Sunday, March 22, 2009

The classic TENNIS SWEATER became popular in the 20’s not on the hallowed lawns of Wimbledon or Forest Hills but on ski slopes at home and abroad...

It is one of the more peculiar vagaries of fashion, and sportswear in particular, that throughout history certain garments originally designed for one sport are eventually borrowed, perhaps stolen, and popularized by another and yet another. Eventually, historical accuracy notwithstanding, the garment becomes identified by the most recent sport as its propagator. Such is the case with the cable-stitch V-neck knitted pullover otherwise known as the tennis sweater.

Rummaging through fashion annals and costume history tomes yields relatively little about this classic sweater. But most authorities agree that the bulky, wool V-neck cable style was first popularized in the early Twenties not on the hallowed lawns of Wimbledon or the manicured greens of Forest Hills but on the icy slopes of ski resorts on both sides of the Atlantic. It is easy to see why--the bulkiness of the cable stitches added warmth and the V-neck treatment was a perfect foil for a turtleneck worn underneath.

But it was the Prince of Wales during this same decade who first adopted the V-neck style as part of his golf ensemble, worn as a pattern-less look with just a touch of color near the neck. Eventually, odd as it may seem, the cable-stitch V-neck sweater as favored by the dapper royal, was taken up by American golfers who wore this sweater style in place of the tweed jacket for teeing off in the fall months.

As the 30’s reached midpoint, tennis reclaimed the cable-stitch pullover once gain, as younger players referred the casual look of a white sweater tossed over their shoulders rather than a more formal tailored blazer or long camel polo coat.

Traditional sportswear companies perennially serve up a slew of classic tennis sweater looks

Sometime during this period, the burgeoning popularity of the tennis sweater made a circuitous route to another part of the tony grass court clubs that were springing up all over the country--to the croquet and cricket fields. So pervasive did the use of the garment become in the game of cricket that for a time, the sweater even began to be called the cricket sweater. And in venues where cricket is still wildly popular, like Bermuda and other parts of the English-owned Caribbean, it is still referred to as such.

In the late Fifties and early Sixties, the classic tennis sweater experienced a rebirth of popularity at tennis clubs all over the world, thanks largely to the elegant Englishman Fred Perry and the squad of Australian players that included Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver and Frank Sedgeman. Indeed, Fred Perry went on to lend his name to a classic line of tennis wear, a collection that was always noteworthy for its plush cotton or linen cabled V-neck sweaters. For his part, Rosewall wore the tennis sweater as though it were a second skin, influencing in the process, scores of young American players eager to emulate his sartorial style as well as his backhand slice.

Stateside today, the tennis sweater is alive and well. And while technology has given us micro-fiber warm-up suits and super-lightweight jackets, nothing compares to the style and swagger of a hand-stitched, pure cotton or lightweight wool cable V-neck pullover in white, cream or ivory highlighted with a touch of blue, yellow or burgundy at the neck, sleeves and waistband. The trouble is, finding one worthy of its tradition becomes increasingly difficult in the "throw away chic" era that is now upon us.


  1. Love the article, love the look. Polo Ralph Lauren had a fantastic one last fall, white with burgandy/navy trim. It was suc a classic look, totally in contrast with current mainstream style. Sadly, I missed it and as you referenced in your article, it will be hard to find one of that caliber. Wish me luck!

  2. Kerry...
    Search the PRL outlet stores, you might find the same sweater. Also, you can always have one made by Ballantyne or Drumohr.

  3. Thank you Anonymous...whomever you may be. :-)

  4. Good Morning. I am looking for the classic tennis sweater and I had seen it among your collection. Please advise me, as I want to purchase a white cable tennis with the red, white and blue accented v neck and cuffs. 1-941-360-3730. What stores would carry it, and where. Thank you. Carol Toppel