The re­turn of the cardi­gan

Fi­nally, fash­ion is tak­ing your mother’s ad­vice and wrap­ping up warm. Only this time, it’s Prada

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It was noth­ing special. Just your bog-stan­dard school cardie. Not even cash­mere (as if!) – just good old 100% M&S lamb­swool. But I loved that cardie: the holes that ran along the cuffs, the warmth it gave; but more than that, I loved the com­fort. It didn’t need its manda­tory school name tag. Its scent – one part Per­sil to two parts home – en­sured I’d know that cardie any­where.

In the pan­theon of Great Cardies I Have Known And Loved, the one that took me through fifth and sixth form is right up there. This sea­son, though, some new can­di­dates will be join­ing it on its plinth be­cause, af­ter sev­eral sea­sons of the jumper reign­ing supreme, the humble cardi­gan is back again. And then some.

Funny how I wrote ‘humble’ there. Why are cardigans viewed as humble? Is it be­cause they’re so of­ten shrugged on for con­ve­nience, in lieu of a dress­ing gown? Is it be­cause your dad wore one in his later years, and you used to tease him for look­ing an­cient? Is it be­cause they are the op­po­site of sex? Li­brar­i­ans wear cardies. Ge­og­ra­phy teach­ers wear cardies. Mor­ris­sey wore cardies. Your mum was al­ways telling you to take-a-bloody-cardie (the swear­ing is mine, not hers) in­case-it-gets-cold-later. It is en­tirely thanks to our moth­ers, per­haps, that cardigans have these sen­si­ble, slightly dreary con­no­ta­tions. Cardigans were never the stars, but the sup­port act; a woolly af­ter­thought to stop us feel­ing cold.

But not this sea­son. Oh, no. Fi­nally, the cardi­gan has been given the star billing that it de­serves. On the cat­walk, there were so many it­er­a­tions that even the most cardie-averse per­son will find it dif­fi­cult to re­sist. Tra­di­tion­al­ists will love the chunky Fair Isle ones at Loewe. Modernists will love the bright, true hues at Christo­pher Kane. Fans of the Seven­ties will grav­i­tate to­wards the skinny-rib, zigzag-pat­terned ones at Mis­soni. Lovers of the Twen­ties will swoon for the long-line ones at Gucci (a cardie was the first look at Gucci – that’s how much Alessan­dro Michele is be­hind the trend).

In fact, Ida Peters­son, Browns’ buy­ing di­rec­tor, at­tributes the cardi­gan trend in large part to Michele. ‘He has been push­ing the cat­e­gory ever since his first col­lec­tion for Gucci, so I’m not sur­prised to see it catch on. With so many Nineties and early Noughties ref­er­ences around, it feels like a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion.’ So as­sured is Browns of the cardi­gan’s pop­u­lar­ity that it has dou­bled last year’s buy. ‘De­mand is sky high for Gucci cardigans – our cus­tomers can’t get enough.’ Peters­son also sin­gles out Is­abel Marant’s over­sized cardies, Azze­dine Alaïa’s neat lit­tle cropped ones and R13’s grunge-in­spired ver­sions as this sea­son’s stars, adding: ‘But the pièce de ré­sis­tance has to be the full-on logo-ma­nia cardi­gan from Ba­len­ci­aga.’

In truth, I pre­fer Ba­len­ci­aga’s over­sized grey ribbed one, the hem of which hangs off, ac­cord­ing to the Net-A-Porter web­site, ‘to mimic the ef­fect of be­ing caught and ripped in a car door’. It re­minds me of my beloved frayed school cardie, though, at £1,170, it’s con­sid­er­ably more ex­pen­sive. Still, it neatly il­lus­trates the point that whether your tastes run to the ragged or the rich, there’s a cardie for every­one this au­tumn. ‘We have 45 dif­fer­ent op­tions for AW17,’ laughs Peters­son. ‘There’s def­i­nitely go­ing to be a cardi­gan for every­one.’

But how best to wear them? Af­ter the sim­plic­ity of a jumper (which you shrug on and for­get about), even the sleek­est, sim­plest cardi­gan can af­flict the wearer with an acute case of op­tion paral­y­sis. For a start, there are but­tons to con­tend with. Open or closed? Half-open, or does that

look a bit weird? The to-but­ton-or-not-to-but­ton ques­tion is par­tic­u­larly vex­a­tious for those who aren’t flat-chested: but­ton up and you look like Ma­tron, leave wide open and all you see is a pair of breasts. As some­one who has al­ways en­vied the prim, neat way that cardigans sit on the body of a less cur­va­ceous woman (not to men­tion ev­ery man), my best ad­vice would be to buy a size up. Grunge is back in fash­ion: just chan­nel Hole-era Courtney Love.

