There are clothes that keep you warm and then, there are clothes that keep you happy. The shawl-collared cardigan is the latter. In times of extreme temperature, our first thoughts are of comfort; a dark, icy cold weekend inspires little more creativity in us than a well-stacked roaring fire, a pair of velvet slippers and a peaty single malt in a crystal glass the weight of small chest of drawers. We are lazier in such conditions, bearish and weak; we lack the brilliance that we exhibited on the first days of spring, we lack the heady joie de vivre of July. Driven to warmth, governed by central heating and hot beverages, we seek to enclose ourselves within a cotton-wool world of fluffy scarves, enormous jumpers and furry hats.
All the old favourites come out at such a time; the big scarf that still reeks of cologne from last year, the various leather gloves and, of course, the shawl collar cardigan.
It must be that beautiful, luxuriant roll of collar that nestles around the nape of the neck, insulating tender skin from the elements. Or perhaps it’s the easy, wear-with-anything style? And what about those elegant woven leather buttons that you play with as the fire-crackles and the ice fractures in the whisky glass? Whatever it is that titillates the wearer so, the shawl collar cardigan is a thing of glorious comfort and unexpected elegance; thrown over a shirt for a visit to the postbox or worn on a chilly evening out with a bow tie and a pair of grey flannels, the shawl collar cardigan is a superb friend.
It is one of those items in classic wardrobes that no one pays much attention to; Astaire wore them, as did Gable, Cooper, Rex Harrison and many others. When worn, they spoke primarily of comfort, but that charming shawl was always a sweet affectation of formality that welcomed the silk ties and sharp-collared shirts with which it was worn. As thick as a fisherman’s jumper, the real McCoy of shawl collared cardigans was often navy or grey and was a replacement for the more formal suit jacket in informal environments – the original ‘flaking out’ garment.
There are mocked versions of the classic shawl collar cardigan, many of which use thinner, inferior fabrics, resulting in a lack of structure which flattens the shawl; the glory of the cardigan is that gorgeous roll. One of the best examples is made by Ede & Ravenscroft and is featured in their current season Weekend Collection. Beautifully structured with a wonderfully chunky shawl collar, it is available in navy blue and light grey and, when folded is so substantial that it takes up almost the full depth of a drawer; a cosy, comforting and elegant garment to enjoy for many winters to come.