The Cardi-Man

The American Revolution freed us from a monarchy, taxation without representation, and tea — but we still have a habit of looking across the pond for those articles of clothing that make up our fashion bedrock. We wisely dodged importing the words “ruff” and “jerkin” into our style lexicon, but the cardigan was too good to pass up. Yet, in classic , we took this great idea and made it our own. The cardigan is as American as apple pie — which, by the way, we borrowed from the British.
What’s Old Is New Again

When you were young, the cardigan may well have been that dreaded gift emblazoned with reindeer and snowflakes that your grandmother gave you every year at holiday time — the same sweater that would lie in wait in the dark recesses of your closet, waiting for its chance to make your skin itch or invite ridicule from your schoolmates. Today’s cardigan is a different breed: no longer limited by season, and enjoying a resurgence that started — in all places — on the runway.

“The old-school fluffy cardigan, with its rigid zips and wooden buttons, has renewed its heyday by transforming into something for the fashionisto,” says Los Angeles-based fashion stylist and editor Charles Adesanya. “High-fashion houses such as Balenciaga, Burberry Prorsum, Armani and Hugo Boss have transported Grandpa’s moldy closet into the fierce future with bold prints, stripes, sheer fabrics and studded shoulder pads.”

Beyond those fashion-forward choices, though, there are plenty of simply styled, elegant options that every man can pull off, from J. Crew’s classic cashmere example to John Smedley’s Sea Island cotton and New Zealand merino wool cardigans in neutral and primary colors. They’re perfect for layering, either on a winter day under a coat, or over a light button-down in an office in the summer. And no gym membership is needed to wear cardigans well.

A Nod to a Simpler Time

While it’s not the same sweater of yesteryear, part of the cardigan’s cool is that it’s one of those pieces of your wardrobe that calls to mind a different era.

“Men’s fashion was boring for a while,” Philippe Naouri, designer of men’s and women’s clothing line Artisan Deluxe, said. “But now, particularly with the cardigan, it’s a bit more re-energized, more about style. It hearkens back to the ’50s and ’60s, when men were elegant.”

That elegance is what makes the sweater a fashion classic. But as much as the cardigan harks back to the old, it’s always new — and it’s versatile, from boardroom to bar. “The cardigan is a nod to an older style, but it’s not owned by any one generation,” says Adesanya. “It’s a piece that looks intelligent with a blazer, or you can even go rock-‘n’-roll and open it all the way down with an A-shirt underneath.”
The Right Balance

You can wear cardigans in a variety of ways, but there’s a fine line between sleek and chic, and cardigan arrest. Less is more: This is a basic style principle, but the danger inherent in adding a classic to your everyday wardrobe is the fact that fashion drives us to make everything our own, even if it’s in the slightest of ways. Some of us pull it off with subdued perfection while others end up looking like a community theater player who raided Bill Cosby’s ’80s closet. As with most things in life, it’s all about balance.

“Mixing and matching is a simple task, but like all simple tasks in fashion, it can end in disaster,” Los Angeles-based fashion designer Yotam Solomon says. “Don’t mix colors that don’t work together, and don’t pair distressed details or bright colors with prints.”

Proper care is important too; the key to that is to avoid hanging cardigans — or any sweater — on hangers, which will almost certainly stretch them out, eventually beyond repair. Simply fold them and store them in a drawer with cedar blocks or lavender sachets.

Lastly, you’ve got nothing if you don’t have good fit. Too snug or too slouchy, and even the most versatile of fashion staples loses its luster. But a proper fit, combined with a quality fabric and classic design, will keep this classic in your closet for years.

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