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Updated August 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best cardigans

A cardigan is a handy sweater you can easily layer on chilly days. It’s a piece that can add a flash of style to your favorite shirt and trousers. In short, a cardigan is a must-have for any wardrobe.

Designed with an open front, the cardigan has enjoyed popularity since it was created in the late 1800s. Because of its everlasting appeal, chances are a cardigan won’t be left hanging in your closet for long. This “staple” sweater pairs nicely with numerous fashions, including blouses, turtlenecks, and dress shirts. It also looks great with dressy pants, jeans, leggings, and skirts.

Just like other types of sweaters, cardigans are made of knitted materials. While some feature thick fabric that’s ideal for fall and winter, others are made of lightweight knits that work for spring and summer. In addition to the traditional waist-length design, there are several other types of cardigans that are equally fashionable.

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Adding a cardigan to an outfit is a fashion-forward way to layer when the weather is cold.

History of the cardigan

The cardigan is named after British Army Major General James Brudenell, who was the seventh Earl of Cardigan. It’s thought that he was inspired to design the knitted sweater by the waist-level coats worn by British officers during the Crimean War.

The first cardigans were made of knitted wool with a classic button-up front, wrist-length sleeves, and waist-length fit. While this style is still sold today, modern cardigans have many variations when it comes to fabric, length, sleeves, and fasteners.

Can anyone wear a cardigan?

Although the first cardigans were made for men, today, the options are numerous. Cardigans are available for children and adults and are designed and sized for all genders.

Types of cardigans

  • Classic cardigans are waist-length and usually have buttons up the front.
  • Jacket-style cardigans are suitable for winter, as they are heavier than others in this class of sweaters. These cardigans often fasten with zippers, and some have a hood.
  • Long cardigans are sometimes called tunic cardigans. They are knee-length or a bit longer and may be belted. The bottom may flare for a flowing look.
  • Short-sleeve cardigans are great when extra warmth is not necessary. These summer-friendly sweaters are often made of a thin knit, adding style without creating bulk.
  • Vest cardigans look nice when layered with shirts and sports jackets.
  • Open cardigans don’t have buttons, zippers, or other types of closures. You can wear this versatile sweater with casual or dressy pieces.

Wearing a neutral cardigan with a brightly colored shirt or bold-patterned pants will make your look pop.

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How to care for a cardigan

It’s fairly straightforward to maintain a cardigan. Many are made of fabric that can survive the washing machine on the delicate or gentle cycle. However, cardigans made of wool, cashmere, and some other knits should be hand-washed.

For best results, air-dry a cardigan on a flat surface, as the heat of a dryer could cause the knitted fabric to shrink and pill.

Cardigan features

Materials

Cardigans are similar to other types of sweaters when it comes to the materials used to make them.

Cashmere, cotton, and wool are popular for their warmth and durability. Cardigans made of these premium materials usually fall on the higher end of the price spectrum, but they are also likely to hold their shape and resist shrinking and pilling over time.

Other cardigans are made of synthetic materials like polyester. These tend to cost less than cardigans made of natural fibers. Polyester cardigans are often soft and durable, but they aren’t as breathable as natural options.

Seasonality

Cardigans are made for every season of the year.

Cold-weather sweaters often consist of a dense-knit material like cashmere or wool. Warm-weather cardigans are often made of a lightweight knit that’s loose and thin — a breezy choice for spring days and cool summer evenings.

Colors

When shopping for a new cardigan, you will find neutral shades, bold hues, colorful patterns, and classic black.

Look for shades you love to wear, those that complement or contrast your other wardrobe pieces, and those that flatter your complexion.

Fasteners

When you think of a cardigan, there’s a good chance you think of buttons.

A button-up front is a traditional cardigan characteristic. But in addition to buttons, you will find cardigans with zippers, snaps, and belts. Closure-free cardigans are also available; these sweaters sport a casual, open appearance.

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DID YOU KNOW?
A cardigan sweater made of quality materials such as wool or cotton may last for decades with proper care. Follow the instructions on the garment care label to keep it looking its best.
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How do you accessorize a cardigan?

