February 19, 2023
Last Updated on November 29, 2023 by Dominique de MerteuilHome » Vintage Outfits »
If you are looking for the best and most beauteous vintage-inspired sweaters and cardigans suitable all year round, and tips on how to style them, you are up for a treat.
I’ve never had much luck finding an original 1940s cardigan in good condition or a 1950s one in the right size and colour, but fortunately, there are a few brands out there that create great quality vintage-inspired knitwear for even the most demanding vintage aficionado.
And for those who love learning about fashion history, I’ve included lots of interesting information pertaining to the origins of the sweater and pictures of the 1940s and 1950s movie stars in fabulous knitwear.
Vintage cardigan ad published in the March 1938 issue of “Przeglad Mody”.
DISCLOSURE: I’m part of an affiliate program, and I get a commission when you purchase a product through the links in this post. That’s how I keep my website alive, for which I’m very grateful to you. Shopping via my affiliate links comes at no additional cost to you. Also, this post is a collaboration with the Sistre brand. All opinions expressed here are mine, and I only recommend products I love.
Best Vintage-Inspired Sweaters and Cardigans
FAQ about vintage-inspired sweaters and cardigans.
Firstly, the style of the garment should be something that was popular in previous eras.
This could be a certain type of stitching. pattern, colour combination and, of course, the shape of the sleeves. After all, when it comes to vintage, it’s all about the magnificent sleeves.
Secondly, the cardigan should be made from high-quality wool. This is important because the cardigans and sweaters from previous eras were made to last.
And that explains why there are still many original ones from the 1950s or even 1930s available to purchase.
The difficulty lies in finding knitwear from the 1940s or the 1950s bigger than the size SX or S. That’s when vintage-inspired sweaters come to the rescue!
I’m a daily wearer of clothes from the 1930s and the 1940s, so it’s only natural that this is where my focus and interests lie.
I also adore the fashions of the late 1800s and early 1900s so don’t be surprised to see examples of Victorian and Edwardian-inspired sweaters.
In the picture, I’m wearing a 1930s coat that was made in Paris and I paired it with a late 1940s purse and Wolford tights.
My favourite brands with the best vintage-inspired sweaters and cardigans that you need to add to your wardrobe.
- Wheels & Dollbaby
- Emmy Sweden Design
- Roksolana Knits
- Oldfield Outfitters
- Emilia Wickstead
SISTRE Vintage-Inspired Sweaters and Cardigans
My latest discovery and already an obsession, a wonderful addition to the world of vintage-inspired cardigans, is a family-owned Polish brand, SISTRE. And yes, they do ship outside Poland!
Their beautiful cardigans are designed and made in Poland from 100% certified Italian merino wool of the best quality.
And that’s what Sylwia and Julita, the sisters behind the brand, are all about.
They create garments that are made to last. And you can tell the quality of their knitwear by simply looking closely at the seams, the stitch and the patterns that line up perfectly.
I paired my brand new Silvia cardigan in bottle green from SISTRE with:
- The early 1950s pencil skirt
- Wolford tights
- Couture headpiece from Veroni Deco
- Yellow gloves
Photography, Gregory Michael King.
The Devil is in the Detail!
The SISTRE brand pays immaculate attention to detail and that’s why they are on the top of my list for the best vintage-inspired sweaters and cardigans.
The little things such as adornments matter as well. I noticed the beauteous gold buttons on my brand new Silvia cardigan the second I opened the box.
My cardigan was so beautifully packed that it took me good 20 minutes before I decided to finally unwrap it.
I fell head over heels in love with the Silvia cardigan in dark green, but it’s just one of the five available colours, and I’m already salivating over the one in burgundy.
This particular model will keep you warm on very cold winter days but you can wear it season-to-season.
Building a proper wardrobe is like building a home. Indeed, you should think of it like a home, because it is something you’re going to live in. It must be comfortable and suit all your needs.Edith Head
Needless to say, this cardigan suits all my vintage needs.
If, however, you are after something lighter, and more appropriate for summer then I would suggest you choose the Sophia cardigan, which comes in pale blue or Stella, in the prettiest shade of pink or elegant royal blue.
A little bird told me that the new collection is coming out soon, so stay tuned!
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How to Wash a Merino Wool Cardigan!
Merino wool is a natural fibre, bacteria and odour-resistant and it has a natural protection against dirt which means that you don’t have to wash it unless absolutely necessary.
Also, if you wear a dress shield underneath your cardigan, as I do under all my vintage clothes, you might never have to wash it.
If, however, washing is the only option, I strongly recommend the Eucalan Jasmine which doesn’t require rinsing and smells divine!
