How good is Uniqlo knitwear?
Best value product: Uniqlo merino knitwear
Runners-up: Natalino trousers, SuitSupply tailoring
When you buy Uniqlo knitwear rather than something more expensive, what are you getting?
What is it about the product - rather than where it’s made, or by whom - that you're sacrificing?
These are the questions I set out to explore in response to readers voting Uniqlo merino knitwear the best value clothing in the PS Awards.
To do so, I bought and wore a piece myself, but also spoke to three industry experts - a spinner, a knitter and a retailer, all of whom have experience of the top and the bottom of the market.
I showed them my piece from Uniqlo and one from John Smedley, and asked them to analyse the differences.
The conclusion that Uniqlo is very good value for money should not be surprising. Because they’re very good at what they do, and because there are always diminishing returns with increasing quality.
What’s more interesting is what specific qualities make up that value - and what it says about costs of production as well as our priorities as consumers.
First, my piece. I bought an Extra Fine Merino Wool crew neck jumper (dark grey, medium) for £29.90.
I haven’t worn Uniqlo for a few years - and when I did, it was cashmere - so I was interested in how it would wear.
In short, it was very impressive. The merino felt good, had some nice stretch to it, and didn’t feel flimsy. The ribbing and general fashioning was nice. Not as fine as the work on the PS pieces we make in Italy, but that’s a step up on John Smedley too.
I wore it seven times, and didn’t notice any obvious issues with wear or stretch. (Though it would have to be pretty poor to wear after that long - something more like 50 wears and five washes would be better - as I’m sure the voting readers have done.)
The only things I noticed were perhaps a heaviness to the Uniqlo knit compared to other pieces, and a slight fluffiness on the surface.
With the little knowledge I have of knitwear, I guessed that the fluffiness was due to either short wool fibres or extra finishing that had ‘burst’ the yarn deliberately. But I didn’t notice any negative effects of either in my (pretty limited) wear trial.
The more interesting points came from showing it to the experts (and I’ll combine their observations below, as they all said pretty similar things).
First, the fashioning (where parts of the jumper are joined together) was good, they all agreed. Perhaps a little thicker in places than the John Smedley (cost, £165) but not much.
Second, the yarn. That fluffiness was certainly in part due to the length of the fibres. Uniqlo advertises this range as using extra fine merino wool, and the wool is almost as fine: 19.5 micron where Smedley is 18.
But fineness is only one factor, as anyone used to discussing Super numbers in suits will be aware. Another one is length. Longer fibres make for smoother, more consistent yarn, and lightness in the final product.
It seemed fairly clear that the Uniqlo jumper used yarn with shorter fibres and more inconsistent lengths (it’s the latter that causes some to separate from the yarn, and that fluffiness).
However, this thickness and fluffiness isn’t absolutely, necessarily bad. After all, some shetland sweaters are deliberately brushed to make them fluffy.
If you want smooth knitwear, it is bad; if you don’t, it isn’t. Tweeds are less luxurious than fine worsteds in the same way, but not necessarily inferior.
The weight might be slightly more objective. If you’re buying thin, fine merino knitwear, you probably don’t want it to be heavier than it has to be.
The Uniqlo jumper was noticeably heavier (I weighed it - 30% more than Smedley) despite looking as thin. Partly this was down to a second difference: the looseness of the knitting.
The Uniqlo was knitted more loosely and openly than the Smedley - seen through greater transparency when held up to the light. And it’s that openness that created the stretch I’d noticed.
The people I spoke to speculated that this was done to stop the knitwear becoming too heavy. If it had been knitted more closely, the thicker, fluffier yarn would have made the Uniqlo piece perhaps too obviously heavy for the consumer.
Knitting like this also means less yarn is required, making the jumper cheaper to produce.
But whatever the motivation, the question again is whether that looser, heavier feel matters to you (or perhaps, how much it matters).
An obvious downside to the looseness is the jumper losing shape over time - but readers seem to have said this hasn’t happened to them.
The most striking aspect of the analysis, for me, was the finishing.
Two of the experts pointed this out immediately. They said I should try rubbing the piece with my fingers, and then rub the fingers together.
They felt oily. Or perhaps not oily - more smooth, like moisturiser. They said this was the chemical finishing that had been put on the garment, to make it feel softer. Uniqlo also says it puts finishing on the garments to stop them pilling, so this might be part of the same treatment.
