G. Bruce Boyer holds forth on one of the most elegant and versatile pieces of knitwear around: the sleeveless cardigan.
Of the two classic sleeveless knits to wear under a suit coat or sports jacket – the V-neck pullover and the cardigan – the cardigan is surely the most elegant and versatile. It’s the buttons, whether in horn or pearl, that tend to make it a bit dressier.
When you think about it, it’s really a portmanteau garment, that is, two garments cobbled together to make a third garment. In this case the waistcoat and the cardigan. Two historical points as we move along: the waistcoat, as everyone knows, was introduced in 1660 by Britain’s Charles II. And the cardigan, historians tell us, was invented by James Thomas Brudenell during the Crimean War, he who led the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade and was the Seventh Earl of Cardigan (the style was titled after him, not him after the style). It’s a bit difficult to pin it down, but sometime in the early 20th century, the sleeveless cardigan came into its own.
For the classic version, styling is pretty straight forward. A five-button front is what’s wanted, no more, no less. Not a zipper, not a double-breasted (both experiments have been tried). Five buttons. In better cardies, the inside front edges are trimmed in grosgrain ribbon, which seems to be a nice touch of elegance, but is really for reinforced durability.