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Searching for the Perfect Cardigan

15 September 2010 Stories and Appreciations 5,312 views 2 CommentsPrint This Post Print This Post Email This Post Email This Post

The cardigan of my dreams eludes me. It mocks me. It sits just outside my peripheral vision and waves its arms madly. I know exactly what I want, and have spent hours going through the racks of thrift stores and vintage emporiums, looking for just the right thing. I’ve combed eBay and vintage clothing sites until my eyes were dry and crisp, and still I have come up empty.

I’ve been looking for the Perfect Cardigan for years. Years! And I’m not asking for much. Just a vintage mohair zip-front sweater, like the kind Maynard G. Krebs wore in his senior portrait. Masculine, yet form-fitting enough to be feminine. Wide stripes would be nice, but I could also work with a vaguely Nordic starburst pattern, as long as it wasn’t too Nordic, or too starburst-y. I’d know it when I see it. It should be dark gray or black, to match my “I dress like a fog bank” wardrobe, or maybe bright, to complement it. Either/or.

It has to be soft. Mohair is nice, but it’s itchy. Cashmere has a delightfully silky nature, but it loses its shape pretty quickly, especially the vintage stuff. Most sweaters from the proto-beatnik era were acrylic or Orlon or Krylon or some other Misfit Fiber of Science, and while I’m normally against those things, I think a blend would be best — the comfort of wool with the indestructibility of plastic. This sweater has to be fit for the long haul.

It has to be warm. But not too warm. A good cardigan should feel like wearing a hug; it should feel like you’ve wrapped yourself in a loaf of freshly baked banana bread, only without the crumbs. It should be able to go from late summer to early spring, weathering the sunniest of crisp afternoons to the chilliest of rainy mornings. It should be a comfort and a protector.

It has to go with everything. Not only does it have to match my clothes, it has to match my mood. This cardigan will have to go from the boardroom to the ball game, it will have to me defensive social-armor at a swank cocktail party and it will have to be a comfort while watching “Sophie’s Choice.” It may be called up on to double as pajamas, from time to time, or serve as a blanket for a friend.

It has to have an old receipt crumpled in the front left pocket. Because every good piece of vintage clothing needs a good story behind it, this sweater will have been once owned by one Mr. George Stanley — a retired machinist living off a slight pension and the dividends of a few well-purchased railroad stocks. The receipt would be for a half-dozen sterling roses, a surprise gift for Harriet, his wife of 43 years. I’d keep the receipt right where it belongs, so that I can brush past it while fumbling for change or ChapStick and be reminded of small, unexpected kindnesses.

It has to smell vintage, in all the best of ways. The sweater must be fully infused with the kind of slightly elusive, yet lingering scent that combines a bit of tobacco smoke and old Ian Fleming paperbacks and just a hint of Harriet’s favorite perfume, White Shoulders. There would be dirt and freshly-cut green beans, and just a hint of Irish Setter. The scent will be impervious to Dryel, of course; I’m not a filthy savage.

I don’t see why this should be so hard to find. Is there a Match.com for sweaters?

Lorien Gruchalla


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  1. I don’t have the vintage, but that’s on my list of perfect cardigan. I’m wearing it right now: cashmere; heathery-gray; suede elbow patches; v-neck; buttons all the way down; two small front pockets.

  2. I used to have that sweater. Argyle-e. Heather greens and rusts, mostly. Nothing that stood out as loud, but all the colors kept their cool and got along well with each other. No fighting, no anger. I wore it through my high school days and brought it out again in my 20s, or so. Loved it a lot. It came from the Montgomery Ward catalogue one Christmas in my youth. If I find one again, I’ll send it along. I no longer wear sweaters..the sleeves get in the way of my work, and they can’t be pushed up enough. I now wear shirts and vests for that sense of winter comfort, but I still remember the feel and friendliness of that good old cardigan.
    Good luck on your hunt.

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