I found it fascinating that the feeling had never occured to me with my sweater, but once I was told it was there, I couldn’t stop feeling it.
Of course, this will also matter to some people more than others. But I think there’s usually a desire to experience the material directly with knitwear, rather than any treatment.
Suits and shirts can be so fine that they don’t feel like wool or cotton any more. But with knitwear, I more want to feel the wool and its properties.
A last area we looked at was pilling. This is easy to test roughly - just rub two parts of a sweater together, and compare the results after 10 rubs, 20 rubs, 50 rubs etc. It’s fairly basic, but you get a decent idea.
The Uniqlo sweater didn’t show any obvious pilling even after 50 rubs, but it definitely became fluffier. The anti-pilling treatment will also wear off with washing at some point - even if it’s done well, and therefore lasts 20 washes rather than five.
I think most people associate pilling with poor quality knitwear. Certainly it’s something that readers regularly bring up when discussing brands. (Of course, as we’ve discussed, some of this is down to a lack of washing.)
So if you were a large company trying to produce knitwear that customers would think was good value, an immediate softness and a lack of pilling would probably be at the top of the list. That seems to be what has been prioritised here.
A lot of the difference in price between Uniqlo and John Smedley is not in the product itself.
Big factors will be where it is made (Uniqlo made this piece in Cambodia) and volume. Uniqlo will use large flat-bed knitting machines rather than the old, long machines you see at Smedley, and will buy its yarn in bulk.
But there are definite differences in the final product too, including length of fibre, weight, knit and finish.
That doesn’t mean Uniqlo isn’t fantastic value for money, and not a deserved winner of this award. It is. But neither should anyone think they’re not giving something up by paying a fifth of the price.
There are real differences. The only question is whether you care about them.
Best article for a while would love his kind of comparison to be a regular feature. Please!
Also don’t take lack of comments as a bad thing – article less promotes discussions as it does inform
I really enjoyed reading that!
I feel this is an area PS needs to return to time and time again.
“ always diminishing returns with increasing quality”
“ There are real differences. The only question is whether you care about them”
For me sum up an increasing feeling at reading about tailoring and quality clothing.
Over years of reading PS and putting into practise some of what I’ve learnt I’ve come to understand that (for me) value and quality can be found at the following price points
Shirts £80-130 MTM (Simone Abbarchi’s shirt being at the upper end of that range)
Trousers £90-120 Incotex trousers
Knitwear £80 Trunk clothiers
Suits £400 Suitsupply
All of the above brought at discount / sales / sample sales. Paying anymore just feels like you’re subsiding the shops business rates and rent.
I admire and praise some clothiers but the prices being charged by some ‘quality’ retailers are incredulous even for the very wealthy.
Well done to readers for sticking 2 fingers up against some of the snobbery that can at times be encountered when discussing quality clothing.
Simon, how about a follow up article but this time looking at the 2 runners up?
Great article , superb analysis .
Just a small point on the value levels you put – just because something is cheaper, doesn’t mean the margin that the shop is making is lower, so you are not subsidising their rent or business rates any less. In fact, I find it more often the case that when a shop carries a more expensive product, they lower their margins because they want to try and keep it affordable, but want to carry the piece if they can because they love it so much.
Also on the diminishing returns, that doesn’t necessarily mean you get worse value the more you pay. It depends on what you value. So with Uniqlo here, you get the same fashioning (presumably because it’s easy and cheap for them to do that) but not the same feel, or length of fibre. You might prefer to have the real feel of wool, but not care about the finishing. It’s personal.
Simple economics Simon.
Saying that because something is cheaper doesn’t mean the margin is lower is not really true.
Something that sells for £40 with a 50% margin makes £20. Something that sells for £200 with a 50% margin makes £100.
You pay your rent and business rates in cash, not percentages. Businesses go bust because they run out of cash, not because of percentages.
Yes, but I meant the margin in percentages, not cash. The margin is often smaller as a percentage
Re anonymous economist, you are indeed right when you say that “Businesses go bust because they run out of cash, not because of percentages.” However, you’re quoting gross margins, not cash flows so your maths is wrong and Simon’s statement on value is in fact correct.
This is illustrated by comparing a shop that sells sells a million items for £40 with a 50% margin with another that sells 10 items for £200 with a 50% margin (assuming fixed costs are the same) – gross margins in isolation tell you almost nothing.
