Cardigan sweaters are a closet staple that never seem to go out of style. With their versatility and timeless look, it’s easy to see why the knit cardigan has been a favorite layering piece for generations. Whether you prefer a cozy oversized style or a slimmer fitted look, cardigans can complete any outfit.
In this ultimate guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know about finding and wearing the perfect cardigan for your wardrobe. Discover the top cardigan styles, learn how to care for delicate knits, and get answers to frequently asked questions. Consider this your go-to resource for all things cardigan sweater related!
A Brief Background on Cardigan History
Before diving into today’s popular cardigan styles, let’s take a brief look back at the history of this iconic sweater. Cardigan sweaters get their name from James Thomas Brudenell, the seventh Earl of Cardigan. It’s said that after the battle of Balaclava in 1854, Lord Cardigan returned from war and needed a cozy sweater to keep warm in his chilly English mansion. His knitted wool “cardigan” jacket soon became popular across Europe and beyond.
Cardigans entered the fashion mainstream in the 1920s and 30s as everyday outerwear for modern women. Over the decades since, they’ve been reimagined in countless ways while remaining an ever-popular wardrobe staple. Whether made of wool, cotton, cashmere or synthetics, the cardigan sweater’s timeless appeal is guaranteed never to fade.
The Top 5 Knit Cardigan Styles
From smart to casual, there’s a cardigan out there for every personal style. Let’s explore the most popular silhouettes along with their key features and ideal wearing occasions. Expand your collection with a range of these classic sweater styles.
Classic Crew Neck Cardigan
The crew neck cardigan is the traditional version that comes to mind for many. With a close-fitting round neckline and full button front, it offers endless versatility. The classic crew can be dressed up or down seamlessly. It comes in various lengths ranging from cropped to oversized. For a polished look, opt for a fitted merino wool crew neck cardigan that hits at the hip. Or go for a slouchy, longline cotton version to throw on over jeans.
- Round neckline
- Full button front
- Close fitting
- Hits at hip or below
- Workwear – professional styled with blouses or dresses
- Weekends – casual layered over t-shirts and jeans
Brand Examples: J.Crew, Everlane, Banana Republic, Gap
Cozy Hooded Cardigan
For extra warmth and comfort, look for cardigans with a hood. Hooded cardigans have an attached hood offering additional coziness. They’re perfect for chilly weather but can also be worn year-round for a sporty vibe. Made of soft knit fabrics like fleece or jersey, hooded cardigans are versatiley casual. Toss one on with leggings for a coffee run or layer over a dress for a light jacket.
- Attached hood
- Full or quarter zip front
- Kangaroo pocket
- Drawstring hood/hem
- Running errands
- Lounging at home
- Travel days
- Light outer layering
Brand Examples: J.Crew, Old Navy, L.L. Bean, Patagonia
Open Front Duster Cardigan
For breezy lightweight layering, an open front duster cardigan is just the thing. With its longline length and open front, the duster cardigan has a flowy fit that flatters most figures. Drape one over jeans, shorts or dresses for an effortlessly chic look. Light open-weave knits like linen, cotton and rayon make ideal duster sweater materials.
- Hip to knee length
- Open front
- Lightweight knits
- Loose, flowy fit
- Layering over dresses, skirts, jeans
- Transitional weather
- Beach cover ups
- Travel wear
Brand Examples: Free People, Madewell, Anthropologie, Eileen Fisher
Oversized Boyfriend Cardigan
Who doesn’t love cozying up in an oversized cardi? Boyfriend cardigans deliver laidback comfort with their slouchy oversized fit. Made of soft chunky knits, these oversized sweaters envelop you in warmth. They look equally great belted as makeshift robes or worn open and flowing over leggings.
- Oversized, slouchy fit
- Soft chunky knit
- Longline hits mid thigh
- Shawl collar or open front
- Running errands
- Layering over dresses
Brand Examples: Abercrombie & Fitch, Boden, Amazon Essentials
Shawl Collar Knit Cardigan
For a dressier cardigan style, choose a knit cardigan with a dramatic shawl collar. The wide fold-over collar adds structure and sophistication. Made of fine knit fabrics like merino wool or cashmere, shawl collar cardis easily transition from day to night wear. They look beautiful paired with cocktail dresses or trousers for the office.
- Shawl collar
- Long sleeves
- Fitted silhouette
- Thinner knit fabrics like wool
- Evenings out
- Layering over blouses
Brand Examples: Halogen, Lord & Taylor, Nordstrom
How to Choose the Perfect Cardigan for You
With so many styles and options, choosing the ideal cardigans for your needs can get overwhelming. Here are the key factors to consider when picking out knit cardigans to match your personal style.
