Though men of divergent lifestyles and opinions, Fred “Mister” Rogers and Kurt Cobain agreed on one thing: the cardigan. The former put his on every day, prior to inviting you to be his neighbor. The latter famously slipped on a puce green version in 1993 before launching into an acoustic program of Nirvana hits and Meat Puppets covers on MTV’s Unplugged.
There’s a reason these two disparate personalities were able to agree on the style: It’s an unfussy staple, eternally cool. Actually, scratch that. Cardigans aren’t really cool–they’re functional and traditional knitwear for guys who are cool already. (The Cardigans are also, of course, a band, but the less said about them the better.) In technical terms, a cardigan is any front-fastening knit, buttoned, snapped, or zipped. It’s been a staple for generations. A good one, whether cashmere, merino, or lambswool, will last you nearly as long. In place of a jacket or vest, it will keep your tie in place—if, that is, you choose to wear one. Kurt didn’t. Fred did. Button it up and you are polished; unbutton it and you are less so. (But always leave the bottom button undone.) For the genre, we are indebted to James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan, who popularized the style and lent the look his name. It is a better legacy than his other one. As a military commander during the Crimean War, he led the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade remembered, not very fondly, by Tennyson. See, that’s the kind of knowledge a man wearing a classic cardigan can drop with confidence.