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Is A Jumper Ever Just A Jumper?

28 October 2011
The Killing (UK)

The Killing: A Sweater with a Life of its Own. Photo courtesy BBC Four.

Some of you may have noticed the Guardian’s recent fashion tip: according to fashion writer Jess Cartner-Morley, jumpers (sweaters) are “naff, nerdy, and this season’s must-have.” I saw that headline and didn’t know whether to be excited (hey! I have some jumpers!) or distressed (oh, no, I’m still nerdy).

After digging a little deeper into this possible trend, I surmise that Danish TV show The Killing has made jumpers popular: Sarah Lund, the detective on The Killing, wears a hand-knit sweater while she fights crime. [Let me also say that googling “The Killing UK” made me nervous, as did “Watch The Killing UK online.”]

Now, I may be misreading the word “jumper” – I suspect there’s some popular nuance* that online searches have not turned up for me (UK readers, please do jump in). But this kind of feels like saying, “Skirts are in!” or “Grab a pair of jeans – they’re super-hot right now.” I mean, it’s a sweater. You’re telling me that no fashionista had a sweater in her closet before this year? Carter-Morley claims that she hasn’t worn a jumper since she was about 10 years old. [I think the only garment about which I can say that is pink trousers.]

Lund Sweater

If I wear this sweater, will I be able to solve crimes? Photo courtesy Gudrun & Gudrun.

Judging from the companion article 10 Best Jumpers on the High Street, it may be that the writer is referring to really ugly sweaters. Certainly, that’s the nuance I get from another Guardian piece on Sarah Lund’s sweater, which reveals that jumpers are:

1. Asexual. According to actress Sofie Gråbøl, who plays Lund and who chose the jumper for her character, the garment “tells of a person who doesn’t use her sexuality – that’s a big point.” So – jumpers mean you don’t want to be thought of as sexual. Good start. Interestingly, jumpers do mean you’re interested in free love, because Lund’s is also…

2. Hippie-Dippy. Gråbøl grew up in the 1970s, in what the Guardian’s TV and Radio Blog calls “a very hippy-like environment in Copenhagen.” The actress explains, “I wore this sweater and so did my parents. That sweater was a sign of believing in togetherness…it says that [Lund wants] to sit around a fire with a guitar.” [Note that Gråbøl, a Dane, is saying “sweater” rather than “jumper.” Agh!]

Sensing the onset of the special headache that comes when I try to translate from UK to US, I popped back to Carter-Morley’s article. She admits to a cardigan and a fine-gauge sweater – so, for this woman at least, a jumper is a special kind of sweater. [Again, I’m thinking “ugly” or “handknit” or “bulky” may come into play here.]

Lund Sweater II

The Plot Thickens: for season two, Sarah Lund has a different sweater. Photo courtesy BBC.

This is not the only article the Guardian has published about the sweater, either. Sarah Lund’s sweater, it seems, has taken on a life of its own. An article from February calls the miracle garment (which is a Faroese jumper and available online for a paltry £236) “the surprise star” of the show, as if it’s started to tour the talk shows and there’s been talk of an OBE.

Anyway, here are some other things jumpers are:

  • old-fashioned;
  • woolly;
  • warm;
  • utilitarian;
  • quirky;
  • fashionably unfashionable.

I’m pretty sure knitters wouldn’t have it any other way (if you’re willing to spend several weeks making something by hand, you’re probably not too offended by old-fashioned, for example). But what about everyone else? Do jumpers really have such a broad range of meanings? When I put on a sweater here (especially one I’ve knit myself), am I telling the world that I don’t want to look like a woman? That I have somehow given up, or don’t know how to be fashionable?

Carter-Morley says that the British “grow up with an emotional attachment to jumper-wearing that can override aesthetic considerations,” associating them with home, comfort, warmth, Christmas, and much more. [Later, she refers to teenagers wearing jumpers when they move out of their parents’ house for the first time – so I think she may protest too much with that whole “not since I was 10” thing.] Is this any different from what Americans, or anyone else, feel about sweaters? What do you all think?

