The History of the Cardigan: How War Influences Fashion

26/09/2023 - 12:07
Photo: "Battle of Balaclava" (Richard Caton Woodville)
Photo: "Battle of Balaclava" (Richard Caton Woodville)

In this article, delves into the history of the cardigan and how its popularity was influenced by cold regions during wartime.

A cardigan is a sweater with a deep V-neck and buttons, often featuring pockets, and unlike regular sweaters, it lacks a collar. Interestingly, this fashion piece didn't originate in a high-end fashion house or through designers but was instead the creation of simple workers. The cardigan got its name from British General James Thomas Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan.

Sweaters with such necklines had been a part of the wardrobe for fishermen in the northern seas as far back as the 9th century. For nearly eight centuries, common folk in France and the UK donned this clothing style. However, it wasn't until the 19th century that this fashion piece was given the name "cardigan." The credit for this is linked to James Thomas Brudenell, Lord Cardigan. General James Cardigan was a true fashion enthusiast and a connoisseur of taste, although not the most outstanding military leader. During the Crimean War of 1854, in which the Russian forces emerged victorious, Lord Cardigan outfitted his entire regiment in an impeccable fashion.

(James Thomas Brudenell)  Source:

During the Battle of Balaclava, the entire regiment was dressed to perfection. However, during the winter in Crimea, the soldiers began to freeze. To stay warm, they started wearing knitted jackets underneath their military uniforms. These jackets provided warmth and, since they had no collars, didn't interfere with the uniform. When the war ended, the soldiers began calling the knitted jacket "cardigan" in honor of the Earl. Later, Russian poet Viktor Evstigneev paid tribute to Lord Cardigan with these lines:

"Float on, Sir, Lord Cardigan,

To your native shores again,

Forget the officer's command,

Better knit a pullover."

In 1918, the "revolutionary in the world of fashion," Coco Chanel, created the first women's suit. She completely transformed the shape of the cardigan, making it wide, loose-fitting, softly draping the figure, and adding patch pockets. The designer believed that cardigans were best worn with straight-cut skirts.

Source: (Coco Chanel in her famous cardigan jacket)

In contemporary times, cardigans remain in vogue. The sweater has taken on an entirely new look. It is made not only from knitted fabric but also silk or cotton. Long cardigans that reach the knees or calves have emerged. Popular styles include loose and wide forms, asymmetrical designs, or colorful geometric prints. Some cardigans even feature collars and shawl collars around the chest area, making them look like coats. It was quite unconventional to add a fur collar, but such cardigans suit modern fashionistas' tastes.

Source: (Charlie Hunnam donning a camel shawl-collar cardigan as Raymond Smith is Guy Ritchie’s “The Gentlemen”)



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