In the ever-changing landscape of fashion where trends come and go, few garments stand the test of time quite like the coveted cable knit.
The cable knit jumper has come a long way from its humble salty, maritime beginnings at the turn of the 19th century, where it was knitted by the Celtic clans and families of fisherman and seafarers.
Traditionally knitted from worsted wool, the knit is as functional as it is decorative: the weave is more durable and insulating than standard knitted fabric, and in its original incarnation, when it was woven from untreated wool with the natural lanolin oils preserved, it was almost water-resistant, able to withstand the turbulent weather of the open ocean.
The tightly knitted stand-up collar and cuffs kept out gale force winds. The cuffs were usually finished short of the wrist to avoid getting caught on fishing equipment and from becoming drenched in seawater as they worked, making this a garment dedicated to practicality.
The cable knits charms, however, stretch well beyond practicality alone. Legend has as it the ‘cable’ design originates from the ‘Arran jumper,’ where Celtic clans and families wove their own unique patterns into the jumper.
The cable design was thought to represent the fisherman’s rope and tools.
The Basket-knit sections were said to represent a fisherman's basket, as a good luck charm for a plentiful haul.
Variations in the knit were used to distinguish different clans or families, making it easier to allegedly identify the body of a drowned sailor. Romantic as it sounds this is the product of an old wives tale.
By the early 20th century, the cable knit started to make its move away from the fisherman’s docks and more frequently associated with gentlemanly pursuits of cricket and golf.
The demand for fashionable knitwear rose in the 1920s and due to mass production, the once carefully thought out weaves became less intricate, leading to the simpler versions we see today.
Since then the cable knit has taken its place as a casual staple, strongly associated with the preppy styles of Ralph Lauren, whose adoption of the cable knit, along with the polo shirt, has remained a key icon to the brand year after year.
Top 6 Cable knit moments
1. Although Elvis showcased how to wear the Cable Knit with a rock and roll edge in 1957s Jailhouse Rock, the humble knit saw its largest 20th-century resurgence in the ‘60s, pioneered by Irish group The Clancy Brothers.
5. The Cable found further iconography with female stars such as Marilyn Monroe in the 1960 film Let’s Make Love, which gave the knit an enduring sex appeal.
6. With a more subtle take, Jean Seberg wore an oversized knit that same year in the film Breathless, giving a beatnik charm to the modest cable knit.
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Words Hugo Harris