What to Wear Under a Cardigan (and Other Cardigan Tips)
The weather took its first real dip this week, and I found myself rifling through my closet for sweaters to fight against the chill. I landed on a cardigan, which was fantastic. But that left me wondering what to wear under a cardigan.
Ah, what to wear with a cardigan sweater? It’s a good question. And a complicated one.
It’s complicated in part because there are so many different types of cardigan. So, I took a deep breath, plunged down the rabbit hole and came up with outfit ideas for the following 6 types of cardigan:
Read on and you’ll find my sweater, top, bottom and shoe recommendation for of the 6 cardigan categories listed above. Curious what to wear under a cardigan? I’ve got you covered.
What to Wear Under a Cropped Cardigan
The last thing you want to do with a cropped cardigan is to wear a shirt that’s too long or too loose. You need a top that’s going to move with your cropped cardigan and ensure that you maintain the silhouette you were going for in the first place. Make sure that your cardigan’s hem sits right at the waist of your pants, jeans or skirt, and never let your proportions go out of whack by wearing a top that drops below the cardigan’s hem.
Here’s what I recommend …
I love to wear a cropped cardigan to the office, and I pair it with a fitted chambray button-down and a fun skirt for just a little pop of color. Check out this cropped cardigan with V-neck from Doublju, which is available in a ton of different colors — and it’s just the style of cropped cardigan that’s going to flatter. The cardigan itself is just formal enough to be a good fit for the office, and the chambray is ideal for saying something along the lines of: “I take myself seriously, but not that seriously.” And that’s what we’re all going for, right? Life’s too short to take yourself too seriously, and work simply isn’t important enough to give up on expressing yourself. That’s my take on things at least, but, moving forward …
It’s essential that you find a chambray shirt that is fitted. We all have more relaxed chambray shirts, but they’re going to bunch underneath a cropped cardigan, and they’re going to make you look lumpy. No one wants to look lumpy, right? Instead, opt for something fitted like this Solid Rollup Up Long Sleeve Chambray Buttondown from BEKTOME, which is available in three different tones. I like having chambray in more than just one tone, because it helps you match the chambray to the outfit. For example, if you’re wearing dark jeans, dark chambray might be a little too much. It’s nice in those cases to have a chambray that’s bordering on white, which I do!
OK, so our cardigan and what we’re wearing under it are a little dull at this point — stylish, but dull. So I’m going to recommend using a skirt for a little pop of color. And I love, love, love this High Waisted A-line Flared Floral Midi from Wincolor. Given that you’re wearing a cropped sweater and fitted shirt, this flared skirt is going to provide a nice proportion and angle to your lower half. I have to say, if you’re going to wear a cardigan in the workplace, please make sure you’re doing something to spice it up. It doesn’t have to be a colorful skirt necessarily, but just make sure that you’re not blending into a corner wearing nothing but neutrals.
I’m picturing this as a work outfit, and so I’m going to recommend adding a nice pair of comfortable black sandal like the Carrson Dress Sandal from Steve Madden. I’ve worn this shoe before, and it’s good for a day’s worth of work. I like the simple yet elegant appearance, too, and the block heel is nice for stability. Also, it’s the perfect addition to the rest of the outfit, including your cropped cardigan. There’s certainly no shortage of options when you’re looking for a black and strappy sandal with a heel, so find the one that’s a good fit for what you like. This one from Steve Madden may or not be it.
What to Wear Under an Oversized Cardigan
You’ll find all sorts of oversized cardigans, but most of them feature heavy knitting, long hems and V-necks. For me, this is a kicking around on a chilly Saturday morning type of outfit, so I’ve added some other pieces that reinforce that theme.
First of all, what type of oversized cardigan am I talking about? Think along the lines of this Cable Twist Open Front Cardigan from Futurino, which offers the thick knitting I mentioned just a moment ago. I love the charcoal, but it’s also available in other colors, too. This is the kind of heavy, oversized sweater you can sink into for casually cruising around town. You want something that’s light enough to carry with you without feeling like a burden, but thick enough that it does what you want it to do — which is keep you warm. This sweater from Futurino strikes that right balance, and I love that it’s fairly unadorned by features, little besides pockets. Some oversized sweaters seem to have too many things going on at once, multiple pockets, buttons, built-in belts and on and on. There’s something beautiful about the simplicity of this oversized sweater that includes little other than the pockets. I dig it.
