Tennis isn’t so much a sport as a culture—with its own rules, aesthetics, and nomenclature. The rise in popularity of the tennis skirt has been well documented, but minis aren’t for everyone. Now, the tennis sweater is having its moment in the sun (courtside and beyond), but it’s not the preppy style of the official handbook variety. Millennials don’t join country clubs anyway.
“A tennis sweater harkens back to another time—the faded glory of the country club, prep-school set,” Katie Warner Johnson, CEO of Carbon38, tells BAZAAR.com. “However, today, as we all have a habit of standing dress codes on their heads and carving our own styling paths, the tennis sweater works its way into our wardrobes as a contrast, almost as a costume as we try on (literally) the romanticized version of a past that may not have much relevance today.”
Part of the modernization of tennis style has to do with how pieces like the preppy sweater are styled. “Contrast is the name of the game when keeping old trends alive. It doesn’t hurt that the V-neck and cable knit is flattering and fuss free,” Johnson continues. Recreational Habits cofounder Jackie Skye Muller recommends wearing the brand’s sweater vest “with nothing under it and some high-waisted, full-length jeans” to make the look current.
But also, who is wearing the tennis sweater can matter more for its relevance than how. In some ways, tennis is still an ivory tower sport, but that rep is slowly changing, according to Skye Muller. “I think tennis and the culture that surrounds it are still very exclusive due to inaccessibility of courts and equipment in certain communities,” she says. “There is, however, a new wave of recreational tennis enthusiasts who are really exposing the sport in a fresh, new way, especially on social media. It’s also very exciting to see the next generation of diverse tennis players who are joining the sport because of the champions they resonate with like Serena [Williams], Naomi [Osaka], and Emma Raducanu, to name a few.”
It further helps the rep of the tennis sweater when people like Tyler the Creator and influencers and stylists who are known for just about everything but pure prep style make it their own.
And so, the appeal of the storied tennis sweater lies somewhere between its inherent heritage element and rebelling against the system it represents. Plus, it looks cool with baggy jeans.