Friday, January 21, 2011

Curling Sweaters

 I received an email which began like this:

     "Dear Yankee Whisky Papa, I live in an old Scottish castle..."

Off to a good start!  But as it turned out, he is a graduate student exchanging free rooming for volunteer docent/caretaker duties at a landmark which expends endowment largess on all but salary and heating.  With genuine and understandable wallowing, the scholar continued:

     "I am miserable!  Its cold beyond belief and my [thesis] is the only thing that keeps me here in this bargain."

So much for the romantic notion of outdated European castle living.
Much of the iconic Edwardian style we hold dear actually has less-than-romantic origins.  The heavy tweeds, layering, and snugged neckwear were all components of a society which attempted to proceed formally and  normally while indoor temperatures were often between 50 and 60 degrees (10-15 for those with a European ISP, and roughly 286 for the Kelvinists).  Many of the old houses in Europe were cold and drafty, with wildly differing temperatures from room to room.  Because heating was a relatively expensive and inefficient pursuit, one would heat the room in which they planned to stay for a while, close off the doors to other rooms, and hope that the waistcoated suit would keep the torso warm while the hot tea cup or pipe thawed the stiff fingers a bit.  Old city houses and old farm houses tend to have cold and drafts in common.  In many historically registered neighborhoods, things like storm windows are effectively illegal, with municipally-chartered review committees disallowing certain modernizations.  While there is a preservation argument to be made, the effect becomes architectural taxidermy, and the frustrations concerning it are why you see old Yankees using hair-dryers to shrink-wrap their sashes (frame and all) every December.  Guests are occasionally taken aback by strong temperature differentials in these old houses, and a trip up a back stair or down a hallway to an unoccupied bathroom during a party can be a temperature drop of 20 degrees.

Enter the curling sweater.  The lovably ludicrous sport of curling has produced platoons of very attractive and nimble (including Olympic level) athletes, and while they now wear more contemporary designs, the curling sweater lasts on an a style staple.

Wife: "Honey, I'm going out to pick up some hot curlers for tonight."    Husband: "Me too."

The curling sweater (often confused with the "Cowichan" sweater) is nearly jacket-lengthed, unusually thick (packing them for travel is difficult), and always with a heavy shawl collar.  Patches showing allegiance to a curling club are standard, and a conservative and spare stripe or two across the shawl-front give it a sporting look.

These dashing gents wear the Glengarry hat, while other traditionalists opt for the Tam.

Their design is meant for both warmth and maneuverability, and most have an extra button towards the top of the neck to close it should things get very cold.

Canada, Minnesota, the Dakotas, Michigan, and the Lakes Region all have thrift stores with beautiful and imposing curling sweaters in them.  I still regret cheaping-out on a white and red number I found at a Toronto consignment shop years ago.


When I venture onto a frozen pond, multiple giant stone weights are not in my usual safety inventory.

My usual around-the-house one is a genuine artifact, though only wearable below 65 degrees.

Cousins to the curling sweater are the hybrid curling/Cowichans.  I found this delightfully ridiculous one at an online thrift shop.  It's lined in cheap-but-heavy windbreaker-nylon, very warm, and with a zipper.


A trip outside for a pipe, cigar, or private fresh-air conversation during a winter party will be far more tolerable in one of these.  If you do get one second-hand, consider unstitching and returning the patch to the curling club from where it was issued.  If the club no longer exists, keep it on.

Vintage baseball "warm-up" sweaters (nearly identical to curling sweaters) are very rare, because while a curling sweater from the 1920's is tossed to the thrift stores, baseball sweaters are (unfairly) considered  precious memorabilia with the free market dictating astronomical prices.  In the picture below, you can see that our beloved Boston team once dressed well.

In the next photo, we see a misnamed team from New York take the field on opening day in 1923.  All are in matching sweaters fastened high, and are being drummed in by a marching band.  Also of note is that every face in the stands has a hat above it, and a tie below it.

Note the advertisements at the stadium: Gem Safety Razors, Boston Garters (to hold a man's socks up in those days), Arrow Collars, Harry & Mannie (discussed, but unkown), and what appears to be a cement company.

For more excellent vintage baseball sweaters, check out the photos at uniwatchblog.

Happy deep winter from New England.


  1. I'd venture to say that as things go these days, our boys are fortunate to wear a uniform that is still fairly classic. Good thing, too, otherwise how could I wear their hat in Summer?

  2. Those sweaters are beauties, especially the vintage curling sweater.

    We live in an old house (1926) and keep our thermostat at 64 in the daytime, so I've always got a sweater or cardigan of some sort to kick it in.

  3. Yes, that sign on the right is for Edison Cement (the company that provided the cement for the construction of the first Yankee Stadium).


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