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The History of Fashion: The Cardigan and Balaclava

Posted in Fashion, History, Interesting Words on Tuesday, 8 March 2011

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This edited article about the origin of the cardigan and balaclava originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 915 published on 4 August 1979.

During the summer months, probably the last thing you want to think about is warm clothes – but with Britain’s climate you never can tell.

Certainly let us hope you will not be needing your cardigan or balaclava, those two woolly items of clothing normally kept for winter.

Cardigan and Balaclava introduced during the Crimean War. Illustration by C L Doughty

To keep troops warm during the Crimean War, woolen waistcoats and helmets were issued. These two items soon became know as the cardigan and balaclava. Illustration by C L Doughty

Where did those two words come from? If your history is up to scratch, seeing those words together should trigger off a spark of recognition.

The thing they have in common is the Crimean War, in which the Seventh Earl of Cardigan led the famous charge of the Light Brigade at the battle of Balaclava on the 25th October, 1854.

The Crimean War was fought on the exposed slopes of the Black Sea coast, and for much of the time it was bitterly cold. To keep the troops warm, especially when sleeping out, woollen helmets were issued which covered their heads and shoulders, save for a small part of the face. These pieces of headgear soon acquired the name “balaclavas”.

The troops were also given woollen waistcoats (with or without sleeves) and one of their greatest supporters was Lord Cardigan, whose name these garments still bear today.

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