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Oh sweaters... The fall favorite. The cozy champion. Whether loose and slouch or snug and sexy, sweaters are the perfect way to dress up or down, to look and feel good at the same. Sweaters have quite the history (and I’m not just talking about that one your grandma knitted for you back in the day). 


Knitting has been around for thousands of years. The oldest known knit item is a sock from ancient Egypt. People knit socks and other garments for thousands of years but did not begin to use yarn to create warm, waterproof tops until the 14th century. It is thought that knit sweaters initially served as insulating and durable tops for fishermen and sailors in the English Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey, which is why a sweater is often called a jersey or guernsey. The fishermen’s wives knitted the sweaters for their husband so they would remain warm while out to sea for months as the sweaters repelled water. The sweater and knitting industry continued to develop in the Channel Islands, Scottish highlands, and Scandinavian nations as did patterns unique to each area. 

The sweater industry continued to grow during the Industrial Revolution and creation of textile factories. Knitwear was seen as athletic wear in the late 1800’s and Coco Chanel is credited with bringing knitwear to the forefront of fashion in 1916. Patterned sweaters came into prominence after the Duke of Windsor was spotted in a traditional sweater from the Shetland Islands in Scotland. 

Sweaters remained a popular item throughout the rest of the 20th century with fashion designers adapting the item to alight with the current trends. For example, sweaters appeared in mustard yellow, brown, rust, and other muted colors in the 1970s and patterned monstrosities were available for purchase in the 1980’s. Sweaters are a classic garment available in many types of yarn, different cuts in the neck, and numerous patterns. 


Humans have been using animal skins and fur to protect themselves from the elements for thousands of years. Ancient humans discovered that animal hair could be used to create garments and keep humans as dry and warm as the fibers did when they were still attached to the animal. People invented spindles, looms, needles and threads, and eventually machines to turn animal hair into clothing. 

Sheeps Wool

The oldest sweaters were made out of yarn created from wool sheared from sheep. Sheep wool is naturally warm, waterproof, and durable. Pure wool sweaters are known for being itchy and usually require more care than sweaters made of synthetic textiles. Different types of sheep produce wool with different characteristics. Merino wool comes from Merino sheep and is a very fine and soft. It is often used as a fabric rather than for knitting. 


Cashmere is a yarn made from the Kashmir goat, but retrieving the hair isn’t as simple as shearing the goat. Cashmere is made from the softer undercoat of a goat, rather than the coat that covers the whole goat. Once the goat is sheared, the coarser hairs must be removed leaving only the fine hair that will become cashmere. This makes cashmere expensive and a fancy luxury item. Cashmere has been used in Nepal, Mongolia, and the Kashmir region of India and Pakistan for thousands of years. Cashmere is finer and softer than sheep’s wool and three times more insulating. The silky and soft quality provides a sense of luxury and has been long associated with royalty and the upper class. 


Cotton, a textile made from the protective seed case of a shrub plant, is one of the oldest textiles in the world. Cotton sweaters are known for being soft and breathable and much easier to clean than animal wool. 


Linen comes from the flax plant and a sweater made out of linen is both warm and lightweight. Linen is known for being very durable, strong, and breathable. Linen sweaters are great for spring and fall when the weather does not require and enormous wool sweater to keep you warm.


Many sweaters are made with a combination of different threads. This allows a sweater to have the attributes of both fabrics. A cotton cashmere sweater blend can have the breathability of cotton and the softness of cashmere. A wool and cotton blend will be easy to care for because of the cotton and the wool will keep you nice and warm. 


Angora wool comes from the Angora rabbit and is known for being incredibly soft. Angora wool is very fine and softer than cashmere and also way more expensive. Due to it’s sometimes outlandish price, Angora is frequently blended with other materials to add softness to an otherwise stiff sweater. 

Knit sweaters come in many different styles created with stitches that give different textures, patterns, and feels. 


