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The Screen Sweaters Forever Stitched Into Our Minds

Unraveling the beauty of fall fashion’s biggest star. Photo-Illustration: Vulture. Photos: FX; HBO; Hulu

Hi, reader! Come on in. We weren’t expecting company today at Vulture Lodge, but we’ve got the kettle on if you don’t mind waiting a few minutes for tea … Oh? You brought your own iced Ice Spice Pumpkin Spice Munchkin Dunkin’ drink? Perfect. You’ve actually caught us at a great time! We like to swap out our wardrobe with the seasons, so we’re up here putting away our matching Vulture Bikinis and dusting off the old matching Vulture Sweaters from the back of the closet now that it’s nearly fall. They’ve been passed down from blogger to blogger for 80 years, but they’re as good as new, and that got us talking about our favorite knitwear from movies and TV.

Don’t you think knits look great on camera? Especially on old-school film, you can really appreciate the weight of a good jumper and the intricacy of a thick knit. Maybe it’s just that clothes were higher quality back then, or because Hollywood wardrobe budgets are bigger than our own. Either way, a good knit sets a mood, whether it’s in a classic rom-com, period piece, prestige drama about fishermen, or depressed Irish village. And unlike some more glamorous and out-there costumes, there’s something accessibly aspirational about a good sweater. Won’t you pull up a chair, pull on a pullover, and discuss some of our favorites with us?

Julie Christie’s white turtleneck in Doctor Zhivago

Photo: MGM

As one of the all-time winter movies, Doctor Zhivago offers plenty of opportunities for its characters to layer up in fur hats, long coats, and, of course, knitwear. Of all the sweaters worn throughout this movie — Phyllis Dalton won an Oscar for the costume design — it’s the one Julie Christie wears toward the end, when Lara and Yuri are holed up in the Urals in a dramatically iced-over summer house, that’s always stuck with me the most. Christie wears a cream-colored turtleneck that’s more 1960s than 1920s, but why quibble over something that looks this damn good? She sinks into the sumptuous, oversize collar as though the sweater were shielding Lara not just from the Russian chill but from imminent tragedy. There’s no more enviable item to wear when whiling away the last days of a grandly doomed romance. —Alison Willmore

Claire Danes’s poof-shouldered sweater from The Essex Serpent 

Photo: Apple TV+

There are many flavors of fine-but-non-notable TV. There’s “comforting procedural rhythms but otherwise unmemorable.” There’s “I reliably smiled, but I never once laughed.” There’s a very healthy genre of “gowns, beautiful gowns.” The Essex Serpent is a prime example from a cousin category to beautiful gowns: “Okay, but the knitwear!” This gorgeously produced Apple TV+ series stars Claire Danes and Tom Hiddleston, is based on a relatively successful book, is mysterious and maybe supernatural, and involves a slow-burn romance. As a whole, it’s also so dawdling, circular, and unmotivated that it’s a bit like watching endless stretches of misty moors and trying to get your eyes to focus on any single piece of landscape. But what it does have going for it is Danes’s entire wardrobe, and especially this sweater. Its shoulders appear to float above her arms like low-slung storm clouds. Their loftiness is grounded by a few rows of horizontal stripes, which connect them and also define the natural waistline. And then, this row of fussily spaced pom-poms stitched along the shoulder line … It’s The Essex Serpent distilled into a single object of clothing: so beautifully made, so much personality, but also, so, so gray. —Kathryn VanArendonk

Cher’s long, fuzzy blue cardigan in Moonstruck

The sweater is the consummate “everyday” item — something you can throw on that instantly makes it seem like you have a full outfit. Pairing that with Cher gives her an immense power. The idea of an everyday item is innately contradictory to how we know Cher: Offscreen, she’s a pop goddess bedecked in Bob Mackie, and onscreen in Moonstruck, the image of her and Nicolas Cage at their most glamorous while attending the opera comes just the night before. Then it’s breakfast, when Cher as Loretta Castorini, away from the opera, must deal with the real world again, with all its familial drama, returning fiancés, and dying mothers. She does it in a fuzzy, oversize blue cardigan that somehow preserves Cher’s glamor while returning her to Earth. It’s a beautiful piece. She is both swathed in it and the center of attention. Her cuffed sleeves make it perfectly lived in. With a sexy updo and glamorous dangling earrings framing her face, she still pulls focus, but now she’s real enough to hit the emotional climax of the movie. A perfect outfit. —Jason P. Frank

