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How To Wear A Cardigan

The cardigan is often associated with being conservative. Not in a political sense, but the sense of one who’s largely risk-averse. How the cardigan got this reputation I’ll probably never know, and frankly, it’s not really that important. Maybe it’s because traditionally, it’s always been worn by conservative looking fellows like politicians and Mister Rogers.

I don’t think of the cardigan this way anymore, and I don’t think you should either. To me, a crew neck sweater with a high collar and a loose fit is far more conservative than a cardigan is or ever has been. What I’ve come to appreciate the cardigan for though, it its practicality and versatility.

Today we want to talk about how to wear a cardigan. It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? I think, however, there are a number of ways to wear a cardigan that you may not realize that can be just as handsome as the ways you do. Despite its conservative leanings, I actually think the cardigan has become a bolder sweater choice than most. I think dressing in something that is perceived to be conservative is a step out from the norm these days, which to me, means good things.

We’ll discuss a few labels, what to look for when purchasing one, how a cardigan should fit, and a few of the obvious and not so obvious pairings. The cardigan can become a staple in your wardrobe, and should, because it’s a lot more useful than most give it credit for. With that said, here is our look at how to wear a cardigan for men.

Cardigan: Fit & Styling

Like all things we discuss, fit is the most important aspect when picking out a cardigan. When I find a sweater I like I typically will keep going back to that brand over and over. Regarding the fit, there are a few keys to keep in mind:

  • Like any other sweater you pick out, you want the bottom of the cardigan to fall just below your belt line. If it’s any longer it’ll will look sloppy and dress-like, and if it’s too short you’ll constantly be pulling it down and it will look too short (imagine that);
  • The way I see it, a cardigan doesn’t have to be quite as trim as say a v-neck or crew neck. I say this because anytime you include buttons you run the risk of exposing your clothes as too tight. With most sweaters, if they’re a little on the trim side you can stretch them out and be fine, but with a cardigan the buttons will pull and it will be obvious. Air on the side of caution and find one that’s trim, yet comfortable;
  • You want the sleeves to be trim and the armholes to be cut up high. It creates a better silhouette and will help you to look trimmer. That and it will fit better underneath a jacket;
  • Be sure the buttons on the cardigan don’t go too high or you run the risk of it looking like a Nehru jacket, which is weird. I prefer to have the top button right around my sternum;
  • Always leave the bottom button of your cardigan undone, like you would a suit jacket or a blazer. Leaving it done up does one of two things: 1. If you’re heavier set it creates a nice frame for your belly, seemingly catching it in a net; 2. It tells people you don’t know how to dress because people in the know don’t do their bottom button up.
  • If you choose to wear a cardigan with a tie, tuck your shirt in; this is non-negotiable. It looks sloppy if you don’t.

What To Wear With A Cardigan?

Now, as I mentioned above I think there are a number of ways to get use out of a cardigan outside of the obvious. Speaking of the obvious though, it’s a good place to start. I think a cardigan is always a handsome look underneath a suit jacket or a blazer. This gentleman here is showing a very classic way to wear a cardigan underneath a blazer

How To Wear A Cardigan

The aspect you’ll need to focus on is choosing a complimentary colour/pattern. As the gentleman above shows, grey (in any shade, really) is a fine compliment to navy; the opposite is true as well. Do your best to keep things fairly neutral when wearing a cardigan beneath a jacket. You don’t want to have competing patterns and colours. when you have three or four visible layers on top, you want things to flow nicely.

I would recommend, almost no matter what your jacket looks like, a neutral cardigan (navy, grey, black, olive), a neutral or very subtly patterned shirt, and a neutral or subtly patterned tie. I realize it sounds boring but the more you have going on the more distracting it will be. This is a situation in which you can play with textures to achieve a unique look. Perhaps you can throw on a chunkier cardigan, wear a knit tie instead of a silk tie, or try a button-down oxford instead of a typical dress shirt.

A cardigan can look great over jeans or chinos as well, and works as a nice second layer if the mercury dips a touch. I think they look best when worn over a casual oxford (tucked or untucked, your call), but a t-shirt works too. Wear a plain t-shirt though; nothing logo’d. I have a heavier gauge cardigan I wear in fall that doubles as a sort of jacket. It’s extremely practical and performs admirably if I get a little chilly sitting on a patio.

How To Wear A Cardigan

 

A third method is to wear a cardigan as a jacket substitute. One that fits properly and is in a neutral colour is a nice alternative at the office over a pair of trousers and dress shirt. It’s dressier than going without, but it’s not quite as formal or cumbersome as wearing a jacket. I find it bridges the gap quite nicely. It also serves, again, as a nice layering piece should your office or place of business get a little chilly.

How To Wear A Cardigan

Brands That Make Great Cardigans

A label I have spoken about often, and will probably continue to do so, is John Smedley. As always, you’ll be able to find something that fits, that is in a colour you like, and the quality is second to none. It’s a label I keep coming back to because I believe in their products and haven’t been let down by a single purchase yet. These are great for the office and for under a jacket.

The second label I like, and these fit the label of something a little heavier and more suited for the weekend, is designer Billy Reid. They have that southern gentleman feel without being too precious. Something that is stylish, will keep you warm, and doesn’t look like you’re trying too hard; definitely worth a look.

Lastly, if you like the idea but have no use for something indoors give these cardigans by Wings + Horns a look. Every fall season they come out with a slightly different version of this sweater and every time they’re beautiful. It’s a great jacket alternative in the fall months and will never break down or go out of style.

The key to a great cardigan is being able to wear it in a number of different situations. Like Mister Rogers, perhaps you like to throw it on as soon as you get home to keep you warm. Or maybe you prefer that extra layer under your suit in winter to keep tat cool breeze out. Either way, whether with jeans or with a suit, you have a piece that will work for you not only stylistically, but practically as well. Find a brand that works for you, and get a couple. Wool and cashmere in winter are always nice and a cotton version in summer works too. Give ‘em a try and don’t let anyone tell you that the Republican Party wants their sweater back, that’s poor policy and a lack of diplomacy.

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