The sweater as we know it, a staple in any American sportswear wardrobe, actually began as a basic knitted undershirt or what the Brits like to call a “jumper.” Initially knit with fine gauge wools, some clever manufacturers began using thicker yarns so that the jumper, as it were, could actually be worn as outerwear, which many men did, especially for exercising and outdoor sports like rugby and soccer.
Before long, sports clothing manufacturers. Particularly in America, began adding colored yarns to their knitting machines and the colored sweater was born. With the invention of intarsia knitting—a technique whereby patterns could be created by using multiple colors, patterned sweaters became a part of the male outerwear wardrobe.
One of the most popular and fashionable forms of knitted outerwear, particularly on the golf course, is the argyle sweater. The name is an adulterated version of Argyll, which was a branch of the Campbell clan in Scotland and the particular tartan plaid that represented their family.
For the uninitiated, argyle is the name given to a multi-colored, knitted diamond pattern intermixed with an overplaid. Long a favored pattern with hosiery manufacturers, the idea of using argyle as a pattern for sweater design is relatively new. Dating back to the early 1930’s argyle sweaters were the garments of choice for playing the links courses among British nobles, who favored the pattern for their knee length hosiery under plus-fours as well as for sweaters and vests. Soon, the argyle sweater became popular with men stateside who never picked up a putter in their lives. It was a look, and a handsome one at that.
Argyle sweaters have faded in and out of popular fashion over the years, but it remains a perennial classic in any sportswear collection, especially for men. The most modern looking variations focus on more conservative, deeper tones particularly for fall, and the best versions are fully-fashioned (constructed in a continual knit rather than pieced together) and made of fine merino wool, pure cotton or even cashmere.
While American men (and women) may have embraced the classic argyle sweater as their own, there is no denying that it looks great on everyone. Even Scots.