Wednesday, August 29, 2007

jumpers, sweaters and the like

Sorry for my week of silence (if you noticed). It was just too hard to entertain out-of-towners in my hometown while also being on-line. Somehow they thought hikes and malls and museums and restaurants were more interesting than watching me type. But among those visitors to my little American hometown were ten British English speakers. Predictably, there were lots of linguistic discussions. Unpredictably, the weather took an unwelcome turn and the most discussed words (in August!) were jumper, sweater and terms for related items of clothing.

Most BrE-AmE dictionaries will tell you that BrE jumper = AmE sweater, but this is a little misleading and far from the whole story. When referring to knit(ted) garments, AmE sweater has much broader application than BrE jumper, which refers only to (generally long-sleeved) pullovers--that is, they are donned by pulling them over the head. In BrE, jumper stands in contrast to cardigan, a word that is used in AmE, but sweater is used frequently in AmE to refer to cardigans as well. So, AmE sweater is a superordinate term or hyper(o)nym, which includes cardigans and pullover sweaters. In BrE, jumper is not the hyperonym of cardigan, but kind of its 'opposite'.

Jumper in AmE is a kind of dress, called a pinafore (dress) in BrE. (Both dialects have the 'apron' sense of pinafore.) In other words, it's a sleeveless dress that's made to be worn over a blouse or other top. Thus my mother, who finds cross-dressing unexpected and hilarious, always has something to say when Better Half says he's going to put on his jumper.

Another sweater that is not a jumper is the (AmE) sweater vest (illustration from this catalog(ue) site). Now, there are two reasons why this isn't called sweater vest in BrE: (1) sweater is AmE (as already established!), and (2) in BrE vest is generally used to refer to (more typically AmE) undershirts (with or without sleeves) or sleeveless undershirt-like things worn by sports players. In AmE, on the other hand, a vest is a sleeveless garment for the upper body that's typically worn over a shirt. This includes the kind that one finds in three-piece suits, which have buttons up the front, and which BrE speakers call a waistcoat. Vest was once used in BrE for what are now called waistcoats--originally the term for a more complicated garment:
The earliest waistcoats, intended to show through the slashings and other openings of the doublet, were often extremely elaborate and costly. They were sometimes provided with sleeves, and appear to have reached to or below the hips. (OED)
So, Americans kept an old (but certainly not the original) meaning of vest, while the British adjusted the meaning of another term. A related term that I've only heard in the UK is gillet (also gilet), for a type of furry waistcoat/vest that became fashionable a couple of years ago. (Here's a photo.) I was questioning whether I've only heard it in BrE because it's only been fashionable since I moved here, but most of Google results for gillet + fur are from the UK, so I'm suspecting that it's a far more common term in BrE these days. On an American catalog(ue) site, I find similar items described as fur vests.

But I've got(ten) away from the question: what is the BrE for (AmE) sweater vest? It is, in my confused experience, tank top. Here's a so-label(l)ed photo from a UK retailer. The experience [of hearing of a dean coming to work in a tank top!] was confusing for me because of the AmE meaning of tank top: a sleeveless undershirt (nowadays often worn as an only-shirt). I was wearing one of those today, so had the opportunity to ask Better Half what he'd call such a thing, and his (sorry, honey) rather unsatisfying answer was 't-shirt', later adapted to 'sleeveless t-shirt'. A more precise BrE term is singlet (as one can see here), but it's not a term one hears a lot these days. Such undershirty things are likely to be called vests, as one can see when searching 'vest' on the Next [UK clothing retailer] website.

This brings to mind another (colo[u]rful but unfortunate) Americanism: wife-beater, which is a slang term for the type of tank top/vest that Marlon Brando wore in Streetcar Named Desire. Slangcity.com claims (I've never heard it) that wife-beater is also BrE slang for Stella Artois beer--which brings one back to Brando and Streetcar (Steeelllllaaaaa!).

Getting back to sweater and jumper, there are more ways in which the former is more general than the latter. For example, I have fine-gauge, short-sleeved knit(ted) tops (like this one on Knit Sisters) that I'd only wear on their own--not over another shirt/blouse--and that I'd call sweaters. I'd not feel comfy calling such things jumpers in BrE, though. Searching summer-sweater on Google Images brings up images of both short-sleeved and sleeveless tops and lightweight, long-sleeved sweaters/jumpers, but searching summer-jumper just results in lightweight, long-sleeved jumpers/sweaters and AmE jumpers (the one short-sleeved one is a red herring: it's on the same page as a long-sleeved one that has the 'summer jumper' label). What would one call a 'summer' sweater in BrE? My best guess is that it's just a top. (BrE-speaking 'summer sweater' wearers, what do you think?)

