The shawl collar cardigan has been around for decades, first worn back in the 1920s. Since then its popularity has ebbed and flowed, seeing a big boom mid century but relenting in the 1980s when it was considered frumpy. Steve McQueen is perhaps the most famous fan of a shawl collar cardigan and partly responsible for said mid century boom. When it was once usually worn in a quite a formal way (fastened up and with a tie), McQueen broke the mould and wore his in a deliberately nonchalant fashion, inspiring others to do so too.
Left: Traditional way of styling the shawl collar cardigan
Right: Steve Mcqueen's way of styling the shawl collar cardigan
A classic garment, we wanted to reimagine it and recreate our own version more appropriate for a modern wearer in 2021. We said goodbye to the rough lambswool but retained the chunkiness and the cosy, warm feel. This is a true comfort piece and the perfect antidote to the chilly winter weather. It’s a wardrobe staple that not only looks great, but feels great to wear too. What’s more, it’s easy to style and goes well with pretty much anything.
How is the Colhays Shawl Collar Cardigan Different from the Original?
Whilst we loved the traditional shawl collar cardigan as a garment, we weren’t too keen on its overly large fit, or how it felt to the touch. The shawl collar cardigans of the past tended to be big and chunky, but also tended to be coarse and rugged, qualities we wanted to refine. We reimagined the piece with luxury and comfort in mind and a more modern fit too.
Our version is made with the finest lambswool, both literally and figuratively. Our wool is sourced from producers Todd and Duncan, who are experts in their craft. They source only the very best fibres for their yarns and test them rigorously before they are put into the production processes. The thickness of the fibres used for this yarn is 18.5 microns. For context, it’s usually anywhere between 21 and 24 microns for lambswool. The cardigan is just as warm, thick and cosy but much, much softer. They’re long fibres as well, preventing the garment from becoming misshapen and pilling. Rather than using a plain stitch, this cardigan is knitted with a rib stitch which contributes to the softness and the general cosy feel of the garment.
Throughout the 20th century, the cardigans would traditionally have been big simply everywhere but this wasn't the look we were going for, so we worked on making this cardigan a little more modern than its predecessor in terms of fit. We slimmed down the arms in particular and the chest a little too. We gave it a little room in the body so there’s a slight taper in the waist - but not too much. This avoids the cardigan looking baggy in the middle, but still gives the wearer room to layer underneath. We’ve also taken the fairly flat collar and enlarged it so that it’s soft and comfortable around the neck. Finally, a traditional cardigan would drop to around the mid-thigh and we’ve raised this a few inches, to around mid-seat, or just past the seat.
Our cardigans are knitted by a team of knitters in Hawick, a Scottish knitting town where the craft has been passed on through generations. These are some of the most skilled knitters in the world. With unrivalled expertise and experience, they can create high quality, luxurious garments that truly last. Our shawl collar cardigan being one of them.
On top of ecru, navy and grey melange from previous seasons, we’ve also added three new shades for 2021: camel, olive and dark brown. The olive is a favourite amongst us at Colhays. A dark and earthy shade, it's sophisticated and easy to match with other colours you’re likely to have in your wardrobe already. The navy and ecru are probably the most versatile shades as they can be most easily styled with other items in your wardrobe. Many of our customers return for a second or third shade because it’s simply a true wardrobe staple.
We advise cleaning the shawl collar once annually, or if you get a stain on the wool - much like you would treat any other outwear. If you have a large enough tub at home, you can soak it in the tub and hand wash it, but given how heavy it is, you might find it easier to take it to a good dry cleaners. When you’re not wearing it, store it by folding, and avoid hanging it up in your wardrobe or on a hanger as much as possible to prevent any unwanted stretch in the knit. In the warmer months, keep the cardigan in a large zip lock bag that can be tightly sealed to keep moths out.
Are you thinking about adding a shawl collar cardigan to your wardrobe? Take a look at ours here.