A plain sweater without any bells and whistles and with one kind of stitch throughout the entire sweater is generally called a knit sweater. Tightly knit sweaters look like the sweater was made out of a single piece of fabric and looser knit sweaters show individual stitches. 


A cable knit sweater is the traditional chunky patterned sweater. The thread is knit together to look like pieces of twisted rope. The cables frequently appear on both the arms and the body of the sweater. A cable knit sweater usually has additional patterns including honeycomb, diamond, and basket stitches. 

Ribbed Sweaters

Ribbed sweaters are made with alternating stitches that create a vertical lined look. Ribbed sweaters reached their height of popularity in the 1990s when at least one of the friends on Friends could be seen wearing a ribbed sweater. 


A honeycomb stitch is most frequently used with thin yarn to make a thermal sweater. The pattern can also be used in conjunction with other types of stitches to add texture to a sweater.


Neck Cut

A sweater is a simple garment but it can come in many different styles, including neck cut. A classic crew neck, a comfy shawl collar, and a v neck are a few examples of different necklines. The different necklines each send a different message and contribute to the overall vibe of an outfit. 

Crew Neck

A crew neck sweater is the classic and most popular type of sweater with a round and tight fitting neckline. The cut is named after the fisherman who originally wore them, or the crew members of a boat or ship.The sweater can be worn with a collared shirt but does not allow for a tie which gives off a more casual vibe than other necklines. 

V Neck

V neck sweaters are called so because instead of a round neck, this type of sweater has a neckline shaped like a V. The style was popular in the early 1900’s and men often wore a V neck sweater with a collared shirt and tie. V neck sweaters became popular with women as well although they seldom wore collared shirts and ties. The length of the V can vary between sweaters. 


Turtleneck, polo neck, roll neck, skivvy all describe a high tight fitting collar on a sweater. The neck will often extend quite far and the wearer will fold the neck down to a double layer or wear scrunched around the neck. The black turtleneck sweater was popular among beatnik types in the 1950’s and 60’s and Audrey Hepburn famously wore a black turtleneck in the 1957 film Funny Face. Audrey Hepburn also wore black turtlenecks in her day to day life as did Marilyn Munroe, Jayne Mansfield, and many other famous women in that era. In the 1970’s women such as Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pittman Hughes wore black turtleneck sweaters which made the tops a symbol of the feminist movement. Turtlenecks fell out of fashion in the 1980s but returned in the 1990’s where they could be seen on both plain and striped sweaters. Turtleneck sweaters have made their way back into fashion in the late 2010’s riding the seemingly never ending wave of 1990’s nostalgia.

Mock Neck

A mock neck is a high collar that is higher than a crew cut neck but not as high as a turtleneck. It reaches somewhere in the middle of the neck. Mock neck sweaters are somewhat divisive. The of considered cheesey and unfashionable collar has recently made appearances on runways during fashion week, causing many to reconsider their inherent hatred for the neckline. 

Shawl Collar

A shawl neck sweater has a collar that sits flat on the shoulders and neck and wraps around in the front, similar to a shawl. The collar gives the sweater a comfy and casual feel. 

Choker Sweater

A choker sweater has a strip of fabric that sits around the neck, giving the illusion of a choker necklace. The neckline may be around or plunge slightly. A choker sweater is a modern twist on the classic sweater and the appearance of a choker means you don’t have to wear a necklace, making it an easy sweater to throw on if your running late. 

Quarter zip

A quarter zip sweater has a collar and a zipper in the front that only reaches one quarter of the way down the body of the sweater. The quarter zip is popular on sweaters meant for outdoor activities like hiking and running.. 

Square Neck 

A square neck has a square neckline. The neckline may be close to the neckline or further down the middle of the sweater. A square neck sweater looks great with a chunky and colorful statement necklace.

Scoop Neck

Scoop neck sweaters have a wide neckline that sometimes extend onto the shoulders. Scoop necks are usually found on lighter sweaters rather than chunky sweaters. 


A sweater is a classic item of clothing but classic definitely does not mean boring. Knit sweaters are extremely versatile and can be worn in the classic pullover style, or as a dress, vest, coat, or even t-shirt. 


