I checked today the definition of "jersey" in Word Reference dictionary (https://www.wordreference.com/definition/jersey) and found:

a close-fitting knitted sweater or shirt

I think that the concepts of "sweater" and "jersey" are broader than I knew. For me, a "jersey" is a tight light shirt with short sleeves used for sports, which include the official shirts used by soccer/basketball/volleyball/etc players. A sweater (= pullover) is a heavy piece of clothing for the chest with long sleeves, used to warm yourself during the winter. Therefore, how can a jersey be a sweater?

I live in a tropical weather in Brazil. I wonder if my difficulty to understand this concept is that we rarely use winter clothes to practice sports.


4 Answers 4


Think of ‘jersey’ as being like an ancient ‘brand-name’ for ‘sweater’, originating from an island off France, where they were made, that eventually became synonymous with ‘sweater, pullover, and jumper’ which are other words for similar garments.

A bit like how ‘hoover’ (a brand-name) became the name for ‘vacuum cleaner’, in the UK.

As Jeeped has commented, a ‘jersey’ is a kind of knitted sweater, made in the island of Jersey in the Channel Islands (UK). Jersey is also the name for various kind of stretchy fabrics, such as cotton jersey, which is similar to ‘T-shirt fabric’ that you find in ‘sports jerseys’, and wool jersey which is used for knitted dresses and other items.

Jersey came to be known as any kind of knitted jumper, or sweater, and the words jersey, sweater, pullover, and jumper are interchangeable.

Jersey, sweater, pullover, and jumper are all pulled over the head - they have no front opening.

Whereas ‘cardigan’ traditionally opens all the way down the front, with buttons fastening it, and is made of the same kinds of material as the others.

Lastly ‘jersey’ or ‘jersey fabric’ also refers to a kind of fine knitted cloth of cotton or wool that is drapeable, stretchy, smooth and flowing - of which T-shirt material is an example.

Sweaters (and jumpers, pullovers, and jerseys) may also be hand-knitted - they may therefore show up as bulky and thick, as in hefty ‘cable knits’ from Scotland or the Isle of Skye, thicker than cardboard (like 1cm thick or more - a ‘fisherman’s jumper’ - to keep out the cold) in which case they are not stretchy, not soft or flowing as in ‘jersey fabric’. And sometimes, such garments may also be softer and made with a jersey kind of fabric.

So sweater, jersey, jumper, and pullover are all synonymous and all mean ‘some kind of knitted top that you pull on over your head’.

This article states that jersey fabric was originally of wool, and then expanded to include cotton and other fibres.


  • Thanks for the historical background of the word "jersey". However, I am intrigued that you have not mentioned "light", "with short sleeves" or "used for sports" not even once when talking about it and I have seen this term used in sports contexts many times. In fact, If I search "jersey" in Google Images, I only see athletic clothing in the results. Isn't your answer missing something? Maybe UK and US English use "jersey" differently ? Aug 20, 2019 at 2:27
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    @AlanEvangelista To understand the context you need to know that Association football (Soccer) and Rugby football (Rugger) were codifed as winter sports in the UK in the late 19th century. Not only is it quite cold in the UK in winter but the only fabric with any stretch in it was knitted wool so the first proper upper garments for football were long sleeved, lightweight knitted garments, usually called 'jerseys' because that was the common name for a light knitted garment. <continued>
    – BoldBen
    Aug 20, 2019 at 7:38
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    In the 1950s people still spoke about "football jerseys" in the UK but nowadays we nearly always talk about "football shirts" because we tend to use "jersey" for a heavier garment and the word is not used much now anyway. It seems that the Americans adopted the word from the British but only for football shirts many of which, unlike British football shirts, have short sleeves.
    – BoldBen
    Aug 20, 2019 at 7:48
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    The famous 'maillot jaune' of the Tour de France is referred to in English as the 'yellow jersey' even though it's more like a tee shirt. Aug 20, 2019 at 8:32
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    @BoldBen I would upvote an answer that contained the information in your comments. It really helps explain why the US use the term jersey in place of "shirt" as in football shirt the (originally long-sleeved) t-shirt complete with the player's number and sponsored logos that footballers wear today.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 21, 2019 at 6:57

"How can a jersey be sweater?" I don't know but I'm pretty sure if you asked a hockey player, a fight could likely break out over it. According to Wikipedia,

A hockey jersey is a piece of clothing worn by ice hockey players to cover the upper part of their bodies. It is traditionally called a sweater as, in earlier days, when the game was predominantly played outside in winter, it actually was a warm wool-knit covering.

The reality is the answer most likely changes depending on location and demographic. The Cambridge Online Survey of World Englishes has an ongoing survey regarding common "regionalisms".

It's kind of like asking for a soda or a pop; either way, you're probably getting a Coke. Unless you're in the dressing room after the game, in which case, a "pop" is really a "beer".

That of course, clarifies absolutely nothing.

ps: I'm a hockey player and I'm NOT going to say what I call it.

  • tonic is another term for soda as well. +1 for the hockey sweater reference from another hockey player. I played on lakes as a kid, and not regularly on indoor rinks until I went to college.
    – CrossRoads
    Aug 20, 2019 at 13:10

Nowadays, "jersey" has distinct meanings in UK and US:

UK: synonym of sweater/pullover, a knitted garment worn on the upper part of the body with no opening at the front and (usually long) sleeves.

US: sporty shirt. Usually used by athletes, such as cyclists and soccer, football, basketball and volleyball players. In the case of team players, it usually refers to the team uniform.


Nowadays, a jersey is usually a sports shirt.

  • This doesn't add anything to Alan Evangelista's accepted answer, and is significantly less detailed.
    – Stuart F
    Dec 12, 2022 at 9:52

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