Oi Polloi

Films and Things: Knitwear

Published: Wed Nov 28 2018

There are few things in life more essential than a good jumper.

Alright, knitted garb might not be quite as important as a roof over your head, or a bed to sleep on, or toenail clippers, but life would be far more precarious without a jumper in your clobber arsenal. They’re bang on for jaunts on those frosty days, they look good with just about everything, and they add plenty of ‘pipe-smoking philosophy tutor’ flavour to winter proceedings.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few chilly cinematic folk who know the score when it comes to explorations in the knitwear realm…


Starting things off with a proverbial bang, here we’ve got Dustin Hoffman wearing a proper chunky fisherman’s knit in Sam Peckinpah’s family-friendly classic Straw Dogs (please don’t watch this with your family).

For the uninitiated, Straw Dogs is the bleak tale of David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman), a mild-mannered American academic and his English wife Amy, living in Amy’s home town in rural Cornwall. There, David is taunted by the brutish men of the village, eventually culminating into a vicious attack which reveals David to be… err… not as much of a wet-wipe as he seems.

Originally knitted by fisherman’s wives on the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, cable-knitted Aran jumpers were a stone-cold smash in the Land of the Free in the late 50s and 60s, thanks in part to a group of New York-based Irish crooners known as The Clancy Brothers, who had adopted Aran jumpers as their trademark on-stage garb.

After appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show and performing on TV for US President John F. Kennedy, the popularity and demand for Aran jumpers grew exponentially, eventually becoming a ‘staple’ American winter garm over the years.

Not sure if there’s much of a relation between the history of the Aran jumper and the thematic elements of Straw Dogs, but whatever: Dustin Hoffman’s character is American, living in an English seaside town – there’s a faint glimmer of comparison to be made. Or maybe there isn’t. I don’t know.


Over to the Continent now courtesy of the last film in Éric Rohmer’s astounding Six Moral Tales series – Love in the Afternoon.

Love in the Afternoon follows Frederic (Bernard Verley), a successful Parisian lawyer who, despite being happily married, frequently daydreams of affairs with other women.

As well as being a poignant meditation on martial fidelity, Love in the Afternoon also showcases Rohmer’s stellar eye for clobber, evidenced here by this prime case of roll-neckery.

The humble roll-neck jumper has been around for donkey’s years, favoured mainly by menial worker-types, athletes, sailors and naval officers before the turn of the century. When the mid-20th century rolled about, numerous Euro slicksters, such as Marcello Mastroianni caught onto the sleek stylings of the roll-neck and transformed it into the go-to garb for those who wanted to dress smartly, but didn’t want to be confined to stuffy suits and the like. It wasn’t long until the radical academics, philosophers, artists and intellectuals got on a similar tortoise-throated tip.

Now, the roll-neck has become synonymous with opulence and intellect, seen on the backs of everyone from Steve Jobs to forward-thinking French supremo Michel Foucault.

Even regular schmucks have been spotted in them.


Next up, here’s don dada Jeff Bridges in the Coen brothers’ cult classic The Big Lebowski.

This is the story of Jeff ‘The Dude’ Lebowski, Los Angeles-based slacker and bowler extraordinaire, and the various misadventures that follow after he has his rug stolen.

The Dude can be seen here sporting a pretty progressive zip-front cardigan (probably owned by Jeff Bridges himself).

Like most of the other knitted garments on this list, the cardigan has a pretty interesting history that dates back a fair few years. Supposedly, the cardigan is named after a Mr. James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, who just so happened to be the geezer who led the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. According to folklore, Brudenell invented the cardigan after noticing that the tails of his knitted waistcoat had accidentally been burnt off in a fireplace.

While Lord Cardigan’s achievements are most military, his legacy lies firmly in the clobber realm: not only has his invention been used to stay toasty on brisk Autumn days, they’ve also been worn while investigating weird LA sex parties hosted by pornographers with funny names.


Here’s a film that’s been over-analysed to the point of unintended comedy – Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece The Shining.

The Shining is the tale of Jack Torrance, an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic, who accepts a position as the off-season caretaker of the isolated Overlook Hotel, along with his wife Wendy and young son Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd). After a winter storm leaves the family snowbound, Jack’s sanity deteriorates into a supernaturally-influenced murderous rampage.

As with everything else that gets even a millisecond of screen time in this film, Danny’s jumper has been used time and time again to fuel daft conspiracy theories about what The Shining is actually supposed to be about. One of the more bewildering conspiracy theories concerning The Shining is actually ol’ Stanley confessing that he faked the moon landings, due to the amount of times the Apollo 11 mission is ‘referenced’ throughout the film.

Unfortunately for the tin hat-wearers in the audience, this is probably nothing more than coincidence.

Here’s a quote from the big man regarding his mythos: “Despite all of the apocryphal stories about me, almost all of which are untrue, you don’t have unlimited resources, and they [the producers] do watch the budget, and you do have to account for what you’re doing.”

So yeah: considering the film’s laborious and costly production, I don’t think the studio would’ve let him make a film that is at once a deceleration of guilt of his involvement in faking the moon landings, a film about the Holocaust, and a film about the genocide of Native Americans, which features subliminal shots of male genitalia and Kubrick’s face airbrushed into the sky dozens of times, and that only makes sense if you play it forwards and backwards simultaneously.


To round things off, we’ve got a flatulence-filled comedic masterwork from Japan’s finest chronicler family dynamics and intergenerational relationships – Yasujirō Ozu’s Good Morning.

Good Morning tells the story of two young boys who take up a vow of silence in protest after their parents refuse to buy them a television set. From this simple premise, Ozu weaves a wealth of subtle, satirical gags throughout, gently mocking everything from foibles of the adult world to consumerism in post-war Japan.

Ozu is considered by some to be the greatest director of all time, the pioneer of transcendental cinema, and the most accomplished director to deal with the subject of families, but despite all this esteem, there’s one aspect of the great director that rarely gets chatted about – his taste in knitwear.

That’s not a joke either – especially in Ozu’s colour films, his characters wear some of the classiest knitwear that’s ever graced the silver screen.

Be it mint-green cardigans, burnt-orange pullovers, classic grey lambswool knits, or biscuit-hued jumpers, when it came to dressing his characters in the toastiest, slickest garb available, Ozu was an undisputed master.

And yeah, his films were pretty good too.


Well, hope you enjoyed that knitted expedition to the multiplex. If you’re after some woolly wares yourself, take a look here.