how to wear a cardigan

How To Wear a Cardigan: Style Tips for Every Occasion

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From winter and fall to spring and summer – if there’s a wardrobe staple that truly hangs around all year round, it’s the beloved, trusty cardigan. For most of us, cardigans have been a staple part of our wardrobes for many years. While they have certainly served us well over time, it can also be safe to say that we might have gotten used to wearing them a specific way or two. 

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with resorting to your personal favorite ways of wearing cardigans. With a piece as reliable and as versatile as this, though, it might be worth taking a look at some other styling options! Thinking about new possibilities might just open up your eyes to a whole new world of fashion inside your own closet. Let’s go over different style tips and ways to wear your cardigan!

Different Ways to Wear Your Cardigans

As a Top: Elevate Your Basics!

how to wear a cardigan

Like any other clothing piece or accessory, cardigans can take the spotlight on all their own. Transform your cardigan into a chic top by buttoning it up and pairing it with a tailored skirt or high-waisted comfy pants. This combination creates a polished and put-together look that’s perfect for casual Fridays at the office or a lazy Sunday with friends.

Keep in mind that other small tweaks to your outfits can make a huge difference in the overall feel of your ensemble. While most buttons need to be done up to wear your cardigan as a top, you can choose to button more or fewer buttons depending on the look you’re going for. 

H&M Fine Knit Cardigan

Available in six neutral colors, these lightweight cardigans are a great option for those looking to wear this piece as a top (and not break the bank). Its classic design and adaptable style make this piece a staple for even a compact capsule wardrobe.

We know all cardigans are staple pieces in their own right, but this particular design is definitely among the best cardigans to own when it comes to versatility. Able to be worn with all kinds of bottoms and colors in your closet – and layered over a shirt! – this cardigan is a perfect way to experiment with different ways of wearing and styling this staple design. 

Textured-knit Cardigan 

For a slightly more elevated and put-together look, opt for a more structured cardigan as the key piece of your outfit. This silhouette will dress up more casual bottoms like jeans, making for a balanced and chic ensemble for your week. 

In particular, this light blue style is a great way to bring this piece into your spring wardrobe

J.Crew Collection Crochet Cardigan

When we think of cardigans, the same styles are likely to pop into our heads over and over again – thicker, knit materials with a generally slouchier or oversized look. While these styles are closet staples and definitely great to have on hand, cardigans can also come in diverse shapes, styles, and fabrics.

When you are looking to wear your cardigan as a top, picking a different variation not only adds another element to your look, but also allows this piece to be front and center as the most eye-catching piece of your ensemble. 

Delicate and feminine, this white cardigan instantly and undeniably elevates a simple, elegant outfit into something full of personality and added charm. (Note: it is not see-through on the model, but keep in mind you may need to wear a nude or white tank underneath!)

With Denim Shorts: Effortless & Chic

how to wear a cardigan

Embrace casual charm by throwing on a fitted, more structured cardigan with your favorite pair of denim shorts. Accessorize with shoes and a bag that complements the color palette of your cardigan, striking the perfect balance of casual chic for a nice day out. 

For a slightly more casual look but still very put-together approach, try pairing your denim shorts with an oversized cardigan. Tuck it in slightly at the front for a more flattering fit, and you’ll be ready to enjoy your day in carefree comfort. 

Tucked Into Jeans: Everyday 

how to wear a cardigan

Take your denim game up a notch by tucking the front of (or your entire) cardigan into a pair of well-fitted jeans. This styling trick adds a touch of casual sophistication to your ensemble, making it ideal for a casual dinner over the week or a stroll through the park with your family. 

Adapt this outfit to your personal style by choosing your preferred style of jeans. From skinny jeans to straight leg fits, high-waisted styles, and wide-leg designs, a good cardigan can be well complemented by the large majority of denim styles. 

With that being said, it is important to take a few factors into consideration when putting together your cardigan and your denim; keep proportions in mind! If you’re not quite sure how to get started, here is a general tip to get your toes wet: Skinny jeans generally pair well with looser or more oversized cardigans in order to bring contrast and balance to the look. 

Also, If you’re wearing wide-leg jeans, tuck in your entire sweater to bring balance to your body.

Cashmere Patch-Pocket Cardigan

This style is a great example, providing a comfortable fit, high-quality materials, and perfect spring shades. 

