The Tennis Sweater – Not Just for the Court

Pro Bill Tilden Wearing a Tennis Sweater

Since I’ve started writing about menswear I had never come across a topic that I simply couldn’t find a clear narrative about,—that was until I decided to write about the tennis sweater.  As I attempted to string together the history of this classic piece of American sportswear, it became clear that no one really knows exactly where it came from.  It’s not as if the sweater hasn’t been popular for decades, there are even photos dating as far back as the thirties of tennis players sporting these cable knit v-neck sweaters on the court.  The biggest problem with determining exactly where the tennis sweater comes from is that it actually isn’t exclusive to tennis.

Tennis Sweater from Apparel Arts 1935

Around the turn of the 20th century, tennis pros were seen wearing early versions of the tennis sweater that had thin, spread out stripes around a v-neck collar.  But from here the sweaters took an odd and indirect route,  ending up as ski gear both in the U.S. and in Europe.  While it’s not clear how they moved from the court to ski resorts, by the twenties the cable knit sweaters had found their place on the slopes.  From there, it was the Prince of Wales, in his typical innovative manner, who brought the sweater onto the links, wearing it as part of his golf outfit.

The Four Musketeers of Tennis – Henri Cochet, Jacques Brugnon, René Lacoste, and Jean Borotra

By this time the sweater had arrived at it’s modern incarnation—a white body, with cable stitching across the front, and colored stripes tight around a v-neck collar.  The Prince of Wales favored the touch of color amidst the simplicity, a style that was quickly picked up by American golfers on courses throughout the nation.  Interestingly enough, back in Europe the sweaters had also found their way onto the pitch, as cricket players, following the Prince of Wales’ example, started wearing them. This is why today the terms “tennis sweater” and “cricket sweater” are often used interchangeably.  Once the sweaters had made their way into country clubs, it was an easy step onto the court, allowing play to continue well into the cooler months.  It was here that the tennis sweater found its rightful place, becoming an iconic part of the sport itself.  Off the court the tennis sweater became a casual favorite of everyone from Cary Grant to suburban dads.  The tennis sweater is less easy to find these days, but  it’s unmistakable cable stitching and colored stripes, still make it a timeless piece.

Brooks Brothers Cable Knit Cotton Tennis Sweater

Polo Ralph Lauren Cable-Knit Tennis Sweater

Smart Turnout Ampleforth Tennis Vest (Also Available in Long Sleeves)

Smart Turnout Navy Tennis Sweater

Charles Trywhitt Off-White Cotton Sweater

Charles Tyrwhitt Navy Cotton Sweater

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