Mister Rogers made them wholesome and fatherly. Kurt Cobain made them casual and cool, like all disaffected youth who are too hip for the world. Guys like Daniel Craig and Jon Hamm made them sexy as heck. We’re talking, of course, about the cardigan, that ubiquitous sweater that men have worn throughout history.
You can be cool and hot like Clint Eastwood, an icon for casual style that tells the world you don’t give a damn like Kurt, a comforting father figure like Johnny Carson. But unless you’re wearing the right thing under your cardigan, you’re just going to look like a mess.
What are great options to wear under a cardigan for men…and have you got them ready for those times when you want to wear a cardigan?
Where Did the Cardigan Come From?
You know cardigans. They’re sweaters that are open in the front and have either buttons, a zipper, an attached belt, or nothing to keep them closed at all. The cardigan has a V neck and it may fit loosely or close around the body. It might be soft and comfortable and baggy or sleek and streamlined and lightweight.
But like many items of clothing, the history of the cardigan is based on blood and gore and…well, a guy who made some bad mistakes.
The cardigan gets its name from James Thomas Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan. There were other Earls of Cardigan before and after him but this one is famous. His name is linked to a fashion item everyone has worn but Thomas Brudenell is even more famous for leading one of the most disastrous and ill-planned battles in all of military history.
Brudenell is the man who led the Charge of the Light Brigade, an incident that is infamous for being a catastrophe. In 1854, England was engaged in the Crimean War against Russia. Brudenell was in command of a regiment of British soldiers.
As an officer in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, he wore a waistcoat made of knitted wool. Waistcoats were vests that had pockets to hold pocket watches. Brudenell wore one trimmed with braiding. And while his tactical decisions ended up leading him and his men into a suicide mission against well-defended and well-armed Russian troops, his knitted waistcoat stood out to style watchers.
Brudenell was widely known as a dandy, a man who spent quite a lot of money on his clothing and overall appearance. He even shelled out thousands of pounds a year on clothing for his regiment, so even his troops were well-dressed.
He was 57 when he led his men into the famous charge in which most of his men were killed. Brudenell, however, got as far as the Russian enemy line completely unscathed. At that point, he did an about-face and ran away from the Russian troops.
He got back to London ahead of his surviving troops and was greeted as a hero by none other than Queen Victoria herself. His fancy waistcoat, that knitted vest, turned heads at the reception held for him by the Queen. Eventually, the truth about his actions during the charge came out and his actions were widely ridiculed. But the vest? Well, good fashion is good fashion.
Cardigans were originally sleeveless knitted garments but soon, sleeves were added. By 1864, the cardigan was already starting to look like a modern cardigan sweater. By the 1920s, cardigans were being worn widely by men, women, and children all over Europe and the U.S.
The cardigan caught on in the U.S. thanks to high schools. When cardigans were used as letterman sweaters, the style became popular with everyone.
How to Wear a Cardigan
There are lots of different types of cardigans and that means there are many different ways to wear them. There are many options for what you wear under your cardigan. Start playing around with some different styles and see how cardigans look on you.
Try wearing a long cardigan with fitted jeans and a fitted T-shirt. This creates a long, sleek line that is very sophisticated. Stick to a darker color palette, such as black or charcoal, or navy, to create a sleek, slimming look. Wear a dark pair of tennis shoes, loafers, or oxfords to finish off this look.
Try pairing a light-colored cardigan with a pair of jeans and a button-up white shirt. This is a casual and classy look that works great with tennis shoes, hunting boots, or loafers.
Capture a sexy sort of Clark Kent vibe by swapping a blazer for a cardigan. Try wearing khakis or slacks with a button-up shirt and tie with a cardigan on top. You want to choose fitted pants and a fitted shirt and cardigan to show off some of those muscles. Because remember, Clark Kent is a brain but he’s also a beefcake.
Tap into an Old World European vibe with a classic cable knit cardigan on top of a button-up shirt with a bow tie. Tweed slacks will give you that hot professor vibe and if you’ve got a newsboy cap, put that on, too!
Top off a pair of jeans with a traditional crew neck T-shirt and a cardigan. Sneakers will finish off this casual look perfectly.
You can always wear cardigans the way they were intended: as a vest under a suit. Slip a cardigan on over your tie and dress shirt with your suit and you will have a great professional look. You can even get away with this as a formal look if you wear a black suit, black cardigan, and dress shoes. For business attire, loafers or oxfords will do nicely.
Put a cardigan on over a polo shirt with jeans or pants and you’ve got a slightly sporty casual look that will work just about anywhere. Finish off the outfit with tennis shoes or loafers and you’ll have that classic leisure look nailed.
What Are Great Options To Wear Under a Cardigan for Men?
Cardigans can be styled in a bunch of different ways and worn with all sorts of different looks. And when you style a cardigan well, you can wear almost anything underneath it that you’ve got in your closet. T-shirts, polo shirts, button-ups, there’s really no limit to the things you can wear with a cardigan.
Just remember to dress appropriately for the weather and to wear clothing that fits you well. When your clothing fits, you’re always going to look much more well-dressed, no matter how fancy your clothes are or how sharp your style is. Even the most expensive clothes will look awful if they don’t fit well.
Play around with different ways to wear a cardigan and soon, you’ll develop your own cardigan style.
What else do you need to know about cardigans? Do you still have questions about wearing this classic item? Get the answers to the most frequently asked questions about cardigans and get to know everything you need to know about wearing these sweaters.
Will cardigans shrink when you wash them?
Cardigans by definition are knit garments. They are knitted from a huge variety of materials, including wool and cotton commonly, and this means they can shrink. Hot water in the washing machine and hot heat in the dryer will cause knitted items and some natural fibers, like wool and cotton, to shrink.
But you do need to wash your cardigan after wearing it a few times, so what can you do?
First, check the care label on the cardigan. There should be instructions on how to wash the item. If not, you can always wash it in cold water on a delicate cycle and dry it on low heat. This will get the item clean without shrinking it.
Can you wear a cardigan in the summer?
Cardigans can be worn in the summer, too. In fact, sometimes this is exactly the right thing for a cool summer night. Choose a lightweight cardigan and you can top off just about any summer outfit with it when the weather gets rainy or windy or turns a little cooler.
Summer weather can sometimes a turn. Being prepared with a cardigan is smart and stylish.
Can a cardigan be altered?
Need to alter the way your cardigan fits? Can you alter your cardigan to make it fit you better? Well…sometimes. Wool, cashmere, and knit clothing made with natural fibers can generally be altered.
Synthetic blends, on the other hand, are much harder to alter. Also, even in the best circumstances, you can’t make a lot of huge alterations. Hems can be raised, sleeves can be shortened and other small changes can be made sometimes.
Cardigans are altered, or not, on a case-by-case basis.
How should your cardigan fit?
There are lots of different cardigan styles so it can be confusing because they don’t all fit the exact same way. You need to go by certain focus points on the body to determine whether or not your cardigan is fitting you the right way.
Your cardigan must definitely fit you properly through the shoulders. There shouldn’t be too much extra fabric at the end of your shoulders but at the same time, the fit shouldn’t be snug across the shoulders or back. You should have a full range of motion in your arms.
The cardigan shouldn’t be so tight anywhere that it restricts your movements or feels uncomfortable.
The Atlantic – The Military Origins of the Cardigan
The Dreamstress – Terminology: the history of the cardigan
Gentleman’s Gazette – The Cardigan Guide
Put This On – Q And Answer: Can I Alter A Sweater?
Top Trends Guide – How To Wear A Cardigan