The Sweater Girl

During the late 1940s and 1950s, particularly in the US and amongst Hollywood stars, there was a group of female actresses who called themselves Sweater Girls.  The Sweater Girl would fashion tight knitwear over either a cone or bullet-shaped bra tucked into hip-hugging pencil skirts to create the ultimate hourglass silhouette. These styles were most famously coveted by actresses Lana Turner, Jayne Mansfield and Jane Russell and were soon adopted by the masses who longed for the curves of their Silver Screen idols.

Actress Jan Sterling
Actress Jan Sterling 1950s
'Jumper' editorial in 10th issue of Fantastic Man AW'10
Jumper editorial for the launch of Gentlewoman Magazine in 10th issue of Fantastic Man AW’10

One of the pivotal moments for the Sweater Girl was the infamous scene at the beginning of Mervyn LeRoy’s 1937 mystery film, They Won’t Forget, starring Lana Turner and the brief minutes she jauntily walks across the screen.

According to Life Magazine Lana’s scene “consisted mostly of 75ft. dolly shot of her as she hurried along a crowded street in a small Southern town. Lana didn’t have to act, she just walked along wearing a tight-fitting sweater. There was nothing prurient about the shot but the male U.S. found it more stimulating than a year’s quote of chorus girls dancing in wampum loin cloths.”

Lana Turner on the cover of Life magazine, July 24th 1939
Lana Turner on the cover of Life magazine, July 24th 1939
Sweater Girl
Perma-life brasseries ad, 1951

This golden moment of exaggerated femininity in American fashion defined women’s form for an era. The Sweater Girl was virtually synonymous with the ‘Pin-Up’ (she who decorated the walls of servicemen the length and breadth of the country) but the fashion was also a breakthrough. It was also liberating for a woman to accentuate her hips and breasts after many years of corseted confinement, although the Sweater Girl did have her critics…On one occasion in 1949, she was accused by a Police superintendent as being responsible for the moral decline of postwar youth:

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“Women walk the streets, their curves accentuated by their dresses. But our real problem is with bobby soxers. They are the sweater girls – just kids showing off their curves and apparently liking it.”

Lara Stone, Photographed by Mert Marcus for Vogue US September'10
Lara Stone, Photographed by Mert Marcus for US Vogue, September’10