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You Need This... I Promise

The Jewel-Neck Cardigan

cydney cardigan in action

the Cydney cardigan in action, solo

I have written about sweaters before, but a jewel-neck cardigan is truly like the Swiss Army knife of my closet. Of course I am big on versatility across the board, but if I had to choose one item that could work for for literally every occasion that requires clothing… no single piece has more range than a cashmere cardigan.

For example – let's just walk through a typical day. I could wake up and throw it on over my nightgown and show up for breakfast. (We have a rule at our house that bras are required downstairs… but now that I'm thinking of it, a cardigan makes it easy to cheat.) If it's a weekend and I am lucky enough to squeeze some exercise in, I might stay in my workout clothes for a little longer after a run… and if I want to run to the grocery store afterwards, and need something to cover my sports bra and tank and bare shoulders, there it is again. I can then wear it with "real" clothes – jeans and a striped shirt, maybe a pair of sneakers if I'm going out again. And for Saturday night, it can go kind of foxy… halfway unbuttoned on its own as a shirt, or undone over a little tank, with something sparkly on my ears.

On the other hand, if it's a weekday and I am headed to the office, my range of possibilities gets even bigger. Over a pencil skirt with chic little heels and an Hermes scarf at the neck – sort of an everyday Parisian look. With a slightly shorter skirt and boots and tights, I can make it feel more English mod. If I wear it over a menswear-ish button-down shirt, I am vintage Seven Sisters college chic. And if I wear it over one of my favorite thick silk tie-neck blouses, I am back in Paris, but have moved from St. Germain street-level cool to a huge apartment overlooking the Seine. Wide-leg trousers will give it a Katharine Hepburn masculine-feminine vibe, while tighter, stretchier Faye pants will make it feel more Audrey. The simplicity makes it such a chameleon. I love it tucked into higher-waisted Levi's because it reminds me of my 90s motherhood uniform… a pair of clogs would make it a true throwback, but ballet flats or driving mocs will work just as well. And at the very end of the day, will you blush if I suggest it over pretty lingerie or a silk slip nightgown while you are reading in bed? Alluring bedtime attire without the cold shoulders.

So now we've taken the cardigan from morning to evening, with a million stylistic detours along the way. One sweater! Have I convinced you yet? It is also like a Swiss Army knife in that you somehow end up with several and can never find one when you need it most… which is probably why I have ended up with a dozen or so over the years. This season, though, I am absolutely making room for at least one more. We have finally introduced a cardigan version of the Cydney – the boyfriend-y, easy-fitting silhouette everyone loves so much. Also in my closet are a few vintage Shetland cardigans that our brand-new Stella calls to mind… except without the scratch of true Shetland wool. There is both merino and cashmere in the mix, and it is truly soft enough to rival the horrible fleece blankets that my younger daughter favors. These are all jewel-necks – which, I have to say, is the most versatile and classic and the one I had in mind when I styled out a million possibilities above. But there are two more non-jewel cardigans on the line this season that I cannot not mention. The shawl collar cardigan is one that we brought back from our very first sweater collection back in 2012 (!). It is sensational – a true "grandfather" feeling sweater that feels cozy and amazing for the weekend especially. If you like your cardigans with a bit more waist definition, the belted Lizza style tests the boundary between a sweater and a jacket. Super cozy and the color is unbelievable.

My youngest daughter was giving me some feedback on the last post I wrote… she said she liked it, but asked where the funny story was. My answer felt a little defensive at first – not EVERYTHING has a story attached to it. But then I thought about it. While they are not all funny – some are humiliating actually – of course there are stories behind everything we wear. And I guess that is the point of all these posts! I am old enough to have amassed hundreds of memories of how I dressed and how I felt when I wore those things. And while I may be sick of hearing my own stories in my own voice, it was lovely to hear that at least Pauline was not. So, for her sake, here is my embarrassing story about the jewel-neck cardigan. We are going back to 1987 when I am packing my suitcase for Mississippi, where I will marry Sid. It is hard to express how little interest I had in my own wedding – case in point: I was getting married in Mississippi in the first place. Why? I thought it would be easier than having everyone come to New York (and it was, although it meant that my family and I sort of felt like guests ourselves.) We should have eloped, but I really wanted to wear a wedding dress.

again… what was i thinking? this look is many things but it is certainly not bridal!again… what was i thinking? this look is many things but it is certainly not bridal!

So I'm packing, and I'm in a rush, as usual, and I grab a black pencil skirt, trusty little Delman heels, and a navy jewel-neck cardigan to wear to the luncheon at Sid's neighbor's house. The women who had watched him race back and forth between the yards all those years were thrilled to make all sorts of hot casseroles and wish us the best. I imagined this black-and-navy as a daytime version of the LBD that I would wear to the rehearsal dinner. Of course I didn't think to try any of this on before stuffing it in my suitcase – it was neutral and conservative and chic and how could I go wrong? Well, for one thing, it ended up being sunny and warm that day… even in December, and my outfit looked a lot more funereal than I had anticipated. The vibe is preserved forever in the handful of photos from my dad's Instamatic roll, or, even better, the moody Polaroids that my NYC friends had taken, in awe of being in a place as foreign as small-town Mississippi. (One of my friends kept begging to be taken to the "wrong side of the tracks"… Sid's dad overheard, winked, and told her that we were ALREADY on the wrong side of the tracks.) But I look back and wonder… what was I thinking? I was getting married in a few hours, and looked more like I was on my way to a piano recital. Or, maybe more charitably, a student at Smith. I guess I had my eyes on the prize – the wedding dress later. I will still stand by my statement that a cashmere jewel-neck cardigan can be worn anywhere and everywhere. But, if you happen to be dressing for the luncheon before your wedding, I might tell you, at the very least, to maybe choose one with a little color?

From Ann

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