The slouchy cardigan

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Most cardigans that classic menswear fans admire fall into one of two camps. 

First is the cardigan to be worn under a jacket, frequently sleeveless. This is often quite thin, and is practical as an additional layer for warmth. It can look a little old-fashioned without sleeves, but functions better under a jacket that way. 

Drake’s in its early years did a lot to show how this style can be creative and fun, particularly when loosely buttoned and in more unusual colours. 

The second is the shawl-collar cardigan. Rather than being designed to wear under a jacket, this is a jacket substitute itself, with its prominent collar and chunky knit. That style has became perennially popular because it is so flattering, particularly on a slim guy. It helps that Daniel Craig wears them now and again too. 

I feel like the dominance of these two is a reason why another style is sometimes looked down on. 

When I discussed the cardigan pictured above - the ‘Art Cardi’ from Connolly - one reader said “the oversized fit reminds me of days when cardigans were almost exclusively worn by OAPs”. Another commented “the baggy cut is unflattering bordering on ugly”.

Fair enough. This type of cardigan is not flattering like a shawl-collar - which seems to give all of us bigger shoulders - and isn't fitted like a sleeveless cardigan, which is flattering in hiding the waist, particularly under a jacket. 

But it can have great style. It is relaxed, easy, even louche. It isn’t fitted, but instead in the right fabric it drapes beautifully.

Several things make it different from the cardigan your grandfather might have worn - and here we’re into the subtle art of knitwear design. 

One is the weight. Often that old-fashioned cardigan was a thin thing, really designed to be worn under a jacket like the sleeveless model described above. That never had enough good material to drape well. 

Of course it’s not just the weight, but the density, the ply and the fibre, which determine how straight or softly it falls, how liable it is to crease and wrinkle. 

Then there’s the cut. A looser cardigan is better with a generous sleeve. Not so wide that you would notice, but enough to keep it in proportion with the body, and continuing the feeling of luxurious size. 

With Connolly's Art Cardi, this aesthetic is echoed in the straight cut at the front (ones for tailoring often have a kink above the first button); the low position of the buttons; the turn-back cuffs; and the saddle shoulder, which creates a smooth run from shoulder to sleeve. 

I love learning and thinking about design like this. It’s so subtle, so much less obvious than discussions of cloth weights, patterns or fibre. Often it eludes even close examination - like an art, it requires education, someone to point things out to you.

And it’s very hard to put a price on, in the way men with their logical minds often want to. 

All credit here to Connolly’s knitwear designer Lorraine Acornley.

Personally, I like this drapier look most when the rest of the ensemble is quite straight or cinched. 

For example in this outfit, I’m wearing tailored flannels in my normal mid-to-high rise, with a belt. A more standard low-rise trouser would look sloppier, as would a non-tailored trouser. The belt emphasises both, creating a focus and a particular tied-up neatness. 

Connolly do and have done different colours in this cardigan, but the cream suits me particularly as it goes with almost any tailoring - brown linen or olive flannel, navy serge or black cord. White is usually the best colour of shirt, but that can be an oxford, poplin or polo.

I don’t think it is at its best buttoned, and perhaps this detracts from its practicality. But it doesn’t stop it being something I reach for all the time at home.

One thing it does require, on me, is a shirt. Others can wear them with a T-shirt, but it becomes too unflattering on me without a collar. 

The mohair cardigan from The Real McCoy’s I featured recently is the same, although there is also a whole alternative aesthetic with mohair cardigans, which have become fashionable again recently and are often worn with just a T-shirt underneath. 

Still, for me it always looked best on Kurt when he had that soft shirt on - undone, with jeans. 

As noted in this year’s Spring Top 10, I also bought Connolly’s ‘knit waistcoat’ (below), and the point about its loose, drapey look is the same.

If you didn’t try this on, or perhaps look closely, it could seem the same as that classic sleeveless cardigan we described earlier. But everything beyond the surface is actually different - the body shape, the ribbing tension, the shoulder width, the ribbing, the placket size, the collar height. 

This, again, is what design is all about. 

In fact the Connolly vest is almost cut more like a workwear piece than a tailored cardigan. It’s terrible under a blazer, but great worn like a gilet, over a shirt on a warm day, or layered under a chore jacket. 

