Tight sweaters are often worn by ladies as a form of Fanservice.
A lot of the appeal is that they just outline the figure (why "sweater puppies" is a nickname for a shapely chest) while barely actually showing anything. That makes wearing a tight sweater some of the most tasteful and acceptable fanservice and Fetish Fuel around (not to mention one of the few of the latter actually acknowledged in mainstream fiction). In the days of The Hays Code, once those sweaters caught on, they were almost up there with the heart-shaped neckline as a way of Getting Crap Past the Radar. Actresses who embraced this look were known as sweater girls, hence the trope name. This especially became a common form of fanservice for actresses who were playing wholesome, innocent characters that wouldn't be expected to wear revealing outfits.
Not that a sweater can never be tacky. It's just if ladies want to look sexy, and the choice is between a halter top or an angora sweater, the latter is far less likely to have the wearer say, "Just because I'm wearing these clothes doesn't make me a prostitute!" It's more the "I'm way out of your league" kind of sexy. Particularly fuzzy sweaters can emphasize this by subtly echoing the glamour of a fur coat.
A special note as there are cultural differences: in Asian countries, school girls (and even boys) wear a sweater to cover up their developing figure, especially when they are growing to be more mature and starting to show differences in their bodies. So it is not uncommon to see school girls and boys wear sweaters when it is 30 degrees Celsius or higher. This has nothing to do with sexiness, and the wearers actually want the opposite. It is the authors that draw them to be much more revealing (as fanservice, obviously), but the hidden meaning is still cultural. Most of the Anime and Manga examples are actually girls that are more introverted, traditional and shy. However, it's not unknown for young Muslim women from liberal backgrounds, in both Asia and the West, to wear sweaters in the Western sense, as it is quite alluring while conforming to the letter of Islamic dress requirements by not showing any skin between the neck and wrists.
Also commonly worn by the Seemingly Wholesome '50s Girl.
- Used quite often in ads, as a milder form of Sex Sells.
- Hitomi is one according to her younger sister Ai in Cat's Eye where she Ai herself fears she wouldn't be able to pull it off as well as her sister. The plot then goes to finding her a perfect sweater.
- Shizuna-sensei of Mahou Sensei Negima! is often shown with one, which really accentuates her ahem maternal figure.
- Adult form Vivio's casual outfit in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Vi Vid. Is she showing off to her mamas?
- In Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, this is one of the fashion styles that Miu frequently sports when being in public. (The other two are her school outfit and her training suit.) Of course, the Form-Fitting Wardrobe rule applies here as well.
- Motoko from Change 123. Once it got her into trouble when she (as her Bokukko Split Personality Hibiki) got its thread hooked up on a fence when jumping onto the top of a truck. The consequence was that all her sweater got torn away, which was only one in the series of clothing damages she had in that chapter.
- The girls of Kanon, frequently, due to it being set during winter.
- Safu in No6.
- Rinko Iori in Gundam Build Fighters.
- Ami's school uniform in Sailor Moon Crystal had a sweater added to it.
- After being transferred to snowy Lyrias in Akagami no Shirayukihime Shirayuki wears a number of sweaters that look quite good on her.
- At the end of TRON, Lora wore a white angora sweater, seen in the picture above.
- In Lord Love a Duck, Barbara Ann (Tuesday Weld) wants sweaters so that she'll fit in with the 'in' crowd, and goes shopping for them with her father. The scene with her trying on the sweaters in front of him is rather disturbing.
- Kristen Bell's character in Fanboys refers to her breasts as "Sweater yams".
- As Corey in Empire Records, Liv Tyler wears a tight blue cropped sweater, which is featured prominently◊ on the poster.
- Denise (Denise Darcel), the Frenchwoman whom the men of the 327th bivouac with in Battleground, puts some strain on her sweaters. This is played for a gag when Denise is busily slicing a loaf of bread for the men, knife repeatedly coming close to her prominent bosom, while Pfc. Holley winces nervously.
- Lana Turner in a bunch of movies starting with her film debut They Won't Forget. She was even called the Sweater Girl, which makes her the Trope Namer.
- In Walk the Line, Johnny Cash is quickly seduced backstage by a Sweater Girl Groupie.
- Reese Witherspoon
- Ed Wood pulls off a Wholesome Crossdresser version in his film Glen or Glenda?, which is cheerfully reprised by Johnny Depp in the Biopic Ed Wood.
- One of the first uses of the new powers gained in Zapped! was to make a girl's pink sweater pop open to reveal her (also pink) bra underneath.
- Susan Abbott wears a purple fuzzy sweater in Anchors Aweigh.
- Angie Dickinson wears the standard tight sweater with pointy bra in Sex Comedy (and very Black Comedy) Pretty Maids All in a Row. The sexually frustrated student who's the protagonist of the movie can't stop staring at her breasts. She manages to accidentally hit him in the face with her breasts not once, but twice.
