I’m always interested in clothing that is different. Other than the fancies of fashion, very little changes in menswear. So if a piece is cut, woven or treated differently, I want to know why.

North Sea Clothing sweaters are different. They are itchy. They smell funny. And they have extremely long ribbing on the waist and cuffs.

These are all deliberate ways to try and recreate knitwear from the 1920s and 1930s that was used by seamen, explorers and general outdoorsy types. The founder of North Sea, Neil Starr, used to deal in vintage clothing and loved the old naval sweaters that came in. But eventually the supply dried up. Several years later, he decided to recreate them.


The sweaters are itchy because they are made with untreated British wool. No merino, no cashmere and, for the cream sweaters, no dye. The ‘Explorer’ that I got a while ago was unpleasantly itchy to start with. Neil recommended washing it (on a gentle, cool wash) and the it was much improved. I’d still recommend wearing a shirt or long-sleeve T-shirt underneath it though. m

The lack of treatment also means the sweaters smell of sheep. The lanolin, the natural oil sheep have in their wool to keep the water out, is left in. This makes the sweaters highly water resistant. Apparently some people love it, others don’t. I like it, in the same way I like the dirty patina on a waxed jacket. The lanolin will come out with washing though, so that smell doesn’t last forever.

The cut comes from those old naval sweaters. Extended ribbing on the cuffs and at the waist meant that when you stretched to pull on a rope, or climbed a ladder, the sleeve or body didn’t ride up and let in the cold sea air.


The design has been modified slightly in other ways. Those old submariners had very big, open necks, so they were easy to pull on over overalls (slightly contradictory, that) and short arms so there was no risk of anything getting stuck in machinery. The body has been slimmed down as well, which together with the long ribbing makes for a very flattering cut.

North Sea Clothing sweaters are all knitted in England. And for between £125 and £165, they are good value. But most importantly, they do what they’re meant to: they are very warm. The Explorer is my default cold-day sweater, with a bespoke tweed overcoat and a pair of Wolverine boots. Nice.

The Explorer

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John

Thank you, Simon, for having drawn our attention to this very special shop. They seem to offer the kind of stuff one could wear for years!

Anonymous

Very nice, but aren’t they jumpers, pullovers or even woolly pullys rather than sweaters?

Anonymous

Simon, I’ve read that the neck opening on the shawl collar jumpers, like the Explorer, is very tight (uncomfortable?) and more like a turtleneck. Is that correct?

Anonymous

Thanks for the feedback Simon, that’s great.

Merry Christmas!

Anonymous

Those boots linked to are fantastic.

If any North Sea staff are reading this, may I suggest putting pictures up on the website of people wearing them, as it is a little difficult to visualise what it would look like with the large ribbing.

EL

I was curious if you still had yours and whether you would recommend their sweaters? In particular, 1) do you think they are well-made?, 2) are they too warm to be worn indoors?, and 3) can they be worn under a sport coat or would that look odd or be uncomfortable? Thanks!

Olle

Great to hear you are still wearing yours, so many years later. I think it’s worth revisiting NSC in a new post. Their product offering and quality level has advanced significantly since your review. I have been a customer for the last 6-7 years and their products has evolved from the itchy slightly weird fitting, albeit genuine, to something much more versatile and refined.

In particular, the Brig 2 cardigan, the Diver with its chunky knitting and the new mock neck model are all outstanding. The value for money is impressive and a big portion of my sweater wardrobe is made up of their items in various colours.

Would be great to get your take on how they relates and compares to other sweater items you are reviewing!

NickD

Like Ollie a significant proportion of my sweater wardrobe is made up of North Sea Clothing products and I’ve been very impressed with their quality, especially their resistance to pilling.

The more recent versions have been made in the EU rather than in the UK, but from the same wool and hopefully they will age as well as they have always done, they certainly seem like the same level of manufacture.

dan

Hi Simon,
Could you tell me your size in the explorer sweater?
thanks in advance.