Since we’re keeping it casual, I recommend finding a comfortable T-shirt to pair with your oversized cardigan. Just like we used the skirt to add a pop of color with our cropped cardigan outfit, I’m going to use a comfy T to add a pop of color to this outfit. Try this Triple Color Block Stripe T-Shirt from YunJey. I like the red version, but you can find options that feature different colors along the shoulders: black, green, gray, navy, purple, etc. You may already have a comfy T-shirt in your closet that works perfectly with this outfit. In fact, don’t be afraid to wear something with a print or logo. I have a Bruce Springsteen T-shirt that I’ve worn with a simlar outfit. Feel free to have fun with it.
On bottom, I’m going to recommend skinny jeans. Given just how flowing an oversized cardigan can be, you don’t want relaxed fit jeans that lose all of your body’s definition. You most likely have your go-to skinny jeans ready to rock, but I recommend the classic look of Lolita Skinny Jeans from Lucky Brand. These jeans are dark and they lack any distress marks, which you may or may not like. You’ll note later on that I recommend distressed jeans with draped cardigans that have just a little bit more going on. I prefer this straighforward look for the same reasons I like the unadorned appearance of this sweater — clean lines and simplicity. you can save the distressed jeans and other more catchy pieces for a different outfit. With this ensemble, I’m saving my pop and flash for the T-shirt, which is more than enough to make it fun without overwhelming.
And now the fun really starts with the shoes. If you don’t have a pair of traditional white Chuck Taylors from Converse, you need to get some immediately. These go with so many different outfits, including with your casual oversized cardigan. Did I mention this is the perfect outfit for casual-but-cold Saturdays? Chuck Taylors are the perfect shoes for such an occasion.
What to Wear Under a Wrap Cardigan
A wrap cardigan sits in the space between an oversized and a drape cardigan. The lines between these three types of sweater are blurred, but I thought it helpful to give you more options rather than fewer options.
One of the defining characteristics of a wrap cardigan is that it can be fully closed across the front of your body, typically using a built-in belt or tie. But I like this One Button Wrap Cardigan from Nulibenna, which uses the button in its name rather than a strap. I don’t wear this type of sweater as much, but it’s perfect in windy areas. It really blocks icy gusts, and the button prevents the wind from blowing open your outerwear and rendingering it ineffective. Plus, the wrap near the neck can serve as a muffler in a pinch.
This is the perfect place to deploy some of your basics in an outfit, and I recommend using the all-important cashmere crew neck tee as your top with a wrap cardigan. This Crew Neck Tee from Majestic Filatures hits the sweet spot of what I’m talking about, and you can find it in white, black or a salmon color — so choose what works best with your wrap cardigan.
If you’re like me and your outfit is shaping up to lack color, use your top as a spot to insert some red or a similar loud color. There’s a time and a place for neutrals and earth tones, but you can’t go out like that every day. As an alternative, use your bag or some fun jewelry to mix things up. While it’s not always a good idea to insert some color, there’s always an opportunity to do so. If you fail to add color on a regular basis, make sure you’re at least looking for and aware of these opportunities.
Rather than jeans on bottom, I’m going to recommend dark pants like these Stove Pipe Trousers from Vince. They are simple, comfortable and seasonally appropriate, and they will pair perfectly with your wrap sweater and cashmere tee. I’ve found that most women go big on jeans and tights. There’s something to be said, though, for investing in a pair of nice trousers that you love — that feel comfort and that complement your figure. I found those perfect trousers in this pair from Vince. They might not be perfect for you, but your perfect pair is out there and waiting to be found — make sure you find it. Shaking up your pant world like this ensures that you won’t become that person who looks like she wears the same thing every day. No one wants to be so predictable, right? Of course, you can absolutely wear jeans with this outfit … I just wanted to point out an opportunity to find somethign else to wear.
This is another outfit that veers onto the casual end of the spectrum, so find a casual, comfy and stylish pair of flat sandals to wear with it. I like the Damon Flat Sandal from Vince, which is just warm enough to keep you comfortable on days you’ll want your wrap sweater. If you’re in a position where icy winds are the reason why you’re wearing a wrap cardigan, you may want to go for something fully closed toe. But these are a nice look for mildly cool mornings and afternoons.
