2017 Knitwear

The Sleeveless Cardigan

By G. Bruce Boyer

Jul 13, 2022

The Sleeveless Cardigan

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.

A side note here: You can button as many of the buttons as you like, but fellas who dabble in the higher echelons of style leave a few open, both for a bit of nonchalance and to show off a particularly interesting tie.

Where was I? Classic design, right. Both the armholes and bottom edge are banded for a close, reinforced fit at those points, and usually the front edge where the buttons are attached is placketed. In total the details comprise a utilitarian simplicity of design which is its own aesthetic.

The matter of pockets is wildly controversial, and the world is divided into the no-pocket and the two-pocket camps. Some argue that no pockets at all are more in keeping with the simplicity of the garment, while others point out that the utilitarian aspect is better served by a two-pocket front. You pays your money and takes your choice is my philosophy. My money usually goes with the pockets, just because I like the look of them – I know this runs counter to both arguments, sue me - but that’s just me.

Sleeveless cardies are usually worn with suits, for a slightly casual touch, and with sports jackets or blazers. But lots of guys these days wear the more colourful versions – orange, teal, purple, leaf green, that sort of thing - with open collared shirts and khakis or jeans. It’s a wonderful approach, particularly with, say, a pair of tobacco suede slip-ons. That would be my own personal idea of taking stylish casual to the max.

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