The cardigan: to wear or not to wear


As a wardrobe consultant specializing in professional dress, let me start this post by saying, I like cardigans. They’re soft; they’re warm; they’re cozy! And let’s face it; they’re a lot more comfortable than tailored jackets.

But all of those wonderful qualities are the problem. Cardigans are the opposite of a jacket. They’re un-tailored!

Tailored…untailored…I’m sure you’re thinking, so what! I specialize in helping my clients make the best choices of clothing to send out the best non-verbal messages possible for every occasion and goal they have. (I have extensive training in non-verbal communication relating to clothing and image. It’s what separates me as a professional image consultant from a fashionista hobbyist.)

Jackets, and other tailored clothing, send out non-verbal messages that you’re authoritative, credible, stable and a whole host of other great adjectives that could be used to describe a professional woman in a powerful way. (So much better than having to walk in a room and state it, right?)

Conversely, un-tailored cardigans give off much, much weaker and not so flattering, non-verbal messages.

Am I saying you have to revert back to the power suit from the ‘80’s every day? NOT by any stretch of the imagination!

What I do recommend is that you think very carefully about each day’s situations and your goals when deciding on a jacket or cardigan. A knit cardigan is always the more casual choice. Is your day more relaxed or do you have intense, “buttoned-up” meetings that last well past 5?

When you do reach for the cardigan for your professional environment, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Choose a cardigan that’s tailored—it’s slightly fitted (a.k.a. not blanket-like.)
  • Thinner, smooth knits are better than chunky styles.
  • A dark colored cardigan with few to no details is a great wardrobe basic and subs fantastically for a blazer over a sleeveless dress. A solid colored, colorful cardigan over an all black (or dark neutral) outfit is another interesting look.
  • Go for fit! While oversized is great for casual sweaters, your work sweaters need to fit in the shoulders. Wear your cardigans buttoned? Make sure there’s a little ease, no pulling at the buttons and throughout your torso.
  • Unless you were born and raised on the east coast and have cable knit running through your veins, cable knit cardigans albeit classic, can spell too preppy for the office. They also veer into frumpy territory quite easily.
  • Consider belting your cardigan. It increases the structure you want.
  • Here are even more ideas for wearing cardigans professionally. 

I encourage you to consider what’s on your docket for the day, who you’re meeting with and your goals before automatically reaching for a cardigan instead of a jacket.

Yes, as we’ve definitely come a long way with our professional, fashion choices; however, the non-verbal design messages remain a constant.

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