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As dress codes casualize and tailoring grows ever softer, a great deal of attention has been paid to sweater-jacket hybrids. While often treated like a new phenomenon, the principle has existed for over a century in the form of the shawl collar cardigan.
The style can be traced back to James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, who aside from giving his name to the button-front sweater is most famous for leading the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War. According to legend, Cardigan designed the garment as a means to keep his hair unruffled while getting dressed, or as a jacket alternative after losing a pair of tails to a fireplace.
No matter its origins, the cardigan eventually picked up a shawl collar that allowed it to stand in for a smoking jacket at social occasions and enjoyed vogue among American college students in the 1920s. Like many Ivy-style staples, it migrated from campus to Hollywood and would be seen hanging nonchalantly from the shoulders of such menswear legends as Steve McQueen and Paul Newman (it may be most readily associated today with Brian Cox in Succession).
The classic shawl collar cardigan, with braided leather buttons and two front pockets, has changed little since that time. But that doesn’t mean we’re not open to new interpretations. From luxurious cashmere takes on the original to oversized belted iterations that could pass for proper outerwear, we’ve rounded up 15 of the worthiest shawl collar cardigans on the market below.
Drake’s Grey Lambswool Shawl Collar Cardigan
If there was a pictorial representation of the shawl collar cardigan beside its dictionary entry, this iteration from Drake’s would appear. Made in Scotland from heavy-gauge lambswool and complete with braided leather buttons and a bib-like collar, it doesn’t more classic than this.
RRL Hand-Knit Shawl-Collar Cardigan
It took 10 different yarns to construct this hand-knit piece from RRL, whose Southwestern pattern is modeled after a vintage blanket. Its wool, silk and linen composition will keep it in active duty from October to April.
Todd Snyder Boiled Wool Shawl Collar Cardigan in Olive
Made from boiled Italian wool (al dente, we assume) this midweight Todd Snyder cardigan enjoys a soft, nubby hand. The clever addition of a single chest pocket nudges it towards chore coat territory.
Rag & Bone Dexter Shawl Collar Cardigan
A narrow collar and side-entry pockets put this Rag & Bone cardigan on a decidedly casual trajectory. But its generous elbow patches provide just the right amount of professorial appeal.
L.L. Bean Men’s Signature Cotton Fisherman Sweater Shawl-Collar Cardigan
A shawl collar cardigan in a traditional fisherman’s cable-knit is precisely what you’d wear around your Maine cabin while you wait for the coffee to percolate. Until you acquire said cabin, make do by picking up this cotton cardigan from L.L. Bean.
Thom Browne 4-Bar Shawl-Collar Jersey-Stitch Cardigan
In keeping with the designer’s preference for minimalist design and shrunken proportions, this Thom Browne cardigan has just the faintest whiff of a shawl collar. Cotton jersey-stich makes it ideal for layering over a button-down or a crewneck tee on chilly evenings.
Tom Ford Men’s Cashmere-Linen Knit Cardigan Sweater
Your average designer might offer a cashmere cardigan in the winter, and a linen iteration come summertime. But Tom Ford is not the average designer and has boldly combined both yarns in a piece ideally suited for the impending shoulder season.
James Perse Cashmere Shawl Collar Cardigan
James Perse is best known for his luxurious takes on sportswear staples, and he’s applied the same ethos to the shawl collar cardigan. The design remains simple—no leather buttons or superfluous elbow patches—but flexes with 100% cashmere yarn.
Anderson & Sheppard Fair Isle Shawl Collar Cardigan
Made from Shetland wool in a Fair Isle pattern, this Anderson & Sheppard shawl collar cardigan may be the most British sweater ever to exist. As such, it should be worn above corduroys and below a Barbour jacket with at least one visible patch.
Snow Peak Alpaca Mixed Knit Cardigan
This cardigan’s chunky knit and generous fit may look traditional, but its fabric composition is anything but. A blend of nylon, alpaca and wool allows for a lighter weight and a softer hand.
Brooks Brothers Camel Hair Belted Shawl Cardigan
Knit in an Aran pattern from heavyweight camel hair, this belted Brooks Brothers piece walks the fine line between cardigan and bathrobe. We can see it performing either duty with aplomb.
The Elder Statesmen Shawl-Collar Cashmere Cardigan
While their length can vary greatly, shawl collars typically peter out around the chest. That’s not the case with this sumptuous cashmere piece by the Elder Statesmen, whose squared-off collar boldly drapes to the hemline.
De Bonne Facture Brushed Wool Tweed Cardigan Jacket Ecru & Grey Herringbone
Tweed jackets and shawl collar cardigans share the same aesthetic universe. So, it feels natural that the two would be combined in the form of this Division Road exclusive, which is made from a brushed herringbone tweed and kitted out with front patch pockets and a belted closure.
Scott & Charters Shawl Collar Cardigan Jacket
Scottish knitter Scott & Charters earns top marks for its thick-gauge wool and doughy shawl collars. Its cardigan credentials are further upgraded by this piece made from flecked Donegal wool for No Man Walks Alone.
J. Press Navy Cashmere Shawl Collar Cardigan
121-year-old retailer J. Press built its reputation on understated good taste. But that doesn’t mean the gentlemen’s clothier is above a subtle flex. In this case it takes the form of a classically styled shawl collar cardigan made in Scotland from 100 percent cashmere.