A pullover sweater is the most basic and classic type of sweater. It has a body two arms and a hole for the head. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why it is called a pullover. 


A giant fluffy sweater is extremely comfy and gives off a casual vibe. An oversized sweater has baggy arms and the trunk part of the sweater usually reaches to the mid-thighs. The sweaters can be worn with leggings, jeans, boots, scarves, and almost any other accessory. It can be casual enough for brunch or paired with boots for a night out. he Olsen twins popularized this look, along with the “boho chic” trend in the early 2010s. 


Like an oversized sweater, a sweater dress extends far below the hips, but unlike an oversized sweater, a sweater dress is usually form fitting. A sweater dress can be worn with knee high boots, over the knee boots, ankle boots, sneakers, and even sandals on a transitional weather day.


Sweaters come set for every shape and size...of arms. These sweater types can accentuate the arms, or leave them out in the open to fend for themselves on those cool autumn sweater nights. 


A sweater without sleeves is known as a sweater vest. Sweater vests generally have v-necks and an argyle pattern but can also be solid colors. In the early 1900’s, sweaters were viewed as athletic attire and sweater vests remain an integral part of a few sports. Golfers frequently don sweater vests and the vests are a part of the uniform for cricket players in the UK, Australia, India, and South Africa. A fitted argyle sweater vest is a staple item in any preppy closet.

Bell Sleeve

A bell sleeve sweater has sleeve that flare into a wide bell sleeve around the elbow. The sleeves are reminiscent of clergy robes and the sleeves on Medieval gowns. The peasant style of the 1970’s greatly increased the popularity of bell sleeves. The bohemian peasant style returned in the 1990’s as did giant sleeves. The look returned in the late 2010’s and found a new home in bell sleeve sweaters. 

Raglan Sleeve

A raglan sleeve is a sleeve that attaches directly to the collar rather than to the shoulder on a sweater. A raglan sleeve has a seam running from the under am to the collar and can look less boxy than a regular shaped sweater. 

Short Sleeve

A short sleeve sweater has sleeves that end between the shoulder and the elbow. Short sleeve sweaters were fashionable as part of a twinset, or short sleeve sweater worn with a cardigan of the same color, in the 1950’s and 60’s. Short sleeve sweaters today are generally loose fitting or baggy.


Knit sweaters originally served as a functional item of clothing for fisherman and sailors who did not require colorful patterns or need to make fashion statements with their clothing. The fishermen's wives, however, used different types of stitches, patterns, and dyes to create unique pieces of clothing. Sweaters today continue to feature different patterns and dyed threads to make unique looks. 

Ugly Christmas sweater

I would be remiss to discuss sweaters without devoting a large section to the grand holiday tradition of the Ugly Christmas sweater. “Jingle bell” sweaters originated in the 1950’s The knit sweaters sported snowflakes, reindeer, snowflake patterns, Christmas trees, and sometimes even a holiday skier. The sweaters faded from popularity and the 1980’s brought the hideous items to the forefront of fashion, as the decade did for so many terrible garments. Jingle bell sweaters featured the same terrible images as the 1950’s version but added all the tackiness of the 1980’s. Actual jingle bells, neon colors, candy canes, all the items of the 12 days of Christmas and much more could be seen on the sweaters. A decade after the sweaters went out of style, the sweaters came back into style in a big way with the creation of the Ugly Christmas Sweater party. The party centered around the idea of visiting your local secondhand store, purchasing the worst possible version of a Christmas sweater, and wearing it to a party with all your friends. Nothing says Christmas like a group of people in itchy, hot, and possibly dirty secondhand Christmas themed sweaters. The parties have become a staple of the holiday season and now ugly Christmas sweaters can be purchased brand new at a store and can include fun holiday movie quotes, phrases, or images from Christmas pop culture. The ugly Christmas sweater was cemented in pop culture hall of fame with Chevy Chase in the Griswold Family Christmas. And don’t forget to show your ugly sweater pride on Ugly Sweater Day - it’s always the last Friday before Christmas. 

