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What is a Cardigan?

Cardigans for men can be made of polyester.
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  • Written By: Paulla Estes
  • Edited By: Lindsay D.
  • Last Modified Date: 29 March 2014
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A cardigan is a sweater that opens in the front and attaches with either buttons, hooks, or a zipper. Cardigan sweaters are thought to have originated in 17th century France and the British Isles, where fishermen wore heavy, hand-knitted woolen sweaters. Fondly known as fishermen's sweaters, the industry of knitting the heavy sweaters soon became popular on the coast of Ireland. Fishermen and outdoor workers sought out the expensive cardigans that kept them warm during the harsh North Atlantic winters.

Today the same cardigan sweaters are produced in Ireland and although they are still worn for warmth, they have become a fashion statement for casual wear. Yet cardigans are not limited to this heavy, woolen style; cardigan sweaters can be made of nearly any fabric, with styles for both women and men. Styles include fabrics such as wool, cotton, polyester, rayon, cashmere, Lycra and many more.

Men's cardigans have been immortalized by the American children's television personality, Mr. Rogers. Who doesn't remember Mr. Rogers taking off his sports coat and donning a thin, solid colored cardigan while singing a cheerful song to his viewers? He always managed to zip up the cardigan at the precise moment that the song reached its pinnacle. Cardigans for men can be made of thin cotton or polyester, much like the cardigans of Mr. Rogers' fame, or a variation of the heavy wool types still known as fishermen's sweaters.

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As with many things, women have a large assortment of cardigan sweaters from which to choose. While men generally wear cardigans as casual wear, women's cardigan sweaters range from casual to dressy. The fishermen's cardigan is just as popular with women as it is with men, but women will also find cardigans in light wool, cotton, or even cashmere with lace collars and jeweled or pearled buttons. While these fancier cardigans would never be worn in a formal or even semi-formal setting, they are perfect for very dressy occasions such as garden parties, teas, and showers. Many women enjoy wearing cardigan sweaters as a jacket on blustery fall days or chilly summer evenings. A cardigan is easily put on and taken off and can be taken anywhere.

From heavy wool to thin cotton, and from chunky wooden buttons to a thin zipper or snaps, cardigan sweaters are popular clothing options that are here to stay.

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