It’s a cruel trick of fashion fate, I always find, that the items that are supposed to be easy are often the most challenging of all.
Jeans are the classic example, of course. It’s one of the biggest mysteries in the world, how jeans managed to brainwash us all into thinking they’re a comfortable, reliable staple – like the terrible boyfriend your friends and parents all think is utterly charming.
Likewise belted coats, brogues, white shirts. I could write a thesis on the mythology of the “Throw it on!” dress – a sleeved floral midi that looks cool and casual enough for daywear, loose enough for pasta, yet fitted enough to be conventionally flattering. I have lost months of my life to trudging round the high street in pursuit of the throw-it-on dress. They are seemingly everywhere, in every shop, and yet the moment you get near enough to touch one – pufft! – it transforms into something twee and awkward and Victorian-looking that gapes across your boobs.
But, speaking of boobs, today I’m here to talk about jumpers. Easy, cosy jumpers. Jumpers, like a hug you can wear. Everybody loves a jumper! I especially love a jumper, which explains why I have about 20 and take it in turns to be grumpy and frustrated with them all.
Some are too bulky, some are too scratchy, many are too long, many too hot for anywhere with the heating on. Most refuse to do the fashion tuck (in at the front, elegantly out at the back) without feeling like I’m wearing a woolly rubber ring amount my waist. Almost all lump my boobs together into a single, solid wall of fuzz. Yet, I stick with them, because to give up on the cosy promise of jumpers would be unthinkable. Inhuman, somehow. Saying you’re not a jumper person is like saying you don’t like puppies.
Bobbles are incredibly satisfying to pick off by hand, like a good scab, but resist if you can, because you’re more likely to do damage to the wool that way
Of course, like a puppy, jumpers come in many shapes and sizes, and it helps if you take your time to find the right match. A few years ago, I finally saw the grown-up appeal of a lightweight, plain cashmere or merino wool sweater, and we’ve been inseparable ever since. Very few “timeless” things in our wardrobes are genuinely trend-resistant, but this one is – it has to be when it costs as much as your monthly travelcard. Of all the jumper styles, it’s also the very best friend to big boobs, especially if you buy a size smaller than usual so that it fits snugly and tucks into waistbands smoothly. You want a jumper that looks like a jumper, but fits like a long-sleeve T-shirt.
But, even once you’ve found your sweater soulmate and taken it home, there are obstacles to your happily ever after. Moths, for one (I lived harmoniously with our moths for a while, thinking we’d got lucky with a species that didn’t actually eat clothes, before I realised it was just because most of our clothes were polyester), tyrannical washing instructions for another. And, of course, bobbles.
Bobbles, or pillings to give them their proper name, form naturally on wool through wear. Generally under the armpits, down the sides and anywhere else that receives regular friction. You can minimise pilling by washing jumpers inside out and never tumble-drying them (friction nightmare), entrusting them to a dry-cleaner or, presumably, by walking around with your arms in the air as though on a rollercoaster at all times.
They’re incredibly satisfying to pick off by hand, like a good scab, but resist if you can, because you’re more likely to do damage to the wool that way. Instead, there are four easy enough ways to strim off the bobbles and keep your jumper good as new.
The first is nail scissors, but only for the pillings with long strands. Just hold the bobble away from the jumper and carefully snip it off. The second is sandpaper – but only the fine kind, not coarse, unless you have grunge revival/Freddie Krueger aspirations. Drag the sandpaper very gently in one direction to buff off the bobbles. You can also buy “sweater stones” that work in the same way.
The third method, more thrillingly, is a razor. Make sure it’s good and sharp (not your Venus still soapy from the shower, although we’ve all had that kind of morning). Hold the wool taught and shave very gently over the pillings until they’re gone, then use tape or a lint roller to pick up the debris.
But if you really, really love your sweaters, invest in a pilling comb (AKA a cashmere comb or a knit comb, if we’re going to be droll about it). You can get them from haberdashery stores or, as I did, a very confused sales assistant at Marks & Spencer. Stroke it over the bobbles and watch them all lift away. It’s quite satisfying. And to continue the jumper-as-pet metaphor, there are definitely worse ways to spend a winter evening than cosied up, grooming your woollens.