Aran jumpers are among the most iconic items of knitwear available. They may once have been the preserve of fishermen, but their popularity has spread thanks to their combination of practicality and style. Understanding this jumper’s history and cultural value is vital if you want to fully appreciate its worth.
History of the Aran jumper
The Aran sweater takes its name from the Aran Islands, a collection of three land masses off Ireland’s west coast, not far from Galway. Some historians like to exaggerate just how long the residents of Aran have been wearing their jumpers, but they have been around for over a century.
Originally designed as mens fisherman sweaters to help them stay warm and dry, their commercial spread began in the mid-20th Century, with stars like Grace Kelly wearing one on the cover of Vogue. Other celebrity fans have included Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Steve McQueen and by the 21st Century, the Aran jumper was taking its place in fashion museums next to Levi jeans. Today it continues to be a fashion staple.
Craftsmanship of the Aran jumper
Part of the attraction of the Aran jumper is the degree of craftsmanship needed to make one. A single jumper may include as many as 100,000 stitches. Aran jumpers are traditionally made from unscoured wool to retain its water-resistant lanolin, and the usual colour is off-white, although today’s Mens fisherman sweaters have diversified a little.
It’s possible that the original knitters of Aran jumpers were inspired by ancient artwork such as that decorating the Book of Kells. Different patterns, such as the cable, diamond, and basket can represent different meanings, including wishes for safety, prosperity and a good catch. The honeycomb may symbolise the industrious hard work of the bee.
There is a certain amount of mythology in the stories told about the Aran jumper, but that does not lessen its impact on fashion. The immense level of craftsmanship needed to produce an authentic Aran jumper and the deeper meanings found in its patterns mean that it represents much more than just an item of clothing.