This seems like a really crazy time to be writing you about clothes, but it seems particularly stupid to be talking about cricket vests. Because deep down, I think we all know what a cricket vest – and by extension the tennis sweater – represents. It is an idyll, a garment that practically screams leisure, yells ‘belonging’ where others don’t belong. It is, in short, the ne plus ultra of WASPdom.
I’ve never met one I didn’t like. When I worked in retail and would wear one it was inevitable that, at some point during the day, some great sartorial wit would quip: “Tennis anyone?” And I guess that was the point. You don’t leave the house in a ubiquitous garment because you don’t want people to notice. But gradually, I had to let the tennis sweater go.
Yet I have more tennis sweaters/cricket vests than almost any other type of clothing, in a huge array of colourways and from a pretty diverse assortment of brands: Hackett of London, Brooks Brothers, The Gap (keep that between us please), Marks & Spencer, and of course, Polo. I love them all, but rarely wear them. But I think about wearing them all the time. Shit, just because I want to be totally honest with you let me tell you that I’ve actually googled ‘subversive ways to wear a tennis sweater’. I’ll let you take a second to think about that.
But tennis, or at least the idea of tennis, is a huge part of that never-never land that Polo advertising at its best represents. Not the world of high-tech microfibers and graphite racquets, but the world of cream-coloured cable knits and timeworn lacquered wood. And so it is that the hired help at Wimbledon (of which you became the official outfitter in 2006 – see, we’re getting the history of the brand in here) looks better than the performance-clad superstars of the sport. I get it. That’s the world we live in.
There is the dream and then there is the reality. One is used to sell the other and vice versa. So why am I drawn, moth-like, to the flaming colours adorning the V of cable knit sweaters I know I’ll never wear?
If I had an answer to that question, I doubt I’d be writing you these letters. Usually, I can forget about tennis sweaters and cricket vests, but every once in a while I see something that reignites my obsession. Most recently it was this photo of hermit/amateur naturalist billy barr:
He lives alone in the mountains. To keep busy he has, for the last 40 years, made detailed observations about snowfall, bird migration and the hibernation habits of mammals; this trove of data has been a huge resource for scientists studying climate and climate change.
A great story, no doubt, but one that I probably wouldn’t have read if it hadn’t been for that picture. And that sweater. Because above and beyond being a hermit (the long beard, the isolated mountain backdrop) and a naturalist (the skies, the super-patinated parka) billy barr is a massive cricket fan. Hence the sweater.
And so dreams become reality; a photo that seems as improbable as the great lifestyle spreads you did in the ‘80s somehow makes sense. So I’ll keep all of mine tucked away in the closet, just in case the world ever turns enough so that me in a tennis sweater looks like anything other than someone aspiring to be a rich prick. I’m not holding my breath.
PS – Just in case you were curious, there are no subversive ways to wear a tennis sweater.