It reminds me a little, actually, of the waistcoats I remember seeing men in north Pakistan wear over their shalwar kameez, when I travelled there years ago. Thick, straight cut, and often worn loose during the day. It was a really stylish look - practical and easy. 

So if you feel like it, perhaps reconsider the slouchy cardigan. It can be lovely, elegant, even alternative.

And given how much the super-tight, super-short, stretchy-fabric look seems to be hanging around in menswear, I think it's important to talk about how attractive draped fabric can be.

Below are images of the black Real McCoy’s mentioned, the Connolly knitted vest, and the Art Cardi layered underneath my suede belted jacket from Fred Nieddu.

Studio photography, James Holborow. Other internal shots, Jamie Ferguson.

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Rafael

Genuinely don’t understand the criticism, I think it looks amazing

JO

I don’t see the point in the criticism. The slouchy cardigan is perfect for OAP activities, like walking (slowly) through the park. Or for a younger audience, think stroller walk. Wouldn’t wear it for anything else, though.

Ben

I tried to rock this look years ago but always found that the placket made it look weird unbuttoned, so I’d then want to look for a buttonless model only to remember that that’s the native style of the middle-aged working mother. This cycle repeated itself some number of times before I gave up on the quest altogether.

SAO

One of the many reasons to enjoy reading PS is that it anticipates what everybody will be thinking and feeling six months to a year down the line. I think you have done it again, here. Now you have named it, the existing cardigan dichotomy becomes clear and is exactly as you say it is. There are the fine knit, John Smedley styles, often close-fitting and in thin merino. And then there are the shawl collar chunky knits. Both great in their place. But the thing that I feel I’m missing is the classic, mid-weight v-necked cardigan like this one.
Of course, in a sense they are ubiquitous. Marks and Spencer’s produces lots of them; and they have the OAP connection you mention. But that is part of why they are ripe for whisking off for an upmarket reinvention by the likes of Connolly. Fabric, shape, design details can all be rethought. And the thing that makes them so useful is that they compliment and show off shirts in an un-showy sort of way while being unsurpassed for versatile heat-regulation.
The oversize thing is getting bigger (!) and this one nods in that direction. But it looks to me like a good regular fit. That is what I’m hunting. A regular fitting v neck version with mid to thick weight wool. You make a good case for cream, but I think I’m going to stick with classic dark navy. Any suggestions? I’ve seen nice ones in person in Drakes and online at Colhays. The future is cool cardigans!

Jan

I have the Colhays lambswool tennis cardigan in two colours (cream and burgundy) and I absolutely love the shape and material. Slouchy and loose when unbuttoned (with a fairly soft but robust wool) but nice and slim buttoned up so they do actually work under a casual jacket in winter. Thickness of the material also spot on for me. Just my opinion!

Kevin

I have a John Smedley cardigan in M, but in reality it´s an XS. I only wear it unbuttoned. There is no way I can fit a long sleeve shirt underneath.

DME

Hello – Have a look at William Lockie – they produce different styles of cardigan in lambswool, Geelong lambswool, Camelhair and cashmere

Robin

The Connolly waistcoat is exceptionally beautiful.
It’s a masterpiece of an outfit that it’s put together with .

As for the slouchy cardigan.
It’s oversized , it’s drapes excessively etc…. So it’s the opposite of tailored clothes .
It’s a Beautiful colour and no doubt feels lovely and cosy worn during cooler summer evenings .

Pyc

Hi Simon,
The “slouchy” cardigan also works well as a casual substitute for a jacket when wearing a knit tie, whereas the chucky shawl collared version’s prominent collar can be overbearing in that combination.
In real life it’s less vintage than it sounds in theory!

Ant

I like this, Simon. It did however remind me to ask whether you still wear your Loopwheeler cardiganm

I bought it after seeing your outfit wearing this with the white PS Oxford, but I’ve found I don’t wear mine all that much. It might need a bit more washing and wearing to loosen-up, perhaps? It looks a little more ‘flat’ than yours in those pics.