Carry an edgy handbag.

A colorful handbag or one with a statement design will complement a classic or edgy cardigan. A clutch with a bit of bling or a shiny finish looks great with tunic and crop styles.

Add a pearl necklace.

Not only are pearl necklaces timeless, but they are currently trending. What’s more, pearls aren’t just for pairing with a dress — slipping on a strand with a cardigan gives it an air of elegance and sophistication.

Dress it up with a watch.

A watch will dress up any cardigan. Opt for a dressy watch with a leather band or one with a silver-tone or gold-tone finish.

Complete your look with a necktie.

Wearing a necktie and dress shirt with a cardigan creates a stylish look for the office or a special night out on the town. Choose a tie that incorporates the shade of the cardigan or one with contrasting colors that pop.

How much do cardigans cost?

Cardigans sell at a wide range of prices. Usually, the higher the price, the better the quality. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find a great open-front sweater at a price that satisfies you.

Inexpensive

Cardigans that cost less than $20 may look stylish, but they aren’t likely to be made of the highest-quality fabrics. The exception to this is kids’ cardigans, which typically aren’t very expensive.

Mid-range

Between $20 and $50 is the sweet spot for cardigan prices. You will find a wide range of styles that are both attractive and well-made.

Expensive

For $50 and up, you’ll find high-quality cardigans made of wool and cashmere. Those made by top fashion designers may cost hundreds of dollars. Although pricey, high-end cardigans withstand frequent wear and cleanings, and they do a good job holding their looks, colors, and shape.

A belted cardigan exudes a contemporary design and a flattering silhouette. It’s versatile and looks stylish with dresses, skirts, career-wear trousers, and jeans.

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Tips

  • Consider the season. Choose a material and design based on the weather conditions in your area.
  • Store your cardigan. Folding your cardigan and storing it on a shelf or in a drawer is often preferable to placing it on a hanger. The reason: The hanger can cause the shoulders to stretch.
  • Think about color. Cardigans in neutral shades pair easily with a wide range of fashions. Bold colors like red, bright green, and royal blue complement basic pieces like jeans and white shirts.
  • Pay attention to knit patterns. Some cardigans are smooth; others have textured cable-knit patterns. The one that works best for you is really a matter of preference.
  • Venture outside your comfort zone. If you tend to prefer traditional styles, consider a new sweater with a crop design or a longer “tunic” design. You may find you like a new style.
  • Expand your wardrobe. Invest in several cardigans for different seasons or with various lengths. You’ll have one to wear year-round and with a variety of outfits.
  • Dress it up. Choose accessories like sparkling jewelry, statement shoes, and high-end handbags to give your cardigan ensemble a dressy appearance.
  • Dress it down. If you want appealing outerwear that slips on with jeans and a t-shirt, almost any type of cardigan will create an eye-pleasing contrast to this casual ensemble.
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Dress up a cardigan by pairing it with heels or boots, a colorful bag, or eye-catching jewelry.

FAQ

Q. What types of shirts should I wear under a cardigan?

A. Cardigans work well with many types of shirts. Turtlenecks are great for casual days and cold weather. Pair a cardigan with a blouse or dress shirt for work or special occasions.

Lightweight cardigans that can be worn in the spring and summer go with short-sleeve shirts and tank tops with scoop, square, and V-neck necklines.

Q. Can I wear a cardigan with a maxi dress?

A. Absolutely! In fact, pairing a cardigan with a flowing dress is a nice way to accentuate the feminine design. Opt for a cropped or belted cardigan for a beautiful, on-trend look.

Q. Do cardigans have pockets?

A. Some do. The pockets may be merely decorative, or they may be deep enough to stash a few small items or warm your hands.

Pockets are typically found on cardigans with longer lengths, but you can find them on some mid-length sweaters as well.

Q. Can I wear a cardigan for business casual?

A. Definitely. When paired with a stylish shirt and dressy trousers, a cardigan can easily be worn to the office on days when casual but classy attire will do.

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