There’s a strong scent of Chanel in the air, what with a big exhibition at the V&A, a BBC documentary and the sudden presence everywhere of smart cardigans.
A softer jacket, cut like a cardigan with a round collar, is the classic Chanel style and has been working its way up the fashion charts for a couple of years.
You may already own a boucle number with gold buttons, in which case, keep wearing it.
But there’s another Chanel-inspired item in the shops that’s part of the same family.
It’s more relaxed than a jacket, smarter and more substantial than a cardigan and, if you’re looking for a smart-casual alternative to a jacket that really does feel like a cardigan, because it is one, then this XS (as in Extra Smart) cardi is the answer.
Christy Turlington looks chic in a white XS cardi with loose jeans and black, high-heeled pumps
Fashion does occasionally make you wonder. Not so long ago I’d have thought these XS cardigans were frumpy and ageing.
Now the difference is, fashion has become more preppy and informal and the XS cardi is just the thing to smarten up jeans or trousers or to give a smarter outfit some casual softening.
The XS cardi could still look dowdy, if you wear it air hostess style with a plain knee- length skirt and a pussy bow blouse, but it’s about how you wear it now, which is sleeves pushed up, usually buttoned up over a plain layering top or open over a boyfriend shirt or thin turtle neck.
This is ‘an only with trousers or jeans’ look, but it’s a way of getting more wear out of all the trousers you own.
I love a blazer and reach for one whenever I want to add the zip a strong shoulder automatically gives you.
But a blazer can look and feel stiff when you’re at your desk, out to supper or having a pub lunch, while a blouse or a sweater on its own seems too casual.
When you want to look put together but feel comfortable the XS cardi delivers. And there’s something softer and more evening-appropriate about a cardigan jacket.
An XS cardigan shows you’ve made some effort and they’re easy to dress up (with a ruffle collar and big earrings), or dress down (with a plain or striped T-shirt).
Caroline de Maigret wore her cropped XS cardi open over a white T-shirt at the Chanel Haute Couture Spring Summer 2023
Starting at the more classic (Chanel) end of the spectrum, for a great braid-trimmed, gold button cardigan jacket look no further than Boden.
The Holly jacket (£120, boden.co.uk) has two flap pockets, gold embossed buttons and comes in a navy and ecru stripe or, the one I like, navy with a red and white trim.
These jackety cardigans look smart but cost a bit more. Ba&sh’s black with ivory trim cardi (£320, ba-sh.com) looks like a keeper or Massimo Dutti has several good bets including one in a grey blue (£129, massimodutti.com).
If in doubt, Mango does a good-looking black and ecru striped cardigan with gold buttons (£49.99, shop.mango.com), which is a can’t-go-wrong buy for autumn.
Stick with a plain crew-neck — V-necks are less neat and you have to worry about what goes underneath — and keep your XS cardi buttoned up for maximum impact.
Otherwise, there’s the option of a simply smarter cardigan which is also really useful, particularly in between seasons.
SMART CARDIS: THE RULES
- Go for navy and black or stripes
Boden’s block colour cardigan (£110, on sale October) is — thanks to the clever combination of navy and beige and a dash of hot pink — ideal for wearing with jeans, but paired with a starchy pinstripe trouser will take you to the board meeting in style.
The smarter cardis, that are useful for everyday wear, come in colours such as raisin and chocolate with bone buttons the size of a 10p coin (£27.50, marksandspencer.com) or gold buttons, like Mango’s bambi navy cardigan (£49.99, johnlewis.com).
Bigger buttons, heavier knits and a muted palate is what separates your XS cardi from the norm.
If you want to narrow it down, I’d keep it simple: go the Chanel route, black or navy or striped (in ecru rather than white which is too glaring).
They all have a timeless French chic, and for those days when a jacket is too much and a shirt is too little, you won’t find anything that pulls it all together with quite the same ease. You can sleep in it on the train, too.