For adults of a certain age, the term “Cosby sweater” is instantly evocative—a reminder of the multi-hued creations that Bill Cosby always seemed to wear onscreen during his spectacular run as Dr. Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show.
Thankfully, Collectors Weekly has come along and done what’s probably the best and fullest exploration of how the sweaters came to be. Why? At whose behest? And did Cosby or the show’s producers realize they were creating a cultural icon?
Mostly, they were built to keep Cosby comfy:
In fact, Cosby adopted the fuzzy fashions out of necessity: Costume designer Sarah Lemire, who worked with Cosby from his sweater vest Jell-O ad days, says that intially, she had various suits made for Dr. Huxtable to wear. They quickly realized that Cosby, and by extension Dr. Huxtable, couldn’t really be at ease wearing a suit around the house. “Bill basically likes to be comfortable, and in his real life, he’s in his sweats or his PJs,” says Lemire.
And they were production-friendly:
“Usually you don’t do close-ups on TV, and that’s why we started using sweaters,” says Lemire. “As our bodies move around, the clothes are going to shift between the first and second take. If you have a jacket on, and the shirt collar’s in one spot, it’s going to slide off a little on one side or the other, or it might do something else that didn’t match. Sandrich was a real stickler for things matching, so we just did the sweater thing. I actually sewed his shirts to the sweaters so that nothing moved.”
But it took awhile for the crew and creators to understand what they’d unleashed:
Regardless, Van Den Akker loves that his reputation is tied to the gaudy sweaters worn by Dr. Huxtable. “You know that movie ‘High Fidelity’ with John Cusack?” Van Den Akker asks. “Well, I think that was the first time I heard the term ‘Cosby sweater,’ and it was so much fun. There have been jokes about the sweaters in the ‘New Yorker’ and places like that, and it’s always negative. A Bill Cosby sweater stands for ‘crazy,’ and I love it.”
The piece concludes with Cosby’s bewilderment at the phenomenon: “As for Mr. Cosby, does he still have any of his classic sweaters stashed away somewhere? ‘I have no idea what I have,’ says Cosby. ‘I’m married 49 years, and all I know is I have one drawer left, and I don’t where the rest of my stuff is. I have a feeling, and some people say it sounds cruel, but I have a feeling upon my death, some 20 minutes after, eBay will explode.’”