And speaking of top (once I get going, I just can't shut up, can I?), I find that it's used much more often in BrE than in AmE. And in AmE, one is more likely than in BrE to call a woman's blouse or top a shirt. I'm not saying that these terms aren't used in both dialects, but just that their frequency/commonality seems to be different--at least in the forms of BrE and AmE I've been exposed to. But on that intuitional note, I've got to go bed...

65 comments:

judyb said...

Just my linguistic 2¢: gilet is French for a cardigan or a light jacket-type thing, although i never worked very hard to gain any clarity on just what garments the word applies to.

TasmanSea said...

In my experience also"shirt" in American English more general than it is in British English. In BrE I would only use "shirt" to refer to a garment with buttons up the front, and a collar, like what men wear with business suits, (although a woman could wear one also). I have decided that "top" is closer to the AmE sense of "shirt" in BrE, although some things that I would call a "top" might also be "sweaters". It seems like people use shirt if it goes against their skin, and then sweater if it goes over the top. I might use top for either.

Lowell said...

Stella is commonly referred to as wife-beater, but that may be a younger generation thing. I learned this name for it in Fresher's week, I believe, and have heard it ever since.

Jonathan Bogart said...

"Top" may be gaining ground in AmE; at least it's my impression that (youngish?) AmE-speaking females are increasingly (within the past ten years, say) likely to refer to just about anything fitted worn on the upper torso as a top. I doubt it's (knowingly) imported from BrE; it may just as easily be carried over from bikini terminology, where "tops" and "bottoms" are standard. Or perhaps it's more of a regional thing; the prevalence of tank tops and tube tops in Southwest attire might encourage the idea of simply dropping the prefixes.

James said...

I think, in AmE, 'top' would only be used for women's upper garments or for specialty things that come in two pieces, like wet suits or something. A man would no sooner call his shirt a top than he would call it a blouse. It also seems to me that 'top' doesn't have feminine connotations in AusE. Don't know about other E's.

johnb said...

*Grins* I suspect my contributions on this subject will be of limited value. I very rarely shop for womens clothes, and do little more than pass appreciative comments about my wife's clothing. I find that is much safer than passing appreciative commments about other women's clothing.

However to me, a shirt that a woman wears is still called a blouse, and I can't tell the difference between a frock and a dress.

Peter said...

The word “Jersey” to describe a thick, usually woollen, jumper worn by males seems to be rarely used nowadays. Jerseys were particularly associated with fishermen and seamen. When I was young, boys always wore jerseys and never jumpers, which would have been considered sissy! I still tend to refer to a jersey in relationship to my own “jumper” even if it is made from thinner cotton or man-made fibres.

Simon K said...

I was going to say that I agreed with TasmanSea that a (BrE) shirt has to have buttons. But then Peter mentioned "jersey", and I remembered that a jersey is also what's worn by a football (soccer) goalkeeper, in contrast to the football "shirts" worn by the rest of the team, which are buttonless and much more like a long t-shirt.

lazybrain said...

As well as Jersey, in BrE you can have a gansey which is a corruption of Guernsey (and as Peter says is associated with fishermen). I think this is quite old-fashioned though. This New York football club uses the words jumper, jersey and guernsey interchangeably.

I thought gilets were also called bodywarmers, but when I asked my daughter (15) what she'd call a sleeveless zip-up top she said she wouldn't use either word. She'd call it a 'do-not-wear-it top'.

grace said...

And what about "hoodies"? I think this (young) word is used by both Br & Am, but I believe a "hoodie" in BrE = jumper, while in AmE it = sweatshirt.

lynneguist said...

In BrE these days, a hoodie is typically a zip-up sweatshirt. My university's students' union is obsessed with advertising and selling them.

lynneguist said...

I should have said 'a zip-up sweatshirt with a hood', of course!

bill said...

