Now in line to make its debut is the v-neck pullover. I’m sailing just a bit into the shallows of my mind here, but I think the v-neck sweater must have been first designed to replace a waistcoat in the late 19th century for sports such as tennis, cricket, golf, and bicycling. There were roll necks and crewnecks around, but the v-shaped neckline was purposefully fashioned to allow neckwear to be shown. I know it sounds silly that men would wear a tie for sports, but it’s true.
From there of course the v-neck was accepted into the more casual wardrobe of tweed jacket and flannels for all of the 20th century as a replacement for a waistcoat under a suit or sports jacket. If the weather turned slightly warmer or an even more casual look was called for, the coat could be discarded and the tie replaced by a scarf. As The Handbook of English Costume in the 20th Century: 1900-1950 makes clear in its entry for “Sweaters”:
Long sleeved jerseys worn for sports, etc. Generally a roll or polo collar (a close fitting turn-over round neck). 1902: “Early morning on the way to the morning dip youths in garments loose … sweaters, flannel trousers and canvas shoes.” Tailor and Cutter.
In 1912 also figured with a low turn-down, pointed collar. Later with V neck. [p.271]
It’s the versatility and comfort of the garment that wins the day. There’s the redoubtable cricket sweater of course, with its thick, cream-coloured, cable patterned wool and club colours banding the waist and neckline, but that’s a purely sporty look that’s difficult to bring easily into a less casual world. But the v-neck, in lambswool, merino, cashmere, or even Shetland can be more accommodating to suits and jackets. Like so many other dress inventions, it was the then Prince of Wales who in the 1920s convinced The Bright Young Things that v-neck jumpers were perfect for the sports field, the country house wardrobe, and finally into town. He wore them in everything from Fair Isle wool to silk.
Today the versatility remains. Whether it’s a tweed or corduroy sports jacket, covert or cavalry twill suit, or a slightly refined barn coat, the v-neck pullover makes a soft statement of style with a tattersall shirt or oxford button-down worn with a tie or scarf at the neck. It’s an arguably subtle note, but then real style tends to read between the lines.