You Need a House Cardigan

My entire consumerist attitude sits right between “I don’t like people buying stuff just because they can” and “I really like nice things.” For instance, when 2 Chainz raps about how somebody else might be wearing Ray-Bans while the sunglasses he’s got on cost eight bands, I’m like: Chainz, bubeleh, it’s not about price. It’s about what about looks good. On the other hand, if the glasses he’s rapping about make him feel good, then I understand why he’d brag. But the truth is that it took me a long time to get to this point in my life where I can accept that, yes, quality is important when it comes to the stuff I wear, and I’m willing to pay a little extra for that quality—but I want to always feel like it was worth it. No matter how much money I make, I never want to buy anything simply because I can. So I always look for things that I know will serve a purpose for a long time. That philosophy can be summed up by something I like to call the house cardigan.

The house cardigan isn’t just any old cardigan, though it is also that. You do purchase a cardigan and it will cost you a little bit of cash, but you don’t buy it with the intention of only wearing it in the house. Instead, the house cardigan is an investment. You buy a cardigan, break it in over a few winters, and get to know it really well. Only then do you eventually retire it to just the house. That’s the house cardigan. It’s not something you go out and just buy: it’s something you work on.

I imagine the general idea for a cardigan you only wear inside of your home traces its roots back to one cozy old Englishman nestled in his study. Or maybe to some 1950s WASP patriarch who would come home from a hard day at the office, take off his grey flannel suit and slip into his cardigan. But since I can’t confirm any of these things, I’m going to say, at least for me, the inspiration comes from an episode of New Girl. It’s the episode where Zooey Deschanel’s Jess takes Jake Johnson’s Nick to handsome rich guy Russell’s home (Dermot Mulroney plays said handsome rich guy, natch), and while Nick walks in bemoaning Russell’s rich-guy trappings, he’s quickly seduced by the incredibly masculine office and the smell of “leather, Teddy Roosevelt and wistfulness.” Nick is lured by the chesterfield chair, the art books and the nice smells. But what he really appreciates is the shawl collar sweater. It’s a nice, sideways funny look at the Mad Men-enabled whiskey-and-cigars obsession that gripped American males in the late-aughts and 2010s. A last gasp of storied masculinity we were raised to believe was real, natural and attainable.

The limits of that obsession are obvious. But the house cardigan is one bit of it worth keeping. Today, I’m on my third house cardigan—it’s an old L.L. Bean fisherman deal made of 100 percent cotton. Its predecessor was a Pendleton, and the first of my house-onlys, a navy Ralph Lauren cardigan, served me well for almost a decade. I think of them all fondly. None of them were so bulky that I ever felt hot or uncomfortable, but I also never once felt cold in any of them. None of them were inexpensive, but each one was worth, to me, more than I paid for; each sweater served for a time in the outside world, but then retired to my apartment, where each house cardigan had one job, and they all did their job well.

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