Far from being a sloppy knitted security blanket, the cardigan has finally started to take centre stage in the layering stakes. For too long now, it’s been seen as the insulator of choice for fey, romantic types who reach for theirs in preparation for a night on the sofa with a good vintage paperback; but 2020 has shaken things up for everyone and given rise to a whole new dimension when it comes to ease and practicality. Our attitudes to dressing have morphed over the past year and suddenly we’re all putting comfort pretty high up on the agenda. This shift has been the perfect PR opportunity for the humble cardie, whose historical reference points span much further back than the first sightings of Morrissey flailing around with a bunch of wilting gladioli in a video for The Smiths.
Named after a British Army General, James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, who led the 1854 Charge of the Light Brigade against Russian forces during the Crimean War, cardigans were originally modelled on the braid-trimmed worsted wool waistcoats he sent his cannon fodder to battle in. As with all the best military stuff, it wasn’t long before the gallantry of cardigan wearing trickled down into the realms of fashion.
By the 1890s women were wanting a slice of the action, and tweaked versions with puffed sleeves and nipped-in waists were gaining popularity. Unsurprisingly, after decades of trussed up Victoriana, both genders fancied some freedom of movement, so it wasn’t long before sporty types started wearing them for tennis, golf or cycling. Ironically, cardigans became synonymous with healthy lifestyles, youth and activity – a far cry from the saggy acrylic numbers often spotted hanging on the backs of chairs in workplaces up and down the country.
Part of the magic lies in how they downplay the differences between men and women. A true slice of knitted androgyny, they should be worn slouchy by either sex and sized to skim the body. Buttons are the best thermostat – simply pop a few open when temperatures rise and do the buggers back up when there’s a nip in the air. For inspiration, think Alain Delon sauntering around the suburbs of Paris, or Georgia O’Keeffe striding across the desert plains of New Mexico.
Swerving the round-neck category is always a sensible idea, to prevent that stuck-up 1980s vibe (nobody really wants to look like an off-duty Royal after a hard-day shooting grouse). By opting for the laid-back, V-neck version you’re edging towards Kurt Cobain territory. He definitely took the stuffy, highbrow perceptions down a peg or two by famously sporting a grotty green mohair one on MTV in 1993 with missing buttons and filthy pockets.
For those of you straddling between both camps, a unisex cardigan is arguably your best option. Made in Japan from 100% extrafine Lambswool, the relaxed fitting SNJP Kobe Knit features a flat knit buttoned placket, chunky ribbed cuffs and hem with two generous front pockets. The Men’s Felli Cardigan has been cut for a slightly smarter, more regular fit. Made in Italy, it has a luxurious hand-feel, thanks to its textured wool blend composition. 100% English Lambswool is the yarn of choice for the generous AW20 Men’s Cotto, which has been engineered here in the U.K. with two bluffed front pockets, substantial ribbed cuffs and hem. Clean cut, contemporary and cocooning, this latest bunch of Studio Nicholson cardigans are serious, timeless no-brainers - and essential additions to the modular wardrobe.
Leanne Cloudsdale is the Studio Nicholson Editor-at-Large