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Treatise on a Cardigan

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What does it take to make a good cardigan? Something that wraps you in the very idea of warmth and comfort while not perhaps always providing said warmth? There are cardigans for every season, every occasion, every style. But what are those innate qualities that make the best cardigans? Each of these things contains within it a bounty of possibility. I’ve yet to find the ultimate cardigan. This is an addiction I do not care to treat.

Fiber Content
Wool, cotton, some lycra, rayon or nylon acceptable. But generally, the more man-made fibers in the garment the more it’s going to shrink in washing or look like hell over time. I prefer cotton since you can wash it more easily and it feeeeels so goooood.

No acrylic
I don’t care what you think about the wonder fiber of days gone by but it’s gross. It’s like a good first date with a serial killer. As soon as the morning of your first full day together it turns on you. Scratching and pulling at your very soul until you weep for freedom and forgiveness. Put it back on the rack. Walk away.

Body length
There is a difference between long lines and looking dragged down. If the weight of the fabric makes your cardigan inches longer before the day is through retire it. Or, put it back on the rack. You know what you have in your hand: dead weight.

Generally, mid-hip to upper thigh is best. Mid-thigh is iffy and below is a coat. If what you really need in order to get through the day is to be wrapped up in your bedclothes then take a sick day.

Sleeve length
Three-quarter-length sleeves are where it’s at. Longer sleeves must be very lightweight and easy to cuff, push up or hem. Do NOT convince yourself that that bulky sleeve won’t bother you hanging over your hand. It’s also a sure-fire way to ruin your cardigans over time with dirt, stretching, and holes.

Must be buttoned, snapped, or tied. Buttons open a world of possibilities. I am particularly a sucker for pearlized buttons and those with a vintage feel. Buttons can completely change your garment. If buttons are the thing holding you back from buying an otherwise fabulous cardigan … buy it! Clip off the lame buttons and find fabulous new ones to replace them with. There are so many options! You can take a hum drum cardigan and make it new again, make yourself fall in love with it all over again.

Draped or open cardigans can also be wonderful. Be careful to test how the garment lays on your body and how far apart the lapels are. If they won’t meet in the middle, it will look like it doesn’t fit. No bueno.

No zippers! Zippers never lay right after the first washing. Designers know this. That’s why they slap in labels like “Dry Clean Only.” Your cardigans should be wash and wear people!

Keep these pretty basic. V-necks and jewel necks are the most flexible and practical. Think about the way the cardigan will fall across your shoulders and chest; how will it interact with your shirt? Deep-v’s look baggy and need constant washing to keep their shape. Lame. Boat necks almost never work with your shirt or tank. Boat necks are beautiful and flattering but best left to blouses and dresses.

No collars! These are not jackets! No mandarin collars, no polo-style popping. The only exception would be a cowl-neck or shawl and really, it’s a fine line.

Yes! Most of the time. See above rules and guidelines first. Three-dimensional embellishment is like the champagne saucer instead of a plastic tumbler. Sure the tumbler gets it done but the saucer makes you feel special. Flowers, bugs, beading, appliqué … As long as it is well done it’s wonderful.

Exception: Screen-printing. Save this for your t-shirts and patches. No one needs the drape and movement of their saucy cardigan ruined by cracking, peeling paint.

Lastly, I don’t know if there is anything more glorious than a finely beaded cardigan. The weight of the fabric against your body, the way it drapes and gives you that ball-gown-feel while rockin’ jeans and flats … Dreamy. Also, if you find vintage, beaded cardigans that fit the above criteria and the body? BUY THEM! They will not be there when you return. I don’t care how many black cardigans you already have. Light colors can be dyed. BUY BUY BUY!

In closing, I hope that this brief foray into cardigan qualities has helped you hone your own shopper’s technique. Don’t be fooled by beautiful garments that only hope to snare you and double cross you. Don’t get suckered by looking beautiful on the hanger. It’s supposed to look beautiful on YOU! Good luck!


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