- Sonja Henie was one of the earliest in her films.
- Janet Leigh was dressed this way in several films, including Holiday Affair, Touch of Evil, and The Manchurian Candidate. A biography of her Holiday Affair co-star Robert Mitchum revealed that Holiday Affair producer Howard Hughes, who was notorious for his obsession with breasts and his predatory habits with young starlets, forced Leigh to wear an absurdly tight sweater after she rejected his advances.
- Kim Novak was often dressed this way in the 1950s.
- When playing Judy Norton, Novak has the tight sweater when she meets James Stewart in Vertigo. This serves to contrast Judy's earthy sexuality with Madeline Elster (also played by Novak), the icy blonde that Stewart became obsessed with before her death.
- In The Man with the Golden Arm, evidently the tight sweater wasn't fanservice enough, so in one scene Novak's character has three of the five buttons of the sweater undone.
- The Barefoot Contessa: Vincenzo is instantly enchanted with Maria after seeing her perform a flamenco dance with Gypsy peasants, while clad in a very very tight yellow sweater.
- Grease 2 features Paulette, who goes in for tight sweaters under her Pink Ladies jacket. Said jacket is usually worn open and folded back to reveal the sweater and the contents of the pointy bra worn beneath it. Paulette's sister tries more than once to moderate this display by flipping the jacket forwards, but Paulette immediately folds the flaps back again.
- In Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume, Laura Danker, the most physically mature girl in Margaret's class, wears a sweater and gets harassed. Freddie Barnett a.k.a. the Lobster asks Margaret why she doesn't look like that in a sweater, which Margaret does not think is funny.
- Neighbor girl Lisa Hoober in Then Again, Maybe I Won't, Judy Blume's subsequent novel.
- In William Goldman's Magic, the narrator flashbacks about seeing his love interest in a sweater and being aroused for the first time in his life.
- The original book How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying reads:
"It must be remembered that the well-bred girl is always fully clothed in the office. The broken shoulder strap, the deeply split skirt, and the bare midriff are de trop in most businesses. The bright girl soon learns that these devices are not only in bad taste, but are not necessary."It is not skin area but contour that counts."A few simple experiments with sweaters, jerseys, and a slightly smaller dress size will bring pleasing and surprising results. One young lady who made a careful study of contour planning found that results were little short of breath-taking."
- The seventh book in The Dresden Files introduces Sheila, an assistant at an antique book store, and one of the first things Harry Dresden notices is how well she fills out a sweater. Though it probably helped that she was a construct built by a fallen angel Lasciel who chose a form that Harry would find ultimately appealing.
- In Piers Anthony Mode Series Colleen uses a too small sweater to convince the 'mob boss' to give her an appointment to make a deal.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 3 Willow Rosenberg.
Vamp Willow (looking Willow over): Well, look at me. I'm all fuzzy.
- Midge Pinciotti of That '70s Show is introduced to us in the first episode through the eyes of Eric clad in a sweater and quite... jiggly.
Fez: Oh, good God, man, what a marvelous set of kittens. Remember that sweater?Kelso: Oh. Remember the other sweater?Eric: Yeah. Remember that time she ran up to us in a sweater?Hyde: Remember the week she took up jump rope? In a sweater?This is followed by a montage of said sweaters.
- In a later episode, when Midge left Bob, the boys lament over losing "her sweet uptown rack".
- Later in the same episode, after deciding they want to want to chase older women, Fez and Kelso decide that Kitty is hot and maybe they should buy her a sweater.
- Jennifer Marlowe of WKRP in Cincinnati wore a few sweaters, including a pink sweater dress.
- Joanna Loudon in Newhart (played by Mary Frann) wore sweaters all the time, to the point where in the All Just a Dream finale, Bob tells Emily she should wear more sweaters.
- Sara Rush (played by Lydia Cornell) in Too Close for Comfort was the mistress of the tight sweater.
- In The Drew Carey Show, Oswald's mom (played by Adrienne Barbeau◊) remembers how when she used to hug other boys, they tended to breathe faster. Drew admits it was her tight angora sweater, with the plunging neckline.
- Millennium. A female friend of Katherine Black mentions that she was the "favourite student" of (male lecturer at college). Katherine replies: "I wore tight sweaters."
- Christina Hendricks' character Joan Holloway on Mad Men deploys sweaters coupled with a variety of form-fitting but tasteful business skirts to devastating effect.
- Once she tells a cleavage-flaunting new secretary to button up, saying that less is more if you know what you're doing. Said secretary ends up getting company partner Roger Sterling, Joan's former lover, to leave his wife for her, which says something about Roger's tastes.
- Rachel Berry (played by Lea Michele) tends to wear these a lot on Glee. The show even lampshades it.
Jacob: Get those sweater puppies out of their cashmere cage!
