Tennis-Sweater-Golf-Pullover-Cricket-Jumper

The Cable Knit Tennis Sweater – Cricket Jumper

Today, we want to write about the Tennis Sweater, a remarkable, formerly very popular pullover that is neither seen very often on the tennis court nor on the streets anymore.

Tennis-Cable-Knit-V-neck-Sweater-Apparel-Arts-1936

Tennis-Cable-Knit-V-neck-Sweater-Apparel-Arts-1936

What is a Tennis Sweater?

First of all, we should define what we consider to be a classic tennis sweater. It is a white, ivory, cream or off-white cable-stitch knit pullover with a v-neck that is made of heavy cotton or wool. It features one or more colored bands along the v-neckline and optionally bands on the sleeves as well as the lower waist.

The History of the Tennis Sweater

Although there is quite a substantial number of vintage pictures and fashion illustrations featuring the tennis sweater, there seems to be hardly anything written about this extraordinary garment and its origins. In the early 20th century, knitwear was restricted to sweaters, swimwear and

Tennis Sweater aka Cricket Sweater

underwear. Even then, sweaters were predominantly worn by blue collar working class men who appreciated the warmth and flexibility of sweaters.

While we know for certain that the polo shirt originated on the center court, it is questionable whether the knitted cable stitch v-veck tennis sweater was actually invented on the green lawns. Much rather, there are a number of different theories.

The Cable-Stitch V-Neck Sweater for Wintersport

Robert Taylor Tennis Sweater - 1936

Some people claim the classic cable knit tennis sweater as we know it today was originally invented on the slopes in ski resorts on either side of the pond in the early 1920’s. Considering the bulky nature of the cable-stitch, as well as the heavy wool yarns, this sounds perfectly possible. While it seems the deep v-neck would have exposed the wearer’s neck, it was probably worn with a turtle neck underneath for added warmth. When combined, you would see patterns and colors of both sweaters.

The Prince of Wales & His Golf Sweater

Golf / Tennis Sweater Cable Knit - Apparel Arts 1933

Another theory claims that the sweater was, in fact, popularized on the links. In 1923, an American playing at the English Golf Amateur Championship was spotted wearing a wool sweater with a neckline that was knitted in a thick ribbed stitch. According to a survey conducted in 1924 by the American magazine, Men’s Wear, 48% of the sweaters seen on golf courses were brown while 20% where in fact tennis-sweater-white.

But by the late twenties, the v-neck sweater was, by far, the most popular sweater style on the links. However, the Prince of Wales favoured a sleeveless, v-necked cable-stitch sweater for golf that sometimes featured a bit of color along the V. Since he was the male fashion leader of the day, this kind of pullover was soon adapted on golf courses all over the world, particularly in Great Britain as well as the US.

Cricket Sweaters

The Cricket Jumper & Squash Sweater

Also, we were able to find numerous pictures of cricket players, like the Australians, Sidney Burnes and Alex Fairfield, who also wore the cable-stitch V-neck pullover with colored bands around the neck. Even today, a number of suppliers still offer the off-white tennis sweater under the name cricket sweater. Moreover, it seems like squash players used to wear this kind of sweater as well.

The Tennis Sweater & Its Origin

Tennis Sweater - former US Open Champion Malcom D. Whitman - 1902

Tennis Sweater – former US Open Champion Malcom D. Whitman – 1902

The earliest picture I could find that showed something like a tennis sweater on an actual tennis player is the following photograph of Malcom D. Whitman (1877-1932), who won the Men’s Single United States Open Tennis Championships (today known as the US Open) in 1898, 1899 and 1900. This picture was taken in 1902, and shows Mr. Whitman holding his racquet, dressed in a white shirt and a heavy knit sweater with a wide crew neck and a v-shaped band. It was paired with light colored flannel trousers and dark shoes.

Although the sweater features neither a cable stitch nor a v-neck, it looks remarkably similar to a tennis sweater today, particularly due to the two v-shaped bands reaching from the middle of his chest to his shoulders. Considering this, I think it is a fair claim to call it a tennis sweater.

