Cardigan History

If you have ever watched the children’s television classic, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, the wholesome host Fred Rogers made the cardigan sweater not just his daily accessory, but also an essential fashion statement of comfort.

But where did the idea for a halfway opened sweater come from? The history of the cardigan sweater encompasses many continents, usages and eras of time. But nonetheless, whether it is the stellar style of shawl collar cardigans, the winter warmth of long cardigans for women or the attention to detail that is embedded in cable knit cardigans – this particular article of clothing has proven to be completely timeless.

While you are admiring the lavish fabrics that create posh shawl collar cardigans and elegant navy blue cardigans that adorn many celebrity women during the colder months, it may be hard to imagine all of that savvy sophistication beginning on the backs of British military officers in battle during the 1800’s – but that is where the story begins. In particular, Major General James Thomas Brudenell, acknowledged as the 7th Earl of Cardigan, was the earliest figure to bare this “sweater coat” style way back in 1854.

The British location that his military abilities protected was Crimea, or what would now appear on a world map as the Ukraine. As the fighting over the Ottoman Empire had ended between the 7th Earl of Cardigan’s United Kingdom faction and Russia, Major General James Thomas Brudenell had much to celebrate, and would also be known to sport his cardigans with fur and braided trimmings.

Then oddly enough, 11 years later on American soil, at the coveted private Ivy League college campus of Harvard University in Cambridge Massachusetts, another monumental sighting of the fashionable cardigan sweater appeared. It wasn’t quite the long cardigans for women style, nor the adorable cable knit cardigans that keep ladies looking fabulous, or even the subtle sex appeal of sharp navy blue cardigans. This version of the sweater format consisted of the letter “H” being attached to Harvard’s baseball jerseys – referred to as letter sweaters.

The cardigan’s use as athletic attire made another adjustment with the V-necked versions of letter cardigans appearing at Harvard University by 1900. Just think about how this academic look has progressed, with the added components that include wearing them with leather loafers, button-down collared dress shirts and chino pants that are part of the everyday Ivy League look.

War and sports may be the earliest purposes for the cardigan sweater, and its early plunge into the dresser drawers and closets of the United Kingdom and the United States. But in the 1920’s, this ever-evolving sweater was given the feminine touch, and emerged as a fantastic fashion piece in France by the world famous iconic fashion designer Coco. Now there would be the launch of creatively stylish innovation, with Coco devising lightweight cardigan jackets, with woven fabric and a trimmed collarless look. This sweater was the perfect match for a smart and sensual skirt.