ETERNAL FASHION FROM THE CRIMEAN WAR

I recently watched a documentary about the Ukraine. There was a bit of a blurb in the part depicting the Crimean War that probably went unnoticed by most people but I seemed to latch onto it with great curiosity. It seems this is the time in history that marked the emergence in the fashion world of the cardigan sweater and the balaclava.

The cardigan, a knitted sweater that is open in the front but can be closed with buttons, gets its name from James Brudenell, who was the Seventh Earl of Cardigan, and served as the Major General for the British army in the Crimean War of 1853-1856.

Although the sweater style was already popular with the French and with fishermen of the British Isles, it became an in-demand fashion garment among men all over Europe and Great Britain after General Brudenell popularized it in the war. As a part of the military uniform it was called a “sweater coat”. The general’s was trimmed with braids and fur.

It seems every decade resurrected the garment. In the 1920’ and 1930’s it was popular among college students. In the 1950’s and 1960’s it became a favorite for businessmen to wear inside a suit jacket to downplay the formality of a suit.

Once television was common, many celebrities sported cardigans on a regular basis such as Perry Como or Fred Rogers who played the Mister Rogers character. And even today it is a known favorite for the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.

During the same war, the balaclava was also made popular as a war winter garment to protect the head and face from the cold and elements such as snow and sleet. This knitted “helmet” has differing versions that offer protection options such as full face coverage except for a slit for the eyes or separate openings for the eyes and mouth. The name is derived from the Battle of Balaclava of the Crimean War. It has become a common part of military and law enforcement uniforms worldwide.

During the battle the British were not prepared for the severe cold they experienced in the Ukrainian climate. Folks back home felt sorry for the poor soldiers and began knitting the balaclavas to send in aid packages to the soldiers.

Today they are popular among sports enthusiasts who love winter activities such as snowmobiling, skiing, and snowboarding. Motorcyclists are also commonly seen wearing them to protect their faces from flying debris.

Firefighters have their own version which is made of a special fire-resistant material and is designed to be worn under their protective helmet and coordinate with the breathing apparatus. Race car drivers also wear a fire resistant balaclava under their helmets. In fact, in professional racing circuits they are required.

Although I usually feel like absolutely nothing good can come of war, I have to admit that I have several cardigans in my wardrobe that I wear quite often. Among my severe weather gear are two different styles of balaclava. So, as far as the Crimean War goes, I have to admit I have benefited from it.