“Lame!”, came the chorus from around the office as I asked the Gentleman’s Journal staff their opinions on the humble cardigan – a response which particularly stung as, at the time, I was wearing one.
And so comes the inevitable defence of this much-maligned garment. Long-sleeved, woven from wool and fastened up the front by buttons, these knitwear stalwarts seem to get a disproportionately bad rap. And that pushes my buttons.
So versatile that they’re on hand when a jacket can’t hack it – and with a convenience that gives them a jump on the jumper – the constant put-downs endured by this get-up have reached a peak. So, and I type this with a brow as knitted as the garment I’m wearing, we need to talk about cardigans.
The undeserved whipping boy of woollenwear, the cardigan’s main virtue is its versatility. Like the jumper (itself the cardigan’s cousin in the close-knit knitwear family) cardigans can be thrown on over a simple t-shirt for casual comfort.
As such, informality comes easy to the cardigan. But, if the situation changes, these knitted enigmas can switch from laid-back to smart in an instant.
And, to achieve that starched formal look, you must only throw on a shirt and button up. With enough room to leave your collar and tie plainly visible – as with a suit – the cardigan is the missing link between tailoring and casual wear.
Comfortable beyond compare, cardigans are also convenient. It can be difficult to wear a suit jacket under some coats, but the cardigan solves this sartorial conundrum. With its buttoned-up appearance, wear a cardy under a coat, and it’ll look just like a waistcoat – just one with warm, woolly arms as an added bonus.
And this brings me neatly to my next positive – cardigans are unrivalled layering pieces. Adding interest and texture to outfits, throw on a cardigan in lieu of a jumper or jacket and you’ll show flair, fashion, and a hint of daring-do.
The cardigan, with its optional elbow patches and ever-shifting style, is the wild card of woven clothes. One moment rakish, pushing the fashion envelope, and the next sober and professorial, nobody knows what these woollen wonders will do next. And who could call that level of whimsy ‘lame’?
Indeed, you just need cast your eyes over the illustrious line-up of past proponents to see how chic the garment can be. Steve McQueen, Michael Caine and The Big Lebowski’s iconic ‘Dude’, as played by Jeff Bridges, are just a few of the cool cats to grace the cardigan cadre.
Daniel Craig’s James Bond has donned a cardigan, but so has the 007’s tech wunderkind, Q – yet again displaying the garment’s versatility.
And this variation occurs not just in wearers, but in design. With everything from shawl necks to buttonless options available, the cardigan is constantly reinventing itself. Hell, there are even some bold iterations – like in Starksy & Hutch – with belts.
Of course, this isn’t a brilliant look, and perhaps that’s why the cardigan has got such a ‘Marmite’ reputation. With patterns as garish as these, a checkered – not to mention striped and spotted – past, is all but inevitable.
But, next time, before you jump straight to the jumper, try taking a leap of faith with a cardigan. They may not be the coolest, but they’ve somehow managed to combine dorky, daring and different. And that’s anything but lame.
So, to any of you detractors out there, button it…literally.