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The History of Cable Knit Sweaters

Cable knit sweaters were most likely created by a group of Aran women as an export in the early 1900s and are fittingly still associated with Irish culture today. Notably, the cable design also appeared on the Gansey sweater worn by fishermen on England’s eastern coast during the Victorian era. Both versions were infinitely practical, with every detail crafted to withstand the wet, windy work of fishing. (The cable pattern was even thought to represent a fisherman’s ropes and tools!) Mass production in the 1920s gave the sweaters a more uniform (and less complex) stitching pattern, but the design didn’t really enter the mainstream until the 1960s, when Irish folk singers The Clancy Brothers popularized the style. John Lennon lent it a Bohemian edge while visiting the Scottish Highlands, and years earlier, Elvis had worn a version on the silver screen. However, the sweater’s defining role remains its appearance in 1968’s The Thomas Crown Affair, for which Steve McQueen wore a vintage Aran sweater. Later, famous female icons like Marilyn Monroe and Jean Seberg made the cable knit a style staple for women as well. One of the first cable knit sweaters made from luxury materials was created by Ralph Lauren, who slimmed down the design, but there are still many who consider chunkier cable knit sweaters superior. Today, the cable knit sweater remains a stylish classic and is available from a variety of retailers, including vintage resellers.

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