The spencer: the comeback of the sleeveless sweater

20 Oct 2020
Door Modefabriek

There’s simply no denying the storming spencer revival. So grab that forlorn jumper from your closet and set your seam ripper to work on the sleeves! It’s time for an ode to a top that is now firmly back on trend: the sweater vest. 

Back in time with the spencer 

The spencer has a rich history. A Dutch synonym for this item is ‘debardeur’, derived from the French verb ‘débarder’, meaning the unshipping of goods. You see, the spencer was indispensable in the 19th-century docker’s wardrobe. The knitted sleeveless beauties were the ideal partner for the physical toil on the quayside. And the freedom of movement offered by the spencer didn’t go unnoticed in the world of sport. Rowers and golfers had already caught on, and in 1907, players from the Michigan Wolverines American football team were first spotted in sweater vests. ‘Athleisure’ 1.0 was born, and this sporty garment became an increasingly common fixture in daily life. 


From ‘grandpa chic’ to preppy and everything in-between 

Prince Edward of Wales was a fervent fan of the spencer in the Roaring Twenties, and from 1930, it was a male fashion essential. Everyone from presidents to the common man got in on the action, and women including Eleanor Roosevelt and later Lady Diana – what’s in a name – Spencer also gave the iconic sleeveless sweater a go. The spencer also proved popular during both World Wars. Buoyed by the slogan ‘Purl Harder’ – indeed, a play on Pearl Harbor – American volunteers knitted many a spencer during World War II to keep the heroes on the frontlines in warm and functional ‘service woollies’. 


"Spring, summer, autumn or winter: with a spencer, any season goes!"

The following decades saw various designs, materials and colour schemes come and go, but the spencer really started to return to its prime around 1990. Thanks to Steve Urkel in Family Matters, it was hardly the height of fashion, yet the spencer was also a component part of the preppy look championed by Clueless’ Cher Horowitz. The conflicting hints of nerdiness, elitism, sportiness and professionality associated with the spencer make it a garment that is somewhat difficult to categorise. And perhaps that makes it precisely the right item to be adding to our 2020 look. 


The spencer in 2020 

Spring, summer, autumn or winter: with a spencer, any season goes! The international high-end fashion houses presented the spencer in both their SS 20/21 and AW 20/21 collections, in a range of types and sizes. Oversized with nothing underneath, crocheted or cropped on top of dresses, and packed with motifs or sequins on top of puffed-sleeved blouses. The spencer also frequently pops up in the collections of the brands on our platform. Such as the subtle, unpatterned versions from brands like InWear and 7 For All Mankind, and VILA’s chunkily knitted turtleneck offering. But then we also have multicoloured and striped variants from brands including Lollys Laundry and SisterS Point. One thing’s for sure: this season, the spencer once again refuses to be pigeon-holed.

Written by Marjolein Lammerts van Bueren

Category Trends Fashion
Tags Fashion, Trends

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