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Boyfriend Cardigan

I’m not a catalogue shopper, in fact, I’m not much of a shopper period, but that doesn’t stop companies from sending me catalogues. Ordinarily they go straight into the recycling bin, but once in a while I will flip through one while eating my post-work snack to see what’s going on out there in the wide world of fashion (a land where I am immediately identifiable as a foreigner).

A few days ago I was moved to flip through the Delia*s catalogue because the back was splashed with the picture of a smiling teenaged girl laying the sunny grass wearing what were advertised as “boyfriend jeans.” Faithful Jewess with Attitude readers will remember that Jordan cracked into this trend in women’s clothing a few months ago. So I immediately thought, “I’ve got to tell Jordan about this.” As I continued flipping through the catalogue, though, I came across something so significant that I knew I would no longer just mention the boyfriend trousers sighting over lunch, but rather, would run into Jordan’s office waving the Delia*s catalog.

I had discovered the boyfriend cardigan.

The slouchy cardigan hanging loosely on a young model, who with the book tucked into her arm, seemed clearly meant to be presented as a student, called up images of high school in the1950s for me—lettered sweaters and class rings, stringent gender roles, signs and signals of possession, demonstration of ownership and affiliation—an “I’m taken, she’s my girl” kind of thing. Why the ‘50s? Well, I might be missing a major fashion trend, but I cannot think of any boy who wears cardigans today, except for those who do so in an ironic fashion or those who are forced into school uniforms that likely have been updated since the 1950s (or before).

“Earth Angel:” the Delia*s catalog called on another page, “think nature inspired prints and boyfriend cardigans.” “Oh, I’m thinking,” I responded to the insipid copy. I’m thinking that there’s something a little concerning here. Surely, the list of things in the world of women’s fashion to perplex a feminist mind is a long one and it is probably not topped by boyfriend trousers or cardigans, but I’d submit that these items be added.

It’s not because the clothes are “like men’s” that this fashion phenomenon disturbs me. Why shouldn’t women wear men’s clothes or clothes cut in ways that echo men’s styles? What rankles me is the boyfriend thing and the idea that these clothes are advertised, sold, and worn in the spirit of indicating female attachment to a man. It’s also this sense that male attachment is what makes wearing men’s clothes ok—what if a woman bought a men’s cardigans because she liked men’s cardigans? These ads seem to say, it’s acceptable for you to mess around a bit with gendered expectations about what you wear as a woman because you’re “borrowing” it from your boy.

The Delia*s item prompted me on a full internet tour of the various boyfriend cardigans for sale. They’re simply everywhere. From Bloomingdales’ “Exclusive Boyfriend Cardigan” (with button front closure and repulsive detachable rabbit fur tie), to Bergdorf Goodman, to Nordstroms, to Anne Taylor to Victoria’s Secret—it seems that everyone has dealt in to the boyfriend clothes game.

As a trend, though, it seems like the “boyfriend clothes” has spread out from being men’s clothes “made to fit the female body” (as if all female bodies are the same…), to being a supremely diffuse, but somehow still salient, marketing category. Whether or not a piece of clothing seems to be modeled on a men’s cut, it appears that marketers at least think they can sell more by framing them as your boyfriend’s clothes.

I discovered a boyfriend cardigan made by Rebecca Taylor which is a very delicately constructed sweater made from lacy crocheted silk and cashmere. My guess is that pretty much you could only borrow this from your boyfriend if he happened to be a high-fashion gender-bender goth with lovely long black hair and rings on every finger, which I’m not convinced is the image that marketers mean to be conjuring when they make reference to this boyfriend from whom you can pretend you’re borrowing clothes.

Other labels also have this supremely feminine take on the boyfriend cardigan. Saks Fifth Avenue has the Iisli Merino Boyfriend Cardigan, which they advertise by saying, “borrow his style in lightweight Italian merino wool with oversized patch pockets.” The sweater comes with princess seams in the back. Is it really conceivable that Iisli would be whisking ladies down the winding Italian country roads on his moped with his artful cigarette pressed between severe lips in princess seams? Maybe. Hey, I’m down for it, I love a man in princess seams. But again, I’m pretty sure it’s just the idea of the steady, protective, possibly rich, kind, masculinely-fashionable boyfriend that marketers are attaching to something that really is the same old women’s cardigan they sold last year. So the question is: why do women want to buy this imaginary guy?

