everything they needed for the climb close at hand. The pullover anorak is actually an incredibly underutilized design and is fairly difficult to find in today’s marketplace, but Barbour
, Engineered Garments
, and Woolrich
do produce some noteworthy options.
Second, do not underestimate the importance of accessories when enduring the elements. While this pair had to don serious add on’s such as goggles and gas masks in order to withstand the atmosphere, you’ll be in need of something less substantial. Scarves are a critical component in a man’s everyday winter wardrobe, as they protect an exposed neck and stop the cold from seeping into your otherwise warm outfit. Drakes
offers traditional scarves in a wide array of colors that are renowned for their craftsmanship. For a more contemporary approach, Gant Rugger
and Woolrich Woolen Mills
offer scarves in more bold patterns that help draw attention toward the center of an outfit.
Finally, and most simply, sometimes it is those that worry the least that end up looking the best. Hillary and Norgay did not set out to be admired for their style, in fact their appearance was probably one of the last things on their mind. For these two men it was not about looking cool, it was about wearing what they had to in order to accomplish their goal, going so far as innovating on what teams before them wore and accomplishing a previously unthinkable feat. Sometimes the less you care the better – and the more unique – you’ll look. Hillary and Norgay certainly prove this adage, and teach us all a valuable lesson.