What about a Fleece? Now I don't know how much of an Americanism this is, but I know many people who call a top made of "Polar Fleece" (See Wikipedia) a Fleece. It is different than a sweater, sweatshirt or hoodie (which is really just a hooded sweatshirt to me)
I personally don't like to call it a hoodie becasue it sounds too childish, and I have never liked the term wife-beater, but often use both of them just to be very clear what I am talking about. I also believe that the Wife-Beater term more came from episodes of Cops over Streetcar.

Doug Sundseth said...

A sense of "blouse" that I didn't see mentioned:

The "jacket" worn with a Class-A uniform in US military service* is referred to as a blouse. For examples, search Google Images using 'class-a blouse' as a search phrase.

There is also a verb sense of "blouse", but that seems out of the context of this article.

* This usage might be common in other English-speaking militaries, but I don't have enough experience to be able to comment.

lynneguist said...

Bill--fleece is used in the UK for the same sort of garment.

Ken Broadhurst said...

A gilet in French is a (AmE) vest (BrE) waistcoat or a (AmE) sweater vest. I'm not sure if it has to have buttons or not or if it can be a pullover sweater vest.

Andrew Sherman said...

So is Better Half a big girls blouse?

lynneguist said...

It's not nice to wonder not-nice things about other people's Better Halves, Andrew Sherman.

(Yes, BGB is a BrE insult. See World Wide Words on the subject.)

Shelly said...

You forgot "string vest."

And "top" is something I've heard and used all my life as a word for a girl's or woman's shirt that is less casual than a T-shirt. In the usage I'm familiar with, it does not require a "bottom." (Ahem. I suddenly feel like I'm on a fetish board.)

Sharon said...

Especially if it's rather baggy and shapeless, I might call it a sleeveless pullover. If it's tighter and more trendy, probably a tank top.

I'm afraid I just can't resist this link. Where's me jumper! Where's me jumper! Um, sorry.

Speaker of CanE and CanFr said...

ken, in Canadian French a gilet is a jacket.

speaker said...

(that should be CanE and CanFr)

Sili said...

For what it's worth (not much, I'm sure) I only own one "sweater west" and the nice, little ol' ladies who sold it to me in Durham referred to it as a "slipover". So I've adopted this term, myself.

dearieme said...

I don't think we ever used "jumper" - rather English? In Lowland Scotland, my family used jersey and sweater. In particular you wore a jersey when you played rugby. Or went out sailing or fishing or golfing. But I think we may have called them sweaters for cricket - I'm not certain of that.

johnb said...

Ohh - we forgot pullover as a name for a jumper/sweater/jersey.

Jersey started out as a style of clothing/knit from that particular island - along with Guernsey sweaters, Aran sweaters and probably a few more beside

Kay said...

This is long; the subject has always interested me. Once again, my AmE differs. "Shirt" means the collared, woven-fabric, button-up item, and "top" is the general term for above-the-waist attire for both sexes. I think, as is often the case, it's not just regional but age-related. I think "shirt" is likely to be used more broadly by older people. Someone much younger than I might easily stretch things to call a jacket a "top," and I probably wouldn't, unless it was a variable-use item like a hoodie.

"Shirt" used by itself, is nearly always a dress shirt and thus, boys are told to wear "shirt and tie" for school picture day; that is not likely to mean a flannel, plaid, or Hawaiian shirt, even though it might technically fit my definition above, but rather, something that wouldn't look out of place with a suit.

If my brother had walked into the living room bare-chested, my Dad would have said, "put on a shirt" meaning "cover yourself" where I would just say "top," unless we were going out to a nice restaurant, in which case, "shirt".

I never heard "wifebeater" used about clothing until the undershirt's most recent emergence as fashion. I've been trying to find the correct name, that is, a name people would recognize, since I wore them in the 70's. I used to call them "Grandpa undershirts", because my grandfather wore them when working in his garden, but that's not very useful. Otherwise it was the cumbersome "sleeveless undershirt." "Tank tops" came along, but they came in colors, and were meant to be overwear, whereas the item under discussion is underwear worn as overwear. My husband knows them from his New Jersey teen/YA years as "Guinea tees", another objectionable nickname (for Italians). It was part of the accepted rough humor amongst his group, along with all the names he was called for being a Brit, and those traded by his Irish, German, Korean, etc. friends, so I don't know whether it was, or is, in general usage for shirts - anyone know ? I see them marketed as "A-shirts" (for the shape ?), but I've never heard anyone say it. And while everyone knows what they are now, I still don't know what to call them.