We do know for certain that tennis players wore actual tennis sweaters, as we know them today, by the early 1930’s. They gained a lot of popularity, especially in the mid thirties

Tennis Sweater Vest / Slipover by McGregor for US Olympic Team 1932

with young players who enjoyed a more casual look. Also, the manufacturer, McGregor, supplied the US Olympic athletes with white, sleeveless tennis sweaters for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 1932.

Despite the fact that the sweater was originally used during warm up and sometimes also during the game, the young crowd now chose it instead of a blazer, and wore it loosely hanging around their shoulders.

Later, film stars like Cary Grant or Robert Taylor helped to maintain the popularity of the Tennis Sweater.

The Tennis Sweater Today

Today, the tennis sweater is certainly not dead, and every year just before The Championships, Wimbledon, Ralph Lauren introduces a new version of this all time classic.  Other brands like Lacoste and J. Press usually have a few models in their collections as well.

Personally, I think they are way to warm for any kind of sports, and so I wear them casually with a shirt and tie. The deep v-cut makes for an excellent look in my opinion.

Where to Buy a Tennis Sweater?

Other than the aforementioned brands, probably the largest ready-to-wear selection of tennis sweaters is currently stocked at Smart Turnout London.

In case you know someone who loves to knit, you may want to acquire a knitting pattern of your choice from the Knitting Lady. That way, you can create your very own bespoke tennis sweater.

Alternatively, you may want to place an order with Luke Eyres from Cambridge, England for a custom circket sweater or slipover.

9 replies
  1. RP
    RP says:

    Hi: as a cricket playing English historian I would add that this side of the pond this is always known as a cricket jumper / sweater – and is still worn by hundreds of thousands of cricketers every summer – including ( some) international sides. This helps to make cricket the satorially most elegant game in the world! (cricket jumper + cream/off-white shirt and trousers + white shoes = collectively, ‘whites’)

    Sadly though in the last few years it has been largely superseded in the professional game by synthetic fleece type pullovers.

    It was certainly common in the sport in the 19th century but the definitive cable stitch not become universal until the 1920s/30s. Because cricket is a much older game than lawn tennis – and was a a vastly more important sport in the UK in the 19th and most of the 20th century – I strongly suspect it migrated to tennis from cricket.

    The jumper is essential in cricket because although it is a summer sport, it is a sport for English summers!!! It is not uncommon to wear two at a time. If its really cold, we might say before a game that it’s ‘three jumper weather’ – in which case players look more like polar bears than athletes.

    Clubs order them as batch buys – often with a club crest on the chest in addition to the club colour stripes. If you are ever in Oxford and Cambridge you can buy them from outfitters supplying the colleges ( eg Ryder & Amies): which gives you a choice of about 30 different colour stripes in each university! you can probably get them online now

    One final bit of cricket fashion: the cricket cap. This peaked wool skull cap is the origin of the baseball cap. Baseball players wore the same thing in the late 19th and early 20th century, before the baseball cap took on its modern boxier shape with longer peak. In cricket they come in a spectacular range of club, college and school colours – either single colour or quartered or striped. The Oxbridge outfitters stock 30 + college caps in a multitude of stripes. They come in proper sizes. ( to be selected to represent England at a team sport – cricket , football, rugby – is to be ‘capped’ because you are presented with a personal cap to recognise the honour ( in football and rugby these are ceremonial, with tassels; in cricket it’s what you wear during the game). For this reason the only part of replica kit for professional cricket teams you cannot buy as a fan is the cap

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Dear Richard, thanks for your comments on the cricket sweater / jumper. I use the term pretty much interchangeably and in my review of the model from Smart Turnout I talked about it as well.

  2. faith crerand
    faith crerand says:

    hi

    i was wondering if you could help..i recently read an article about an english gentleman who manufactured cricket jumpers (started around the mid 1900’s manufacturing school cricket jumpers) company went into decline around 70/80’s but has now reinvented itself and importing fine quality woollens to italy. i was under the impression the gentleman was named arthur meek??but i must be mistaken as cannot find any info whatsoever..any information appreciated

    Thankyou

    faith

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