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What is a Cardigan?

Paulla Estes
By
Updated May 21, 2024
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A cardigan is a sweater that opens in the front and attaches with either buttons, hooks, or a zipper. Cardigan sweaters are thought to have originated in 17th century France and the British Isles, where fishermen wore heavy, hand-knitted woolen sweaters. Fondly known as fishermen's sweaters, the industry of knitting the heavy sweaters soon became popular on the coast of Ireland. Fishermen and outdoor workers sought out the expensive cardigans that kept them warm during the harsh North Atlantic winters.

Today the same cardigan sweaters are produced in Ireland and although they are still worn for warmth, they have become a fashion statement for casual wear. Yet cardigans are not limited to this heavy, woolen style; cardigan sweaters can be made of nearly any fabric, with styles for both women and men. Styles include fabrics such as wool, cotton, polyester, rayon, cashmere, Lycra and many more.

Men's cardigans have been immortalized by the American children's television personality, Mr. Rogers. Who doesn't remember Mr. Rogers taking off his sports coat and donning a thin, solid colored cardigan while singing a cheerful song to his viewers? He always managed to zip up the cardigan at the precise moment that the song reached its pinnacle. Cardigans for men can be made of thin cotton or polyester, much like the cardigans of Mr. Rogers' fame, or a variation of the heavy wool types still known as fishermen's sweaters.

As with many things, women have a large assortment of cardigan sweaters from which to choose. While men generally wear cardigans as casual wear, women's cardigan sweaters range from casual to dressy. The fishermen's cardigan is just as popular with women as it is with men, but women will also find cardigans in light wool, cotton, or even cashmere with lace collars and jeweled or pearled buttons. While these fancier cardigans would never be worn in a formal or even semi-formal setting, they are perfect for very dressy occasions such as garden parties, teas, and showers. Many women enjoy wearing cardigan sweaters as a jacket on blustery fall days or chilly summer evenings. A cardigan is easily put on and taken off and can be taken anywhere.

From heavy wool to thin cotton, and from chunky wooden buttons to a thin zipper or snaps, cardigan sweaters are popular clothing options that are here to stay.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Paulla Estes
By Paulla Estes
Based in Maine, Paulla Estes is a freelance writer and website editor with a B.A. in English Literature from George Mason University. With over 15 years of experience in the field, Paulla appreciates the flexibility and consistency that comes with contributing to BeautyAnswered. She relishes the opportunity to continuously learn new things while crafting informative and engaging articles for readers.
Discussion Comments
By Logicfest — On Dec 01, 2014

@Soulfox -- The problem with those thick, woolen ones is that they are too hot. Yes, they are traditional. But, they are also difficult to wear unless you are outside in very cold temperatures. For that reason, you can stick with traditional wool fabric but in a thinner form so you can wear your cardigan inside, too. Nothing wrong with that.

By Soulfox — On Dec 01, 2014

Yes, there are a lot of materials available for cardigans, but go with a heavy, woolen one if you want to stick with tradition. Grab one with heavy, wooden buttons, too. You'll be warm and stylish at the same time.

Some things were perfect when invented and shouldn't me messed with over time. The cardigan is one of those perfect things.

Paulla Estes
Paulla Estes
Based in Maine, Paulla Estes is a freelance writer and website editor with a B.A. in English Literature from George...
Learn more
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