Origins Of The Submariner Jumper
4 min read
Written by Zak Rayment
Images by David Gray
An iconic piece of British knitwear, you’ve probably seen a Submariner Jumper before, though you might not know the story behind this iconic piece of nautical knitwear. Think of a stereotypical image of a grizzled fisherman, with his beard, cap and old wooden pipe pursed between his lips. Chances are, the imaginary character you’ve just conjured up is wearing a Submariner jumper, such is its prevalence and use in coastal conditions and communities.
The very first version of the jumper was ordered by the War Office in 1941, and it was so successful that its design has remained largely unchanged in the nearly 80 years proceeding that first order. Supplied to the British Royal Navy, they were intended to protect sailors from the harsh conditions, freezing winds, rain and salt spray endured on long voyages at sea.
Among the British Navy, they were particularly favoured by submarine crews who patrolled the dangerous and tempestuous North Sea. Submarines and U-boats had been widely employed in the First World War, however this new form of marine warfare was scorned and shunned by many. First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson was recorded complaining that submarine warfare was “underhanded, unfair and damned un-English”, even comparing submariners to modern pirates.
Submarine crews actually leaned into this moniker, even taking up the practice of flying the Jolly Rodger flag as a not-so-subtle show of indifference to the brass, embroidering them with symbols that boasted of that submarine’s achievements. Submariners gained a reputation as being rogues and scoundrels and it could be argued that the extreme conditions of their service is what attracted these types of sailors.
“When out on a patrol, which may last several weeks, nobody washes, shaves or even undresses. Not that we are lazy or want to be dirty, but it's against orders. There is only enough water carried for drinking purposes. You see there are such a lot of gadgets and the space is so limited that it's impossible to carry more.”
Derek Traylen, Leading-signalman, 1944
The life of a submariner was tough. Cramped conditions, dangerous missions and long patrols meant that dress codes were slightly more relaxed and this was where the Submariner Jumper proved its worth – comfortable enough to work and sleep in but hardy enough to protect crews surfacing in the frozen winds of the North Sea.
Over time, Submariners became synonymous with their white woollen jumpers, as did the jumpers themselves with the men who wore them. A submariner was tough, he was hardy, the embodiment of a brave seaman and the jumpers came to symbolise these characteristics too, built as they were to withstand the harsh weather conditions at sea. Submarine crews of the Royal Navy proudly wear their white Submariner jumpers to this day, and such is the success of this near 80 year old design that it was widely appropriated by popular mainstream fashion.
With the classic white design and our Breton stripe interpretation, we’ve created two versions of the Submariner this season, both made with 100% British wool and manufactured in the UK. A hardy jumper for hardy conditions, paying homage to the maritime heritage of these islands we call home.