For fun, I asked my teenage consultant about the word "cardigan", and it was vaguely familiar (from BrE books, perhaps), but she couldn't define it, apparently because the garment itself is unknown to her - too unfashionable for words. A person who's 20-ish and up might recognize it, if only as part of the brief twinset revival, but "cardigan" isn't really part of the vocab for many people under 35 here, I'd guess, except for the few into the preppy look. So, to their age group, a "sweater" is a pullover. When it is one of those lightweight knitted numbers you definitely can't wear over anything but a bra or slip, it's a "top."

lynneguist said...

Thanks for your comments, Kay, but one bit doesn't sit right:

"A person who's 20-ish and up might recognize it, if only as part of the brief twinset revival, but "cardigan" isn't really part of the vocab for many people under 35 here, I'd guess, except for the few into the preppy look. So, to their age group, a "sweater" is a pullover."

If 'cardigan' isn't part of their vocab, then what do they call one? Certainly, the things aren't unknown in the under-35s (I work with that age group--they wear them!). It was Americans calling cardigans sweaters that got our discussion going at home, and both the younger and older (American) set were calling cardigans sweaters--so it seems not to refer specifically to pullovers, as you seem to be claiming. (If you are claiming that, then what do they call cardigans in your neck of the woods?)

Marc said...

For Kay:
I believe the "A" in "A-shirt" comes from "athletic" (or maybe athletics?... it would make more sense to say "athletics shirt" than "athletic shirt").

For me, "gilet" in French has a primary meaning of (AmE) "vest", worn with a three-piece suit. But in practice I've also heard it used with a broader meaning of any light jacket, knit or other.

Jen said...

Interesting suggestion re 'tank top', but I would suggest that this is a relatively modern term, possibly adapted in turn from the AmE definition! My Grandad would always have referred to that king of top as a 'pullover' - in that sense that you would pull it over a shirt to be a bit warmer.

Doug Sundseth said...

Another usage that might bear mentioning is that the top/shirt/whatever that in US Football would be called a "jersey" is properly called a "sweater" in hockey*, regardless of its construction.

* I'm referring to real hockey, here, not field hockey. Which is probably a subject for another time. 8-)

OfTroy said...

missing is the BrE tabbard (used as late as the 1980's) for a open sided vest (amE vest)

tabbards sometimes have tabs to close the sides, and some times have a waist band that connects the front and back.

they are similar to what i learned to call a scapula which is a similar garment, --most frequently part of a nun's or brother's habit, (but in the middle of last century, also worn by religious lay people
scapula's are NEVER closed at the sides, but but are sometimes held in place by a belt. (never side tabs)

mollymooly said...

I think gansey comes from Guernsey indirectly, via Irish geansaí. The sleeveless singlets worn by Australian rules footballers are still called guernseys. The white thick-knit Irish garments I used to call Aran jumpers are now generally called Aran sweaters in Ireland. I don't know if this is to encompass the cardigan variant; they are mostly purchased by American tourists in any case.

I'm unaware of a goalkeeper/outfielder distinction for football jersey/shirt; my impression is that jersey is simply a more old-fashioned term in this context. Relatedly, American sports fans talk about their team's uniform where Brits say kit or strip (the latter focus(s)ed more on the colo(u)rs than the physical clothing).

As regards shirts: for me, by default a shirt has buttons, long sleeves, and a stiff collar and cuffs. A casual shirt's cuffs and collar may be soft. A grandfather shirt has no collar, presumably from the good old days when collars were detachable for separate washing and starching. A polo shirt has a soft collar, short sleeves, and perhaps a couple of buttons at the neck (as distinct from a polo-neck, which is like a turtleneck but lighter). A t-shirt has no collar or buttons. A football shirt is for playing football (FSV of football). AmE jean shirt is BrE denim shirt.

I hadn't given much thought to top, but I don't recall having ever applied it to a man's garment; it may simply be that the narrower range of styles of men's upper garments is adequately covered by more specific terms, with no call for a vague fall-back term. It is used in compounds, such as track suit top; the complement of which is probably track suit bottoms, though track pants is gaining currency, helping to bridge the Transatlantic Pant Divide.

In BrE and AmE dress has been replacing frock and (one sense of) gown since the nineteenth century.

