Oh, cardigans. You poor, poor, knitted, buttoned-up things. Why are you so hated? Because you are. Unfathomably, in a world where men are buckling up belt bags over their shoulders, and strapping on harnesses for strolls down the red carpet, the humble, simple cardigan remains the most slighted garment going.
But, here at Gentleman’s Journal, we have softer opinions of the cardigan. Long-sleeved, woven from wool and fastened up their fronts, we don’t see why they get such a bad rap. In fact, the abuse they suffer both knits our brows and pushes our buttons.
And so, here we are to talk up the virtues of cardigans — of which there are many. So versatile that they’re on hand when a jacket can’t hack it — and with a level of convenience that gives them a jump on the jumper — the constant put-downs endured by this get-up are unwarranted, extreme and disproportionate. And so they must stop.
Let’s begin with the main benefit of cardigans. They may be the undeserved whipping boys of woollenwear, but they are also incredibly versatile. Like sweaters — the cardigan’s cousin in the close-knit knitwear family — you can throw a cardigan on over a simple T-shirt and achieve casual cool; informality comes easy to the cardigan. But, should your situation change, these knitted enigmas can switch from baggy and relaxed to fitted and formal in an instant.
To achieve this about-turn, you must only button up a button-down, tie up a tie and throw your cardigan on over the top. As the missing link between tailoring and casualwear, the cardigan is a soft touch when it needs talking into working with an outfit. And, thanks to their woollen construction, they’re also comfortable beyond compare.
In cold weather, they’re also a little more convenient than a suit jacket. If your overcoat is a little snug, you can button up a cardigan as a mid-layer and it’ll give you the buttoned-up look of a waistcoat — albeit one with warm, woolly arms to fend off the chill.
Which brings us neatly to our next positive: cardigans are brilliant layering pieces. Adding both interest and woolly texture to your outfits, if you opt for a cardigan instead of a jacket or jumper, it’ll show flair, fashion and even a hint of derring-do.
And that’s because they’re the most mercurial garments in your wardrobe. Some come with shawl collars, others with open necklines. Some have elbow patches, zip fasteners or buttons. They may be patterned, peppered with pockets or feature flamboyant embellishments around the cuffs and collars. Some even have belts. They truly are the wildcards of your woven wardrobe.
Still not convinced? Well, let’s take a look at some past proponents of the cardigan. There’s the big players, such as Jeff Bridges’ ‘Dude’ in The Big Lewbowski or Ben Whishaw’s Q in the latest Bond films. But there are more minor players in the cardigan cadre; including Steve McQueen, Michael Caine, Gentleman’s Journal cover star Ryan Reynolds and even Daniel Craig’s 007 himself.
John Smedley Oxland Cardigan
Ralph Lauren Shawl-Collar Cardigan
Paul Smith Wool Cardigan
And this variation occurs not just in wearers, but also in design. The cardigan is constantly reinventing itself to appeal to modern tastes, flitting fleetingly between formal and casual, buttoned and buttonless, muted and striking. Of course, with such a proclivity to keep changing its look, periods of the cardigan’s past are rather checkered — not to mention striped, spotted and speckled. And perhaps this is why many of us have such a rocky relationship with the garment.
But, next time you want to jump straight to a jumper, try taking a leap of faith to a cardigan instead. It may not be your edgiest look, but nothing combines collegiate style, confidence and sheer cool quite like it. To any of you detractors, button it — literally.
Looking for more smart casualwear? Here’s why you should own a corduroy suit…