Green’s Dictionary of Slang

sweater n.1

[sweat v.2 ]

1. a hard, demanding job.

[UK]Egan Bk of Sports 19: It would be lucky for them if they ever caught him in such a predicament again — it was a regular sweater!
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 126/2: The business is a sweater, sir; it’s heavy work.

2. a harsh, demanding employer.

Manchester Guardian 21 Mar. 7/4: A sort of middlemen, called ‘sweaters’, who get it [i.e. tailoring work] by men and women at starvation prices .
[UK]C. Kingsley Alton Locke (1850) 97: Were not the army clothes, the post-office clothes, the policemen’s clothes, furnished by contractors and sweaters, who hired the work at low prices, and let it out again to journeymen at still lower ones?
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 105: sweater common term for a ‘cutting’ or ‘grinding’ employer.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]Daily News 21 Feb. in Ware (1909) 237/2: In the second number of the Charity Organisation Review there is a short account of a co-operative needlework experiment, the object of it being to emancipate poor workwomen from the ‘sweaters’.
[UK]East London Obs. 30 June 3: [headline] A Sweater’s Meeting.
[US]J.A. Riis How the Other Half Lives 121: Many harsh things have been said of the ‘sweater,’ that really apply to the system in which he is a necessary, logical link. It can at least be said of him that he is no worse than the conditions that created him.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 28 Apr. 1/6: The Japs will soon [...] (like other Great Powers) be in the front ranks as ‘scabs’ and ‘sweaters’.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 12 May 4/7: The Sweater-Boss bloats in his pride / [...] / With slaves famine-thin in his shop.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 17 Apr. 2nd sect. 9/1: They Say [...] That this notorious sweater hasn’t a friend in the district. That his ‘friends’ are raising a subscription to send him to the South Seas.
[UK]R. Tressell Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (1955) 604: The surest way to obtain better conditions would be to elect gangs of Liberals and Tory land-grabbers, sweaters, swindlers and lawyers to rule over them.
[Aus]Brisbane Courier 30 Sept. 12/4: A plot by the Bruce-Page Govrnment ‘to reduce the basic wage’ [...] and to give local protection to the ‘sweaters’.

3. (US campus) a worrier.

[US]Current Sl. I:1 4/2: Sweater One who worries unnecessarily, esp. about minor matters.
[US](con. 1969) C.R. Anderson Grunts 137: At least that worthless, chickenshit sweater of an XO, that panicky bastard Lancaster is dead.