Don't forget footwear: sneakers/trainers, soccer shoes/football boots, and hi-tops/basketball boots.

lynneguist said...

Let's not get into footwear in the comments, please!! I'll be happy to do a separate entry on it, and don't want interesting discussions about it to be hidden away here.

I've found tabbards on the Oasis and TopShop order sites, but they don't seem to be quite what you're describing, Oftroy. For example: this one. Like gil(l)et, we have tab(b)ard--I only have the one 'b' variant in the only US dictionary to hand (the Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary! Not the perfect source!) This describes a historical garment. Just checked and no double 'b' tabbard in my Concise Oxford either. (At home, so it's not the most current edition, though.)

The current OED gives the one-b variant as the main spelling, and includes the following definition for the modern garment:

"A fashionable slimly cut ladies' jerkin or similar garment with short (or no) sleeves; spec. one used as a beach-robe."

As for all the sportswear, I'll leave it to you sporty people. I call just about any team-sport top a jersey.

FWIW, kit and hockey have been discussed on the blog in earlier posts.

Canadian said...

What you called a sweater vest and said British English calls a waistcoat, I have also seen called a slipover on a British knitting blog. She devotes a whole post to slipovers here.

Canadian said...

oops, I mean that you said British English calls a "tank top" (not a waistcoat!).

AmandaChristina said...

This post made me remember that when I, as an American, lived in Ireland I heard the term "string vest" in reference to what I would call a spaghetti strap tank. Is that what it would be called in BrE?

Janet said...

Lynne,

I've missed your blog entries...but we certainly DO excuse you!

I'd never heard the term "gillet" before moving to England. To my American ears, it always sounds incredibly pretentious and silly!

Around here (Oxfordshire), "gillet" seems to refer to any type of garment I would call a "vest"...but the over-your-clothes-to-keep-you-warm (or just make you look stylish!) variety. It doesn't seem to matter from what material it's fashioned.

Janet

Stephen said...

'gilet' in French is a waistcoat in BrE.

The normal word I would use for jersey ot jumper is sweater. I presume I would call a cardigan a cardigan but as I would never wear one!

The top of a track suit is called a tank top, and the pants are called track-suit bottoms.

As others have said, shirt has a double meaning. It would mean a shirt with a collar as opposed to a T shirt or a sweatshirt or a tunic, but we would say "put on a shirt" to somebody who was naked from waist up.

Almeda said...

In re 'Guinea tee', the common term for sleeveless undershirts when I was a child (in Chicago, on the playgrounds) was a term I now shudder to think I EVER used: 'dago tee,' also derogatory towards Italians. Thank goodness we finally started calling them tank tops and iI had something to say that wasn't half a sentence of description ...

Simon Buck said...

As no one seems to have mentioned this so far, I thought I'd just add that in my English household (mixture of Kent/Surrey influences with a smattering of Welsh) a cardigan is usually called a cardy (having never previously had the need to write it down I don't know whether this should in fact be cardy, cardie, or cardi- as an abbreviation). This properly refers to a thin knitted sleeved top (!) with buttons, but can be variously applied to almost anything worn over other tops (!!) to counter the British weather (especially on summer evenings as the light fades and the temperature drops).

Anonymous said...

I had an interesting discussion with my Australian sister-in-law about this. My question was, if AmE jumper = AusE tunic, what is the AusE term for what I would call a tunic (like Robin Hood would wear)? She didn't really know. Anyone? I know I'm late...

Flex said...

Hmm,

It appears no one has mentioned 'shell' yet for a woman's top. Unless I missed it. I never heard the term until a few years ago when shopping with a girlfriend.

Here in the American mid-west, a cardigan is a button-up (or the rare zippered) sweater, and a pull-over is sweater with a solid front you pull over your head.

I prefer cardigans but they are far less common.

lynneguist said...

A shell is a particular kind of women's top--the type of simply-shaped thing that one wears under a suit jacket. Since I find that in the OED, unmarked for dialect, there's no reason to think it's regional.

A shell suit is another matter...

Maximonk said...

I suspect the differentiation between a goalkeeper wearing a jersey and the players wearing shirts is that the goalie has to keep warm, so has long sleeves, but players are running about so get hot and have short sleeves.

Anonymous said...