Instructions for washing your cardigan
- Hand wash the cardigan in lukewarm water
- If you use Ecalan detergent, you won’t have to rinse
- Gently press the wool to remove excess water
- Dry the cardigan with a towel
- Lay the garment flat on a towel and leave it there to dry
- Store your cardigan in a drawer, I highly recommend that you invest in an archival Tyvek garment cover
My Favourite No-Rinse Detergent
Wheels & Dollbaby Retro Cardigans
I discovered the Australian brand, favoured by many rock stars, during my perfect weekend in Sydney in 20016, and I’ve been a fan ever since.
Mel, the fabulous designer behind Wheels & Dollbaby creates ‘the most coveted cardigan in the world.’
The show-stopping limited edition vintage-inspired Dita Cardigan comes in various colours, but as it’s produced in small quantities, you don’t have much time to ponder over it as it might be sold out before you even add it to the basket.
In the picture, I’m wearing the vintage-inspired Mata Hari cardigan from Wheels & Dollbaby and the Irma pencil skirt.
The dream set was my first purchase from Wheels & Dollbaby, but as you can imagine, not my last.
Another way of styling a vintage-inspired cardigan. This time, instead of a pencil skirt, I opted for a classic A-line skirt.
My Prada skirt started its life as a dress, and is paired here with a Wheels and Dollbaby cardigan. Photography Gregory Michael King
Here is another of my Wheels & Dollbaby vintage-inspired cardigans named after my beloved French Queen, Marie Antoinette.
I have a penchant for blouses and cardigans with bows so the detail around the neckline, as well as the flower embroidery at the back, is what makes this cardigan, one of my favourites.
Emmy Design Sweden-The Finest Vintage-Inspired Sweaters
A brand that doesn’t need an introduction, but just in case you are completely new to the world of retro garments, I present Emmy Design Sweden.
I love their Edwardian-inspired cycling sweater which comes in several beautiful shades, but I chose to also show you my absolute favourite in black. It’s a faithful replica of an 1890s museum piece and it’s made of Australian merino wool. This particular style was popular again in the 1930s and 1980s which makes it a versatile piece that you can pair with a variety of garments.
On a side note, If you are a fan of the late 19th-century and early 20th-century fashion then you are up for a treat with the Emmy Design Edwardian Essence Collection.
Emmy Design Sweden is synonymous with high-quality vintage-inspired knitwear that goes beyond sweaters and cardigans.
The elegant and extremely figure-flattering Peachy Keen Knit dress and the adorable Ice Princess dress are retro wardrobe staples.
Roksolana Vintage-Inspired Knits
The smart and the young knit sweaters like these!
Roksolana Mashkov is a knitting genius who creates real works of art, like the sweaters and cardigans in the pictures below. All of her custom-made pieces are made from original vintage patterns and photographs which is a vintage girl’s dream. And that’s why she made my list of the best vintage-inspired sweaters and cardigans.
Word of advice, if you see something you love in Roksolana’s Etsy shop, don’t hesitate to add it to the basket as there is a waiting list.
SHOP MY FAVOURITES!
Oldfield Outfitters, Vintage-Inspired Sweaters Never Go Out of Fashion
Quality & style never go out of fashion.
I discovered Oldfield Outfitters some years ago by sheer coincidence when I saw a gentleman in London dressed head to toe in their clothes and accessories. I remember chasing him along Old Compton street to find out where he found his sweater. What can I tell you except that it was beyond my control.
The British-made brand creates masterpieces in the form of faithful reproductions of 1930s sweaters, cardigans, vests, trousers and shirts for men and women.
I’m secretly plotting to fill my husband’s wardrobe with the Redford shirts and 1940s Laszlo trousers in Navy Irish linen.
Needless to say, I’m already looking to add a couple of the Oldfield Outfitters Fair Isle cardigans and sweaters that would look great paired with the ‘Orson’ Plus 6s.
Emilia Wickstead Luxury Knitwear
This is not a vintage-inspired brand per se and Emilia’s collections are seasonal. means that It’s highly possible that we might not see vintage-inspired knitwear next year, but there are so many wonderful pieces in the current collection that I had to add the Emilia Wickstead brand to the mix.
SHOP MY FAVOURITE EMILIA WICKSTEAD KNITWEAR
Definition of Cardigan
The fabulous cardigans photographed by Nina Leen appeared in the 1950s issue of LIFE magazine.
Period: 1850s to early 20th century.
Originally associated with the Earl of Cardigan (1797–1868) and his officers in the Crimean War, this was a short, close-fitting, knitted jacket of Berlin wool or English worsted; no collar or a velvet one; by 1896 some versions had a short roll collar.
(F & M)
Period: Late 19th century onwards.
A knitted woollen jacket without a collar, either buttoned to the neck or with a V-neck. Worn informally and available in ready-made versions or with patterns for home knitters; it could be matched with a short-sleeved jumper.
