“Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Everyone's favorite neighbor Mister Rogers prepared for each day’s televised lesson by changing from his suit into his cardigan sweater, his dress oxfords into a pair of canvas sneakers. The change from formal suit to casual sweater made him more accessible to the kiddies, and his good natured and helpful ways assured parents that this was the man to let their children befriend out in TV land. Never underestimate the power of the cardigan.
Named after the 7th Earl of Cardigan, James Thomas Brudenell, the cardigan originated as a military jacket of knitted wool, with center front buttoning. The style translated to casual wear for men and children, and when machines mass-manufactured the knitted garments in the late 40’s, sweaters became a common casual garment among women.
Children’s cardigans were crew-necked with a row of center-front buttons, usually solid in color with a cable-knit design. Little boys and girls wore cardigan sweaters for cool weather and as school uniforms instead of blazers. Hand-knitted sweaters were a favorite gift from grandma, and when knitting machines made patterning a possibility, argyle became a common weave.
Boy’s letterman’s sweaters were v-necked, hip-length, slim-cut cardigans proudly displaying their varsity letter. The cardigan became a college boy’s uniform, buttoned up over oxford shirts and ties. Ladies of the 50’s wore slim-fit, crew-necked cardigans as a part of a twinset, or sweater set of cardigan and sweater. Cardigans were a fine choice for a chilly evening when it could be tossed over your shoulders and held in place with sweater clips.
Cardigan sweaters were put back in the closet during the 60’s and 70’s, but reappeared with a new, oversized look in the 80’s. Sweaters became extremely long, sometimes reaching the knees, and even experienced a backwards trend (borrowed from the 50’s) of reversing the sweater and buttoning it behind the back. Boys have generally abandoned the cardigan ‘old man’ sweater, but girls still appreciate the casual comfort of a cardigan. The twinset returned in the 90’s with much fervor, but the 50’s style of shoulder shawls have yet to be embraced by a new generation.
Cardigans have undergone several style variations throughout the years, from the fitted 50’s to the oversized 80’s, but the cardigan will always belong to our favorite neighbor. With a closet full of sweaters (many hand-knitted by his mother), Mister Rogers' neighborhood was a warm one indeed.
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