The coolest—and warmest—sweater around is one filled with down.
PRICE CHECK | I’m cold, and my husband knows it. That’s why he gave me a sweater vest for Christmas. No, not one of those dorky argyle knitted numbers with big grandpa buttons—like Old School Archie might have worn—but a “down sweater” vest. It’s pretty cool and from the Gap.
Climbers and serious hikers know a down sweater is an ultra lightweight jacket or vest that delivers minimal weight, superb compressibility and superior warmth. Slim, not puffy, a down sweater is most often used as a midlayer or outerwear piece for colder climates, though its versatility and stylish good looks have begun to earn it a place on the street. Lately I’ve noticed more women and men trading in our regional uniform, the light-sucking polar fleece, for a vibrant but no-less-at-home-here down sweater.
Down Sweaters We Love
The Gold Standard: Patagonia
The best down sweaters are made by Patagonia (or Patagucci as the label is referred to by those who grouse about their prices) for genuinely outdoorsy types. If this company didn’t invent the down sweater, it certainly has perfected it. With its narrow horizontal channels cradling 800-fill premium goose down, Patagonia’s sweater (pictured above) has an extremely high warmth-to-weight ratio.
Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) carries Patagonia down sweaters for men and women in two colours for $218 each, but because it’s midseason, you’ll have trouble finding one. Ask MEC’s service centre to hunt one down (call 604-876-6221 or 888-847-770). Or visit www.patagonia.com to order every style online.
The Hipster Upstart: Uniqlo
If we weren’t talking about ultralight down outerwear, we would never call Uniqlo an upstart—after all, this inexpensive high-style-basics Japanese chain is Asia’s largest clothing retailer. Uniqlo entered the ultralight down market in 2009 with a men’s sweater that looks a lot like Patagonia’s, and this fall launched a super stylish full-on ultralight collection for men and women priced from $69 to $89.
It’s easy to assume that Uniqlo’s Patagonia-wannabe sweater (pictured here), which retailed in England for around $30 Canadian, would be all looks and no performance, but apparently not. London-based climber Ramon Marin took the Uniqlo sweater ice climbing in Canada and found it held up well (read his account here).
You can’t buy Uniqlo fashions in Canada, nor does the company ship to this country. You can, however, order anything on their website by telephone from the Manhattan store (877-486-4756) and have it shipped anywhere in the U.S., even Blaine, if you want to drive down and pick it up there. To see Uniqlo’s ultralight down collection, visit www.uniqlo.com/us
The Look For Less: Gap
Gap’s down- sweater-inspired jackets and vests won’t win any cold wars, but they will keep you surprisingly warm and look good while doing so. I have the lightweight vest and I love it. I also love the after-Christmas price, just $22.97 for the vest and $49.99 for the jacket (pictured here). Move fast if you want to get one of these. www.gapcanada.ca or www.gap.com —Annabel Lee