Anyway, really terrific article Simon – I really loved it. If only Uniqlo went back to the broader colour palette of a few years ago!
I can tell you, as a retailer, that is absolutely true about price and margin — at least with our operation. We love clothes at our store and we will see certain items that we love and want our customers to have. However, when we work out what the price would be at our margin, it would be a barrier. So we price the product at a lower price we feel will work for our clients. The opposite is true for items that cost less or little, but less so.
I always tell people, the most expensive items in our store are the best value.
Just my two cents.
Interestingly there was an article in the Swiss newspaper about (Swiss) lawyers, saying that they bill fewer hours to clients with higher bills. The missing hours are then unrightly billed to several clients that require smaller effords. According to the article, this has nothing to do with gaining the favour of certain clients. The explanation was that the lawyers make a dishonest calculation in order to appear honest to the customer (i.e. by charging a price that is more in the range of what a customer expects).
I can very much believe that the same applies to other branches including, of course, the clothing business. In other words, as already mentioned, cheaper items probably bring higher margins.
Bit surprised that experts say fashioning/parts joining is good on Uniqlo merino. Constantly having issues with wholes developing in under armpit or in general shoulder seam and threads getting loose.
Interesting, thanks Tom. I guess that could be due to the short fibres as well as the fashioning. All the experts were really looking at was how fine the fashioning was, as it’s harder and more expensive to do it finer, with a smaller ridge. (Eg the Smedley uses four rows, the PS knitwear we make like the Dartmoor, two rows).
I had a hole develop on my right Uniqlo cardigan shoulder recently too, albeit not on the actual seam. Relatively new one too. From what I can tell the hole is from the area being weakly knitted, it isn’t in an area with a great amount of friction and it’s definitely not a moth hole.
I too have holes in 3 jumpers which I have since thrown out, hardly worn, thought they were moth holes but maybe I was wrong
Uniqlo knitwear is very good for the money, but it IS fuzzier and I’ve found it eventually does have more pilling and look a bit more “unkempt”. It does seem to hold shape reasonably well …that said, I much prefer the smoother feel and look of my Smedleys though I wouldn’t fork out $295 CAN for it. Been lucky to find Smedleys my size and preferred colours during winter sales for $49-100 CAN. At these prices, it’s a no brainer…
Thank you, Simon, for another interesting article.
An increasing part of the value of an item to me nowadays is knowing the provenance of the material and the conditions in the factories producing it.
Do you have any knowledge of either with regarding to Uniqlo’s knitwear? I wonder how the value would then stack up for me compared to brands a level above such as Asket who often produce in Italy or Portugal.
I don’t I’m afraid no, Guillaume. They will be subject to less regulation than in the EU, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the conditions will be worse
My wife has bought me a couple of Uniqlo sweaters in recent years. I showed her this the article, and she commented that, in respect of the quality of their sweaters, Uniqlo is now occupying the area vacated by M&S.
Really enjoyed this post Simon. I look forward to reading more of these comparisons.
I write this wearing a classic navy John Smedley merino wool v neck I purchased about 10 years ago. It has been worn and washed multiple times and still looks like new. No piling or lose stitches and the shape is perfect. Although more expensive, the quality of JS certainly makes it value for money over the long run.
Nice article! An especially good read, given that I was sat in a Uniqlo cardigan while reading it and able to feel along.
I find it most interesting that clothing companies are required to list the materials used to make the garment e.g merino wool, but are not required to list elements of the finishing.
Rubbing my fingers over the fabric I too can feel that residual oily/smoothness on my fingers. I can’t help but feel that, if there is something residual in the garment that was not there originally e.g lanolin then it ought to be listed. I’d like to know if my ventile is covered in DWR, or if my wool is finished with non natural chemicals, especially if they remain on the garment.
Thank you for this very informative article.
I fully agree with Robin on that you should return to this every once in a while.
In fact, those articles will help smaller manufacturers of clothing as well, even if differences in the garments may not be noticeable to every reader in the first place and people might simply opt for the cheaper item. By those kind of review comparisons you can exactly point out the difference in the make of garments and how larger brands/ cheaper manufacturers have to cut down on quality or move their production abroad (which, as we know, does not mean it has to be inferior). It will help the manufacturers and artisans to justify their higher price levels and allow the reader to make a better judgement.
Again, thanks for your work!