Donna Hayward and Laura Palmer’s video-evidence ’fits in Twin Peaks

Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle mostly, Moira Kelly once) has a face for crying and a bod for knits the way the working girl from Working Girl had a head for business and a bod for sin. David Lynch tells you exactly what he wants you to know about his characters by how they dress, and in Twin Peaks’ home-video footage of Donna and Laura (Sheryl Lee) doing the cha-cha on a picnic, their knits project innocence, wholesomeness, coziness, comfort, protection, and being a little chilly. These knit fits also let us know that these are the popular girls — not the mean kind, but queens of the school nonetheless, because of how they’re able to pull off things like dorky argyle with their youth, beauty, and very intentional and timeless layering. Layers also suggest layers, and as Twin Peaks makes you sit with the freeze-frame of them, you realize that knit cardigans on sweaters on skirts on stockings also serve to cover things up and not let you in on the full extent of what’s going on underneath. Because “wholesomeness” is a paint job, and sweaters might protect you from the elements, but a fat lot of good they’ll do protecting you from evil men. Anyway, throughout the series, Donna’s knits continue to hit, striking a perfect middle ground between Audrey’s retro cropped sweaters and Lucy’s loud chunky ones. —Rebecca Alter

Kurt Cobain’s thrifted cardigan in Unplugged

A thrifted sweater is such a get. If moths, staining, and pilling haven’t already claimed a pre-worn sweater, it’s like a gift from the gods. And no sweater better exemplifies the alt cred a thrifted cardigan can bestow like the one Kurt Cobain wore for MTV’s Unplugged. Firstly, the grunge era was huge for layering as a whole. Flannels, sweaters, jean jackets — sometimes all three in the same outfit over bike shorts. It was a lawless time. Secondly, that thing is so bedraggled. The studio lighting catches the pills on Kurt’s sweater just like the flyaways in his hair. It’s a studied, shabby look, one that became hagiography after he died. Kurt’s sweater look was so iconic that it resonated with MTV a full decade after Unplugged. MTV’s Made came to my school, and the guy from Yellowcard mentored this kid in a battle of the bands. The punks at my school protested the event, and Guy From Yellowcard told his mentee, “Don’t let these fucking hipsters and their Salvation Army sweaters get you down.” Truer words were never spoken. —Bethy Squires

Rory’s “muumuu” sweater in Gilmore Girls

Photo: Warner Bros.

When I was 11 and watching Gilmore Girls for the first time, Lorelai Gilmore was the epitome of cool. If she liked something, it was good, and if she hated something, it was bad. That extended to her taste in movies and music, her distaste for her blue-blooded family and their wealth, and crucially, an oversize fisherman sweater Rory wears in the pilot. “What’s with the muumuu?” Lorelai asks disdainfully. The die was cast: Big sweaters were not cool. Rewatching (and rewatching, and rewatching, and rewatching) Gilmore Girls as an adult, I am horrified by Lorelai’s snobbery and pettiness. Case in point: This sweater rules. —Emily Palmer Heller

George Clooney braving a turtleneck sweater in Ocean’s Thirteen

Photo: Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros.

Thank you to Steven Soderbergh, costume designer Louise Frogley, and George himself for proving that only a very slim segment of humanity can wear a turtleneck sweater and not look patently absurd. I mean, the mustache and the pendant are absurd, and a knit this thin and clingy probably can’t survive too many washes or wears. But that’s mortal stuff. On Clooney as mastermind thief Danny Ocean, they all add up to a very sexy look that reminds us we used to have movie stars in this country, dammit! Let Clooney cook! —Roxana Hadadi 

Bonnie’s Ralph Lauren–looking cardigan in Big Little Lies

Photo: HBO

Big Little Lies reinvented cardigan culture. What was once a cashmere wrap or simple throw became an emblem of brooding mothers and divorced housewives everywhere. The best knit to appear on the show’s two seasons was Bonnie’s (Zoë Kravitz) Ralph Lauren–esque cardigan. It’s the best because it looks cozy, it’s colorful, and she wears it when she decides to go to the police department to (… probably? We don’t actually see her) confess to murder. While we don’t need a season three of that show, we do need to know where the sweater is from. The Monterey moms need to know. —Morgan Baila

One Tree Hill’s floral-knit poncho

Photo: Warner Bros.

