Want to be James Bond cool? Wear cardigans

Want to be James Bond cool? Wear cardigans

Q. Cardigan sweaters are my go-to cold-weather choice. I wear them buttoned up. I’m wondering if there is a way to wear them that looks less nerdy?

A. You should not hesitate to wear cardigans, they are actually quite in style and you may be defining nerdiness in an old pocket-protector way; it is quite in today. You’ll see celebrities redefining and embracing this look, including Daniel Craig, Drake, and nearly every male character on CW-shows. There are many looks you can create with cardigans, from professorial to hip-hop, to dad (hip or un-hip), to big man on campus. And while they do have something of a “nerdy” or professorial look, they can also range widely from traditional near-dressy to casual street wear.

Basically a cardigan is a knitted sweater with an open front; it can come with or without buttons, but is usually worn buttoned. You said you prefer them buttoned; if not, they can appear to be simply V-neck sweaters. The new open (without any buttons) knit jacket is the opposite of the  college preppy look. While a simple V-neck sweater may be traditionally a bit more macho (if that’s the right anti-nerdy adjective), you mentioned your preference for non-pullover sweaters and you shouldn’t hesitate to wear those. You will see them more and more in fashion magazines. 

Cardigans can be either solid color or patterned and coordinating them is similar to choices a man makes with a blazer. Some patterns appear from a distance to be solid (such as tweeds, small checks, herringbones). Some patterns are large and distinctive (such as argyles, Fair Isle, and cable stitched). As with a more dressy blazer, a cardigan also works over a shirt and tie. But a note of warning: If you do wear a tie with your cardigan, certainly avoid a bow tie. While I love bow ties, the combination of the two together is the classic example of what you are asking to avoid. Your best tie choices are dark, solid-colors in non-shiny cotton or wool (perhaps a knit).

Also paralleling blazers, and, in fact, being a bit more casual, cardigans can certainly be worn without a tie. They work well with a collared or buttoned shirt for a dressy, class look, with a less dressy polo, or, if you can pull it off (and it is warm enough), some men even combine them with T-shirts. With so many different possible options, it can be a challenge knowing what to wear over, under, and with your cardigan sweater for a polished mix. Check out some of the men’s fashion magazine spreads and online for looks you’ll enjoy wearing.

Cardigans come in different shapes and materials to fit every man’s style. A slim-fit cardigan made of a dressy silk-and-wool blend can be worn with a business shirt and dress trousers for a business/casual combination. An all-wool sweater can be worn with a smart sport shirt and pressed chinos for weekend attire. Or, it can be dressed down further with jeans for casual streetwear. A sophisticated dresser may buy a luxury cable-knit cardigan in cashmere to layer over a fine polo shirt or a pristine Tee for more of a fashion look.

  • Check out the different styles of cardigans to find the right type for you and your wardrobe.
  • Black, blue, and gray are the most versatile colors and look good with most men’s styles. On the other hand, bold and bright colors can be playful and fun.
  • While cardigans are versatile warm wardrobe items, perfect for fall and winter wear; they also work for cool summer evenings. 
  • For proper maintenance and care, always fold your cardigan and store in a drawer or on a shelf. Avoid hanging knitwear to prevent stretching around the shoulders. 

In addition to bow ties, there are certain absolutes to avoid. Do not put elbow patches on a cardigan if you do not want to appear professorial. Do not roll up the sleeves of your cardigan if you’re trying to look casual and cool. Just don’t do it. Do not combine your cardigan with any off-beat or borderline style, such as shorter trousers. 

The cardigan sweater is a multi-functional layer that’s existed for a long time. Historically, it began with the wool waistcoats worn by British officers during the twentieth-century wars. The name comes from James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan and a British major general who led the Charge of the Light Brigade. The first versions featured those recognizable buttons and collars.  

Later, the famous designer, Coco Chanel, brought cardigans to the world with her spin on this new knitted clothing item. She marketed it as a great layer that would not mess your hair when removed. The cardigan became a smashing hit and remains popular today.

Historically, cardigans have been connected with presidents (Jimmy Carter), with celebrities (singer Perry Como), and with icons (Mr. Rogers) . . . all personalities of easy-going style. Steve McQueen further popularized the cardigan by wearing it in the action movie, Bullitt.     

Some designers like to layer a blazer or sport jacket over a cardigan sweater, but I think this is a too-bulky and somewhat awkward look. Stay with one or the other; you will be more comfortable physically, and if you follow these few avoidances, I’m hoping you will feel more in style . . . whether that means nerdy or not.

Please send your men’s dress and grooming questions and comments to MALE CALL: Lois.Fenton@prodigy.net

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