Great article and I agree that I would like more posts along these lines. I once had an illuminating discussion with a rep from Cheshire bespoke about the various grades of suit manufacture in the UK. One small point: I think you meant to say that the Uniqlo was 30% lighter not the other way round. I don’t understand the obsession with weight of garments: I like to feel the heft!
But no, Uniqlo is 30% heavier.
I agree, weight is certainly something that is subjective, but the more expensive garments get, the finer the materials are often, and I think it’s therefore assumed lighter is better.
How much lighter is the permanent style knitwear than this?
Good question. I can check but it won’t be that different to the Smedley
I think the overall Uniqlo model is a good mix of some ‘edgier’ products you may see in Far Eastern stores with some good basics. I seem to recall a survey (a year or so back) that gave their cashmere a top rating. I have worn their cashmere polo (turtle) necks for some years and have found them at £90 this year (£50 in latest sale) excellent.
On a wider point I think it’s easy to get a bit obsessed with everything being overly high end. A drakes blazer with a Uniqlo polo (turtle) neck or long sleeve polo or drakes shirt with a Uniqlo v neck being examples.
They also do very well (in my opinion) with the ‘technical fabrics’. One area where they could improve is the quality of the buttons.
All in all I think the trick is in how you mix and match and that for me is part of the enjoyment!
Interesting that you mention the difference in the machines they employ to make their knits. Is there any tangible (practical/materialistic) differences in the final products made on these different machines , all else being theoretically equal?
There are some differences, but I don’t know what they all are.
One is that you can’t make the finer gauges on the newer machines. And another is you can’t alter them as they’re less mechanical – for example reengineering to tweak the product.
Great piece. Keep em’ coming.
Interesting piece! For me I must say however, that though I do not like to every compromise on the quality of what I purchase, own, and wear, I particularly do not compromise on knitwear. Scottish knitwear for me, generally speaking, or at least woven of Scottish woolen or cashmere yarn. Whenever I’ve gotten anything that was not, it has not equaled the pieces which I inherited from my Grandfather and Father, and I use their wardrobes as my golden standard hallmark of quality. I have pieces that feel fine and smooth enough to wear under even the finest pieces, but which have incredible resiliency and structural integrity, and you can tell. I am a knitwear snob, but I feel that in that area, it is particularly warranted. These days, I mostly wear Shetland crewnecks with saddle shoulders, but I have Pringle sweaters from the 1960s that would make you weep at the beauty.
Anyhow, you should do a comparison of various grades, including above Smedley, and see what you personally find from the observation.
Thanks Evan. If you read my piece on our Finest Knitwear, you’ll see a good comparison of the differences between that very top-level knitwear and Smedley
I’ll be checking that out! Just a question; where would you place Pringle in that hierarchy?
I couldn’t say Evan, I haven’t worn their knitwear for quite a while.
Methinks we need more PS Finest Knitwear besides the Dartmoor, though I understand it’s not financially feasible to produce anymore…a rollneck Finest Knitwear would have been killer!
There is more coming, just not in those original styles…
I couldn’t agree more and never compromise on the quality of my knitwear.
All of my pieces are made either in Scotland or Ireland and I find the quality to be amazing.
I normally buy from A&S (Audie & Anda have come up with some great stuff) and Private White (their crew neck and submariners are of the Richter scale). The thought of some sort of synthetic treatment is surely enough to bring a thinking flaneur out in a rash.
Not to mention hauling our knitwear all the way from Cambodia is creating the carbon footprint of ‘Big Foot’.
Buy the best and send it once a year to ‘Love Cashmere’ (a great PS recommendation) for their re-dressing service and they will come back as new !
Spot on, Jason!
I’m one of the readers who voted for Uniqlo and I’m happy that Simon’s analysis confirms my impression that it is good value. I do find that it pills quite a lot after some wearing.
I recently bought a navy merino crew neck from Spier and Mackay. It cost about twice as much as Uniqlo but appears to be tighter knitted and more robust while still being fine and light. It will be interesting to compare the two after a year or two.
Worn primarily as a layering piece with shirts and jackets, these crewneck and v-neck jumpers are definitely where one should go with the budget option, provided that they fit. Almost no one stops to note the distinctions Simon’s pointed out here, the difference in feel to the wearer is minimal, and there’s no way a Smedley lasts five times as long. Both the Smedley and Uniqlo pieces are too long and narrow in the body (primarily in the chest and lats region) and too short in the sleeve for me. Neiman Marcus’ house brand offers a better fitting product for me at a similarly discounted price.
