The generational history of knits
Ever since I was a little girl, I remember my mom wearing this beautifully knit fisherman’s sweater with natural horn buttons. She would bring it out when we ate late summer meals outside, and wrap herself up in the crisp air. I admired it for years. It had belonged to my aunt, who had died before I was born—and this sweater was one of her belongings that my mom was given. It was knitted by my grandma, who also taught me knitting basics as a kid. I remember trying to watch cartoons and move my needles and pink thread without looking at them, like my grandma did.
When I graduated college, I lived with my grandma for a year and a half. During that time, she had been knitting another fisherman sweater. Usually she knit little baby caps for the hospital while watching Jeopardy, but she’d switched to the more difficult stitching of this sweater. I saw the months of time it took to knit one panel, one sleeve. She commented that she wasn’t as speedy as she used to be. I saw that sweater come to life. When she was finished, she gifted it to me.
After my grandma gave it to me, she said it would likely be one of the last ones she knit. They were exceptionally complex and took more energy than she’d like to devote in her 80s. I still have that sweater, and bring it out when I’m visiting my friend’s lavender farm in the fall and helping her plot out flowerbeds. I bring it camping, I wear it on cool weekends back at my parents’, and remember how much I’d admired the way my mom looked wearing it.
That sweater dictated my entire perspective on knitted garments. I see them as heirlooms. As things to be cherished and handed down. As an honour to receive, for the love and energy it took to craft them.
While that was a fisherman sweater (which I still own), today I’m going to take you through the history of another knitted garment: the cardigan.
The origin of the silhouette
Okay, so the style of a cardigan (buttoned, ribbed knit sweater) was named after an Earl—you guessed it, the Earl of Cardigan. The legend goes that during the Crimean war, he was inspired by British army waistcoats, and that he invented it when he accidentally burnt the tails off of his own. This is, of course, legend. But it’s the most popular story out there! The original form of a cardigan was a sleeveless vest (hello sweater-vest), but over time sleeves became the norm.
The move to fashion
Who else would popularize the cardigan but Coco Chanel? There are sources that debate that Chanel should be credited for its popularization in fashion, as women were wearing cardigan-like garments beforehand, but Chanel took the widespread habit and turned it into couture. She often took inspiration from blue-collar uniforms (read about the Breton stripe top here), and this was no exception. Chanel was tired of pull-overs messing up her hair, so she adapted cardigans to a softer look than men’s outdoors sweater-coats. More relaxed fabric, still oversized.
After WWII, cardigans became even less of a working garment, and instead men wore them at home after work instead of a sport coat.
L’Envers: honoring generational traditions
I’ve been admiring French/Spanish brand L’Envers for some time now. Their slow, intentional approach to fashion felt familiar to me, and their commitment to quality reminded me of the time and care my grandma put into her knits.
L’Envers beens “backwards,” or “reverse” in French, Julie’s way of making a statement for opposing the fast-moving, consumption-based lifestyle of conventional fashion. Their philosophy is to “make it slow to make it last.”
Julie founded L’Envers as an alternative to continuously disposable fashion—as a way to begin normalizing slower living as a habit to have less of an impact on our environment. Julie’s family has a long history in the textile industry—since 1820, to be exact. Her great-great-great-great-great grandfather founded a wool mill in France, which closed 3 years before Julie was born. L’Envers has become Julie’s way of honouring the centuries-old tradition of wool and garment-making in her family.
I had been saving to purchase a cardigan from L’Envers—but I was waiting for them to come out with a more cropped version, which would be more suitable for high-waisted pants and dresses. Serendipitously, we connected just as Julie launched a new cardigan: the Nina, a cropped version of their other styles.
This cardigan was generously gifted, but this post is not sponsored—it was written by me for love and appreciation of the intention of their craft.
How I wear the Nina
When I took this cardigan from its mailer package, I was instantly transported to a farm in Spain. It smelled gloriously like a barn and herd of sheep and hay. If you know me, you’ll know that the smell of a farm is one of my favourite smells, next to campfire and freshly cut cedar.
The Nina is made of 100% Spanish Merino Wool (sheep’s wool), but L’Envers does have a similar cotton version for those of you who get itchy easily.
Below are some of the ways I’ve been styling the Nina for fall!
I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about the history of cardigans, and digging deeper into the brand and legacy behind these knitted pieces.