There’s a single scene that almost did it for the V-neck sweater. In Basic Instinct, Michael Douglas works his way through a crowded nightclub – already slightly fish-out-of-water for the setting – wearing a V-neck sweater. Not a V-neck over a shirt or T-shirt, mind, but on its own, in a way more commonly associated with women’s dress. Oh, how the costume designer’s choice was condemned, even if, with hindsight – and much replication – it perhaps wasn’t the faux pas that style commentators ridiculed it as being.
Thankfully, the V-neck sweater survived what would be just another of the many ups and downs the style has weathered over the last century. The V-neck had, by the film’s release, already become the habitual raiment for the well-off, middle-class, golf-loving man of a certain age and unadventurous wardrobe. It was the knitwear equivalent of a pair of slacks and some comfy moccasins – safe and easy, for men who wouldn’t know a fashion item if it stood them a pint of IPA.
Ronnie Corbett owned the look. So, frankly, Douglas was trying to do the garment a favour. And he had precedent, too: make note of Rock Hudson’s cool in Come September – white pumps, white chinos and powder blue V-neck sweater, sans any kind of garment below.
It was in sport – cricket, tennis and, yes, golf – that the V-neck sweater had its origins, serving a not dissimilar function to the sweatshirt, but in a more refined fashion for a time – the 1920s – when gentlemen still dressed to be players. It was a warm layer to slip on during or after play, that V cut making the putting on or taking off of the sweater that much easier, while also allowing some breathing space around the neckline, which in turn became a focal point of trim in collegiate colours.