Could you please make such a review for Natalino as well?
I think many readers will appreciate, since the brand is online only and readers may shy away from trying for that reasons. Interestingly, the price difference for a trouser make like Natalino to a high end tailoring house offering RTW is huge, while visually the difference is very small- same situation as with Uniqlo and Smedley.
That was a really interesting read. I’d love to see a Polo Ralph Lauren knit thrown in for comparison too. I think Ralph Lauren (with the exception of Purple Label) chooses really cheap manufacturing most of the time.
My Father’s PRL pieces from the 80s and early 90s are impeccable; up there in fact with some of my pieces from the 60s. I even have some good RL pieces from the early to mid-oughts, they were just becoming fewer and farther between at that point. Ralph’s clothing is not what it once was….lamentably. Sadly, much of what is on the market for knitwear, outside of custom orders, is far short of what it should be, in number of plies, in gauge of the yarn, in quality of the yarn, in finishing and joining, and in general style and fit. Unfortunately, much of the knitwear on the market, even the otherwise quality stuff, is still being styled to be worn with ludicrous low rise trousers, which is where the deformity in the proportions comes in. It is simply not cost effective to produce a correctly (correct to human physiognomy) proportioned sweater when it won’t be purchased because most of the people out there are wearing the largely as in mass produced and most available low rise to maybe mid rise trousers. If the sweaters were proportioned correctly, there’d be a 3 to 6 inch gap between the bottom of the sweater, and the waist band of the trousers, that said, those who might wear the things would like the right fools that they ought to for wearing such silly trousers.
Another detail or rather two details which I would like to see return, would be full finished edges with no ribbing; several of my Eddie Bauer sweaters from the 90s have this, and I find it refreshing in more variable weather, and it does not bind as much on my dress shirts, and of course, full wide ribbing at wrists and hem, which is an elegant finish to a sweater, and certainly more functional in cold weather.
Now, if they would only make sweaters with short torsos, correctly sized sleeves, and with either wide ribbing at cuffs and hem, or none, we would be in the sweet spot of knitwear perfection! Oh, and nothing less than 2 to 3 plies! Come on now people! The plies are what gives the knitwear its body and strength and integrity! I detest those flimsy tissue like knits, especially the “budget” cashmeres that you see so often that are absolute rubbish because of short fibre length, and because of the fact that its only knit in one ply! Wretched!
Great article Simon, speaking as someone who only occasionally can afford bespoke / high end RTW.
Although I understand the following points are perhaps beyond your prevail, two other interesting points would be;
How are the workers treated in Cambodia?
How many travel hours do the articles of clothing log? (this has been mentioned in relation to high end fabrics in the past)
Apologies if this comes of as knit-picking (pun intended) it is certainly not intended as such.
Again, great article.
No worries, and yes those things would certainly be good to know. Very hard to get independent information on though
Interestingly, Uniqlo does talk a lot about how it is reducing water usage, being more sustainable and so on. But it’s hard to know how significant that is without context on what they did before.
That’s a subject, around green washing, that we’ll dig into in an article in a couple of weeks
A while back I wrote a rather long post in response to your article on value that began with an expensive watch, Simon. While that post had a critical bias (but with every intent of being constructive) I have nothing but praise for this article – well done!
I would be highly unlikely to buy a Uniqlo product or anything else made in Cambodia and marketed in the West. I am careful to avoid saying ‘never’ because I do not believe in absolutes.
My stance is not due to snobbery, jingoism or the assumption that all products made outside of Europe are poorly made in sweat shops. It is because I feel very passionately about supporting local heritage and craft – wherever you may be from. Creating a personal connection with the maker, their families and the traditions they maintain generates pleasure of ownership and helps to support communities close to home.
This is one reason that I do not mind paying extra to brands that have made the effort to curate and preserve these products, materials and craftsmanship, even if they have not made the product themselves. They provide an essential service and take risks in doing so while creating jobs.
But returning to the main premise of your article, I think pieces like this – educational, rigorous, eye-opening and non-judgmental – are a gold standard of journalism. They also show that Permanent Style is a brand of utmost integrity and objectivity and for that I salute you. More please!