80’s Sweaters

Yuppies loved the sweaters. If you were making hay back in the 80’s, and wanted be hip at your country club, then sweaters were a must. Not that cool, although at least we can look back on them today and smile. Geometric patterns, pastels and neons. Everything that shouldn’t go together did. They were bold, they were awful, they were awesome. 

Striped Pattern

Legend has it that if you say striped sweaters three times Bert and Ernie will appear in front of you. The two Muppets are fashion icons for being able to rock a horizontal striped crew neck sweater (Ernie) and a v-neck over turtleneck shirt vertical striped sweater for almost 30 years. These are the two main types of striped sweaters and each wears a sweater with even stripes throughout the whole sweater. Breton striped sweaters are white with small blue horizontal stripes. The pattern is modeled after the late 1880’s French navy uniform and was popularized by Coco Chanel in the 1910’s. The classic pattern is commonly found on knit sweaters. Striped sweaters can also have wide stripes, multiple colored stripes, zebra stripes, or any combination of the aforementioned types of stripes. The classic item has been around for years and isn’t going anywhere soon. 

Argyle Pattern

The overlapping, crossed out diamonds pattern frequently associated with preppy school boys and golfers originated in Argyll in western Scotland. Argyle is modeled after a clan’s tartan, which is the pattern unique to each Highland clan. The pattern became and remains go-to item for anyone seeking a preppy look. The pattern can be printed in an infinite combinations of colors and is most commonly seen on crew neck sweaters and sweater vests. 

Nordic Sweaters

The iconic sweaters from Nordic nations each have their own history and unique patterns but all share a traditional circular yoke pattern around the neckline. Norway has knitting patterns unique to different regions of the country and the patterns are sometimes combined around the collar of a sweater. The Icelandic version was created in the 1950’s and was borrowed from Greenland. The patterns are inspired by old Icelandic patterns and became a national symbol of Iceland as well as a symbol of “If you couldn’t tell by my millions of Instagram posts, I went on vacation to Iceland.” The sweaters were very popular in the United States and in other countries outside Scandinavia in the late 20th century. The sweaters were historically handmade but many companies outsource their labor and should be checked for authenticity before purchasing. 

Fair Isle Pattern

Similarly to Nordic sweaters, Fair Isle sweaters feature a creative pattern around the collar. Unlike Nordic sweaters, Fair Isle sweaters continue the pattern throughout the entirety of the sweater. The sweater were created in Fair Isle, which is one of the Shetland Islands in Scotland. The style of sweater became popular during World War I thanks to the Duke of Windsor. Queen Elizabeth’s annoying uncle in The Crown who is also Colin Firth’s brother in The King’s Speech wore an argyle sweater and started a fashion trend. The traditional Fair Island sweaters were made with yarn dyed with indigo for blue, madder root for red, and amphibious bistort for yellow. 

Irish Sweater

Irish sweaters, or “jumpers” as the Irish call them, are a classic off white cable knit sweater that were originally worn by fishermen in the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. The sweaters were made out of undyed sheep’s wool yarn and included 4-6 different textured patterns on both the body of the sweater and the sleeves. Each family in the Aran islands allegedly had their own unique patterns which relayed their home country/village/parish but the internet disagrees on the veracity of these tales. The sweaters gained popularity in the 1950’s, with celebrities such as Grace Kelly and Steve McQueen sporting the Irish export. Today Irish sweaters can be purchased as sweater dresses, vests, cardigans, pullovers, turtlenecks, and almost any other variety of sweater. 


Our discussion of sweaters would not be complete without mentioning their pop culture magnificence. Does anyone remember Weezer’s “Sweater Song”?!?!? We do, five minutes of musical delight. Never figured out what they were talking about with destroying the sweater by pulling the thread, but it sure was a great song. Well before we get undone we are going to finish up, thanks for bundling up and staying warm with this sensational sweater summary.

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