Anyway, I agree that when teamed with trousers and a shirt, a slightly looser cardigan such as this connolly one works well. Also a big fan of cream – and its not quite as showy as with a cream jacket.

Peter Hall

Have you tried a cardigan over a hoodie,Simon? I wear an ecru knit over a marl hoodie when on park duties with the grandkids. It fills up the neck space issue.

Peter Hall

Yes, only really works with that.
The best are the ‘technical hoodies’ popular with outdoor types. Mine is a much repaired Mountain Equipment one.
And the cardigan is a ready made goalpost.

Andreas

I really like the colour and the saddle shoulder, but I’ve always thought that whenever there’s an opportunity to wear a cardigan, I might as well wear an unlined sport coat, which is a lot more practical (interior pockets), and requires far less maintenance (stretched out elbows, pilling, etc.) And even with a nice cardigan like this, there’s always a whiff of ‘old man’ about it, but I guess that’s part of the charm for those who wear them.

But maybe that’s just me, since I never wear a collared shirt and knitwear at the same time; I’d imagine it might actually look really nice with a simple grey T-shirt, a pair of heavily worn jeans and dark brown suede loafers.

Joel Benford

Lately, I have been pondering cardigans quite a bit, since:
a) every tenth time I contort myself to get into a sweater there’s that “did I just hear some fabric/thread tear” moment
b) you can regulate the temperature much better than a sweater with the buttons
c) you generally get a much deeper vee than a sweater, which does the face-framing thing a bit like a jacket
But I think you may have a point about the sports jacket acting as a cardigan++ in some ways.

Robert

OAP’s ?

Joel Benford

Old Age Pensioners. I think Americans refer to them as “senior citizens”?

Errol
Jan

Haha that is quite funny (and justified)

Robert

Lol. Ok. Guilty as charged. Didn’t realize it was a common abbreviation on the other side of the ocean. Now let me get back to listening to my record player.

Aaron

I don’t think it is at its best buttoned”
I don’t doubt your word, however a picture to demonstrate this would be nice, as a comparison.

Aaron

Thanks – having taken a look, they seem to be wearing them even more oversized! Literally hanging off them, miles below the collar. I’m honestly not sure I’d even consider it as an option if it weren’t for your article considering their pictures.
I can definitely see though how the very low buttoning doesn’t look fantastic done up – I wager how you’d wear it buttoned up would appeal more to me than the models do though.

Craig

Simon, you put into words exactly why I like my Stoffa U-vest. It’s thick enough to have weight, the ribbing accentuates that weight, and I upsized a bit, all of which combine to give it wonderful drape. It gives the exact opposite impression of the typical thin, snug vest that hugs the body closely. Which may make it harder to wear under a jacket (thoguh not impossible) but makes it great on its own.
In terms of color, what do you find more useful, the cream vest above, or something in navy?

MQ

Absolutely love a fine cardigan. and surely a must in any gentleman’s wadrobe. I really think it can pull an outfit together to add a splash of colour to a grey or brown trouser. Have you looked into Paul James knitwear at all? I have found multiple pieces by them of fantastic quality, even more so when you compare the costs to others.

Scott

Interesting article as usual, but I must say that the shawl cardigan reigns supreme and for good reason. The gold standard, as you mentioned, is indeed Daniel Craig. He wears that Tom Ford shawl cardigan to perfection in Quantum of Solace.
The Connolly vest you’re wearing however is a different matter, it’s fantastic! I like everything about it and plan on adding it to my wardrobe.
By the way, do you have a recommendation for a similar shawl collar design to Mr. Craig’s Quantum shawl? I’ve been looking, but it’s hard to find.

Scott

Thank you. The Colhays cardigan is superb indeed. Looking forward to seeing the colors offered for the PS shawl. Agree completely concerning your movie star comment.

Edward

What is the belt you’re wearing, Simon? I think it very nicely pulls the outfit together!

MBB355

Looks great. I also like the somewhat new Drakes lambswool cardigans with mother-of-pearl buttons. They have a great ecru version. Black would look great, too.

James

I don’t see those on their website? Can you share a link?

Tim

On a separate note, I really love Connolly. I admire their designs and quality. I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed with anything that I’ve ordered from them.