Consider Climate and Versatility
Think about when and how you plan to wear your cardi sweater. If you need a cardigan purely for lightweight layering, go for a thin cotton or linen style. Seeking cold weather warmth? Choose a chunky shawl collar knit that will keep you toasty. Do you need a cardigan suitable for both work and weekends? Opt for a classic merino wool crew neck.
Choose the Right Length
Cardigan lengths range from cropped to oversized. Cropped and hip length styles perfectly flatter high waisted jeans and skirts. For leggings or dresses, go for a longline cardigan hitting mid thigh. Oversized cardi sweaters act as great coverups past the hips. For office wear, stick to hip or waist length.
Find the Best Fit
Most cardigans come in slim fitting or loosely oversized. Make sure to check reviews to find the right amount of ease for your body type. For a chic put-together vibe, nicely fitted styles work well. Seeking that effortless boyfriend look? Size up for an intentionally baggy cardi. Accommodate curves with a loose crop cardi over fitted bottoms.
Knit Type and Weight
From airy cottons to fuzzy mohair, knit type impacts weight and warmth. Light breezy knits like linen and cotton make great layering cardigans. Wool, cashmere and thicker cottons offer way more warmth and heft. If you run cold, choose mid to heavy weight knits for cardigans you’ll wear outdoors.
Styling Details to Consider
Buttons, pockets, shawl collars – small styling details make a big difference. If you’ll wear your cardi open, buttons don’t matter. Seeking a bit more polish? A row of buttons smartens up any cardigan. Patch pockets add practicality to stash essentials. Luxe shawl collars elevate simple cardigans.
Material and Care
Check the cardigan fabric when buying. Natural fibers like wool, cotton, cashmere will last longer than acrylics or polyester. But they often require more delicate washing. Synthetic blends create budget friendly, low maintenance sweaters that can go in the washing machine. Think about how much upkeep you want when choosing materials.
Colors and Patterns
Neutral cardigans offer the most versatility to pair with your wardrobe. But don’t be afraid to opt for brights and bold patterns too! They make great statement pieces. For cost per wear value, start with versatile neutrals like black, gray, navy, tan and add pops of color over time.
The beauty of cardigans lies in their layerable nature. Play with different textures and lengths when figuring out what to wear underneath and over your cardi sweater. A buttoned cardigan over a flowy dress or collared blouse looks chic. Worn open and flowing over a graphic tee and jeans creates an effortless vibe. There are so many stylish ways to rock a cardi!
Quality cashmere and wool will cost you a bit more, but last for years with proper care. For budget friendly options under $50, check out fast fashion brands for cute acrylic or polyester styles. Spend more on versatile neutral cardis you can wear often. Save money buying bold cheap cardigans as seasonal statement pieces. Shop end of season sales for deals on luxury brands.
The most important thing is comfort. Try out different silhouettes until you find your perfect fit. Build a collection of knit cardigans in versatile solids along with a few fun statement styles. With the right styling, you’re guaranteed to look and feel great in any cardi sweater you choose!
Cardigan Care 101 – Keep Them Looking New
To extend the lifespan of your beloved cardigans, it’s important to care for delicate knitwear properly. Follow these cardigan care tips and techniques.
Washing – Always check the care label first. Machine washing is fine for many acrylic and cotton cardis, just use a gentle cycle. Wool and cashmere do best with hand washing or dry cleaning. Wash knits inside out to reduce pilling. Use cold water for all cardigans and wool specific detergent for extra gentleness.
Drying – Lay flat to air dry is ideal to maintain the cardigan’s shape and texture. Dry wool flat on a towel. For cotton styles, tumble dry on low is okay. Remove from dryer immediately to prevent shrinking. Never wring out wet knits! This overstretches fibers.
Prevent Pilling – Pilling occurs from fabric friction and is hard to avoid completely. Turning clothes inside out when washing cuts down on pilling. Using a fabric shaver removes existing fuzz balls gently. Try washing in a garment bag too.
Storing – Fold knits flat along their natural creases or hang on sturdy shaped hangers. Standard wire hangers stretch out the shoulders. Store cashmere with cedar blocks to repel moths in the summertime.
Keep Shape – Stuff with tissue paper to hold structure when storing. If creases occur, lightly steam or dampen the area and reshape the knit fibers. Allow to fully dry flat before wearing to avoid stretching.
