The origins of knitting are very ancient indeed, dating back to the Neolithic period when man used his fingers to weave natural fibres. It is older than weaving and sewing and is the first attempt by humans to create fabrics with which to cover themselves. The bikinis of Roman girls depicted in mosaics, for example, were made of knitwear, and it was the Phoenician, Egyptian and Syrian sailors who later spread it around the world.
There are some garments that are true evergreens, and when it comes to women’s knitwear, one of these is definitely the cardigan, whose timeless appeal girls have always had. Comfortable, warm, elegant and so versatile that everyone can agree on it, the buttoned jumper has a very long history that begins within a military context in the mid-1800s. In fact, the name of the garment comes from the British army general James Thomas Brudenell, also known as the seventh Earl of Cardigan. However, it was Coco Chanel who created the first prototype of a women’s cardigan for sale. In 1925, she created models using fabrics from the male wardrobe, creating a more comfortable garment than the basic jumpers with a masculine cut. Coco Chanel’s cardigan was a garment designed to be worn by every woman and in fact, from that moment on, all the big fashion houses began to produce models with the same characteristics.
From the ‘40s onwards, the cardigan underwent a global evolution. At that time, in fact, there was no woman who did not own at least one: from working women to university students. The latter, then, adorning this garment with their initials, made it a real passe-partout to wear on and off campus. Among the cardigans that have become emblematic are the classic ones worn by Grace Kelly, which, if placed over the shoulders, create a look of timeless elegance; as well as the colourful and jaunty ones, much adored by Queen Elizabeth, which still inspire the knitwear collections of Elisabetta Franchi.
In the following years, especially in the ‘70s, this garment will feel the chromatic influence of that carefree decade: colourful and patterned, with a collar that comes and goes, as well as the pockets, slightly fitted or sleeveless, even better if accompanied by a belt. Today, for a bright and lively look, we find Missoni’s women’s crop cardigans, presented in a variety of colours, and those by N°21, which are suitable both for a bon ton style and for a more streetwear look, if matched with cargo trousers.
Cyclically, this women’s knitwear item is also back in vogue in the oversize model, as an echo of the Nouvelle Vague of French cinema. The idea is to wear his oversized one, in a dishevelled and unkempt version, to take on a romantic and seductive air. In recent times knee-length cardigans have also appeared, such as Alanui’s women’s cardigans, which when worn with a pair of boots can double as a dress.
With the arrival of the ‘80s we will see this garment enriched with animal prints like those proposed by Krizia and geometric patterns like the cardigans by Burberry and Sonia Rykiel, famous for their coloured stripes. Often presented on the catwalk in a thin, monochrome and sophisticated version, Salvatore Ferragamo’s cardigans are often paired with worked skirts or slim trousers. In short, preppy or rock, casual or sophisticated, the cardigan has been able to establish itself as a must-have on its long journey.
Another model of women’s knitwear that is reconfirmed as an essential item in a woman's wardrobe is the classic turtleneck, adored by film stars of the past and present. In the history of cinema, we have seen it worn by numerous stars of successful films, such as Audrey Hepburn, who wore a very elegant, all-black sweater in the film "Funny Face", as well as Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe and Meg Ryan in the unforgettable "When Harry Met Sally".
Until the early 20th century, turtlenecks were worn mainly by sailors and those who generally lived or worked in windy places to provide protection from the current, without necessarily having to wear a scarf. The turtleneck is in fact a lightweight knit, closed at the front and back, with a high turned-up collar that is pulled up to above the chin and then folded back on itself. In Italy, the garment owes its name to Federico Fellini’s famous film “La dolce vita”, where, in the final scene, Mastroianni wears a dark shirt and a scarf around his neck which, when observed from a medium distance, looks just like a turtleneck jumper.
In reality, the origins of this particular type of sweater are uncertain, as some sources trace it back to the noble game of English polo, when at the end of the 1800s, players asked to raise the collar of the shirts worn during matches to protect themselves from the cold, later calling it a "polo neck". However, the turtleneck will remain for years the prerogative of men only, because to see it worn by women, it will be necessary to wait for the current of female emancipation to lay the foundations for a new and more modern vision of women also from the stylistic point of view.
It was only after the war that the turtleneck jumper became part of women's knitwear. In the 1950s, it became a symbol of sexual equality and a real trend, also thanks to the French singer Juliette Gréco, friend of many Parisian intellectuals of the time and representative of existentialism.
