Spring is just around the corner (well, it is for me, at least: for many of you it might be more down the bottom of the road, past the Post Office and left at the traffic lights), and although the wool overcoat will soon be put away spring evenings can still be quite nippy. It’s a time of year when transitional pieces come into their own. One of my favourites is the cardigan.
The cardigan owes its existence to James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan. Brudenell was a keen huntsman and dandy of epic proportions – the kind of suave military ‘hero’ (ie, arrogant, privileged idiot) depicted by George Macdonald Fraser in his “Flashman” series of books. While in command of the 11th Hussars Brudenell bought opulent uniforms for his men out of his own silk-lined pockets. This didn’t go down well with less wealthy officers who had to buy their own – even flashier – outfits to keep up appearances.
Amazing uniforms aside, Brudenell is probably best remembered for two things: leading the disastrous charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War, and inventing the knitted, button-up vest that bears his title. The cardigan was an invention of necessity: during his time in the frigid east Brudenell needed something to keep him warm under his uniform. A knitted woollen vest was the perfect solution and, as with many aristocratic clothing inventions, ‘Cardigan’ vest-wearing was quickly adopted by others.
The cardigan of today is as far removed from its Crimean ancestor as the modern suit is from its Victorian forebears. They come in various gauges of wool, cotton and cashmere; they’re no longer the preserve of A-level English teachers with a fascination for pipes and Anglo Saxon; and they don’t have to be hidden from view under other items of clothing. For work, I like to wear fine gauge cotton or cashmere cardigans under suit jackets in place of waistcoats. They’re more relaxed and allow me to flash some extra colour on bright spring days. For weekends, I have a few chunky shawl-collar cardigans that are thick enough to be worn on their own, or with a gilet over the top for extra warmth.