Friday, 11 August 2017

History of style: Knitwear

Is there anything more quintessentially British than great knitwear?

Written by Bicester Village
From cosy argyle jumpers to dainty sweaters and twinsets, nothing says Brit-on-a-break than a stealth show of chic knits –whether you're at Gleneagles or keeping warm during a bracing summer day on the beach at West Wittering.

It was Pringle of Scotland (the Scottish knitwear company founded in 1815) that pioneered many of the knitwear styles which still prevail today – uncomplicated, well-cut knitwear being pieces that will never date. One of the brand's intarsia sweaters or sets from its twenties heyday (when the rakish Duke of Windsor set off an eternal trend by wearing the knits) wouldn't look at all out of place now. These casual sporting knits placed the sartorial classic at the heart of off-duty chic – and has always had a forward gender-fluid bent – one of the first places where women's and men's attire truly met.

Knitwear on women offered a tantalising wardrobe option for Hollywood casting directors who during the 1940s and 50s had to find more subtle ways to showcase their female stars – see "sweater girl" Lana Turner who inverted the humble, conservative knit with serious sex appeal. But the prim-stylings of matching knitwear cemented itself as the go-to for Waspish housewives aiming to get that classic Grace Kelly look (seen so perfectly on Betty Draper in Mad Men), and the twinset has retained its synonymy with clichés of buttoned-up style – the go-to for anyone after a quaint injection of good-girl looks.

The twinset – thanks to Miu Miu – and preppy cardigans – see Tory Burch, the all-American fashion brand not afraid to add a slight punch to classic Hamptons style tropes – has had a resurgence of late. The update? Must add wit. Mis-matched oversized quirky pearl earrings rather than staid pairs, undone hair and attitude are essential. One woman who has perhaps done more PR for the humble cardigan than anyone is Michelle Obama, who even sported her favourite cover-up – albeit one by Azzedine Alaia – to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen. Now there's a woman who knows how to do elegant dressed-down chic.

It's also worth looking to the more rebellious nature that knitwear has latterly adopted: the neckline might be round and the shape loose (clinging knits are best avoided) but a jaunty, perhaps even provocative slogan has become a neat way to subvert the good-girl vibes of the sweater. But perhaps the most modern way to update your knitwear, is to really zone in on the original sporting premise of the pieces: the twenties might have called for a jazzy golf ensemble, but here in the hygge-friendly, athleisure era, something even more laid-back is called for. At a time when you can arguably wear (posh) trainers to the office, the modern matching knit-set is surely the luxe tracksuit. Rendered in cashmere (ideally) once you've succumbed you'll wonder what on earth you've been doing with your life. Comfortable and stylish? The 2017 twinset is a game changer.

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