The unconventionally sexy appeal of the cable knit sweater

'House of Gucci' has caused a massive spike in cable knit sales, but what is it about the chunky ribbed sweater that makes us all so horny?

by Tom George
09 December 2021, 4:01pm

When we think of sexy fashion, our minds usually go straight towards summer. Cut out naked dresses for late night parties courtesy of LVMH prize-winner Nensi Dojaka, park dates in Blumarine's distressed low-rise daisy dukes, and lace-up leather swim thongs à la Ludovic de Saint Sernin. But, while the winter period is synonymous with excessive layering and silhouette-drowning fits, it seems as though one particular chunky knitwear piece is currently at the centre of horny internet hysteria: the humble cable knit sweater.

Since House of Gucci hit cinemas in late November, retailers have reported up to a 95% increase in sales of their cable knit offerings. This is hardly surprising, given that when Lady Gaga shared a BTS shot from the snowy set of the fashion thriller earlier this year, it quickly became one of her most liked photos ever. But what was our focus fixed on in said photo? The cable knit turtleneck adorning the upper body of the internet's boyfriend, Adam Driver, of course! Twitter was soon ablaze with thirsty tweets from adoring fans desperate to be a part of the Gaga/Adam/sweater throuple. "I mean, why? Why does it have its own website? Why does it have its own Instagram page?" the movie's costume designer Janty Yates asked The Face, noting that there actually wasn't a lot of thought behind the jumper choice. "We put that on at the time and it worked. That was it!"

Originally known as an Aran jumper, the garment itself is only just over a century old. Hailing from these eponymous small islands off the west coast of Ireland, it's the evolution of a sweater worn by mainland fishermen, using thicker local wool to create a chunkier, warmer style. The different types of knit worked into the jumper all represented the fishing profession. While obviously being incredibly cosy, the sweaters also traditionally worked as a sort of wearable lucky charm: the plaited cables illustrating the ropes of the trade, the panels of diamond stitches symbolising wealth and prosperity, and the basketweave manifesting abundant catches. It wasn't until the late 50s, when it appeared on the pages of Vogue, and was worn by Marilyn Monroe in the 1960 film Let's Make Love, that the cable knit sweater achieved global popularity.

Adam Driver's ski attire isn't the first time cable knits have seen a recent spike in sales either. Last year, Taylor Swift entered her cottagecore era with the release of Folklore and Evermore. In the following months, the Irish craft industry reported a massive uptick in interest in authentic cable knit clothing, specifically cardigans, much like the one featured in the music video for the era's lead single "Cardigan".

But while Taylor's sweater spike reflected our collective desire for autumnal sad girl vibes, the 2019 murder mystery movie Knives Out gave us a much hornier cable knit. Worn by murder suspect Ransom (Chris Evans), his cabled sleeves are anxiously pulled over his hands as he wears the chunky knit while sitting at a diner booth. Cue thirsty posts, Instagram accounts and a New Yorker feature dedicated to the sweater and the ensuing hysteria it caused. Amusingly, like the one added to Maurizio Gucci's wardrobe, the garment choice was so unexceptional to the movie's costume designer, Jenny Egan, that she doesn't remember whether it was bought new, vintage or was one of a kind. She has also reported that the sweater has now, rather mysteriously, gone missing.

So what is with the cable knit sweater and its ability to make its wearer the object of our desires? Nothing about the thick, veiny knitwear is conventionally sexy. Adam Driver's fit was fairly loose, baggy around the arms and hiding away those famous Burberry ad abs. Chris Evans' attire was frayed, old and discoloured; featuring holes and a thin layer of worn-in fuzz. Movies from the 00s also tried to convince us that the look was the embodiment of unchic. In everyone's favourite Christmas rom-com, The Holiday, the lovelorn and overworked movie trailer maker girlboss Amanda (Cameron Diaz) wears a pair of sweatpants and a chunky white cable knit cardigan as she dances alone to "Mr Brightside" before a drunk Jude Law appears at her door. Then, surely everyone remembers each and every word to that iconic monologue in The Devil Wears Prada, as Miranda lays into Andy about the fashion history of cerulean, the actual colour of Andy's "lumpy blue sweater".

For Miu Miu's SS22 collection, it was this very y2k perception of the unsexiness of cable knits — combined with their association with workwear and school uniform — that made the sweater the perfect garment for Miuccia Prada to sex up. "The idea of a uniform, whether it's academic or corporate, now seems somewhat exotic — perhaps even erotic," i-D's fashion features director Osman Ahmed mused in his review. "Where [Miuccia] always excels is the nuanced subtlety of her subversion of archetypes, almost as if she wants to reveal the absurdities of everyday life." Oversized jumpers with sleeves that draped past its wearers' hands were hacked up to extremes to expose a glimpse of underboob and the bands of Miu Miu boxers. "Maybe the message was that you don't have to show it all in order to look sexy?" Osman concluded.

Perhaps, then, it is the unremarkable connotations and humble origins of the cable knit sweater that make those that wear it even more desirable. At a time when many of us covet a normcore partner — low-key, off-the-grid and detached from the chaos of online life — the cable knit sweater seems to represent that person. The wholesome, cosy energy it exudes is a vision of escapist cabin dates, woodland walks and quiet nights in. It therefore makes absolute sense that Adam Driver, wrapped in a cable knit turtleneck, would send us all into a thirsty spiral.

Unaware of the magnetic sexual power that was caressing his chest in that moment, Adam Driver sadly didn't keep hold of the iconic sweater from House of Gucci, stating in a podcast for Empire magazine that he had no idea at the time it would be quite so popular. In fact, heartbreakingly, he said it accidentally caught on fire while on set. RIP jumper — your sex appeal was just too hot for this world to handle. Its legacy will live on though, and no doubt the coming months will bring with them a photograph of Pete Davidson spotted wearing a distressed, ill-fitting number. This will only further ensure the cable knit sweater has a special place in our wardrobes and our hearts forever more.

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Adam Driver
Miu Miu
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