A Canadian Classic: The Cowichan Sweater

A Canadian Classic: The Cowichan Sweater

Authentic Cowichan and Cowichan-inspired Cardigans. Clockwise TL-BL: Marilyn Monroe, Spiro Mandylor, Paul Michael Glasser (Det. Starsky), Model for Ralph Lauren, Cowichan Knitter Emily Sawyer-Smith, Model for The Bay, Jeff Bridges (The Dude), Kevin Naulls

Sounding more like sushi than apparel, they’re named after a group of Pacific West Coast Native Canadians who developed them back in the early-to-mid 19th century.  Cowichan Sweaters (technically cardigans), are made by the Cowichan Tribe of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.  The Cowichans have been weaving blankets and clothing for centuries.  It wasn’t however, until the Europeans arrived and introduced sheep to the island as well as organized knitting instruction – only then did the Cowichan’s begin to knit and develop an indigenous Canadian take on the Scottish Fair Isle Patterned Sweater.

Although never truly out of style, they’ve experienced a recent surge in popularity thanks in large part to the global promotion of the “Cowichan-inspired” sweater manufactured for the Vancouver Olympic Games 2010 by the Hudson’s Bay Company.  As mentioned, celebrities and hipsters have been keen to adopt the style, and the big name fashion houses have been responsive to this introducing Cowichan-inspired styles of their own by designers Aritzia, Ralph Lauren, LL Bean, Steven Alan, Granted, and Zara.

Why call the designer labeled cardigans Cowichan-inspired?  An authentic Cowichan Sweaters must be made from the natural coloured (not dyed) wool of local sheep.  The wool must be washed, dried, hand teased, carded, spun, and hand knit in Canada by Cowichans following the techniques using regional wildlife and geometric motifs passed on from generation to generation.

Cowichans are as protective of their homegrown sweaters and cardigans as the Scots are about their tweeds – just ask The Hudson’s Bay Company.  Whether you choose to go for the real deal available at places such as Filson’s, Sa-Cinn Native, Hill’s Native Art, or for the Cowichan-inspired designer options, the choice is ultimately yours.  Fact is, in addition to being warm and comfortable, both look great and layer well for some great looks this season.

In the photo montage above, Kevin Naulls (Dressed for Dinner) wears his cardigan over a beautiful blue gingham dress shirt and dark trousers for a great sartorial effect.  There’s a photo of yours truly accessorizing a Cowichan with a fur hat I picked up in Prague, a chunky scarf from the UK, and a pair of vintage 70s mirrored sunglasses for a cool casual look.  Detective Starsky and The Dude look very hip and chill in theirs, and Marilyn…she looked great no matter what she wore, including this Cowichan with nothing on underneath.  For more examples of Cowichan and Cowichan-style Sweaters please visit my Facebook page.


2 Responses to A Canadian Classic: The Cowichan Sweater

  1. Pingback: Dennis’ House of Vintage « It's All Style To Me

  2. Pingback: The Cardigan Reinvented « It's All Style To Me

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