From its humble beginnings as military uniform to its position as a versatile fashion staple, the cardigan has seamlessly woven itself into a must-have autumn essential.
As the weather cools after our long hot summer, cardigans prove to be steadfast companions. Lightweight and breathable fabrics, like cotton and linen are the ideal for layering up a summer dress, and during autumn and winter months, you can top a pair of jeans with a thick and chunky cable-knit cardigan for a cosy chic look.
Growing up in Portugal, we’d always enjoy our summer holidays in the UK and since I can remember I adopted an love for my nana’s cardigans, relocating them to the Algarve for the cooler evenings of September. Still to this day her humble button up numbers are my most loved autumn essentials.
Whilst granny-chic might not be for everyone, nowadays cardigans are a true fashion chameleon and are available in various lengths, fabrics, and styles to suit any occasion. You can dress a bikini with a crochet crop-short cardi or don some stylish Gucci knitwear, or even rock out in a weathered Kurt Cobain style coverup. Versatility thy name is cardigan.
A bit of history
From Cavalry to Coco Channel, the cardigan has undergone a captivating transformation. Its origins date back to the Crimean War (1853-1856), where James Thomas Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan led the failed Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava. Brudenell’s troops wore knitted waistcoats as part of their uniforms, and whilst his military career came to an untimely end, his knitted fashionwear met with great success.
The design of these early cardigans was simple, and they were typically made from wool or other natural fibers. Fast forward to the 1920s when Coco Chanel played a significant role in elevating the cardigan’s status from practical to fashionable. She loved wearing them herself so decided to produce a comfy yet stylish button-down garment. Her revolutionary designs broke the traditional gender norms of the time, making the cardigan a garment that could be worn by both men and women.
Transcending norms is what makes the cardigan a unisex icon, and at a time where gender fluidity is so topical, we can appreciate why this garment does not go out of fashion. Its multifaceted designs, shapes, and array of colours and patterns makes it accessible to everyone, regardless of personal sense of style, personality or gender.
Beyond its versatility and inclusivity, we need to pay homage to the cardigan’s sustainability credentials. In recent years eco-friendly fashion movements have shone extra limelight on production methods and the development of materials. Ethical n brands have embraced the art of hand-knitting and focused on creating high-quality, long-lasting pieces that stand apart from mass-produced, fast fashion clothing.
Portugal is a real trailblazer in the celebrated craft of ethical knitwear and has its own rich textile and knitting traditions which are often techniques passed down through generations, resulting in unique and intricately designed pieces.
Portugal’s knitwear industry has been embracing sustainable and eco-friendly practices for many years, focusing on local production, ethical sourcing of materials, and reducing environmental impact.
Words: Pippa O’Keefe