The Dictionary of Fashion History
Definition of Sweater
Beautiful sweater photographed by Nina Leen in 1945 for LIFE magazine.
Period: ca. 1890 onwards.
A loosely knitted jersey reaching below the hips and worn outside the top of the knickerbockers. At first with a stand-up edge round the neck; for golf, a polo collar was added in 1894. Cyclists continued to wear the earlier form, but “no man can wear it as it now stands without looking like a bounder” (1900, Tailor & Cutter). In the 20th century sweaters continued to be worn for sporting activities, but also more generally.
Period: Early 20th century onwards.
Popular for sports and informal wear, but gradually becoming an essential part of clothing. “All kinds of knits: sweaters, cardigans, woolly shirts, blouses and bole- ros…” (1940, Vogue).
The Dictionary of Fashion History
A Brief History of the Sweater
The origins of the sweater, made, of course, of natural wool, date back to the 15th century when it was first worn by fishermen in Europe to protect them from the cold.
It wasn’t until the late 19th century that sweaters became popular in the United States as they were worn by athletes as outwear. Interestingly, college athletic wear was years in advance of fashion, regardless of what Coco Chanel or Jean Patou fans would like you to believe.
Chanel created a collection based on the sweaters and knitted shirts she found in Boy Capel’s closet. The English polo player who will forever be remembered as Chanel’s lover, and the man who financed her first boutique, was also the designer’s muse, or at least his wardrobe was.
Simple, comfortable and deliciously exclusive, with a hefty price tag, knits. That was the staple of Chanel’s clothing line and what she had ultimately been synonymous with since 1913.
Patou, on the other hand, aced it with the fashion press when he designed an outrageously revealing tennis dress that Suzanne Lenglen wore and shocked the crowds in Wimbledon in 1921.
That pretty much cemented the position of sportswear, in particular sweaters and cardigans, in women’s fashion. Well, that and the Hollywood movie stars.
And Then Came The Movie Stars
In 1928, my beloved Joan Crawford stole the hearts of the audience with her performance in Our Dancing Daughters. Showing off her beautiful and slender body on screen might have contributed to her growing popularity and stardom.
Crawford, like so many other rising stars of the silver screen, often wore slim-fitted sweaters to emphasize her perfect figure.
It didn’t take long for women all over the world to copy the fashions of their favourite movie stars.
By the 1930s, the waistless, and in my humble opinion, deeply unflattering dresses became passé and the feminine, figure-hugging clothes took their place. It was also the birth of American sportswear.
In the 1940s it was not uncommon to wear a cardigan as part of evening attire. If you find a 1940s gown with a glorious matching cardigan, don’t hesitate to add it to the basket. Those sets are very sought after. And remember, vintage waits for no one!
American Movie Stars Wearing Sweater
The beautiful and uber-talented movie star, Ginger Rogers is posing in an Angora sweater for John Miehle, 1938. I believe that the photograph is a publicity still for the film ‘Vivacious Lady’ from the same year.
As much as I love sweaters made from Angora wool, it’s a very controversial topic, and I highly recommend you read the article entitled ‘The Ugly History of Beautiful Things: Angora‘.
Ginger Rogers on the set of the ‘Vivacious Lady’ knitting an Angora sweater which I think is the same one as in the picture above.
The stunning Linda Darnell shows us how to style a cardigan in a photograph from August 1950. Edward Clark for Life magazine.
Ava Gardner in the sexy red sweater in ‘The Killers’, 1946.
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For the Love of The American Look
As long as I have your attention, take a look at my in-depth article about the History of the American Look!
Lana Turner Becomes the Sweater Girl
How to pose Lana!
‘The early publicity pictures of Miss Turner successfully emphasized her title of Sweater Girl, which she won in her first picture, “They Won’t Forget”. In her most memorable scene, she won fans by the simple device of walking down a street in a tight-fitting sweater.’ LIFE magazine, 1940.
Not brilliance but quality less commonplace is Lana Turner’s main stock-in-trade. She had made only a few pictures when it became evident to specialists in such matters that she represented Something. She was the Sweater Girl. She was Young America’s idea of what a motion-picture starlet ought to be. Maybe she didn’t look like the average high-school girl, but she looked like wghat the average high-school girl like. She was the girl with whom the entlisted men of any U.S. battleship would like best to be cast up on a desert island.Niven Bush
Lana Turner in ‘They Won’t Forget’, 1937
She was sipping a strawberry malt when fame walked in to make her the sweater girl.Niven Bush Life, September 23, 1940
The New Sweater Girl of 1949
Vivian in a rib-knit top and cardigan adorned with rhinestones and gold stars.
On the left, Geist & Geist’s cardigan is adorned with a jewelled crochet collar.
Right: Dalton’s cashmere sweater with Rubin’s fox collar and muff.