Really enjoyed reading your article. My first inspiration was : I must getting new knitwear from Uniqlo. But at of the end of your article my thoughts were less impulsive. The quality seems to be good, but the finishing treatment (chemicals? I guess I don’t want to wear) and the production ( what about the working conditions?) made me thoughtful. It would be another nice piece of knitwear, which could be replaced immediately due to the price and would make shoppping thoughtless for me. Instead buying one piece, wearing it regularly and replace it when it’s wore off might be more sustainable…
Cool post, seems incredible what uniqlo can do nowadays. Their AIRism boxers are for me the best boxers under 30€ and only cost 9€. Also as others have noted it would be interesting if you could review and compare the MTM program from suitsuply.
Really great article! I really appreciate the depth of detail. Do you think you might do something similar with some high end ready to wear shoe brands compared to bespoke?
PS I think you mentioned in a previous post something about pocket squares trending out, do you think you might speak about that sometime? thanks, Kramer
Sure Kramer, nice idea on both counts. Thanks
In my view it is with shoes and coats or a jacket if you regularly wear one that you can really see the difference in quality as the product antiques and these are the areas requiring the most financial focus and spend according to budget.
Great article Simon. On the weight issue, I have a cotton Zanone/Incotex cardigan which is so heavy it’s like wearing chain mail.
Going beyond the financial balance, I worry about the non-financial costs of the “bulk wool” used in the production. There are videos circulating showing serious misstreatment of sheep in the large shearing operations. Quality wool comes from quality sheep farms where the animals are treated properly.
It’s interesting that you chose knitwear, because you can get top of the line knitwear (not in cashmere of course) for not that much. For instances, you can get William Lockie lambswool sweaters, or Harley of Scotland shetland sweaters for under 100 dollars. No other category of menswear is so affordable.
Great article Simon – as always! I purchased 3 x Uniqlo Extra Fine Merino Turtlenecks just over a year ago. They were £20 each. Turtlenecks always form part of my wardrobe in the colder months under my blazer/jacket. The Uniqlo Turtlenecks have had a lot of wear. They’ve washed very well – no shrinkage and still look as good as new. No bobbling or real signs of wear and tear.
Uniqlo has a place in my wardrobe. Although I prefer finer quality when I’m out of the house, it’s nice to have something that’s decent yet cheap when I’m around my two toddlers (ages 1.5 and 3.5). That way when I inevitably get splattered with something…
Great article Simon. I’d always noticed the pilling on uniqlo vs more expensive brands and assumed it was shorter (cheaper fibres), but I would never have got to idea of heavier yarn with looser weaving or the finishing treatment. It’s so hard to put your finger precisely on these things until someone explains why they are there. The problem is you can never unsee them once you know!
I do think think there is something rewarding about really understanding the value of something and knowing when “the best” is not the right compromise for the situation. I find it gives me more enjoyment from those items where “the best” is the right answer, it helps me justify them and value them more. I have Saman Amel MTM cashmere polos which are amazing for wearing around the office or at the weekend, where I can value the fit and softness of the finish. But a uniqlo polo comes with me whenever I am travelling. Something I can wear and not worry about, the fit doesn’t make much difference after a 10hr red eye flight when everything is a mess anyway and I can carry my holdall over my shoulder across the airport without caring if I damage it. It does the job perfectly and makes the Saman Amel one all the more enjoyable to pull on when I get home.
Nice points Rob. Particularly on the pleasure of knowing quality in what you wear, but also in horses for courses – there’s dressing up, even with knitwear
Fully agree with this. I travel with Uniqlo merino sweaters for the very same reason. I don’t fret about mind spilling something on them, getting them squashed in the overhead, or accidentally forgetting one at the hotel. J Crew tech pants are comfortable for the transcontinental flights but look better than athletic pants.
I always see the guys on the menswear blogs somehow making it look like they travel with 4 pairs of leather shoes and several delicate sport coats. Seems like a different world from the real road warrior lifestyle…
There are many who travel like that RSG (though perhaps with one off-duty option of jeans and trainers in there). Particularly those that work for menswear shops and travel a lot. It does take dedication though.
Easier to justify if you make a living from menswear, certainly. More challenging for those of us living out of a carry-on!