What to Wear Under a Boyfriend Cardigan
The boyfriend cardigan is a staple in most fashion-forward closets, and it’s another layer I like to add for fall days at the office. What should you wear under a boyfriend cardigan? As long as it is slim fitting, it doesn’t really matter. I like to work with slimming pieces like skinny jeans and pencil skirts, as well as fitted tops.
But, first, here’s a look at a boyfriend cardigan I love: The Cashmere Boyfriend Cardigan from Lark & Ro. It’s an item that you can find in several different colors, though each of them is earthy and dark. This is the type of sweater that hangs from the back of my desk chair, so I go with something versatile — black or a deep charcoal. There’s something strange about workplaces: They’re never at a universally acceptable temperature. Layers are essential, and you need a light something to put on when the AC cranks up and you start to shiver. That’s what a boyfriend cardigan means to me.
You can wear this with a traditional Oxford, which I’m sure you have in your closet. But I like pairing with another cashmere T-shirt, perhaps something short sleeve for the office and maybe something in stripes or a print. Check out this Striped Cashmere Crew Neck Tee from Majestic Filatures, which is the perfect blend of comfort and dressiness, which you need at the office. I’m not going to say that an Oxford is a bad idea. But, as mentioned earlier, I’m always looking for ways to mix things up and wear something that isn’t obvious. This is one of those opportunities. Also, I feel like tops with collars can sometimes fight against cardigans, and I’d prefer to not deal with that. It doesn’t have to be a striped shirt, it can be solid. But just make sure that you’re changing things up and that what you wear to work each day doesn’t begin to feel like a uniform.
And I think the boyfriend cardigan is ideal for pairing with pencil skirts. This Lux Solid Pencil Skirt from Calvin Klein is available in tin, light gray and latte, which all pair well with a dark, versatile, neutral boyfriend sweater like the one above from Lark & Ro. You can wear this type of pencil skirt with a boyfriend cardigan, as well as a wide range of other pieces. While I’m sitting here recommending neutral, versatile options, don’t be shy about picking out a color you love. You can look at this entire outfit and see that the right color orange pencil skirt would work just as well. Have some fun where you see opportunities to have fun. Trust me when I tell you this: There’s something refershing about people in the workplace who refuse to blend into the walls, keep their heads down and focus on nothing but business. It’s OK to be human, and sometimes being human is as simple as wearing something a little more interesting and demonstrating that you have a life and interests away from your desk.
And, speaking of traditional staples in your closet, bust out your nude pumps for this outfit. Comfort always trumps everything else in women’s footwear, but this is even more so when you’re talking about life in the office. Even if you don’t walk much, you’ll want shoes that feel good for the workday. I own a pair of these Grace Dress Pumps from Cole Haan, and I’ve fallen in love with the combination of style, durability and comfort. That is, they look good, they don’t scuff or fall to pieces, and they feel good on my feet. What more could you ask for?
What to Wear Under a Draped Cardigan
But that doesn’t mean it’s not yours, so check out this Open Front Solid Spring Cardigan from Zeagoo, which looks good, offers a good price point, and is available in almost any color under the sun. If you’re going for the draped look, this is a good place to do it. I like that this draped cardigan is focused on being a draped cardigan and not focused on other things. What do I mean by that? I like that the knitting isn’t heavy to the point of distraction, that there aren’t pockets and buttons poking out from all over. As far as draped cardigans go, this is a streamlined option that I think hits the perfect notes.
Draped cardigans like these render your top almost unnoticeable, so don’t feel a need to go big with a blouse, tee or tank. I like this simple Trapeze Top from Milly, because it’s going to be comfortable underneath my cardigan, and it’s going to look sexy and stylish if I take my sweater off. This top offers a nice mix of simplicity and style. I like the cut and and slight flaring. It’s a nice fit for the office and for going out at night — or both if you want to use it for transition. This is the type of top that I like to load up on and make sure I have plenty of (in plenty of different colors) because that’s how often I use them. This is a great fit when you need something to wear under a cardigan. Some people might think it’s crazy to have multiple of the same style of top, just in different colors. My philosophy has always been: If you know that it works, get as many as you can.
