SOME women are addicted to shoes, collecting them like precious art. Others hoard perfume bottles. Lynne Hiriak has a passion for cardigans, with more than 100 variations of the ladylike basic in her closet. So it made perfect sense this fall when the knitwear designer who has worked for Ralph Lauren and Derek Lam launched a label, Cardigan, that makes nothing else.
Her timing couldn’t be better. This fall’s retro “Mad Men” moment has brought the cardigan back into fashion for men and women on the Michael Kors runway, at J.Crew and everywhere in between. Cardigans are standing in for jackets and have the design credibility to prove it, with gold buttons, chain details across the pockets and ruffled plackets.
The sartorial staple rose to fame in the 1950s and has since been beloved by dads, golfers and college profs, not to mention the late Mr. Rogers, who was a spokesman of sorts for the lowly button-front sweater.
For women, the cardigan is one half of the prim ‘n’ preppy twinset -- a lightweight addition to any outfit and an easy way to add polish to any look. “Cardigans are seasonless, key items that all women wear unconsciously,” Hiriak says. They’re also an alternative to the bulkiness of a jacket, especially in an hourglass shape, which is the most updated silhouette. (Think close to the body, not loose and frumpy ‘90s grunge.) Hiriak’s line has a sophisticated feel that pays homage to Parisian style icons Charlotte Gainsbourg and Ines de la Fressange. For fall, a charcoal cardigan with a navy tie at the neck ($250) is a perfect, prim city look, and a navy nautical-striped style ($240) looks like something Brigitte Bardot would have worn over her bikini after sunning in St. Tropez. On the pricey side, but worth it for a classic design that will transcend the season.
If you’re on a budget, there are many more affordable styles to choose from. Because stripes can go from nautical to 1980s neon, they’re always a good choice. J. Crew’s understated gray-and-navy striped cardigan for men ($89.50) is easy to throw over a white T-shirt and skinny jeans for an indie look. Splendid has a cashmere version for women in a bolder color combo: teal and brown ($267). Forever 21’s black-and-white horizontal-striped number really pops but won’t put a hole in your wallet ($22.80).
A cardigan is also a noncommittal way to wear color -- you’ll still be dressed if you decide to shed the hue. You might try Paul Smith’s orange cardigan, so bright it almost glows ($275). Or, for a fraction of the cost, H&M; has one for guys in robin’s-egg blue ($29.90) that can go dandy or golf pro, depending on the pants. Old Navy offers women an updated slim cardigan in navy blue with bright lime green trim ($29.50).
Whether it’s hanging neatly in your closet or just draped across the back of your office chair, the cardigan is that go-to staple that you can’t avoid. Make it count.