Most of you American readers should remember Mister Rogers. He was a fixture within the world of children’s television for 33 years.
The show always started with Mister Rogers entering his home, and while singing “Won’t you be my neighbor?” he changed his shoes to sneakers and put on his cardigan.
He seemed to wear a cardigan almost every day, and while I’m not suggesting you do the same, there will be days where you want to layer up. I suggest a cardigan for one of those layers, as they’re perfect over a shirt and underneath a jacket.
So if you’re looking for a substitute to the ubiquitous hoodie, the cardigan is a good place to start. Learn to get your Mister Rogers on, but in a much more modern, up-to-date way.
Here’s what you need to know in order to wear one with style.
Choosing A Cardigan: The Checklist
- When it comes to knitwear, the shoulders don’t have to be as closely fitted as your shirts. This is especially true for cardigans and thick wool. That said, make sure you don’t buy something that is too large for you. Ideally, you want something with enough room to layer over a shirt, but fitted enough to not be bulky as a middle layer.
- It’s okay for the neckline to be deeper than your other sweaters because you generally wear a shirt underneath. My preference in cardigans is a neckline that falls under the pectorals. There are some options that close higher on the body, but these are usually worn undone, or more as a light jacket.
- The cut of the sleeves and armpits is important: don’t buy if the sleeves are too loose or too long. Cuffs can be (and often are) rolled, especially with thicker knits, but you don’t want them to be flopping over your hands.
- The bottom of the knitwear must end below your waist (Ed. note: let it hit around your belt), and should never be tight, or else it will stack and make you look like you’re carrying more around your midsection than you actually are. In fact, similarly to blazers and suit jackets, most cardigans are worn with the bottom button undone to further avoid this effect.
Ready-to-wear chain stores such as H&M and Gap offer cardigans and knitwear for an affordable price. Naturally, the heavier and thicker the cardigan the more expensive, when you stick to the same brand.
A bit about cardigan fabrics
This is true as well for fabrics, cotton being cheaper than wool and wool being cheaper than cashmere or angora. Most of the time, cheaper will mean coarser and less tightly woven fabrics. When it comes to really thick sweaters that are meant to last a long time, don’t skimp on quality.
Cotton is the most accessible material and you’ll have no problem finding great cardigans for great prices. They also have the advantage of being really light and can easily be worn in spring and summer.
However, if you’re really looking to keep warm, you need to think more along the lines of wool. This will protect you much better from the cold because of its insulating characteristics. Be careful – the cheapest wool can be irritating for the skin. You’ll need to keep this in mind if you’ll want to wear your cardigan over a T-shirt with short sleeves.
Note that wool is a very breathable material. That’s why a fine woolen cardigan will be more comfortable than a cotton cardigan that traps humidity. The same applies to linen which is a nice material but wears very quickly.
Cashmere has the same characteristics as wool but is softer because the fibers are finer. It’s also more expensive. In general, cashmere sweaters less than $60 USD are fairly mediocre and bobbles will appear very quickly.
Mixed materials like cotton-wool or wool-cashmere offer a more original material. Wool lends elasticity to cotton while cashmere lends a silky touch to wool.
The thickness of cable knits and Fair Isle sweaters are great for padding out a silhouette. What’s more, they add character to your outfit and offer you the opportunity to play around with subtle contrasts of materials.
How was the cardigan invented, anyway?
The cardigan was named after James Brudnell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan and British Army General in the 19th century. Supposedly, it was modelled after the waistcoat British officers wore during the Crimean war.
This Earl often won his battles and gained notoriety because of his successes, and subsequently, his garment gained popularity.
Originally, the term “cardigan” referred to a knitted sleeveless vest, but has since been adapted to mean a sleeved, open-front sweater with buttons or a zipper.
How to wear a cardigan
Offered in a range of materials (wool in winter, cotton and linen in summer), the cardigan is a basic item that can be worn year-round. Own a few in blue or grey? Even more functional and useful.
If you want to give it a try with more original colors, do so with light, affordable versions, not on pricey, thick winter ones.
Generally, you want to keep expensive pieces very versatile so they will get plenty of use and go with many items. This way, if it turns out you don’t like the experimental colors, you won’t have wasted a ton of money on something you won’t wear.
Another option would be to consider cardigans that are a solid color with a contrasting color in the trim. Take a look at the cardigans below by Melinda Gloss and Fred Perry as examples.
(Ed. note: when wearing these styles and trying to match, concern yourself with the most dominant color. You don’t have to necessarily match the contrasting / minor colors, though kudos for being able to complement them with the rest of your outfit.)
Some cardigan layering and outfit pairing options
1) A cardigan to wear with layers and protect yourself during deep winter.
- A slight chill makes you want to wear something warm that protects your neck from the cold. Therefore, in winter, you should opt for a thick cardigan with a large shawl collar.
- The collar should be deep enough to allow for the items that you wear underneath to be seen, but not too deep since it is meant to keep you warm, after all.
- In the case of heavy rain, you can combine a high-collared cardigan with a decent mid-season waterproof trench coat. This kind of collar is easier to wear under a coat than an ordinary shawl collar. In general, they’re warm enough to do the trick when simply combined with a trench coat.
2) A cardigan under a blazer or with a suit.
- This plays well on the traditional three-piece style to create a warmer, more laid back, almost ‘professorial’ look. In this case, go for really fine knits and simple colors, typically grey or blue.
- If possible, go for a cardigan that will be lighter than your jacket and darker than your shirt, which will draw attention to your face.
3) A cardigan for a mid-season top layer, perfect for fall tailgates and spring cookouts.
- Wear it with a laid-back checked or chambray shirt, which you’ll vary the thickness of to match the temperature.
- For an even more laid-back outfit, substitute a collared shirt for a T-shirt or V-neck.
To be really inspired by layering, check out those created by fashion show buyers who are dedicated to men’s fashion like Pitti Uomo in Italy.
It’s a bit like art: an interesting source of inspiration, but avoid copying it to the exact letter if your daily environment doesn’t justify you doing so.
Three outfit ideas to get you started
All outfits featuring this simple gray cardigan from Uniqlo.
Some brands to consider
- Uniqlo – Starting at $39.90
- Asos – Starting at $33.75
- J.Crew – Starting at $74.50
- Club Monaco – Starting at $89.50
- Scotch & Soda – Starting at $85.00, although I particularly like this shawl-neck in a nice ruby color at $169.00
- Henry Cottons via Yoox – Starting at $98.00
- Gant – Starting at $145.00
- Rag&Bone – Starting at $255
- S.N.S. Herning via Mr. Porter – Starting at $345.00
- John Varvatos – Starting at $498
Over to you
Have you incorporated a cardigan into your wardrobe yet? What questions / thoughts do you have that weren’t answered here? Leave them in the comments below!