One Tree Hill was a delightfully unbelievable show in which a dog ate a man’s heart transplant, stalkers abounded (a fake brother! A psychotic nanny!), and former Los Angeles Laker Rick Fox played a former Los Angeles Laker turned loan shark. There were kidnappings and abductions and secret children and surprise marriages. It was basically a primetime soap opera in which no romantic relationship or dangerous subplot was too unthinkable. Yet amid all that schlock, what lingers in my brain most is this thing they made Bethany Joy Lenz wear. What is it? Ostensibly, this is a floral-knit poncho; in reality, it’s like an AI program tried to copy a Delia’s catalogue. Lenz’s character, Haley James, starts off this series as a nerdy tutor — “unattractive” in the same way Rachel Leigh Cook was supposed to be in She’s All That because she was wearing glasses — but even by those early-aughts standards, this doily is a war crime. Twenty years later, I still love it. —R.H.

The Banshees of Inisherin (various sweaters)

Photo: Searchlight

The Banshees of Inisherin is the kind of movie that asks you to stare into the void and confront your bleakest suspicions about the universe. Does God even give a damn about the tragic death of Jenny, the world’s most perfect miniature donkey? You already know the answer to that, and Banshees makes you sit with it. The movie’s dreary setting — all gray skies and empty country roads — would be relentlessly oppressive if not for the bold-colored sweaters worn by Pàdraic (Colin Farrell), a mildly obnoxious sweetie who likes to reassure himself that he’s only the second-dumbest person on the island. Every time Pàdraic attempts to reconcile with Colm (Brendan Gleeson), he seems to be wearing an even cozier piece of knitwear, as if daring his cold-hearted former friend to reject someone who’s practically begging to be cuddled. His efforts culminate with this wide-collared burgundy number, which he deftly styles both with and without a blazer despite (presumably) never having read a single menswear magazine. It’s the perfect outfit to highlight Pàdraic’s too much-ness — he’s almost too cute, and certainly too clueless to know when he’s being annoying. —Chris Stanton

Kate Chastain’s sheep sweater vest in The Traitors

Photo: Peacock

After years of gracing our screens in blue polos, Kate Chastain didn’t waste the fashion opportunity of appearing on The Traitors. Especially not with this lime-green homage to Princess Di — perfect both for the chilly Scottish weather and to embrace her identity as the always-accused black sheep of the competition. The green keeps it playful rather than gaudy, and the knit hat, while not a sweater, deserves a shoutout for pulling the outfit together. Rachel Reilly only hated the look because she knew she couldn’t pull it off herself. —Justin Curto

The sweater jacket in The Light Between Oceans

Photo: Touchstone Pictures

I don’t think this 2016 drama has had any lasting cultural imprint beyond having the distinction of being how Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander met, but The Light Between Oceans lingers in my mind for featuring some of the most absurdly gorgeous knitwear ever committed to screen. Sweaters, it seems, are the ideal item to wear when living in a remote lighthouse and stealing a baby who conveniently washes up nearby. My particular favorite is the sweater coat that Vikander’s character wears after arriving on the island and consummating her marriage, a chunky and absolutely darling knit affair that looks less like something you’d wear while feeding the chickens and more like it would cost $500 from Jenni Kayne. It’s particularly fetching when layered over crisp cotton blouses and nightgown-like shifts, oversize enough to droop daintily from the shoulders. This sweater absolutely contributes to the film’s confusing catalogue-shoot aura, but it’s so worth it. I would absolutely place an order for it with the lighthouse’s stockist. —A.W.