I own both Smedley sweaters and Uniqlo sweaters. More Smedley than Uniqlo. Overall, I’ve found my merino sweaters for both brands to hold up well. Smedley cashmere, on the other hand, pills like crazy. And this is coming from a guy who gingerly cares for his Smedley sweaters–since they cost a high amount. Maybe I’m not hand washing them enough? I do brush them occasionally with a Kent brush to try to help with the pilling.
I am glad the writer noted the oiliness of the Uniqlo sweater. It doesn’t feel that way to me, but the material appears to have a lot more sheen to it because of that. It gives lighter color sweaters a more contemporary feel, but I would probably prefer that it not look that way. I like a more matte finish. I have been really impressed with my crewneck Uniqlo merino sweater, and will definitely add to that collection at the expense of Smedley. But when it comes to their merino or cashmere jackets, nothing beats Smedley–despite the pilling.
I wear v neck and crew neck sweaters always over a shirt with or without a tie. So for that purpose John Smedley knitwear is ideal. The merino wool(30 gauge) is excellent quality and wears exceptionally well with very little, if any, piling. For rollnecks and mocks it’s a different story as I’ prefer a 70/30 cashmere and silk blend to wear primarily under a tailored jacket. Here I’ve found that N.Peal and Caruso are good sources. Mock turtlenecks are hard to find for some reason in the 70/30 blend I like. While N.Peal makes them, they do so in China and I would prefer and Italian or British manufacturer. So if anyone knows of a quality British or Italian knitwear maker of mocks please let me know. Concerning the polo model, I’ve been wearing the John Smedley Dorset model for years, primarily because I like the collar and the turn back cuffs. The Dartmoor model however may be an improvement in terms of the wool quality clearly and the collar design. My main concern about the collar is that it appears to be more of a spread collar and I prefer a straight one. For heavier knitwear, 7 or 8 gauge, I wear it under outerwear only with moleskin, corduroy, or flannel pants and here John Smedley has some nice 50/50 merino and cashmere blends. Private White also has some thicker cashmere knitwear that Simon has reviewed positively and I’m looking forward to trying it.
Thank you VSF – those are very interesting comments and I will remember them.
Hi SImon what thoughts do you have in difference of quality between johnstons of elgin /john smedley cashmere and luca faloni ? im on a budget so keen to get the best i can within there price ranges , many thanks
Smedley is mostly a much finer gauge than the others – tighter, thinner, less fluffy. I’d consider them in a different category.
Johnston’s v Faloni, both are good value with the biggest points of difference being the colour and feel of the cashmere (see my post on Colhays) and the fit, classic v slim.
So with all of them, differentiate more on type of product than on quality
Thank you for the comparison. I have a few Smedley jumpers and a PS sleevless cardigan that I wear alot still.
Unfortunately, since John Smedley, supported Brexit with a specially made Get Brexit Done scarf for Boris Johnson I won’t buy from them again.
Well as an American and an admirer of quality British craftsmanship that’s not an issue for me. Perhaps the wise advise of one of the founders of the United States may be helpful to you. He said that he never let politics or religion come between him and a friend. Just consider John Smedley an old friend. Your beautiful and fantastic country will survive and do very well. We Americans consider the Brits to be our first cousins and want you to succeed, hang in there friend.
Thanks VSF – wise words. I shall enjoy my current Smedleys and look for new friends as well as old!
Good man and good decision cousin! It’s good to have friends, both old and new.
I’d love to buy one! However, I read that the PM asked John Smedley to make it for him.
Honestly, with an average income of £130k, i would have guessed the PS readers prefer to choose something else than Uniqlo for knitwear.
As for me… I prefer Smedley
I wear these Uniqlo sweaters day to day to the office and find them pretty much bombproof. I have probably owned 15 to date. Eventually they go at the seam under the arms it seems, which could be repaired I suppose. Some have never really pilled and others have done so aggressively within two wears making them not smart enough for work.
Smedley I own maybe six or seven of and without exception they have all gone at the back of one shoulder seam, not the actual stitching but the dense “selvedge” type bit before the stitched seam (if that makes any sense, I’m sure I’ve not used the correct word)? Seems to start with a very small hole where the neck meets the shoulder seam and go from there. Anyone else had this issue? It’s annoying as they are otherwise in great nick but basically unwearable in a smart context now!
It sounds like both things could be repaired with a little darning Bill – certainly when the small hole first appears
One of my Smedleys had a small hole where the rear neck joins to the back…after only one to two wears. Not sure of quality control has changed over the past little while, but easy enough to fix with a couple stitches. No problems since repair.