Accessories by: Kramer, Dawnelle, Gabor, Kislav and John Frederics.
Greta Plattry’s black rib knit and Dalton’s cashmere sweater with a crochet neckline.
On the left: is Geist & Geist’s two-piece rib knit and on the right, is Pringle’s scoop-necked navy cashmere cardigan.
Pink Pringle’s cardigan (on the left) and Mirsa’s cardigan adorned with pearls, on the right.
Famous Vintage Sweater Brands
If you are fortunate enough to find a mint condition sweater or cardigan from the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s by any of the listed brands, consider investing in them.
Of course, chances of finding any of them, with a couple of exceptions, outside an auction house are very slim, but vintage miracles do happen, so keep your eyes peeled.
- ‘Suse’ sweaters by Susan Dannenberg
- Koret of California
- Helen Bond Carruthers
- Bernhard Altmann
Susan Dannenberg Vintage Sweaters
The ‘Suse’ sweaters by Susan Dannenberg are probably some of the most recognizable pieces in the vintage community, in particular the bleeding heart ‘Jezebel’ pattern that has been copied by many designers over the years.
Both pictures were taken by Nina Leen for LIFE magazine, in 1947.
Before Susan Dannenberg became one of the favourite novelty designers of Hollywood stars, including Barbara Stanwyck and Esther Williams, she made sweaters only for herself and close friends.
Six years ago Susan Dannnberg of Los Angeles, who liked sweaters but did not have a sweater figure, knitted some for herself while waiting for a leg to mend. She decorated them with bleeding hearts, poodles, flowers and pink elephants with the idea of attracting more attention to the sweater and less to shape of the wearer. The scheme worked so well that she made some for her friends, then began selling a few. By now ‘Suse’ (prononced Susy) sweaters are sold all over the country. They are hand-made, by 20 knitters and three girls who who do nothing but cut out the zanny appliques. The effect is extravagant and so is the price, from $50 to$70.LIFE, 27 Jan 1947
Ginger Rogers wearing the Suse sweater in the ‘Carefree’ movie from 1938.
Koret of California Sweaters and Beyond
Joseph and Stephanie Koret founded the Koret brand in 1938. He started as a sweater salesman and his wife who studied design, made skirts to match the sweaters for which the power couple became famous. Their Trickskirt pleaded skirt which they introduced to their collection in 1946 sold in millions.
In 1961, the Koret brand made a fortune by developing the Koratron permanent press process and licencing it worldwide.
The company went public in 1966, Stephanie retired soon after and Koret changed its name to Koracorp Industries, Inc. It was acquired by Levi Strauss in 1979.
I’m always on the look for the Koret of California separates and skirt suits from the 1940s and the 1950s.
The 1940s Koret of California
Koret of California is my favourite vintage brand for a casual look.
In the picture, I’m wearing their early 1940s skirt suit made of wool.
Elsa Schiaparelli Sweaters
You have a better chance of winning the lottery, than finding a vintage Elsa Schiaparelli sweater, like the famous bow piece from 1927, but the post would be incomplete without mentioning the queen of knitwear.
“So I drew a large butterfly bow in front, like a scarf round the neck. These sweaters were reinforced at the back with fine woollen stitching, always in the same colour as that of the contrasting figures. The stitches showed through discreetly, breaking the monotony of the background so that it gave an effect reminscent of the impressionist school of painting.Elsa Schiaparelli, Shocking Life, 1954
Helen Bond Carruthers-The Queen of the Decorated Sweater
I can’t imagine writing a story on vintage sweaters and not including Helen Bond Carruthers. She didn’t design the actual knitwear but instead used high-quality Dalton cashmere sweaters which she embellished with a variety of fabrics creating lavishly decorated pieces.
Vintage Dalton Knitwear
I’m always on the hunt for 1950s Dalton cashmere sweaters as they are known for superb quality and beautiful colours.
The company was founded in 1949, by Arthur Dery and Maurice Saltzman, as the Fine Gauge Knitwear Company with headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio.
In 1956 the company changed its name to Dalton of America and a year later Arthur Dery, one of the co-owners, bought out Maurice Saltzman and became the sole owner until Dalton’s closure in 1986.
I don’t remember where I found this image and if it features Dalton’s cardigans, but I wanted to draw your attention to the fur collar for which Dalton was known.
Half of the 1950s cardigans with fur collars I see available on Etsy or 1stdibs are Dalton.
I neither wear nor like real fur, but you might want to consider a sweater adorned with a real one as long as it’s vintage.
Bernhard Altmann Cashmere Sweaters
Altmann started his business in 1947 and by the early 1950s, he became synonymous with good-quality cashmere sweaters and cardigans.
A 1958 ad from Harper’s Bazaar featuring a beautiful pale blue Bernhard Altmann cashmere cardigan.