Hansel’s funeral-crashing sweater in Zoolander

Photo: Paramount Pictures

Zoolander is a movie about the power of fashion and being really, really, really, ridiculously good-looking, so of course it has its share of great sweaters. There’s the turtleneck sweater Derek wears in his Gap ad during his Male Model of the Year nomination video, the red knitted “I think I’ve got the black lung, Pop” one he wears after a day spent reconnecting with his roots in the coal mines of southern New Jersey, and the fuzzy blue one he wears in Hansel’s warehouse apartment the morning after giving into the power of the tea and realizing he’s in love with Matilda. But the film’s best sweater is worn by Owen Wilson’s Hansel when he crashes the funeral of Zoolander’s former roommates after their orange mocha Frappuccino accident. Until Hansel shows up, all eyes are on Derek, in his flashy all-white outfit at the podium, preparing to break some earth-shattering news. But it’s Hansel’s sweater — appropriately black and understated, yet bold in its own way with that skeletal white stitching — that not only steals the limelight but solidifies a rivalry that blossoms into a friendship that ultimately saves the world. Or at least the prime minister of Malaysia. —Megh Wright

Succession (various sweaters)

Photo: HBO

Leave it to the show that made us sympathize with billionaires to appropriate the everyman’s garment. Succession spawned a million trend reports trumpeting the return of quiet luxury, because nothing disgraces that acrylic-pilled polyester blend like $1,350 of wool and cashmere sculpted by a Hearst. Logan’s (controversial!) chunky cardigans, Tom’s turtles, Stewy in anything ribbed — costume designer Michelle Matland made cowled cable-knits and boiled wool as synonymous with New York’s patrician class as gleaming skyscrapers and helicopter rides to the Hamptons. —Julie Kosin

The blind-date sweaters in The Santa Clause 2

The Santa Clause series encompasses three movies and a Disney+ show (with a second season coming this November), but one three-minute scene in The Santa Clause 2 is better than anything else in the rest of the franchise combined. Tasked with finding a Mrs. Clause, Tim Allen’s Scott Calvin is on a blind date with a Christmas-obsessed Molly Shannon. Both are wearing spectacularly ugly sweaters — his a blue-and-green pullover that evokes tentacle porn with the naked ladies removed, hers a turtleneck with a photorealistic Santa complete with fuzzy hat and beard. Every detail is impeccable, especially the fact that sweater Santa appears to have Scott Calvin’s face, raising so many questions about his identity. Christmas movies have a grip on ugly sweaters competing for dominance, but none have Molly Shannon singing a “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” parody called “Man! I Feel Like Some Christmas!” —E.P.H.

Empire Records (various sweaters)

Photo: Warner Bros.

For a movie that kind of bombed at the time, Empire Records has quite the long tail. Olivia Rodrigo cited the film (and its sweaters) as a big style inspo for her Guts era, and it’s not hard to see why. Every sweater perfectly conveys the inner lives of the characters who wear them. Liv Tyler’s Corey is innocent and naïve, just like her baby-blue pullover. Renée Zellweger’s Gina is seductive, like her mostly unbuttoned black cardigan. And Johnny Whitworth’s A.J. wears a big, ratty, Cobain-y cardigan that pegs him as the tortured sweetie of the workplace. Susan Lyall, the film’s costume designer, put her whole machine-knit acrylic pussy into that movie. —Bethy Squires

Selena Gomez’s red sweater in Only Murders in the Building

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

“I’ll do anything to bring up Selena Gomez!” —Taylor Swift, but also me. After every episode of Only Murders in the Building, I find myself Googling “where to buy Selena Gomez costumes.” Her outfits feel comfortable and cool in a way in which I’d actually be able to recreate them with my own wardrobe — something I hardly find myself saying about other “It” girl outfits on TV. While her bright-yellow season-one knit is the best for a recognizable Halloween costume, my favorite is her cropped red Artizia sweater. It’s an easy item to find, looks great, and can cover up any blood if you find your neighbor stabbed to death by a knitting needle. —Alejandra Gularte

Raymond Smith’s smoking-jacket sweater in The Gentlemen

Charlie Hunnam’s after two things in Guy Ritchie’s The Gentlemen: a rich guy’s son and a good cardigan. He does find both, but only one is relevant to this list: his thick-knit, caramel-colored smoking jacket. It features big buttons to bring out Hunnam’s big … eyes … further accentuated by tortoiseshell glasses. This sweater screams “scholar” and “high class” and acts as the perfect foil to his character’s use of violence. (Although he’s not that violent, compared to the other titular gentlemen.) —M.B.

