Though we're still in the grip of midsummer heat, the racks in a lot of big-name fashion stores are already teeming with the first batches of the new autumn/winter collections. If you're looking to buy for your two-week holiday in the Med, you better act fast - the depleting stocks of strappy dresses and swimwear are now being cleared to make way for the new season's crepe dresses and woollen trousers.
It's an irony that's not without some benefits, though. The freezing ferocity of the air conditioning we endure in most public spaces here (this office included) means knitwear is very much a part of the UAE summer wardrobe well into October, and the arrival of these new season collections is a good time to expand your selection.
While it used to be an acquired taste or at best a dull, uniform essential, knitwear has really smartened itself up in recent seasons, and on the Autumn/Winter 2012 catwalks it became a statement piece. At Chloé, oversized jumpers were paired with baggy trousers in contrasting textures and prints; Moschino Cheap & Chic showed fine knitted dresses and sweaters in bright jewel tones; Armani went all out for colour with sweaters in bright orange, while Rodarte showed us chunky prairie-inspired cardigans.
For our purposes, knits in fine, lightweight fabrics such as linen, cotton and cashmere are the best choice - they're slim-fitting, thus flattering and easy to layer. A good thing to remember is that the higher the gauge knit (eg 12 gauge, 14 gauge) the more refined the fabric is. Buying it is a simple exercise that can be summarised in one word: investment. It doesn't have to be Dh7,000 Donna Karan cashmere (especially if you're slinging it on every time you come indoors), but making a single substantial purchase wins out over owning a dozen flimsy synthetic hybrids every time. Cheap mixes of acrylic, viscose or nylon are a false economy; no matter how gently you treat them they will begin to lose their shape after just a few washes - and that's if they don't bobble first.
A reliable source of superior knitwear is JCrew (a premium version of The Gap, for non US readers), which has an extensive knitwear department. Their fine-knit merino sweaters start from around Dh300; their cashmere range - cardigans, sweaters, T-shirts and tunics - from Dh800. You can order direct from their website (shipping to the UAE is Dh130 flat rate), or from a smaller selection at Net-A-Porter, where highlights include some great slubby linen knits by the cult US label Rag and Bone and thigh-skimming slouchy cashmere cardigans by Joseph, complete with leather elbow patches (Dh1,742). Perfect that preppy/college professor look.
Reiss can always be relied upon for well-priced knitwear in quality fabrics, and they've done really well this year with their new collection of ultra lightweight sweaters, cardigans and cover-ups in muted, natural tones of blues, greys and pinks. Another favourite find is at Harvey Nichols, where Vanessa Bruno's latest collection includes a fantastic Fifties-style alpaca sweater in anthracite, detailed with offbeat cutouts at the collar and hem. It's relaxed yet elegant. Wear it with a pencil skirt and heels for an easy, stylish officewear option.
In terms of how to care for your charge, a word from the wise: don't risk that wool cycle option on the washing machine. The Laundress (Bloomingdales, Dubai Mall) has a range of home laundry shampoos, sprays and brushes specifically for wool and cashmere, plus a list of care tips on their website, www.thelaundress.com. Ideally, though, you should dry clean every time. A big investment deserves protection.