You can’t go with anything relaxed or loose fitting on bottom when you’re wearing a draped cardigan. But, still, you want your bottom to have a voice of its own, which is why I recommend distressed skinny jeans. You’ll get the proportion and definition you want, but the scuffs and distress marks will give your jeans a personality beyond the draped cardigan. Check out these Ankle Skinny Jeans from 7 For All Mankind, which I love with this outfit. As with a lot of the items on this page, you probably have your own version — which is fantastic. Get your own skinny distressed jeans into circulation with your draped cardigan, and you’ll love the way you look. But, if you’re in the market, I love these jeans from 7 For All Mankind. You can find cheaper jeans out there, but I’ve always found that 7 gives me a nice mix of value and durability. Check them out if you’re in the market for a new brand of denim.
The best shoe for this outfit is an ankle bootie, which hits the perfect autumnal note as you start to wear outerwear and dress for the elements. I love these Sterling Booties from Vionic. They are comfortable, and I love the stack heel detail for this outfit, just as one final stylistic stroke. You can find booties that are more leathery, almost dressier. I have a pair like that myself. But, for this outfit, I like the suede look (plus the stack heel I mentioned), and I think this collection together does the trick when you need to know what to wear under a cardigan.
What to Wear Under a Buttoned-Up Cardigan
This one’s easy: You don’t wear a top under a buttoned-up cardigan. You might be able to get away with a form-fitting tank or camisole, and I would recommend one if the cardigan begins to itch or aggravate your skin. But a buttoned-up cardigan does just fine on its own with nothing underneath.
I like the look of this Crew Neck Cardigan from YourStyle. You can’t really get away with a V-neck as your button-up sweater, and certainly not if you’re not going to wear anything underneath it. So look for something with a round neck, just like the sweater pictured, and wear it solo. You might be tempted to wear an Oxford or something with a collar underneath, but that really destroys the simplicity of this look. There’s something sweet and innocent about the buttoned-up cardigan, and I’ve always felt like adding anything else to the look takes away from that sweetness and innocence.
A button-up cardigan like this one is the perfect spot for your boyfriend jeans. I love these Karyn Slim Boyfriend Ankle Jeans from Bandolino, but wear anything that you feel comfortable in. The looser fit of boyfriend jeans does for a button-up sweater what a flared skirt does for a cropped cardigan — it delivers the proportion and definition you want, giving shape to your body. Just make sure your button-up cardigan stops at the waist of your jeans.
Again, I know that you have your go-to denim and most likely your go-to boyfriend jeans. But consider this pair from Bandolino if you need an upgrade. I’ve fallen in love with this style of boyfriend jean, and this is a good brand that offers a price point that you’re going to love. Whether for pairing with a buttoned-up cardigan or something different entirely, this is a boyfriend jean that deserves your attention.
This outfit is perfect for a loafer, something on the dressier end of casual wear. I like to bust out my Burberry Cotton Espadrilles with an outfit like this, which provide the perfect complement to the button-up sweater and boyfriend jeans combo. Even if you don’t want this type of shoe for your buttoned-up cardigan, I can’t recommend getting espadrilles enough. If there’s a more comfortable shoe on the planet, I don’t think I’ve found it. And espadrilles are popping up everywhere, enjoying a kind of fashion renaissance.
Final Thoughts on What to Wear Under a Cardigan
A cardigan is just a versatile addition to your wardrobe. It can go so many places and do so many things, from work to date night to a Saturday of running errands. Get a cardigan that you love, and use it often when the weather turns.
Here’s a look at just a few final thoughts for when you’re wearing your cardigan, dos-and-don’ts style:
- DO use prints, stripes and even plaids to make simple cardigans a little more fun.
- DO consider white jeans in addition to blue jeans, even after Labor Day — they add a little bit of a coastal feel to your outfit.
- DO invest in a silk tank that offers a little sexiness to balance your cardigan’s conservatism when you’re out on a date.
- DO find both relaxed and fitted T-shirts that you love, as they can go with the right cardigan sweaters and with lots of other things in your closet.
- DO wear a cropped cardigan over a fit-and-flare dress on chilly fall and spring evenings.
- DON’T wear tops that drop below the hem of your cardigan, as they will destroy the proportion of your body and make your outfit look less-than-flattering.
- DON’T wear any loose fitting or relaxed jeans or pants with loose fitting and relaxed sweaters like draped, oversized or wrap cardigans.
- DON’T wear something that makes you feel anything less than beautiful.
That’s it for my advice on what to wear under a cardigan. If you have questions or tips to add, please feel free to use the comments section below — or send me a direct message through our contact form.
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