I have shied away from cardigans for as long as I possibly could. I ignored them when they made a splashy comeback two years ago. I refused to succumb despite their ubiquity, despite being surrounded by men wearing cardigans at the office, at the mall, while waiting for a cab.
I always thought cardigans were a little too grandfatherly or bookwormy for my tastes, despite the modern permutations that appeared in magazines such as Details and GQ. I did not want to look like a regular guy who hung out at Times Square wearing super skinny jeans, a T-shirt and a cardigan. And the last thing I wanted to look like was an androgynous poser.
That was until I saw the guys on Gossip Girl sporting cardigans. Unlike the Causeway Bay style that's part Pete Doherty, part Dior Homme wannabe, the Upper East Side cardigan was more about the modern prep - Newport habitu?meets Savile Row fan; an updated Duke of Windsor look. This style I was willing to embrace - who doesn't want to look like Chuck Bass or Nate Vanderbilt?
And so began my search for the perfect cardigan. I tried on countless styles, but most of them made me look dumpy and aged. They actually made me look anachronistic, as though I belonged to my father's generation and not my own. But still I went searching, trying on whatever was on the racks, checking out high street labels and luxury ones. I just couldn't find one that fitted me well or that made me look like Erkel.
Finding the right cardigan is a lot like looking for a suit jacket. The shoulders cannot droop, you can only have so many buttons (I limit myself to five), and the body should have just a little bit of give. It shouldn't be roomy unless you are trying to conceal a beer gut. It should also be devoid of unnecessary embellishments - no extra sleeves, no glittery prints and absolutely no logos.
I finally found the perfect one at a mid-range men's store called Boggi at the airport in Milan, and I swear by it. It's a navy four-button cardigan with a neckline that doesn't plunge low. I now understand the advantages of a cardigan over a jumper or sweater, chief among which is that a cardigan doesn't mess up your hair. You can take it off when you leave the office to grab lunch and put it on again when you return to your freezer-cold cubicle with nary a hair out of place. Plus, if you find a cardigan that's cut just right and made from fine cashmere, this can double as a vest when worn with a suit, making it seem that you are wearing a three-piece suit.
When wearing a cardigan, as with suit jackets, follow the always-sometimes-never rule when it comes to the buttons. Avoid buttoning the last one for a less stuffy look.
I found two casual cardigans at Ralph Lauren, which with proper styling will instantly make you look like one of Newport's landed gentry. I like the navy version (left) because it can be dressed up (paired with grey dress pants, a white shirt and a striped tie) or dressed down (with a T-shirt and jeans). The red one with the black stripes on one arm would look good with khaki shorts and a ribbon belt.
If you want something really casual, try the black and white striped version at Club Monaco (above right). The fit is looser, allowing for layering. It's easy to throw on top of whatever you are wearing as it's a neutral colour. Ditto the grey cardigan from Veronique Branquinho. It has a lived-in look, which gives it a modern appeal.
If you're looking for a more graphic cardigan that features a design element without going overboard, take a look at Dunhill's colour block version (above). The sleeves are grey and the navy body has a deep red border. And if you want something that really stands out, try the one from Just Cavalli, in different shades of orange. Wear it with white trousers and a bow tie for a quirky English trad-lad look.
But of all the cardigans I have seen, one simply begs to be bought: a royal blue cardigan with turquoise stripes on the collar from Gucci. I wanted it the minute I saw it on the Milan runway.
Club Monaco, Queen's Road Central, tel: 2118 2989
Gucci, The Landmark, Central, tel: 2524 4492
Just Cavalli, available at The Swank, Alexandra House, Central, tel: 2868 2017
Ralph Lauren, Prince's Building, Central, tel: 2523 9966
Veronique Branquinho, available at Harvey Nichols, The Landmark, Central, tel: 3695 3388