Skip to Content

Are Cardigans Business Casual?

Cardigan with a wall studio

You can find a cardigan in just about every closet. You may have one in your closet right this minute, in fact. These sweaters are stylish and comfortable. they feel good, they look good, and they can do anywhere. Right? Are cardigans business casual, or are you committing a style sin every time you wear one to work or a job interview?

The Beginning of the Cardigan

By fashion standards, the cardigan isn’t nearly as old as some other standard pieces of fashion. Compared to many of the other fashion items you wear all the time, the cardigan is relatively new. This sweater was made famous in the 1850s. Like some of the most iconic pieces of clothing in all of the fashion, the cardigan is the result of several different decisions coming together all at once in what turned out to be accidental greatness.

In 1854, England was at war with Russia. Lieutenant General Brudenell was in charge of a regiment of men, and he would end up going down in infamy as the person who led the Charge of the Light Brigade. This would become famous as one of the worst military decisions of all time.

Brudenell got a great many of his men killed, and the attack he led was an unmitigated failure. But at least while he was doing it, he was wearing a fantastic fashion item.

Cardigan outfit on display

You see, in addition to being a lieutenant general, Brudenell was also the seventh Earl of Cardigan, and he was very well known for being a fancy dresser. He was a man who truly appreciated style. And legend has it that during that famous charge, Brudeness was wearing a knitted vest that was very handsome indeed. Brudenell gained a fair amount of notoriety for his disastrous charge against the Russians, and that’s when people noticed his style.

Out of the Trenches

The knitted vest quickly caught on, with many others adopting the style. Soon, the vest took on sleeves, and the cardigan as we know it today was born. By the 1870s, it was already a popular fashion item in England, where the damp and wet weather made the knit sweater a perfect protective layer.

The cardigan also caught the eye of someone very important in the fashion world in the early 1900s; Coco Chanel herself. She drew inspiration from men’s fashion to craft many of her iconic designs. Chanel created the first prototype for the women’s cardigan herself using a pair of scissors. The item immediately caught on in women’s fashion and became extremely popular.

The cardigan has remained a hot item on the style scene among both men and women ever since. Today, the world’s hottest celebrities and most stylish personalities have been seen wearing a cardigan. they have been donned by the most fashionable women and men, including the likes of Michelle Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, and Ryan Gosling.

For Modern Cardigan Love

So, it’s been established that cardigans are classic and traditional. They’re stylish and great-looking. But does that mean that you can get away with wearing a cardigan in a professional environment? Should you wear a cardigan as business casual attire?

Oh, the Dress Codes You Will Find

When it comes to dressing professionally, there are actually several different dress codes you might encounter in the job market. Knowing how to wear these dress codes the right way is essential to dressing appropriately, and knowing how to dress, for any work environment you might encounter.

Smart Casual

Truly one of the most confusing of all the dress codes is smart casual. This usually just means that you should dress casually but also look sort of nice and neat. This means wear dark, undistressed jeans or slacks and a tucked-in shirt or blouse that has a collar or a somewhat dressy look. Simple dresses work for the ladies.

Urban CoCo Women's 3/4 Sleeve Cropped Cardigan Sweater Elegant Shrugs for Women (M, Black)

And when it comes to cardigans, no problems. Cardigans definitely qualify as being smart casual. And with this dress code, you can feel free to play around with different colors and patterns for your cardigans. Go ahead and have a little fun with it.

Business Casual

Many, many office environments will opt for a business casual dress code. This means that the clothing you wear is suited to a professional office environment. That means no jeans, no T-shirts and no sandals. Open-toed shoes are usually okay, but actual sandals are just a little too casual for a business casual look.

Newchoice Womens Classic Open Front Lightweight Cardigans Casual Long Sleeve Loose Kimono Cardigans (White, S)

A button-down shirt with a collar is a perfect business casual look, along with a pair of slacks or a skirt. You can always top this outfit with a blazer or, perhaps even better, a cardigan. A cardigan is totally fine for most business casual dress codes, but only if you stick to a more neutral color palette. You don’t ever want to wear anything too bright or too busy in an office or work environment because it looks unprofessional.

Business Professional

Some strict or particularly conservative office environments may adhere to a business professional dress code, also known as business formal. This means that you must stick to a color palette of dark and neutral tones. Brown, white, black, navy, and gray all work fine, but any bright colors or busy patterns are a definite no-no for this dress code. You must also wear closed-toed shoes and no heavy makeup or jewelry.

Begonia.K Women's Long Sleeve Chiffon Lightweight Maxi Sheer Duster Cardigan (Army Green, X-Large)

For the business professional dress code, men and women both wear suits. That means wearing a suit jacket or a blazer on more casual days. For the most part, cardigans are not worn. If you have a dark-colored cardigan that fits you well and that’s made in a fine knit, you might be able to pull this off. Just remember that the cardigan can’t have any pills on it or look fuzzy or ratty in any way. You want to choose one that’s relatively lightweight and clearly well made so that it has a more high-end look.

Are Cardigans Business Casual?

Can cardigans be worn as business casual attire? Of course they can! A cardigan is a great substitution for a blazer or a suit jacket, which means that are just perfect for wearing in the office. You can pretty much wear a cardigan for any occasion at all, depending on how you style it and everything else you wear with it.


Still have questions about wearing cardigans and wearing them well? Get the answers to the most commonly asked questions about cardigans and get to know how to style these sweaters, just like an expert with years of experience in the fashion world.

Wearing a cardigan casual style

Can cardigans have zippers?

Cardigans often have button closures down the front. In a traditional cardigan design, the neck has a V shape, the cardigan has long sleeves, and the fit is somewhat baggy and loose. However, cardigans are made in all kinds of different styles, and they’re made to fit all kinds of different ways. Cardigans can have zippers instead of buttons.

Can cardigans have hoods?

Though traditional cardigans don’t have hoods, more modern cardigan styles can have hoods. However, a hooded cardigan is probably a little too casual to be worn as a business casual item. If it has a hood, you probably don’t want to wear it into the office or to a job interview.

Can you wear cardigans in warm weather?

Cardigans are typically associated with cooler weather, but you can wear a cardigan even in the summer or during hot weather. Choose a cardigan with a loose knit that’s lightweight, and it will be perfect for a summer evening or a day on the beach or on the lake when cooler breezes might make the extra layer welcome.

Can cardigans be formal wear?

Cardigans are one of the most versatile pieces of clothing in the fashion pantheon. These sweaters can be worn for casual looks of all kinds. They can be great for a date or a night out with friends.

They even work well in business casual attire. Wear one to the office instead of a blazer, and you’ll probably be more comfortable and get a more fitted look. But when it comes to formal wear, cardigans are a little trickier.

When paired with the right items and styled well, a great-fitting cardigan can be worn with a formal look. Just make sure every other part of your outfit is very formal and that it all looks good together, and you can definitely pull it off.


The Daily Illini- The do’s and don’ts of business attire

Dapper Clan – Are Cardigans Business Casual?

House of Fraser – A brief History of the Cardigan