The Lighthouse (various sweaters)

Photo: A24

The Lighthouse is an unrelenting film, with its two main characters only ever allowed to work or drink. These men need garments that can stand up to that task, and that’s exactly what their sweaters provide. There’s implied toil in these knits: They’re weighty and scruffy, with stitches tight enough to shield these solemn, lonely men from the weather and having to express emotion. The fact that The Lighthouse is in black-and-white just serves to make the sweaters’ gruffness all the more intense. While we could intuit that Willem Dafoe’s is hot pink, not knowing makes him all the more aspirational. —J.P.F.

Frank Sabotka’s ugly “Who, me, a criminal?” sweater on The Wire

Photo: HBO

Clothes are probably not the first thing you think about when considering The Wire. All the systemic injustice and inequality, and the American Dream crumbling and dying under late-stage capitalism and infrastructure failures— and maybe David Simon’s outlandish Twitter persona — are more front of mind. For the most part, the series’s ensemble was wearing cop uniforms or streetwear, depending on which side of the law they were on, and that’s why Frank Sabotka’s sweater stands out. Chris Bauer’s Stevedores patriarch is one of the series’s most tragic figures, a man who knows his industry is dying and that none of the allies he’s made — the European gangsters he’s working with, the Baltimore politicians he’s bribe — are going to step up to save the docks and the jobs they provide to Baltimore’s working class. It’s not that his sweater signifies that sense of giving up. But the nondescriptness of it — that muddy plaid, the zhlubby fit — support Sabotka’s initially shrugging evasiveness, his aw-shucks everyman-ness. He wears the sweater when he lies to investigators about how a shipping container full of dead trafficked women ended up at his dock, certain the benevolent image he’s cultivated over the years will help him escape another tricky situation. It doesn’t work, but Sabotka’s sweater and how thoroughly average it is complements his later bitterness about what America has become: “We used to make shit in this country. Build shit. Now we just put our hands in the next guy’s pocket.” That ugly knit is really a shroud — not just for Sabotka, but for Simon’s idea of what America used to be. —R.H.

Daniel Craig (various sweaters)

Photo: Columbia Pictures

When Daniel Craig comes to mind, one is likely to think of the many fashion accouterments associated with his lengthy tenure as James Bond: luxury watches, suits, understated khakis. But when I think about Craig, what immediately appears is his fit in David Fincher’s 2011 adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (… which is an underrated movie??). It’s real layer-on-layer-on-layer action, a necessary bundling-up to keep the native Englishman insulated as he eats sandwiches, drinks coffee, gumshoes, and gets his ass beat in the frigid Scandinavian winter. Positively hygge-licious. Craig would reprise the sweater-forward look in his final Bond outing, 2021’s No Time to Die, where he spends the movie’s endgame snuffing out baddies in a tasteful navy-blue sweater. That number underscores what makes Craig such a sweater legend: It’s the bulge that’s the point — rarely does a sweater look better than when trying to contain explosive pectoral muscles in vain. —Nicholas Quah

Guillermo in What We Do in the Shadows (various sweaters)

Photo: Russ Martin/FX

Guillermo’s sweater collection in What We Do in the Shadows isn’t what any fashionista would consider a slay, but it will always have a place in my heart as one of the sweetest and most tragic elements of Harvey Guillén’s performance. At first, it may seem like the sweaters’ sole purpose is to make Guillermo seem dowdy and out of touch. But this is more than just dated clothing. These are the kinds of sweaters a mother puts on a child because she thinks it’s fun and the child cannot stop her. It’s the kind of thing a dedicated aunt hand-knits over the course of months so you basically have to wear it — the sorts of pieces that come to a person through a relative’s death or storage-unit liquidation, hung onto because why throw away a perfectly good sweater? It is a sartorial embodiment of Guillermo’s own lived predicament: a once-loved item that is now met with disdain and annoyance when it appears. I have always enjoyed thinking of Guillermo as a beleaguered Hollywood assistant or intern waiting for a promotion that’s never going to come, a person trying desperately to impress people who inherently do not see him as their equal and never will. Just like the sweaters, no matter how intricate his patterns, he will never be fashionable. But we cannot just throw him away! —Anne Victoria Clark

The Screen Sweaters Forever Stitched Into Our Minds