STYLE AND CULTURE
CULT ITEM: CARDIGAN
By Will Morley, 30 April 2018
For an item of clothing that’s often associated with full-on nerdery, the humble cardigan has been sported by some pretty boss dudes – starting with The Dude himself. The Big Lebowski is inextricably linked to his comfy patterned number, while Kurt Cobain wearing his iconic green mohair version is the image of the grunge era.
As with 99% of all menswear history, the cardigan has a military backstory. It was named after the 7th Earl of Cardigan, who led the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War and, like all officers at the time, sported a sleeveless knitted vest under his tunic. Over time, the name came to include long-sleeved, button-front knits as well. When it comes to transitional clobber, it’s often a case of who layers wins, and the cardi’s versatility and ease of wear make it a must-have not only for brisk spring mornings, but also a snuggle-worthy item for an evening of Netflix and (warding off the) chill.
Steve McQueen on a men’s fashion site? Who would have thought it... McQueen’s style has been endlessly analysed, praised and picked apart – but the thing is, the man is effortlessly cool, even in a cardigan. Shooting for a shawl collar means you’re going to have a little extra coverage to pop up, should the temperature drop, but it also means you’re going to get an outdoorsy, active-man type look – so take that into consideration when deciding what to pair it with. Follow McQueen’s example and reach for a battered denim or chambray work shirt for some windswept ruggedness. Don’t be too precious about how everything hangs on the body, but pay attention to your cuffs and peel them back for a perfect fit on the arm.
The varsity sweater was an old-school way of repping your ends. It indicated which school or team you were part of and usually was only awarded to a person who had excelled in a sport or other extracurricular activity. They really came to prominence in America during the 30s and 40s, but had a resurgence in the 60s when the preppy look hit its stride. For a vibe that’s both super sharp, comfortable and also adds an air of the intellectual, try an Oxford collar button down with a striped tie under a letterman cardigan with some slim wool trousers and Derby shoes. Without straying into parody and for that extra throwback touch, finish the look with some horn-rimmed glasses.
If you’re less about retro, reach for a modern oversized version to bring your steez up to speed. Sleek and slimming, a longline fit adds a spot of fashion-forward panache, but try to avoid buttoning it up completely – lest you end up looking like your mum in her nightie or some sort of druid. It’s the perfect item for going full monochrome, but don’t be afraid to add colour with a plaid shirt underneath or a scarf up top.
Grabbing a cardi made of something a little finer – say cashmere rather than wool – will not only slim down your silhouette (and, if you’ve been hitting the gym, really make those guns pop), but it’ll also make for easier layering under a suit, instead of the standard waistcoat. Alternatively, pair your high-end cardigan with a double-denim getup to luxe-up your Thursday night pub steez nicely.
Hip-hop is the last style subculture you'd expect to embrace the cardigan, but a fair few of the rap game's finest have held it down for the knitted button-through, as part of a wider rap game embrace of cosy fashion. Wiz Khalifa has been known to embrace his inner librarian in a grungy camel cardi, while A$AP Rocky favours colourful high-end woollies that demonstrate both his $$$ and the expert way in which he handles a powerful pattern. If you aren't feeling quite up to A$AP-level print-clashing, pare things back and balance out your statement cardigan with a white or black crew-neck tee and some minimalist kicks.