Of course, more structured cardigans can also look great with skinny jeans as they provide balance and structure to the curve-hugging fit of the denim style. 

In general, it’s helpful to keep in mind that straight-leg jeans pair well with most cardigans. Fitted varieties like the one below can be particularly flattering as a way to complement the fit on the jeans! 

The Rib-Knit Organic Cotton V-Neck Cardigan

Available in three neutral shades, this cardigan makes for the perfect contrast with both straight leg and wide jeans, enhancing your figure and keeping your look timeless at the same time. Balancing these two opposite fits is a super easy way to work some flattering proportions into your looks with very little effort! 

When wearing high-waisted jeans, opt for either shorter cardigans or slouchier styles that can be tucked in for an overall more flattering fit. 

Adi Alpaca-Blend Cardigan Sweater

Loose styles like these pair beautifully with high-waisted denim without appearing cropped or interfering with the proportions of the look. Cozy and laid-back, this button-up cardigan makes for a relaxed and elegant ensemble that screams comfort. Chunky cardigans like these are effortlessly able to blend a relaxed fit with a classic style. 

If you want to wear more structured styles with high-waisted bottoms, I recommend not wearing them as a top! Instead, wear a T-shirt underneath and layer your open cardigan on top. 

Of course, some rules are meant to be broken – especially when we’re talking about fashion and personal style! The best way to find out what works for you is by trying out different looks, combos, and variations until you stumble across something that clicks.

Worn Backwards: Unexpected Elegance

how to wear a cardigan

Flip the script on conventional styling by wearing your cardigan backward. This unexpected twist not only makes for an interesting, different silhouette but also allows you to showcase statement jewelry or a delicate back necklace.

This option is great for working with what you have when it comes to creating a different look with items in your closet. For this method to work the best, I recommend opting for cardigans that are more fitted to the body.

Resulting in a chic high-neckline in front and an eye-catching detail in the back, this cardigan-wearing method will have you giving new life to pieces you thought you knew! For an added layer of style and edge, leave a few buttons open.

Related: 10 Easy Ways to Make Cute Outfits with Simple Clothes

H&M Knit Cardigan

Lightweight and featuring a high neckline, this cardigan works beautifully for those wanting to experiment with wearing it backward.

This style is available in deeper grays and blacks for those looking for darker neutrals, while still keeping the classic cardigan style and design. 

Wearing your cardigan backward won’t work for all of your pieces, which is why it’s important to experiment with the fit of your favorite cardigans to find the perfect contender before planning your looks!

Off the Shoulder: Effortless Glamour

how to wear a cardigan

Turn up the glamour in your everyday dress by letting your cardigan fall off of one – or both! – of your shoulders. Incredibly flattering, this styling tip allows you to show off your décolletage for a special feminine touch in casual outfits. 

For a cute, comfortable, and reliable go-to look throughout your week, pair an off-the-shoulder cardigan with your favorite pair of jeans and sneakers. 

While it’s definitely a top contender, wearing your cardigan in this way holds a lot more possibilities than just having you covered for laid-back days.

In other words, something as simple as wearing your cardigan off-the-shoulder is able to transform something as casual as a cardigan into true dinner date attire in the blink of an eye!

If you are looking to style a cardigan for a dressier outfit, all it takes is being more intentional about some of the other elements of the piece. Things like fabric, fit, and finishes can set apart pieces that are more appropriate for the daytime from ones that can shine at night. Styled in this way, this outfit exudes understated elegance and is perfect for a dinner-evening look. Pair it with some statement earrings to complete the look.

For this style, opt for cardigans with wider necks and oversized silhouettes. If needed, adjust and reinforce to make sure the perfect fit stays intact all night long. 

With a Slip Skirt

Elevate your cardigan game by pairing it with a gorgeous slip skirt. In this combination, the contrast of the materials is largely what makes a look like this so chic and interesting.

In general, a variety of midi-length skirts would pair beautifully with cardigans, both fitted and slouchy. 

Metallic Off the Shoulder Cardigan

In particular, this cardigan is an example of something that would pair beautifully with a slip skirt. This piece’s figure-hugging silhouette, off-the-shoulder design, and metallic fabric all contribute special touches that elevate the outfit as a whole! 

If it’s an evening event or dinner you are attending, opting for a monochrome outfit can be the easiest way to transform this into a dressier look that’s perfect for more sophisticated occasions.

