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Fashion Feature

Taylor Swift has reminded us all the cardigan really is the coolest item of knitwear

What was once a drab wartime garment has become a hot sartorial ticket, writes Olivia Petter

Tuesday 28 July 2020 10:48
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Cardigan hype is experiencing another resurgence following the release of Taylor Swift’s new album Folklore, which not only has a single titled “Cardigan” but an accompanying music video showing the singer snuggled in a perfect oversized knit, which, in true Swift style, she uses as a metaphor to examine a bad relationship.

Google searches for “cardigan” spiked within 24 hours of the launch – whether this was people searching for the song title or inspired by Swift to invest in some summer knitwear is unclear – but it wouldn’t be the first time cardigans got the celebrity treatment.

In October 2019, Katie Holmes put the cardigan on the world stage when she was seen in a cashmere number and matching bra – the ultimate luxury knit.

Maybe it was the cardi’s irresistibly luxurious £1,700 cashmere, its neutral oatmeal shade, or its perfectly loose fit. Or perhaps it was the way Holmes wore it – with nothing but a matching bra underneath, and falling off the shoulder while she casually hailed a taxi, to reveal said expert matching. Whatever the reason, Holmes’ humble cardigan sparked a sartorial revolution.

In the past, cardigans have almost always been derided among fashion insiders for being frumpy.

Sure, they worked for grunge types like Kurt Cobain – whose famous cigarette-singed cardi was auctioned off for £259,000 – but generally, cardigans have primarily been the reserve of pearl-clutching grandmothers and Women’s Institute members baking batches of jam. At least they were until a photograph of Katie Holmes in a cardigan went viral.

According to global fashion search platform Lyst, which tracks data on 70 million shoppers around the world, searches for Khaite, the US brand behind Holmes’ viral cardi, skyrocketed by 217 per cent after the “sexigan” photograph was circulated on Instagram.

What was interesting about Holmes’ partially undone cardi ensemble, was how it so strongly juxtaposed with the prim and proper aesthetic we’ve come to associate with cardigans. Emily Gordon-Smith, director of consumer product at trends intelligence company Stylus, describes her look as the “ultimate nod to relaxed luxury”.

Charlotte Casey, senior knitwear editor at trend forecaster WGSN, concurs, adding that the cardigan is “now more relevant than ever”.

“It went out of fashion because there was such a strong focus on the statement oversized crew neck, so it has been interesting to see some more streamlined, pretty and fitted styles coming back.”

Casey notes that such figure-hugging styles can help stop the cardigan from looking old-fashioned, but says that those looking for something laid back à la Holmes, can quite literally take comfort in relaxed slouchy fits or oversized styles, which are just as on-trend.

The Row, Abigael cropped cashmere cardigan: £820, Zara round patent finish bag: £29.99, Frankie shop Chloe asymmetric pleated satin midi skirt: £180, Accessorize chunky links necklace: £12, Veja V-10 Trainer: £115

“I’m not surprised those photos of her went viral,” she continues. “But we’re seeing all kinds of cardigan action going on at the moment, with different looks to suit all tastes.”

Indeed, the autumn/winter runways were packed with cardis of all sorts. They were striped and collegiate at Gucci, oversized and bejewelled at Christopher Kane, and feather-trimmed at Prada. Meanwhile, formal Jackie O styles made appearances at Pringle of Scotland, Oscar de la Renta and Bottega Veneta.

“The cardigan can fit into so many trends and this autumn we’ve seen huge engagement from a customer perspective,” says Vikki Kavanagh, buying and merchandising director at The Outnet, where shoppers can snap up myriad discount designer cardis from brands such as Brunello Cucinelli and Ganni.

Arket silk slip dress: £59, Sylvia Toledano malachite stone ring: £80, Acne, Rives oversized knitted cardigan: £400, Topshop black chunky boots: £42, Falke soft merino tights: £32, MAC Ruby Woo lipstick: £17.50

But you don’t have to splash out to tap into the trend. Gordon-Smith advises aspiring “sexigan” wearers to take their cues from the 1990s, meaning it can be as simple as heading straight to the local charity shop – also a much more true-to-the-trend and sustainable way to adopt the look.

“A big look right now is the huge oversized cardigan worn with modest dresses and big boots,” she says, adding that a lot of younger women are also pairing skinny fit cardigans with slip dresses.

An oversized cardigan on the Gucci autumn/winter 2019 runway (Getty)

Or you can make like Holmes and try wearing a loose-fitting V-neck cardi with just a bralette underneath and skinny jeans, though you may want to keep it buttoned up if you’re planning on donning this look in the office.

For those who really want to get experimental, you could even wear your cardigan backwards, as one fashion writer suggested recently in an article for The Cut – it doesn’t look as odd as you’d think.

& Other Stories Alpaca Blend Puff Sleeve Cardigan: £85, Rag & Bone Maya distressed cropped high-rise straight-leg jeans: £240, Air and Grace Freya hiker boots: £279 , Sophie Buhai Gold vermeil hoop earrings: £270.23, Madeworn Hendrix printed cotton-jersey T-shirt: £150, Loewe square-frame tortoiseshell acetate sunglasses: £280

So yes, the cardigan is pretty versatile. But that’s not the only reason why it appeals, says fashion stylist Anna Berkeley, who explains that it’s one of the few wardrobe items that has the ability to flatter any figure.

“Getting it right is all about the lengths and proportions,” she says. “Arket’s cropped V-neck cardis are great for long waists and straighter figures. Theory and Khaite have fabulous fitted ones for curvy shapes – if they feel too long only do up one button under the bust line. If you’re larger busted go for a shawl collar or edge to edge like Acne’s raya style or Arket’s mohair coatigan.”

For ways to revamp your cardigan collection this season, see our outfit suggestions above.

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