Tim

Nice article Simon, I can see the appeal but still think I am a bit young for this. When I am ready for it I will go for the William Lockie by Frans Boone version, it is more of a grandpa version – even called that – with the pockets but when you wear it open like you do it will look great; https://www.fransboonestore.com/products/william-lockie-x-frans-boone-alain-3-pocket-cardigan-lambswool-flannel?variant=39637753954384

Roger

These cardigans always put me in a dull mood.

SVT

Simon, you gained muscle mass, it suits you very much(o) 😉

Eric Michel

I would strongly suggest to anyone who wants to look ok with this kind of cardigan to follow Cobain’s style and wear it with great hair and a guitar

Grant

I’ve long been a huge cardi fan, that Connolly one is lovely Simon. Johnstons of Elgin are the kings of reasonably priced cashmere….when you see “Made in Scotland” it’s almost always them making for the great and good of world fashion. Really no point going anywhere else.

Chris S.

The Art Cardi and the waistcoat are perpetually out of stock at Connolly and have been for almost a year, with the exception of one or two sizes so maybe next time you could highlight some other brands that make an effort to stock what you are plugging.

David

Wonderful insight and I think these two pieces are incredible. Simon, are you wearing the ecru or light grey sleeveless vest or perhaps both? They seem to look different colours on different photos.

Thomas

Slouchy cardigans–particularly old shapeless ones–seem to this Yank to be a peculiary British thing. (Jim Broadbent has made a career out of wearing them.) But your cardigan seems to be of a different sort–looks American, in fact. Add some horizontal stripes on the arms and you’re in Ralph Lauren Polo-land.

Doug

One used to be able to find wonderful knit waistcoats made of yarn with less stretch, and with taped edges on the inside edges all the way around the front placket on both sides and on the bottom. The consequence was a sweater vest with a fit in-between a slouchy cardigan and a suit waistcoat–a sort of drape cut for waistcoats. I have few old ones, including one from New & Lingwood that is among my favorite clothing items. Is there a firm that still makes these?

Rob Grant

I agree, Simon. I think it looks classically elegant, especially the way you wear it and, yes, it’s at its best with a shirt.
Often we are sort of psychologically bullied into avoiding certain items due to the perception of others. I don’t, I couldn’t care less what others think.
If it’s nicely made and fits well, a good fabric (cashmere?) and has an understated colour and you’re comfortable that’s all that is important really.
Do you think the suede jacket’s lapels are a little wide? The jacket draws my eye at least to the lapels alone and nothing much else. I think that were they a little narrower they might blend into the jacket more and it could be viewed more like a piece as a whole.
Not terribly important.
Thanks for featuring the cardigan. It’s very flexible, can be easily worn inside, outside, with flannels, jeans etc.
The shawl cardigan has become ubiquitous in this genre and as such can look a little like a cliché.

Steve B

My take on the sleeveless cardigan is as a layer around the body while leaving the arms & pits free for movement & ventilation, for me a sleeved cardigan would be too much, I’m not too worried about the ‘ old fashioned’ that’s fashion & not style. As for the rolled collar cardigan this is at it’s best with just a shirt, chino or jeans in my view. Too much layering can appear to be overloading the outfit as many fashionistas seem to do when in Florence.

Will

I bought the Art Cardi from Connolly in cream a couple of years ago – I had thought I was a medium but sized up to a large for an extra long / roomy look on the recommendation of the Connolly staff – to be honest it is one of the coolest things I’ve ever worn – it is louche personified and absolutely beautiful – it’s the sort of item you have to have confidence in that the ‘bigness’ of it is just right. If you wear it and are unsure it will fail on you. If you wear it like you just don’t care it’s the absolute nuts.
But I’ll be honest: I returned it after a few days because I just couldn’t justify the £750 price tag for a cardigan. It had me in cold sweats. But I still have the photos of me in it and I still look them from time to time and think about going back and rebuying it – it’s just that nice.

Tony Lupton

I have a fantastic cream and blue chunky one from Sovrano (an Australian manufacturer). It’s been my goto inside jumper for probably 30 years. It’s been darned a few times and has slowly shrunk but I still love pulling it out every winter.