Ly­dia King, Sel­fridges’ di­rec­tor of wom­enswear, says: ‘I love them worn over a dress with cow­boy boots – re­laxed, ef­fort­less, but with a mod­ern edge. They work equally well lay­ered over a dis­tressed tee, or worn with great jeans and a killer heel. Con­sider the cardi­gan as an al­ter­na­tive to a jacket: a hard-work­ing piece that can be worn with al­most any­thing. They re­ally come into their own in tricky, trans-sea­sonal sit­u­a­tions when it’s too warm for a coat, or you’re faced with Arc­tic air-con but are wear­ing some­thing too good to cover with a jumper. A cardi­gan is a bit like a jumper, but with added ben­e­fits.’

As for how to avoid look­ing frumpy, King coun­sels wear­ing a cardi­gan as a point of con­trast. ‘If you choose a bag­gier fit, team it with some­thing form-fit­ting. A neat, preppy clas­sic al­ways looks good with old vin­tage den­ims, while a la­dy­like, close-cut round neck is best worn over a slinky, bias-cut dress, su­per-wide trousers or a vo­lu­mi­nous skirt.’ Then again, maybe look­ing frumpy is the point. While the grunge-era cardie and the state­ment cardie are un­doubt­edly hav­ing A Mo­ment, so, too, are the less-stylised it­er­a­tions. Much has been writ­ten about the dad­core move­ment (which shows no signs of abat­ing, given that Ba­len­ci­aga’s re­cent menswear show namechecked ‘young dads in the park at week­ends’), but the meno­core move­ment has cardigans as a cen­tral tenet, too. Named in trib­ute to re­laxed, post-menopausal dress­ing (don’t shoot me – I didn’t coin the term), meno­core also champions the mumsy, no-bells-and-whis­tles ver­sion of the cardi­gan as a wardrobe es­sen­tial. Think Diane Keaton in And So It Goes (or in An­nie Hall, or, well, any­thing), though you could equally think of Wi­nona Ry­der in Mermaids – surely the frump­i­est cardie ever com­mit­ted to film.

Prada’s cardigans weren’t frumpy, yet there was some­thing of the home­spun about them, even if they came be­jew­elled with beads. In fluffy mo­hair and in vi­brant pri­mary shades, there was also a fierce­ness: they pro­vided warmth, but they also gave pro­tec­tion. It makes no sense, of course, that a cardi­gan should feel more co­coon­ing than a jumper does – tech­ni­cally, a jumper of­fers more pro­tec­tion, not less – but such is Prada’s way with a hid­den sub­text that these cardies seemed like ar­mour, par­tic­u­larly when worn, twin­set-style, over a jumper. Mi­uc­cia has long been a fan of the cardi­gan, of course, but this sea­son’s ver­sions seemed to be par­tic­u­larly per­sua­sive. Im­me­di­ately, I wanted one. Jane McFar­land, fash­ion di­rec­tor of The Sun­day Times’ Style mag­a­zine, also found her­self lust­ing af­ter one for the first time in ages. ‘I did have a coordinating twin­set from Benet­ton in the Nineties, but the less said about that, the bet­ter,’ she laughs. ‘Thanks to Mrs Prada’s so­phis­ti­cated take, I’m re­con­sid­er­ing what I’d thought of as an anti-fash­ion cover-up.’ As for how she’ll style it, McFar­land says she’ll tuck her cardi into high-waisted Mar­garet How­ell jeans, with a slightly over­sized blazer.

Partly, the cardi­gan has resur­faced again be­cause fash­ion is cycli­cal, and af­ter so many sea­sons of jumpers, we all needed a re­fresh. And partly, it’s back be­cause the Nineties are: those un­fa­mil­iar with the shaggy green cardie Kurt Cobain wore dur­ing his MTV Un­plugged ap­pear­ances in 1993 should Google it, for a more iconic cardie never lived (which is pos­si­bly why, two years ago, it was sold at auc­tion for £93,000). But there’s more to it. Here in po­lit­i­cally chal­leng­ing 2017, we want a very spe­cific kind of woollen – a flex­i­ble one, with­out ego, that will work around us, both lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively. The right cardi­gan feels like a hug; and Lord knows we all need one of those from time to time. That cardigans are humble? That’s noth­ing to apol­o­gise for. If only more things were. Humble is un­der­rated.

‘The right cardi feels like a hug. Lord knows we all need one ’

Words by

LAURA CRAIK

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