Old Favourite: The Shawl Collar Cardigan


There are clothes that keep you warm and then, there are clothes that keep you happy. The shawl-collared cardigan is the latter. In times of extreme temperature, our first thoughts are of comfort; a dark, icy cold weekend inspires little more creativity in us than a well-stacked roaring fire, a pair of velvet slippers and a peaty single malt in a crystal glass the weight of small chest of drawers. We are lazier in such conditions, bearish and weak; we lack the brilliance that we exhibited on the first days of spring, we lack the heady joie de vivre of July. Driven to warmth, governed by central heating and hot beverages, we seek to enclose ourselves within a cotton-wool world of fluffy scarves, enormous jumpers and furry hats.

All the old favourites come out at such a time; the big scarf that still reeks of cologne from last year, the various leather gloves and, of course, the shawl collar cardigan.

It must be that beautiful, luxuriant roll of collar that nestles around the nape of the neck, insulating tender skin from the elements. Or perhaps it’s the easy, wear-with-anything style? And what about those elegant woven leather buttons that you play with as the fire-crackles and the ice fractures in the whisky glass? Whatever it is that titillates the wearer so, the shawl collar cardigan is a thing of glorious comfort and unexpected elegance; thrown over a shirt for a visit to the postbox or worn on a chilly evening out with a bow tie and a pair of grey flannels, the shawl collar cardigan is a superb friend.

It is one of those items in classic wardrobes that no one pays much attention to; Astaire wore them, as did Gable, Cooper, Rex Harrison and many others. When worn, they spoke primarily of comfort, but that charming shawl was always a sweet affectation of formality that welcomed the silk ties and sharp-collared shirts with which it was worn. As thick as a fisherman’s jumper, the real McCoy of shawl collared cardigans was often navy or grey and was a replacement for the more formal suit jacket in informal environments – the original ‘flaking out’ garment.

There are mocked versions of the classic shawl collar cardigan, many of which use thinner, inferior fabrics, resulting in a lack of structure which flattens the shawl; the glory of the cardigan is that gorgeous roll. One of the best examples is made by Ede & Ravenscroft and is featured in their current season Weekend Collection. Beautifully structured with a wonderfully chunky shawl collar, it is available in navy blue and light grey and, when folded is so substantial that it takes up almost the full depth of a drawer; a cosy, comforting and elegant garment to enjoy for many winters to come.


  1. Hilton said:

    I am fond of the classic shawl collar cardigan, but I cannot locate the real McCoy here in the States. I recently acquired this second-rate version:http://www.brooksbrothers.com/IWCatProductPage.process?Merchant_Id=1&Section_Id=557&Product_Id=1479026&Parent_Id=224&default_color=CHARCOAL&sort_by=&sectioncolor=&sectionsize=

    Do you happen to know how one would go about ordering the one made by Ede & Revenscroft? I do not see it offered on their website.

    Thank you for the great article, Winston.

    December 6, 2010
  2. tom said:

    A bit of self-promotion, here. My company, Archival Clothing, has recently issued a worsted new wool shawl collar cardigan, made on antique knitting machines in Washington state, USA. You may find them at http://www.store.archivalclothing.com.

    December 6, 2010
  3. Hilton,

    Ede & Ravenscroft ‘olde worlde’-ness is both charming and irritating.

    The best thing to do is perhaps contact a London store and ask for an image of the cardigan.

    Here is the UK phone number of their Chancery Lane store:

    +44 (0) 20 7405 3906



    December 7, 2010
  4. Mr DNA said:

    ‘…the ice fractures in the whisky glass’

    A peaty single malt sounds like a fine idea; you may enjoy it even more if you bear in mind what whisky doyen Michael Jackson (no, not that Michael Jackson) had to say:

    ‘There is no reason to store malts at low temperatures, and every reason to avoid chilling them or adding ice. Cold numbs the tongue, and ice brings about changes in the malt. Whisky most fully expresses itself if it is stored and served at room temperature.’


    December 8, 2010
  5. Richard said:

    I am so glad that I did not throw out my old 3 ply shetland cardigans. Originally made by McGeorge for Burberrys in the late 70s when I was Mens DMM there. We also made a few in 3 ply cashmere but I was never lucky enough [or paid enough] to own one of those.

    December 8, 2010
  6. Paul said:

    I loved this article and would like to purchase a shawl collar cardigan for myself. Do you know of any versions of this cardigan that can be found in the United States?

    January 13, 2011
  7. Dear Paul,

    I doubt the Ede & Ravenscroft version is available in the US. I actually saw a Large (light grey) in a branch on Chancery Lane which was on sale (£150) today. A shame it has to be on the other side of an inconveniently placed ocean.


    January 14, 2011

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