In the 1960s, turtlenecks were the hallmark of the “Angry Young Man” counterculture, a group of working class writers; at the same time, in the United States they became the uniform of the “Beat Generation” and the “Black Panthers”, whose members fought for the Afro-American movement. We can therefore see how the turtleneck jumper took on a real idealistic value over time, becoming the emblem of those who had something to say, something to believe in, something to fight for.
The polo neck remained a must-have even in the ‘70s, a fetish garment for feminists who by covering themselves claimed the right to be heard for what they thought and not for their physical appearance. In the 1980s, many members of the artistic scene chose the turtleneck as a distinctive style element, such as Diane Keaton. However, it would be the 2000s that would bring the turtleneck jumper back to the olympus of fashion when designers such as Valentino, Stella McCartney, Gucci and Fendi rediscovered the concept of casual, relaxed yet sophisticated fashion.
Today, this garment is the undisputed protagonist of the most prestigious fashion shows and even takes on avant-garde tones, despite being a purely classic garment. Prada's turtlenecks, for example, have even undergone textile experimentation, with circular holes, while Balenciaga offers several models characterised mainly by cracks and fraying. Whatever style one wants to adopt, today there are various models to consider: if one is looking for a casual and elegant look, one should certainly focus on Max Mara's turtleneck jumpers, monochromatic but always classy.
Lately, the knitted waistcoat has also been gaining more and more space in the varied range of women's knitwear. The origins of the garment date back to the end of the 19th century, but it is believed that it was first worn in public by the players of a Michigan football team as part of their game outfit in 1907. Since then, knitted waistcoats have become more widespread among sports enthusiasts, particularly golfers and cricketers, for whom the aesthetic factor was not very important. Removing the sleeves from jumpers allowed the arms to be free and at the same time kept the upper body warm.
Subsequently, sleeveless pullovers began to appear in American college uniforms and, together with blazers, loafers and button-down shirts, became a staple of the preppy style, the collegiate attire of the American upper class.
It was only at the end of the ‘60s, however, that this knitted garment finally became part of the female wardrobe, thanks to the proposals of various designers such as Moschino's knitted waistcoat and the one presented by Yves Saint Laurent. Until the free spirit, protagonist of the ‘70s, pushed the women's waistcoat to take on the stylistic characteristics of the hippy movement. It was then crocheted and fringed, embellished with beads or in silk decorated with prints; thus delineating an uninhibited and wild female figure. Janis Joplin, rock and blues singer of the late ‘70s, used to wear these typical extravagant waistcoats. Unforgettable is the one she wore in the video for “Tell Mama” crocheted in gold lamé.
Nowadays, the sleeveless jumper in crop top version is definitely trendy, as are the knitted waistcoats by Etro in bright and contrasting colours that give liveliness to a daily look, as well as those by Balmain, embellished with the characteristic golden buttons. Analysing the rise of the sweater vest today, we should certainly not overlook the role of certain celebrities who are able to influence the looks of their followers. A truly emblematic case is represented by Harry Styles, pop star with a penchant for decidedly whimsical models; as well as Zoe Kravitz who wears it in the TV series “High Fidelity”, whose trailer shows her wearing an olive green knitted sleeveless model, a sign of a fashion in which the borrowings between women's and men's wardrobes are now continuous and fluid.
If what you are looking for is a functional garment for all seasons, you will have to take a look at women's crew neck jumpers: an essential element for any wardrobe. A wide range of yarns and different knitting stitches result in a seemingly endless array of unique weaves that find harmony within any style. From classic crewneck jumpers by JW Anderson and Marc Jacobs, to more elaborate and sophisticated ones such as those proposed by Studio Rundholz, deconstructed and characterised by textile experiments, in our selection you can find the perfect one to complete a particular no-season look.
Another timeless classic in women's wear is the V-neck jumper, which gives the body a clean, geometric silhouette that cuts through casual and formal contexts with ease. In recent seasons, there has been an all-round reappearance of the V-neck: a total de-genderization combined with oversized silhouettes emerge as the main characteristics of this garment. This is evidenced by the omnipresence of V-necks in Aspesi's jumper proposals as well as in Brunello Cuccinelli's pullovers that produce a deconstruction and cool slouchy attitude.
Extraordinarily versatile, women's knitwear allows you to experiment with endless looks, with the certainty of being an inseparable companion for girls who love to look after their style without abandoning comfort. There isn't a designer who hasn't included at least one knitted garment in their latest collections, and there's no one who can resist the temptation to indulge in the warmth that only this garment can provide.