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The knit parade: the cardigan makes a comeback

We've seen them all - from Mark Ronson's slimline number to Roger Federer's gold trim at Wimbledon - but there's a fine line between cool cat and old codger, says Susannah Frankel

Cardigans. They're a risky business, albeit a very fashionable one just now. Take Roger Federer's appearance at Wimbledon yesterday, in an off-white chunky knit design that might have looked straight out of The Great Gatsby were it not for the monogrammed badge and gold trim. Yes, you read that correctly: gold trim. This, it almost goes without saying, is a prime example of how not to wear knitwear. Federer resembled nothing more than an ageing Harry Potter, although one suspects that this was not the effect he was aiming for.

Other past cardigan atrocities have included Detective Dave Starsky's big Seventies version: part-dressing gown, part-Linus from Peanuts security blanket, this was far too cute and cuddly to be desirable, not to mention believable, when seen on the back of a West Coast American cop. Like the man himself, it was simply too hairy by half.

Then there's Val Doonican's love of this particular garment, which knocked any man of a certain age's take on this classic item into fashion Siberia in one fell swoop – pity Bing Crosby. Val's knits were too bright, too bold and way too homespun to go down in history as anything but a sartorial disaster.

More recently, Preston from The Ordinary Boys has been giving the cardigan a bad name, generally favouring the pastel variety. On one memorable occasion, the Big Brother reject went so far as to throw an impressively high-profile hissy fit during recording of Never Mind The Buzzcocks, storming off-set, if you please, over the panel's unchivalrous comments about his former wife Chantelle's book, while wearing a Burberry cardigan scattered with silver sequins. Preston, a word in your ear: the sequins slightly lessened the impact of any manliness on this occasion – although they were a good fashion joke by anyone's standards.

Now, the cardigan heroes. Kurt Cobain in a skanky old cardie (quite possibly mohair) on MTV Unplugged – there's nothing more sexy than an extremely sexy man who looks like he doesn't even bother looking in the mirror before going on television, after all. In the Eighties, Robert Smith's cardigans always whispered of unabashed masculine sensitivity. It's small wonder that the Emo generation have taken inspiration from this particular pin-up. David Beckham gives good cardigan when he chooses a traditional design, and very bad cardigan indeed when he opts for a more gimmicky one – giant horses prancing across an ivory, chunky, belted knit, anyone? This was never going to be Becks's finest moment.

The current god of cardigan-wearing, meanwhile, must surely be pop producer Mark Ronson, whose choice of knitwear is fine gauge, in dark colours, principally grey, and teamed with equally simple geek-chic clothing. All of this harks back to a very English, mid-20th-century elegance that is hard to beat and which the cardigan, at its best, perfectly exemplifies.

Cardies: the rules

Stick to block colours, preferably dark or at least neutral.

Go for fine-gauge knits. A chunky one will make you look, well, chunky.

Keep it short. Long-line cardigans that cover your bum are strictly for girls.

It's preferable to wear something underneath your cardigan – try a plain round-neck T-shirt.

Don't wear a cardigan just for the sake of it on a hot day. Sweaty is never going to be fashionable.

Avoid pastel colours. Slightly effeminate is good, outright girlish is bad.

Collared cardigans are wrong on every level. This warning is for your own good.

Resist the urge to embellish your cardigan – crests, logos and fancy ribbing mean you're trying too hard.

Mohair only works on rock stars. There are no exceptions.

Don't let your grandma make you one. Machine knits are preferable.