Repair Small Holes – Close up tiny moth holes or snags by hand darning. Use woven fibers in a close matching color and invisible mending technique. Pulling a loose thread to close holes works too. Reinforce thin spots with iron on patches.
Professional Cleaning – Some high end wool and cashmere cardigans require professional dry cleaning. Others can be gently hand washed at home. Trust your gut on when to send out for special laundering services.
With proper care between wears, your beloved cardigans will last for many cozy seasons to come!
Frequently Asked Cardigan Questions – Answered
Confused about the best way to care for your cardigan collection? Seeking tips on how to actually style these versatile layering pieces? Here we answer your most pressing cardigan FAQs.
How often should you wash a cardigan sweater?
This depends on the materials and frequency of wears. If worn often, wash every 5-6 wears. Merino wool and cashmere only need washing every 10+ wears. Spot clean gently when possible between washes. Lightly worn acrylic and cotton can go 10-15 wears between washes.
What’s the best way to remove pilling on a cardigan?
Use a fabric shaver! Lightly shave the garment inside out. Razors also work well, just go gently over the areas with light short strokes. Avoid excessive rubbing to prevent holes. Pilling is unavoidable but easily remedied.
How should you store cardigan sweaters to prevent stretching?
Fold knits along their natural creases or hang on shaped hangers. Don’t just fold in half lengthwise – this overstretches the shoulder seams. Use breathable cotton storage bags and insert tissue paper to hold shape if stacking.
Is it better to fold or hang cardigan sweaters when storing them?
Lightweight knits can be folded in stacks to conserve closet space. Heavier knits hang better on sturdy hangers to prevent shoulder bumps from stretching. No matter what – store flat, not crammed tight! Use cedar blocks in summer to fend off moths.
What are some tips to make cardigans last longer?
Quality materials are key – wool, cotton and cashmere hold up over time. Hand wash gently, dry flat away from direct heat. Spot clean stains immediately. Store folded nicely in breathable bags. Have wool cardis professionally cleaned every year or two to refresh.
What are the best washing and drying temperatures for cardigan sweaters?
Check the care tag! In general, cool to cold water in the delicate cycle keeps fibers intact. Lay flat or tumble dry low heat. Wash wool separately on wool cycle. Avoid hot water and high heat drying that causes shrinkage.
Can you put cardigans in the dryer?
It depends – synthetic blends and sturdy cottons can go in the dryer on low. More delicate knits like wool, silk and cashmere require flat air drying to prevent damage from heat. When in doubt, skip the dryer to play it safe. Lay it flat!
How should you wash wool cardigan sweaters?
Hand wash gently in cold water with a bit of mild detergent made for woolens. Never wring or twist wool when wet! Dry flat on a towel. Wool cardigans can also be taken to professional dry cleaners – ask for light steam and no chemical treatments.
How do you get stains out of cardigan sweaters?
Blot fresh stains immediately with a cloth and diluted detergent. Avoid rubbing which sets stains. For dried stains, spot treat the area and let soak before washing. For food or grease stains, use a bit of dish soap and cold water to pretreat before washing.
Can cardigans be shrunk or stretched out if they don’t fit right?
To shrink, wash in hot water and put in the dryer on high heat. For stretching, dampen the sweater and gently pull to the desired size. Lay flat to dry – the fibers will set in the stretched shape. Aggressive shrinking/stretching risks damage so proceed cautiously.
Whether you love oversized boyfriend styles or slim cropped cardis in fun patterns, incorporate this iconic layering staple into your wardrobe. With proper care and storage, your knit cardigan collection will last for many chilly seasons to come! Play around with different looks and find your perfect cardi match.
The Timeless Appeal of the Classic Cardigan
Cardigans are the ultimate wardrobe staple that never truly go out of fashion. With the variety of styles, knits and details to choose from, it’s easy to build a collection of cardis suited for any occasion. Whether dressed up with trousers for work or tossed over jeans for a casual weekend, cardigans add a polished layer to every look.
Beyond being a versatile closet essential, the open front knit cardigan offers comfort that can’t be beat. Slipping on your favorite cozy cardi feels like a warm hug or calm oasis in a hectic day. Let yourself relax into the gentle softness of cardigan season. They truly do make everything better.
With some thoughtful care and storage techniques, quality cardigans will grace your closet for many seasons. Share the cardigan love by gifting these timeless classics to friends and family. Everyone needs that perfectly cozy sweater they can’t wait to slip on each morning or curl up in at night. Make comfort and style your daily priority and wrap yourself in a cardigan – you’ll be glad you did!