I’m not sure Carter-Morley is entirely clear on what she thinks of jumpers by the end of this article, though she does say she’s going to “be all about a jumper” this winter. Welcome to the club, Jess! We’re happy to teach you to knit your very own woolly jumper whenever you like. And then you can use this chart to design a Sarah Lund sweater all by yourself.

*A quick check of separated by a common language, the brilliant linguistics blog by an American linguist working on Britain, reveals that sweater is indeed more general than jumper, but doesn’t really get into the “a jumper is ugly” nuance. The divine Brenda told me last night that the word “jumper” suffers from association with the phrases “woolly jumper” and “Christmas jumper” (check out the crazy-looking knitting granny on that second site!).

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 28 October 2011 9:23 am

    I love this- a fashionista obsession with ugly, big gauge pullovers knit in some unfortunate color… But see that’s where hand knits are so awesome- right now I am knitting a cardigan jacket thing that is meant to have no waist shaping (and i’m not adding any because I’m about to have a baby but I digress) but because the yarn I’m using is so awesome it takes away from the boring construction. And the design is really cool so that also helps.

  2. 28 October 2011 9:36 am

    That was a great amusement to start off my weekend. I also checked out the sites mentioned…The wooly jumper was interesting, too, since many Americans might not get that the dog on the jumper is wearing a crown from a Christmas Cracker. I loved Christmas Crackers when I was a child. We would go down to the local department store and get them from Father Christmas. That was when I was living in West Africa.

  3. 28 October 2011 3:45 pm

    I think Jess Cartner-Morley lives in a parallel fashionista universe – the other week she was declaring that knee-high boots were back in, which came as some surprise to me as given the wide availability of such things in the shops and the fact that they were pretty much the only kind of female footwear on display in my office over the last few winters.

    A jumper is any kind of knitted garment that doesn’t have an open front, to me, and can be fine or chunky knit. And the shops are full of them every winter, in a variety of styles and weights, and I don’t think wearing one says anything apart from the fact that you’re feeling a bit chilly!

  4. 28 October 2011 5:29 pm

    Asexual? I’m having a hard time picturing any of the guys I know in that sweater, and this is S.F.! Maybe it’s just because the picture is of a fitted sweater with a hem line significantly higher than the sleeve length, two very feminine construction styles. Or it might be the all-over pattern, where I think a guy would want only 1 band of the design? I dunno, i’m not a fashionisto (is that the proper vowel for the masculine form of fashionista? Is there a masculine form of fashionista?) so I’ll stop hypothesizing.

    • Kathleen permalink*
      3 November 2011 6:16 am

      Agreed! This is not at all an asexual sweater/jumper…it has bust and waist shaping, too.

  5. 31 October 2011 11:40 pm

    i always thought that people from the uk have a stronger attachment to their jumpers because their knitting tradition seems richer than ours…older perhaps…I find a lot of European sweaters to be extremely intricate with the cables, fair isle and kaffe style color overload… whereas in the us we seem to love basic simplistic styles…To me thats what a jumper is ..a sweater with something going on…
    thanks for this post..it was really thought provoking and a joy to read!
    Viva La Jumper!

  6. 2 November 2011 1:13 pm

    Well, I’m just watching (and loving!) The Killing now, and the jumper is possibly the star of the show. I am the proud owner of several bizarre chunky knit jumpers (mostly knitted by my mum I must confess), so I’m delighted they’re now a must-have!

    Btw, I’m British and I always use the word jumper, never sweater, no matter the design, so for me nuances exist, but you can’t tell that by the word. Though I have come across the word ‘ganzy’ which seems to be used to mean a singularly unattractive jumper…

    • Kathleen permalink*
      3 November 2011 6:15 am

      Thanks for giving me your jumper/sweater opinion! I am still sorting through all of it…cannot wait to start watching The Killing myself. I keep drooling over her jumper, especially the subtle shaping that makes it feminine. Someday, I will make one for myself…

  7. 26 November 2011 6:40 pm

    “Quirky” is reason enough. Gets my vote.

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