Thanks both. I will look at if it’s possible to darn.
Yes that is the exact same spot SC. They have all gone in the same place which is odd, not sure if it is some kind of production flaw. They are all from the last three/four years or so. I guess the trick is to catch it earlier if it happens.
Thank you for taking the time to do a comparison. This is one of the best post I’ve read, so far, this year. I can appreciate the sacrifices one must endure for the 1/5 cost. However, I do not understand why I should want my knitwear to have come from an old, long machine, as opposed to a large flat-bed knitting machine.
Mostly for the flexibility it gives the manufacturer, Matt, as mentioned above. That doesn’t actually affect two similar products that you might be considering. But it means the former might offer more unique products
The only problem I’ve had with my Smedleys is trying to keep the moths away from them, a constant battle. Otherwise, no quality control issues. No piling, stretching, coming apart at seems etc. Very well made and well designed functional knitwear that always looks great. Last week I wore the V-neck model Bobby in navy over a shirt to a party and it was a big hit, lots of compliments. People notice quality knitwear.
What do you think about the cashmere sweaters from Everlane? I‘m really sceptical regarding the companie‘s promise of a high quality cashmere sweater. Even more when thinking of Luca Faloni which costs more than twice.
What‘s your opinion about merino wool sweaters from Ralph Lauren?
I haven’t tried either so can’t comment
Hello Simon and readers,
Since John Smedley is the standard to which value knitwear such as Uniqlo is compared, I wonder about the clothes sold by the John Smedley outlet? Are these the same quality as the regular JS products, just from previous seasons? Or are they from a cheaper, lower quality line specifically made for outlet sales, like the “346” line sold in Brooks Brothers outlet shops?
Same quality Ian
That might be the best value knitwear of all!
I have some lambswool geelong sweaters from Trunk and a merz b schwanen sweater. I noticed on Trunk’s website that the lambswool sweater can be worn with a shirt under but on me it seems that if i have a shirt under it the sweater stretches a lot and it’s uncomfortable. The size it’s ok and I think that if I size up it will be very large in the body. I am guessing that this kind of sweaters are not made to be worn with a shirt under? Only a Shetland one? What do you think?
Well, the lambswool sweater is a finer yarn and tighter, so it won’t be a soft or spongey as a shetland. That might be what you’re feeling. Then again, most knitwear is like that lambswool, so I’m surprised you haven’t felt that before
Great article. In my experience, Uniqlo punch well above their price-point while as you say, never quite challenging the best brands, let alone real luxury clothing. They’re pretty much the only cheap RRP clothing I bother with these days.
I have a black Sunspel l/s T shirt (retails for over £100) and a white l/s Uniqlo T (retails for under a tenner) The Uniqlo T is nearly as good as the Sunspel in every regard while still falling slightly short in all of them (not at all bad for less than a tenth of the RRP) The cotton in the Uniqlo (Supima I think) is almost as soft as the Sunspel (Sea Island iirc) but it feels more textured or treated even (similar to your experience with the knitwear)
Oddly, I don’t think I’ve ever owned Uniqlo knitwear. John Smedley are one of my go-to brands, I live in their polos and knitwear, smart enough for work but since I buy them through the outlet I don’t mind wearing them round my kids (although I always keep a few for ‘best’)
My only problem with Uniqlo cotton clothing is the shrinkage. XS size tends to be a perfect fit on me when new but then slightly snug after washing. I may well go up to S if I buy any more.
I have five merino sweaters from Smedley and four from Uniqlo. The Smedley is thinner, lighter, but much warmer than the Uniqlo, on par with my average lambswool sweater due to better twist, I guess. Smedleys hold their shape better, pill less and are more “charismatic” to the touch, just like my sweaters from Andersen-Andersen, Northseacl. or Heimat. If you buy $80-$100 Smedley on sale, I think it’s a better long-term investment than $30-$40 Uniqlo.
I happen to have bought 2 Uniqlo merino wool sweaters recently (2 tutrtle necks, 1 thin and 1 thicker) and at the same time similar models from other more luxurious brands (Gran Sasso and a couple of new DNVB’s) After only one season of wear of all those pieces, the difference in pilling is shocking between the pieces, the Uniqlo displaying much more pilling. I guess the shorter fibers are to blame (and possibly the side effects of the chemical treatment)