Irish-American Fashion: Clancy Brother

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The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem: The penny whistle is optional.

It doesn’t get simpler than this: The Tipperary-born Clancy Brothers and County Armagh’s Tommy Makem popularized Irish song as part of the American folk music revival of the 60s, playing around Greenwich Village and quickly breaking into television, where their stripped down, slack-and-Aran-Island sweaters made them instantly iconic. It wasn’t entirely deliberately — the mother of the Clancy Brothers heard that winters could be quite cold in New York and so sent them some sweaters. However, their manager, Martin Erlichman, knew a signature look when he saw one, and so the quartet was rarely seen without their signatures thereafter. The best thing about this look is that it is unisex: Women look just as good in slacks and Aran sweater as men do.

Let’s discuss the sweater for a moment, as it is one of Ireland’s most iconic. It originates, as it’s name suggests, with the rugged Aran Islands off Ireland’s west coast: They are made from heavy wool, originally untreated, so that the wool’s natural lanolin would give the sweater added protection from wet. Aran sweaters are knit with a variety of patterns, each with their own stories, and come in a variety of styles (the Clancy brothers typically favored turtle-necked pullovers. You shouldn’t have trouble finding one, and go with whatever style suits you best. Prices can range quite a bit, depending on whether you get a machine- or hand-knit jumper. If we had to recommend one, we’d suggest starting with John Molloy’s polo-collar hand-knit Aran Jumper, although it will set would back bout $290.

Hand-knit Aran jumper with polo neck from John Molloy.

Hand-knit Aran jumper with polo neck from John Molloy.

The rest of the ensemble is pretty classic prep school: Slacks and Oxford shoes, although to get the look just right, the slacks should have a neat crease in the front. We’d recommend pleated dress trousers from Ralph Lauren here, available from Macy’s for a sale price of $54.95 just now.

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Pleated dress trousers from Ralph Lauren.

As to the shoes, it’s possible to find a goof pair of Oxfords anywhere, so we might as well recommend the best. For our tastes, that means a bespoke pair from England’s Gaziano & Girling, which, make no mistake, is going to cost you. Look to spend somewhere between $800 and $900.

Expensive, but oooh.

Expensive, but oooh.

There’s yet another element we can add to this ensemble, thanks to guitarist Liam Clancy. He would sometimes favor a simple fiddler cap, and we’re always in favor of adding a fiddler cap to the mix. Here’s what he looked like in one:

Looking grand, Liam!

Looking grand, Liam!

Our favorite online store for fiddler caps is Etsy, and we’re going to suggest the suitably floppy distressed leather fiddler cap from Hatter Shop, $68.

Looking rugged!

Looking rugged!

Now grab your guitar and head toward Greenwich Village. It’s been a long time since anyone sat on a barrel and sang “O’Donnell Aboo,” and that means it’s been too long.

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.