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Great post, and completely on. The commenters above are missing the point. Yes, at face value, it's just a cardigan. Duh. At face value, high-heeled shoes are shoes that can be cute and make you look cute. Look a little deeper. Examine our cultural roles and the real why, why, why, why of fashion as it is intertwined with culture. Why is it taboo for men to wear skirts? Why is women's hair typically longer than a guys? This is our culture and you need to understand how it shapes your entire life without even knowing it-- as do subtle gender messages. It's easy to look at a country like Iraq and think "why don't the women care they're seen as second class citizens?" --Can you even start to think of a message like that with regard to your own life? Or even the opposite of her thoughts-- why isn't the industry making "girlfriend-shirts" for men? Even metro tight-t-shirt-wearing men? Hm, cultural and gendered norms anyone?!??!?!

GET A LIFE!!!! everyone is entitled to their own opinion and sense of style. If it doesnt suit you don't wear it. Where do you get off telling other persons they shouldn't or that they are being marginalized....really....so for those who dont see life as a war between genders what would you propose? Personally, I dont need a man to validate me, however, I am inlove with a wonderful man who thinks the world of me. I dont wear these type of clothing but what do I care if others do. But then I guess you are entitled to freedom of speech and thats why you babble so much...

I do agree with you on that. For most of the Spring/Summer 2010 collection, a strong emphasis on women modeling menswear and adding a little femininity to the masculine clothing. They proudly termed the category of such clothes as "Masculine Femininity". It sounds pretty ridiculous to me, why is there a need for us to advertise menswear when there are male models to that. What is the purpose of tailoring masculine clothes with a touch of femininity. Another line of clothing proudly worn by women and celebs around the world was military wear.

You have got to admire the humor, or wonder about the sanity of the marketing guru who came up with the idea of selling a skirt as a "boyfriend skirt"! See for example: http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/Love-Lab...

wow, you're so right. Women really put having a boyfriend as one of those highest goals to attain, and are going out of their way to pretend too. :P

i actually own this exact cardigan and i absolutely love it. it isn't for men, and you're taking this way to seriously. it's simply a fashion trend

I also totaly disagree with your whole argument- your totally overthinking it-sure its advertising a 'boufriend-looking cardigan'- how boring would it be if it had been called a men's cardigan. no one would buy that- its not new or fresh!Designers are merely taking inspiration from garments that might have started out as something looking somewhat like a cardigan of their boyfriend once wore-and thereafter naming it. and then... ta-da!-'boyfriend trend'is born.

That is how styles emerge, and the fact that not all of these cardigans look like they could be worn by men, meen not they are boyfriend styles- they're simply inspired by the trend-but ultimately made for woman. and there is a boyfriend trend-style for every type of women. you must just be open minded.:)

When I first saw models wearing these cardigan in magazines, I instantly fell in love with them. As much as you hate the name "boyfriend cardigan", there's news for you... there's nothing wrong with it. A cute cardigan isn't an imaginary guy. It may be advertisement, but nobody really cares. You're overthinking it.

It is a borrowed style, but it IS changed to fit a woman's body, as in making sure it all falls along the waist. Sure, women bodies aren't all the same... but don't we all have a waist?

The style is cute, casual, and fun. There's nothing wrong with it.

i think you're taking things a little too seriously. it's just a pretty cardigan.

Yeah, that's taking the feminist agenda a bit too far to me. Maybe I wear one because I want to attract a boyfriend. Then again, I guess your whole point is that a woman doesn't need a man, which I'm not sure I agree with in the first place.

Wow, and I just thought it was a cute sweater...

How to cite this page

Hardman, Emilie. "Boyfriend Cardigan." 17 July 2007. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 18, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/boyfriend-cardigan>.

A female model wearing a green boyfriend cardigan.

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