Lauren Laverne on Fashion: Jumpers

Sexy Show Jumpers

Who among us doesn't love a jumper? Diana Vreeland always wore hers backwards, claiming it was "much more flattering that way", Jean Paul Gaultier adopted his "uniform" of a sailor sweater when he started out in fashion "so I wouldn't drive myself crazy trying to work out what to wear".

We have much to thank the humble knit for, besides keeping the chill off our kidneys. It helped Sweater Girls invent breasts in the 1940s (until that point their existence had been merely hinted at, and they were largely presumed to be a single entity – a uniboob if you will – referred to as "a bosom"). It aided generations of shy Goths in their unspoken mission to keep their hands a secret. It has even inspired classic songs by pop greats, including the Sultans of Ping FC, Weezer, Joni Mitchell and Kanye West (although, somewhat confusingly for a man often pictured in a jaunty crew neck, the latter was not altogether complimentary about receiving one as a gift in his opus "Birthday Song". If you're planning on getting him something next year it may help to know that Mr West was most insistent upon his preference for a "big booty ho" as a gift, rather than a nice cardigan).

Kanye is right, of course. Jumpers aren't often cool. The occasional iconic knit will flit through the fashion firmament every decade or so, like a comet – Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, leading iconoclast John Lydon's unlikely predilection for mohair, Kurt Cobain's Dennis the Menace number… But cool is rarely the goal of the knitwearer. Their priority is comfort.

A woolly pully provides a physical and emotional shield against the privations of winter and reconnects the wearer with their childhood – perhaps all the way back to their baby blanket. Today's knits may not have snaked from the needles of a gifted crafter, but the aesthetic still calls to mind simpler times (even if they are times we feel like we remember, rather than ones we actually do).

Fashion's elite are not immune to such cosy charm. A few weeks ago Chanel bought troubled Scots manufacturer Barrie knitwear, which had been providing the fashion house with the finest wools for the past 25 years. All 176 employees' jobs were saved at the Hawick mill and Karl Lagerfeld was guaranteed to stay toasty till spring. If that doesn't warm your cockles I don't know what to suggest. Except one of these snuggly numbers…

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Powered by article was written by Lauren Laverne, for The Observer on Sunday 18th November 2012 00.08 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010