Fashion from Crimean War

As I was saying to Nikolai this afternoon, war often leads to fashion items which endure long after the war that spawned them is over.

cardigan: a knitted wool sweater with long sleeves opening down the front as worn by our spokesmodel, Nickolai.

Take the Cardigan sweater, a fashion item owned by many men and women. The garment itself is defined as a knitted wool sweater with long sleeves opening down the front.

The man who made this unlikely garment fashionable was none other than the 7th Earl of Cardigan. Is he famous for anything else? Yes, in October of 1854, he led the ill-fated Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. (1853 to 1856). The causes of the war are boring and complicated. Suffice it to say that the French and British went to the Crimea to fight the Russians and the Ottomans (Turks) over something.

 

Cardigan

Cardigan was an insecure, arrogant, self-righteous, narcissistic jerk who wore a wool sweater of his own design which opened down the front. Besides having an eye for fashion, he was brave since he personally led the Charge of the Light Brigade into Russian artillery fire. 

“Here goes the last of the Brudenell’s,” said Lord James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan…and then Major General Commanding the Light Brigade, a cavalry formation which included his personal regiment, the 11th Hussars, upon receiving the order to charge batteries of Russian artillery. This was part of the Battle of Balaclava which was part of the overall siege of Sevastopol, the key Russian naval base in the Crimea.

Spokesmodel Nickolai modeling a heavy wool balaclava.

Allow me to interrupt myself to call your attention to the Battle of Balaclava (the town itself served as a British supply point). It was so cold in the Crimean winter that women in England knitted wool garments which covered the faces and necks of the English soldiers. The men received these garments when they would go for supplies at the town of Balaclava, hence the name.

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The charge of the Light Brigade accomplished nothing and was the result of inaccurate and misleading orders. But it did generate a famous poem. While many are familiar with poem, they don’t know what event inspired the poet. Below is the first stanza.

The Charge Of The Light Brigade

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Half a league half a league, 
Half a league onward, 
All in the valley of Death 
Rode the six hundred: 
‘Forward, the Light Brigade! 
Charge for the guns’ he said: 
Into the valley of Death 
Rode the six hundred. 

(A league is an imprecise unit of measurement which fell out of use in the late 19th Century.)

War and fashion unfortunately often go together. The trench coat is exactly that: a coat first made in England in World War One for officers to wear in the trenches of the Western front. And “bomber jackets” are also exactly that–jackets worn by the pilot and copilots of American bombers in World War Two.

(The cockpit and navigator’s area were heated. The rest of the plane was not and other crew members had to wear electrically heated suits. Curiously, they had to clean these with gasoline. The air gunners who fired from the large opening on each side of the aircraft also wore chain mail manufactured by Wilkinson sword to protect them from shrapnel. (Invented by the British Army officer, Captain Shrapnel).

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/