Confession time. I’m a sweater fanatic. By my last count, I have somewhere in the neighborhood of forty different pieces of knitwear in my closet, from old L.L. Bean Norwegian Fisherman sweaters to cashmere turtlenecks to Bond and McQueen inspired shawl collar cardigans. But there’s one style I’ve been missing: the classic Submariner sweater.
The Submariner sweater was first developed under the British War Office in 1941. With it’s high roll neck collar, tight knit, longer length and wide hem, it was designed to protect sailors from the brutally wet and freezing cold conditions they’d encounter at sea. The practical, rugged knitwear soon became a favorite with the submarine crews that patrolled the North Seas (hence the name). Eighty years later, the original design has remained virtual unchanged.
But it isn’t just the sweater’s heritage that draws me to it. I’ll freely admit that one of my sources of style inspiration has been that 2015 John Rankin Waddell photo of Daniel Craig wearing a beautiful 100% cashmere Gieves & Hawkes navy rollneck. Since I’m basically a jeans and sweater kind of guy during the colder months, it’s a look I could definitely see myself wearing. Long story short, the Submariner has been on my radar for a while and I was a very happy camper when Paul James Knitwear and I came into contact.
About Paul James Knitwear
Based in Leicestershire, England, Paul James first opened their doors in 1976. In 2005, the company moved into a state-of-the-art factory where they were able to combine traditional craftsmanship and design with modern manufacturing techniques. But they’ve always kept their focus on finding the best materials possible for their knitwear and the quality of their pieces.
While Paul James does make some of their knitwear at their factory in India, they remain highly committed to their Made in England collection. These pieces are designed and made by their 50 person team in Leicestershire using certified British wool, alpaca and Merino wool from Peru, Geelong lambswool from Z. Hinchliffe & Sons, and cashmere from the world renowned Todd & Duncan mill. The different models in the collection, including shooting sweaters, Aran knits and Breton stripes as well as caps, socks and scarves, have their origins in traditional designs. But they often add modern twists, such as trimmer fits through the body and sleeves, to create some truly timeless yet contemporary knitwear.
The Paul James Fitted Submariner Sweater
When Paul James asked me to review one of their sweaters, I was immediately drawn to their Fitted Submariner over their more traditional design for a few reasons.
First, I thought it would be a great example of how their design team is combining a classic sweater style with a modern fit. Second, since it was part of their Made in England collection, I was eager to see the quality of materials and construction they were delivering for the price. And third, a Submariner is a versatile style that can work with a lot of different looks. If Paul James could nail the quality and fit, it would be an easy sweater for me to recommend.
With a reasonable price of $166.00/£120.00 and a customer rating of 4.7 stars out of 5 after 85 reviews, the Fitted Submariner seemed like a solid choice to review.
To say I was blown away by the presentation of the Submariner sweater would be an understatement. Paul James has really gone all out with the extras and little details they include. It starts with a simple yet sturdy blue storage box that closes with magnets and a ribbon tie.
Open the box and inside you’ll find the sweater carefully wrapped in tissue. Plus a drawstring cotton storage bag, a couple of post cards (one with a very nice handwritten note), detailed washing instructions and a glossy copy of their catalog. It’s the kind of packaging you’d expect from significantly more expensive luxury knitwear brands. The fact that Paul James is delivering this type of unboxing experience at their very reasonable price says a lot about how much pride they take in their products.
Fabric and Construction
Let’s put any concerns to rest right from the start. The Merino wool Paul James uses is soft. Not cashmere soft. But it feels very comfortable against the skin. I’ve now worn the sweater for long stretches and there’s been absolutely zero itching around the neck. And that really comes down to the quality of the wool. Because it’s a thinner, longer staple fiber, they can get a much tighter yarn with no stray ends sticking out that can rub against your skin. This will also help minimize pilling down the road.
Turn the sweater inside-out and you’ll find cleanly finished seams throughout, with tight stitching and no loose threads. The actual knit is a neat and tight medium weight 5 gauge through the body and sleeves with heavier ribbed knitting at the collar, cuffs and hem. There’s a good amount of natural stretch to the knit, which makes the sweater easy to put on and take off. You’re not going to feel like you’re trying to squeeze your head through a plastic tube with this one.
Paul James offers two ways to check sizing on their website. There’s a short questionnaire you can take which will recommend the best size for you and a standard sizing chart with the actual garment measurements. The product descriptions also have some notes on the fit of each piece.
For reference, I’m 5’9″, 175lbs with a 43″ chest. I usually take a medium in almost every brand, although I do sometimes have to go with a large from European companies like Massimo Dutti, Zara and Mango. After using the Paul James sizing questionnaire and chart and consulting with their excellent customer service team, I decided to go with my regular size medium.
Unlike the classic Submariner sweater, the Fitted version features a slimmer fit through the body and arms. It also forgoes the drop shoulders of the more traditional design. For me, the size medium hit almost perfectly at the shoulders and was a trim but still comfortable fit throughout.
It’s also worth noting that the sweater is a little longer through the arms and body than you might expect. This extra length is actually a design feature of the traditional Submariner style, so it shouldn’t have come as a great surprise. And it certainly wasn’t a problem in the sleeves, where rolling back the cuffs is standard. But the elongated body combined with the extra wide ribbed hem (another key feature of the Submariner design) created some slight bagging around the waist. Nothing dramatic, but it did take some getting used to.
As for the collar: it’s awesome! Everything I wanted in a rugged turtleneck sweater. When folded over it comes right up to the chin and hugs the neck without feeling restrictive. And, as I mentioned before, the soft Merino wool is extremely comfortable against the skin.
With the extra effort they’ve put into the packaging and the high quality of the materials and construction, Paul James is offering great value for the money. Honestly, there’s a lot more bang for the buck than I was expecting.
But it’s the styling that really has me sold. They’ve kept what I’ve always loved about the design (the heavy roll neck collar and wider hem), done away with the more old-school drop shoulders and updated the fit to create a piece of knitwear that does an excellent job melding the classic with the modern. Needless to say, I’ll be putting the sweater to good use this winter. And for many more to come!
You can find the Paul James Fitted Submariner Sweater on their website for $166.00/£120.00 in 4 colors: classic Ecru and Navy as well as Charcoal and Black. Paul James Knitwear provided the author with a sweater free of charge for the purpose of this review. All opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own. For more reviews check out this section of Iconic Alternatives.