Hi - I'm a seventeen year-old American girl, and have grown up in MA, AZ, CA, and ID. I have noticed for a few years now that my older sister, who is 18, uses the word sweater interchangeably with sweatshirt. To me (and many of my generation, I think), a sweater is anything on top that is made out of really nice material where you can see the lines kind of put together nicely. A t-shirt is an informal shirt that carries a team name or something, no cap sleeves and not fitted. A shirt is used for anything you wear on top other than stuff that keeps you warm like a thick sweater or a sweatshirt, guys and girls included. Cardigan - archaic. I vaguely think of something nice that matches in pastel colors with sweater-like material. Girls use the word 'top' a lot when we compliment each other's outfits. 'Hoodie' is used far less than is sweatshirt, which invariably has a hood and is thick and warm. Jersey is only used for sports. Tank-top, the nice kind that girls wear. Wife-beater and undershirt are used at about the same rate for that particular article of clothing. A vest refers to anything that is sleeveless and not a tanktop, like the sweater vests or what guys wear under tuxedos. When my generation uses blouse, we are either referring to a girl's button-down shirt, that is really light, or those "nice" shirt that a lot of moms seem to wear. Jumper I have used in two ways throughout my life - either those one piece overalls that aren't jean material that kids wear or the light and airy dresses that are sleeveless and generally worn over a regular top, like white or something. For me, a hoodie only refers to a sweatshirt with a hood, and I haven't heard it used to refer to anything that zips up. Anything that zips up is generally a jacket to my generation (although I can't speak for everyone, obviously). I am so excited to have found this. I love etymology. : )

Chris C. said...

Personally, in AmE, I don't make a distinction between cardigans and pullovers -- everything is always a sweater. In fact I don't think I even learned the word "cardigan" until adulthood. As a child, I instead referred to it as a "Mr. Rogers sweater", from the children's TV show "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" in which the host would always(?) wear one.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the fisherman's smock, a pullover-style 'top' of woven cotton (usually) with large pockets on the front.

Lois Aleta said...

Then there's a cardigan-like sweater vest, a sleeveless button-up sweater with a deep v-neck. Usually gray (or grey), in my experience, which is mostly limited to the one my dad used to wear, and the one James Earl Jones' character wore in Field of Dreams, which looked just like Dad's. This is what I think of when I think of "sweater vest."

ally said...

Argh! I'm really trying to remember what my dad calls his sleeveless jumpers. (BrE.) Tank-tops have rounded necks, but he wears v-necked.... ARGH! I would ring him to ask, but he's on holiday.

I have also noticed AmE speakers calling what i'd normally just call 'shirts', 'button-down shirts'. I think of a 'button-down' shirt as being a shirt whose collar has little buttons that, um, button it down, but i'm pretty sure it's being used to refer to what i might call button-up shirts - that is, shirts the fronts of which are fastened together with buttons. Hmm? Does that make any sense at all?

(And sorry about commenting on old posts - my laptop broke and i keep forgetting which blogs i like to read because i don't have the feeds set up on this computer.)

lynneguist said...

In AmE, a button-down shirt is generally one with a button-down collar.

Ster said...

To my American ears, and only because I have sons that participate in the sport of wrestling, a "singlet" is the tight-fitting sleevless one-piece apparel a wrestler wears in competition.

Johnny E said...

Huh, I had never made the "wifebeater (sleeveless top) -> Stanley -> Stella -> wifebeater (Stella Artois)" connection before. Makes sense. I'd always just assumed the name came from the association of the lager (despite its attempts to upmarket itself with its Pagnolesque adverts) with alcoholism, and the vests with unemployment (and possibly some racial stereotyping, given they're also known as "Guinea T's"), and the connotations of... unhealthy home life that those things invoke.

Pooky said...

The sleeveless tops you call wifebeaters and say are often called 'vests' in BrE, I more often encounter called 'vest tops' to distinguish them from the undergarment (in south UK).

They are occasionally called 'strappy tops' too.

Janibach said...

August 2010. As the British mother of an American 16-year-old daughter, I can tell you that currently the garment referred to above as a "wifebeater" is now known as a "beater" due to the non-pc-ness of the battered wife reference. American kids also wear "hoodies" and everything from camis to frilly tops are all called "shirts". Only recently (as my son is now in 5th grade) do I come to learn what a "button-down shirt" is - but do they really mean they have to have button-down collars?