- The girls of Charmed like wearing sweaters. In one episode, Phoebe wore a white sweater with fur-trimmed sleeves.
- Jack was often distracted by sweater girls on Three's Company, resulting in Freudian Slips on several occasions: "You need to separate the yolk from the sweater." "I just came to button up my coffee."
- Spooks: In "Spiders", Zoe needs to get close to a particular target.
Tom: The kids' lives are in danger. (beat) So, wear a tight sweater tomorrow.Zoe: What?Tom: I've been watching him all day. He obviously fancies you. We need to build up on that connection.Zoe: (sarcastically) Any particular sweater in mind?Tom AND Danny, simultaneously: The blue one.
- In an episode of Happy Days Richie, Potsie, and Ralph break into another student's college dorm to get back an incriminating photo he took of Richie; they discover a nudist camp magazine and get Distracted by the Sexy.
Potsie: "Wow. How'd you like to see a sweater on that!"
- Annie in Community has a wardrobe that appears to mostly consist of cardigans.
- Donna and Adrienne in NYPD Blue often wear tight sweaters. Diane usually wears skin-tight T-shirts for the same effect.
- One episode of Growing Pains had teenage horndog Ben excited for his class field trip to the planetarium, which he intended to spend "picking fuzzballs off of Sasha Sorecki's sweater."
- Inverted on Will & Grace: Will's been deceived into thinking he's going to be a Barney's model, and explains to Jack's boss that his broad shoulders and slim waist (IIRC) are perfect for sweater modeling.
- One of Frasier's girlfriends was said to really fill out a mohair sweater in high school (specifically, he said the sweater in question was tighter on her than the goat.)
- Nikki Faber and Stacy Paterno of Spin City both favor sweaters.
- Kris Munroe on Charlie's Angels wears sweaters from time to time.
- In Healer Young Shin wears a number of very flattering sweaters and Jung Hoo pulls off a gender inverted version when he wears sweaters tight enough to show off his build.
- Country singer Jeannie Mack wore a white angora short-sleeved sweater in a performance of her song "Dirty Dishes".
- The J. Geils Band classic, "Centerfold"
Those soft and fuzzy sweatersToo magical to touchTo see her in that negligee is really just too much.
- The electro/pop duo Moloko's debut album is called Do You Like My Tight Sweater after a supposedly real-life pickup line used by singer Roisin Murphy.
- Dale Evans (third wife of Roy Rogers and a singer/songwriter in her own right)
- The Onion had a headline in its faux-historical archive Our Dumb Century about the "Growing Bombshell gap between the US and Russia." The picture was Jayne Mansfield in a tight sweater.
- The rhyme many of us learn as tweens: "We must, we must, we must increase our bust. The bigger the better, the tighter the sweater, the boys depend on us!"
- The knitting book Big Girl Knits has sections on short-row shaping and how to wear a neckline, to enhance one's assets. A larger-busted woman should wear V-necks, because a higher neckline gives the impression of one large lump.
- Half of the reason why the Keyhole Sweater and Virgin-Killing/Virgin Killer Sweater got popular. The other half, well...
- The number "Anything You Can Do" from the musical Annie Get Your Gun:
Frank: I can knit a sweater.Annie: I can fill it better.
- One song in The Full Monty has the men objectifying women before realizing to their horror that they will soon be on the receiving end, and Jerry has this kind of girl in mind.
Jerry: They gotta be C or D or better / they got to pose a threat to the sweater!
- Marigold Coneybear
Chip: Hey, Leaf, is that your sister in the fourth row wearing the fuzzy sweater?
- Judith Mossman in Half-Life 2. Concerned pointed this out a couple times.
- Arcueid Brunestud from Tsukihime, showing that vampires don't have to wear leather to be sexy. Hisui also fits the bill when she puts Arcueid's clothes in the sequel.
- Fate/stay night:
- Angela Victoire Bledin from Princess Waltz wears this as part of her civilian attire.
- Naomi Hunter in the original Metal Gear Solid even had a fanservice photoshoot mode of her turtleneck, although ever since the fourth game, people associate her with Absolute Cleavage.
- Arcuied returns in Fate/EXTRA as a Berserker, but still in this mode of dress (though a little stained and fraying at the edges). The overall effect is that of a suburban mother gone feral and eager to rip you apart with her bare hands.
- Velma Dinkley in Scooby-Doo, at least after her subtle redesign in What's New, Scooby-Doo? and the more recent animated features. This to the point she wears one over her dress to the prom in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.
- Mina in Grojband is always seen wearing her sweater.
- Dawn in Total Drama
- Term of endearment: Bat-Bat calls Mighty Mouse "you old sweater girl" in the Bakshi episode "Bat With A Golden Tongue."
- Archer has a male variant with Patrick "Crash" McCaren from Season 6. Both Lana and Ray, a straight woman and gay man, immediately fall for his good looks, including how his sweater accentuates his chest muscles.