Have a little extra money to spend? It’s a good idea to opt for higher-quality fabrics for a more elegant look. Quick tips like these can have a huge impact on your final look, taking it from casual to sophisticated with just a few small tweaks.

Over a T-Shirt: Casual Cool

how to wear a cardigan

Embrace the laid-back charm by layering your cardigan over a simple t-shirt. This effortless combination exudes casual coolness, perfect for a weekend coffee date or a leisurely stroll through your favorite park. 

While I’m certain a basic tee and a cardigan are staple outfits for women all over the world, French fashion often leans in the way of outfits like these. Beyond being simple in some of its aspects like types of pieces and color palette, there is something undeniably chic about intentional, high-quality staples paired together. 

The Organic Cotton Relaxed Cardigan

With a gorgeous relaxed fit and black stripes, this slouchy cardigan makes the ideal piece for a Parisian-inspired moment. To make your look even more European, pair your cardigan with an elevated white tee as a middle layer, straight-leg jeans, and a classic pair of loafers! 

Those born into one of the fashion capitals of the world might have their advantages when it comes to forming a sense of style, but there is one of their secrets I can spill: it’s all in the fit! Having your pieces – from your tee to your cardigan and bag – fit you properly is essential for achieving a true level of cool and casual elegance.

Bomber Cardigan Sweater

This thicker and more structured alternative pairs great with a casual tee as well, ideal for wearing with darker trousers and matching accessories. 

Cece Ribbed Duster Cardigans

While this style falls out of line with the traditional cardigan length, it’s great to remember that longer versions of this style are also amazing options to have throughout the week.

More specifically, this navy blue maxi option effortlessly elevates a classic pair of blue jeans and a white tee to an elegant and chic outfit that will have you looking far more put together than you think! No matter the exact length of the cardigan, variation of this aspect of the piece can really bring some amazing variety to your collection. 

Draped Over the Shoulders: Effortless Chic

how to wear a cardigan

For a touch of casual sophistication, drape your cardigan over your shoulders. This timeless and truly classic styling trick instantly adds a touch of refinement to any look, and is ideal for our winter-to-spring transitional wardrobes (and beyond!).

Perfect for wearing with shorts, skirts, jeans, and even a button-down shirt, this quick style trick is perfect for quickly elevating just about any look. 

For this look, thinner and more malleable materials are preferred, since they result in a smoother look rather than a bulky accessory. 

Ribbed Zip-Front Tee

For a contemporary take on the classic cardigan (though you can never go wrong with classics!), consider this option with its cotton material. Throw it over your tee shirt and accessorize with sunglasses for a chic and vintage feel. 

When the weather gets windy, throw this zip cardigan on for extra warmth and a modern, and stylish touch.

Time to Go After Your Newest Favorite Finds! 

Varying in materials, thickness, shape, and warmth, these convenient knit “jackets” come in hundreds of different varieties, able to adapt to all kinds of temperatures and outfits throughout the weeks and months of the year.

This is why different cardigan styles might as well be different clothing pieces entirely! From casual cardigan outfits to ones rocking more of a classic style, the possibilities really are endless. 

When it comes down to how to wear a cardigan, versatility really is the key to timeless fashion – and the cardigan stands as a testament to that! From acting as the classic buttoned-up top to being styled in unexpected styling methods, this timeless classic is still capable of bringing innovation and fresh takes to our closets now and for years to come.

While certain styles may also pair best with a specific outfits like we just saw, it all comes down to the beauty of this essential at heart. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: versatility! Especially if you’re still not certain about what works for you, this is the perfect opportunity to start experimenting with what you have. 

Like always, here goes my best style tip: it’s important to remember that there is no one outfit formula when it comes to finding the right clothes for you. It all comes down to trying different outfit ideas and staying true to what makes you feel your best.

From finding new pieces to integrate into your everyday wardrobe to discovering new ways of wearing the pieces you love in your closet, the capsule wardrobe is the place to start: Streamlining Your Closet: Key Pieces to Include in Your Capsule Wardrobe Essentials List

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Founder and editor of My Chic Obsession, Carolyn is your trusted fashion maven. Carolyn's drive to help others achieve a classic and timeless wardrobe fuels her posts, making mychicobsession.com a go-to resource for style seekers worldwide. Beyond the wardrobe, she resides in the heartland of the Midwest, dreaming up new ideas and raising her two lively boys - her biggest fashion critics.