Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat – and for the ladies of the kingdom, the cardie’s where it’s at. After all, there are not many British women who could put up their hand and say they do not either own, or love, at least one cardigan.
These woolly warmers become our best friends as the weather turns chilly, and most of us couldn’t imagine living without them. We shrug them on and off, button them up, huddle them closer, and never leave home without one. Funnily enough, it is all thanks to the Charge of the Light Brigade that we have cardigans at all. During the Battle of Balaclava (from where we get another iconic British garment) in the Crimean war, the officers wore knitted wool waistcoats. James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, who led the Charge and thereafter won fame for his victory, was the hero of the hour. Images of him were widely distributed, and from there, the idea of the wool waistcoat or “cardigan” caught on.
Although men do still wear cardigans from time to time, it is quite strange to think that it was originally an entirely masculine, indeed a warlike, clothing item. Before it became the comfy cardie we snuggle up in today, it went through another incarnation as part of the Great British Twinset. Back in the days when our houses weren’t so well heated, ladies had to really layer up to keep body and soul together, and this is where the matching jumper and cardigan combination came into its own, often teamed with a string of pearls for a demure and decorous look.
Those days have gone, and what we have now is a vast array of choice in our knitwear, from super chunky to fine fitting cashmere, in every sort of yarn from mohair to acrylic
and styles that go from elegant to couch-potato. There are cardigans you may not wish even the milkman to see you in as you nip out on a chilly morning to the front doorstep, and at the other end of the scale, the ones that you lovingly hand-wash and dry flat to preserve their loveliness.
One fashion innovation in recent times has been the invention of the looser wrap-type cardigan, which does not rely on any fastenings, but serves more as a drape. These have become very popular and for good reason. They tend to fall into so-called handkerchief points, elongating our figures and creating a feminine swishy rhythm as we walk along. These cardigans have a glamour to them, and are beautifully shaped, with a bodice panel and then the loose sections below. Where you would not dream of throwing on an every day cardigan over an evening dress without risking completely undoing your efforts, these waterfall cardigans are equally at home in a theater, wine bar or restaurant as they are on the sofa.
Bonmarche has almost cornered the market in this wardrobe asset, although in some cases, it seems hardly right to call its designs cardigans. They are more like shapely shrugs or captivating capes. The Elegant Shrug is a case in point – and the David Emanuel Fan Hem Edge to Edge Cardigan is so swish, it could be classified as that other new hybrid, the Coatigan. There is also a Lurex cardigan which gives a nod to the classic lines of a Chanel jacket and a bold floral print, which is unusual and highly striking.
For a super-duper snugly sensation, full marks have to go to the Bonmarche Chunky Stand Collar cardigan, which has vintage credibility with a great knit pattern. Just looking at it makes you realize you would never want to take it off. It is the cuddliest cardie you will find without getting out the needles and knitting one yourself.
So let’s all say a belated Thank You to the Earl of Cardigan as we reach for our woollies. Without him, we could be facing the British winter without one of our favorite garments!