The Vintage Cowichan Novelty Sweater

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I am a big fan of vintage clothing. They’re filled with so much character that you just can’t find today!  Unless you go bespoke or completely custom, there’s no way you’re going to get specific lapels, particular cuts/designs, or even cool fabric.  Vintage is a staple of my wardrobe and I am always on the lookout for something cool to add into my rotation!  Outerwear and sweaters in particular are a great way to add some vintage pizzaz into your own outfits.  A few articles ago we talked about the vintage M-43 field jacket and the Fair Isle Sweater vest. This time we’re going to look at a vintage Cowichan sweater.

You’ve seen this type of sweater before.

Cowichan sweaters are filled with history. You can read all about it here, but it was developed by the Cowichan people of Canada.  Both today and back then, most of them were knit by women, resulting in a thick pullover or (most commonly) zip sweater.  The wikipedia article goes into saying that Fair Isle was a pattern that was utilized, but it was mainly “native” designs that are most traditional.  Color of white, black, grey and beige were most common!  These sweaters (along with fair isle) are perfect for fall/winter outfits.

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Traditional cowichan sweater.

In the 1920s-1960s, the sweaters were commercialized, producing a variety of novelty designs in saturated colors ranging from simple animals to complex stuff.  It is these novelty Cowichan sweaters that are prized by collectors.

Traditional Cowichan with whales!

 

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Assorted variety of 1960’s Cowichans.

Now, people are no stranger to novelty knits.  The 1930’s had them on regular (non Cowichan) sweaters, worn with tailored slacks.  Today, novelty knits are pretty much associated with high-fashion.  It is that “new association” that makes me want to bring them back to the world of tailoring.!  Sure, the regular ones may be great for a fall/winter aesthetic, but we’re about personality on this blog!  Wearing a zip, novelty Cowichan has the right amount of personality and function that makes it very similar to the vintage jackets I normally wear (like the vintage varsity one in this post).

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1930’s novelty sweater.

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Gucci sweater.

Cowichan sweaters are still made today, but mainly in the “regular” prints. Modern mall brands have lost the thick, wide cables of wool and replaced them with the thinner lambswool ones; it also doesn’t help that the sweaters are much too long and end up going past the natural waist (which doesn’t look good).

Luckily for us,  vintage Cowichans are readily available on eBay, in their thick wooled, short length, wide ribbed glory.   For the traditionalists, there are plenty of awesome animal and native american prints.  For the collectors and personality driven dressers, there are treasures to be found!  That’s where I found my awesome “hunting motif” Cowichan for $50.

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Man and dog.

 

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Bird, shotgun, and shells.

 

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The desired bird.

Isn’t this sweater amazing?  The amount of handmade detail is exquisite; I especially love the scene knitted onto the front and back.  Only vintage can provide this; most of the modern Cowichans I’ve seen are plain or regular.  Novelty is the way to go if you want to add personality to our wardrobe!

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Now Ethan Newton of Bryceland’s is no stranger to mixing vintage pieces and tailoring.  I decided to follow his example and paired my new Cowichan with a vintage Brooks Brothers blue button-down collar shirt and some high rise brown trousers.   It’s very simple and repeatable in a variety of different ways and especially so if you want to do a “tailored casual” look!  Overall, the look is in the same vein as our vintage casual post and our other tailored casual post, but with a winter/knitwear focus! It also has a slight Americana vibe.

You could wear almost any type of shirt, but I’d be wary when it came to pants choices. I wouldn’t do khakis or something brown, since they’d blend in with the colors of the Cowichan.  I’d love to revisit this look with something more “rugged”, like my selvedge denim and an oxford shirt! The play on textures on the pieces would be great.

Even though the sweater is clearly vintage, the entire look is pretty classic.  Everything fits very well; that’s the key whenever you try to incorporate a statement piece. It shows that your choices are intentional and not just putting random pieces together!  This sweater is no exception.  Sure a plain sweater or zip (or even leather jacket) might be the “regular choice” but if you’re tired of doing something expected, why not add some cool personality with vintage knitwear?

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It’s incredibly warm.

I just want to take this moment to say that almost everything was thrifted. Currently, Brooks Brothers soft collar shirts are pretty expensive, but I was lucky to find this one (along with two others) at my local Goodwill! It was at this same Goodwill that I found these high rise trousers a couple of months ago; I wore them for one of my favorite blog posts.  I’m telling you, you don’t always have to go to fancy vintage stores to find cool items.  You just need to take the time to look through eBay or do weekly visits at your local Goodwill and you’ll eventually find something cool!

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1960’s Cowichan Zip Sweater (eBay), vintage Brooks Brothers shirt (thrifted),

1960’s wool trousers (thrifted), Florsheim Imperials (thrifted)

I really endorse the Cowichan sweater.  It’s a cool piece of clothing that has the propensity to add some personality to your wardrobe, especially if you find one in a cool color or novelty print! They’re full of history, craftsmanship, and damn warm wool. Luckily, I was able to cop mine for cheap but there are plenty to be found on eBay!

Wear yours with some simple tailoring when its cold out and you’ll have a great stand out piece when going casually tailored.  Only vintage can give you that edge!  Perhaps next time we’ll look at other types of cool, interesting vintage sweaters and outerwear that we can incorporate into our wardrobe.

Always a pleasure,

Ethan W.

Street x Sprezza

Photography by Scott E.  

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