The hunt for the perfect grey sweatshirt is as troubling as the quest to find that special white t-shirt. Other clothes can come and go, but the glorious neutrality of the marl grey sweat is the piece that comes out season after season, year after year. It swoops above subcultural pigeonholes too.
Curiously, while I’ve grown in stature, I’ve reduced my sizing since my days pausing MTV Raps to gauge branding – in 1993 I was submerged in an extra-extra large oatmeal-coloured mass of hooded Carhartt. A year or so later, infuriated by the sagging waistband, intended at portly welders rather than my pre-pubescent scrawn, I downsized to a volumnious extra large. It’s notable that the sweats I sported had more longevity in crewneck form. But now I’m inclined to feel (Japanese brands aside) like a Nurishment supping car thief when I go beyond a large.
It’s a shame, because for every five that rose to bottom of the belly level, yet retained oversized sleeves like a pagan high priest’s gowns, after fifty-plus washes, some of those sweatshirts would reach what I percieved to be the perfect size – in culinary terms, a cotton reduction of remarkable depth.
I know that a sweatshirt is meant for…well, sweating in, but I don’t want some Mexican constructed creation designed with Matt Hughes’s torso in mind. Being built like a brick shithouse seems to be expected with some cuts, leaving cavernous spaces for chest muscles and treetrunk necks when a sapling is supporting your noggin. You don’t need your own clothes taunting you.
Too many Japanese Americana remakes might be painstakingly loomed, but the microscopic sizing means even utilising my old sizing excesses, a piece could be climbing up my sleeve after a couple of rinses, with that vanishing ten percent of fabric on a first clean proving particularly detrimental. I don’t care which way it’s woven – like death and taxes, it’s inevitable.
The perfect sweatshirt could be my companion for a decade to come, yet in buying what’s effectively a staple, I’m unwilling to part with foolhardy sums. And that cheap vintage eBay bargain can turn up smedium, regardless of seller description. The big brands always fall short. Too shapeless, too thin or too bulky. Gap’s 1969 vintage range circa. 2000 was the best high street effort I’ve seen. I’ve talked at length here about Champion’s current shortcomings. As much as I like Buzz Rickson, that slimness can feel as restricting as it is authentic.
Far East fetishes aside, I genuinely believe that some I’m holding made in Portugal and Canada (though some CYC bits can practically stand up by themselves, a feat unseen by a popular garment since twill carpenter pants and 24oz denim could perform a similarly spooky wearer-free stance) have as much merit as more expensive Asian replicas.
The UK however, has quietly carved its own niche, born of obsessives like Ian Paley and his Garbstore (One True Saxon, back when he was involved, released a killer plain sweat) who’s keen to keep a plain sweatshirt in seasonally, and Albam. Albam might be so good that buzzwords will give way to backlashes, such is the nature of self-hating clobber junkies, but when you’ve become a misleading addition (‘6876, Oi Polloi, Albam’) to auction site listings, you’ve arrived. Soon opening their east London operation, last year’s addition of a sweatshirt to the brand/store’s fomidable artillery seemed short-lived. I wondered if it was their own exacting quality control standards, but I was crestfallen that I never had an opportunity to dabble.
Until the last few days.
Wandering into the store, the Albam sweatshirt is back. UK-made, in a medium weight, initially the soft, less elastically synthetic appearance of the cuffs and waistband had me wondering whether I’d been fooled by a knitted imposter taking a sweatshirt form. I apologise to the heads at the store for making an assumption that they’d ever create something so unnecessary. This sweatshirt is as close to my ideal as I’ve seen for a sub-hundred pound pricepoint, or the Russian roulette of proxy bidding prior to awaiting and recieving minature garments. What could have been ruinous quirks in the hands of a lesser company – a ‘stash’ pocket and metal eyelet ventilation, add some extra style, with the pocket’s stitching quietly visible externally. Like their best shirting, the elbows are reinforced too, with the detail kept tonal.
Then there’s the fit. Relatively slim on the body, but relaxed enough when it comes to arm length and width for a comfortable wear. The neck isn’t restrictive, allowing a peek of Hanes white, but isn’t gaping either. Avoiding the temptation for a ribbed side panel – a pitfall with so many other brands, boxiness is avoided too.
The folk at Albam are clearly on an Ahab-style mission to create definitives. I’m holding off perfect status, because I think their approach remains a work-in-progress. Rumour has it there’s a slightly thicker variation in a heavier weight jersey dropping soon to correlate with the colder weather. I’ll take ’em all on the marl-coloured road to sweatshirt Valhalla. I accidentally copped a medium (2) by mistake and suffered a brief weight crisis, until I realised the mistake. I’ve downsized my sweats in the last fifteen years, but not quite that much.