In current clothing catalogues that come my way in America, cardigans are called cardigan-sweaters, and recently the chain store "Old Navy" has been advertising them as "cardis", notably using British (southern English) voices. I find this a comforting reassurance that I'm not completely barmy when my daughter derides me for using British words.

Finally, back in England in the 1960s, my dad wore a sleeveless jumper/sweater over his shirt which we called a pullover. Tank tops were unflattering brightly coloured knitted tops which stopped at the waist, often with horizontal stripes and a U-neck which we teenagers wore in the 70s.

Mark said...

i'm British and would say BrE pullover/sweater/jumper/jersey has sleeves, tank top is sleeveless, hoodie more youthful reference with derogatory connotations whereas I would say hooded top. Fleece is a cold weather top from a nice insulating "fluffy" material usually with a zip front. Jersey also used for sports shirt in BrE guernsey is AusE equivalent used for aussie rules footy especially but also cricket. Fascinating post I found this searching for the difference between jersey and guernsey as i'd not come across the latter reference before I went to Australia. Cardigan knitted sweater with buttoned front. The generic "top" has a broad common usage.

Anonymous said...

I am a 29 year old American woman and I use top and shirt interchangeably when speaking in general about something worn to cover the top half of the body, other than outerwear. I have noticed men my age seem to call collared shirts with buttons that could be worn with a suit "button ups" or just a dress shirt.

As far as cardigans are concerned, they have been a prominent part of my wardrobe (as well as my vocabulary ) since I was a teenager. My sister (she's in her early twenties) and my cousin (teenager) wear them frequently as well. Most popular clothing retailers in this country offer tons of cardigans and you will see them labeled as such on their websites. "Cardigan" is often a subcategory of "Sweater" on these sites. I would consider a cardigan to be a type of sweater. I usually take one with me everywhere I go once the weather starts to get cooler.

Jonathan Ogilvy said...

There is a British slang term for a garment in the same category as Mr. Rogers' cardigan sweater which I have been trying to remember since I came across it a couple of years ago, I forget where. Did I dream of an article by Lucy Kellaway that never existed? The term specifically refers to a piece of clothing one keeps in the office because of air conditioning. Either it really was my imagination or the term never caught on, because no one I have asked has heard of it, although everyone agrees there should be such a word. We also agree the Brits would be good at inventing it.

Geoffrey said...

Until recently, hockey players (mostly Canadian) wore sweaters rather than jerseys. (And for some reason, Aussie footballers wear guernseys.)

Elian said...

Looking yp in the Merriam-Webster's dictionary, a slipover is defined as a cover or garment that slips on and off easily, specifically a pullover sweater. As a French student in English language, I'd like to know if slipover is a common synonym for a pullover sweater (US) or jumper (GB) and hence can be used interchangeably, or does it sound kinf of weird or old fashioned to you native English speakers?

Elian said...

OK, now, if I've gotten it right, aside from the term "pullover sweater", there's no specific word in American English for what is called a jumper or sweater in British English, the US definition of a sweater being a button-up or pullover/slipover garment made especially of knit, crocheted, or woven wool, cotton, or synthetic yarn; whereas a pullover or slipover from the American perspective can be any garment including a sweater that can be put on by being drawn over the head. Did I understand it right?

lynneguist said...

Yes, Elian, you got it right. I never hear 'slipover' in English.

Elian said...

Well, actually, Wikipedia says that "slipover" is another name for sweater vest, in other words a sleeveless sweater that's typically worn over a shirt and which is known as a tank top in the UK. However, it seems to chiefly belong to commercial and garment/fashion industry jargons as it apparently gained little to no ground usage-wise among native speakers of English.

Angélique said...

I agree with judyb: I'm french, and gilet means cardigan to us. It has to be buttoned all the way down, and it is usually made of a knit-like material.

Chloe said...

Thought you would find this interesting: I'm American, but my grandfather is from the former British colony of Nevis. To me, a wifebeater is the sleeveless top worn by a man as his only, or at least main, shirt.When I, a woman,wear the same kind of item, I call it a tank top. Besides my father and my grandfather, I've never known any American males to wear these as undershirts- but in Nevis, when used as undergarments they are called "marinos" or "merinos". *shrugs*

Ana T. Garcia said...

In regards to present day fashion, the fitness world has created a craze of certain items such as gym tank tops and yoga pants that are worn as casual wear by many people on a daily basis, whether they attend a gym or not.
string tank tops