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What are Great Options to Wear Under a Cardigan for Women?

Standing in urban setting wearing cardigan

The cardigan is much more than a simple sweater. It has been worn by the likes of Coco Chanel, Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift, Queen Elizabeth II, and just about any other high-profile female or fashion icon you might want to name. It can be casual or formal, businesslike or sexy, relaxed or fitted. There are few pieces of fashion as versatile or as stylish as the cardigan.

There’s just one problem. If you don’t know what to put on under the cardigan, your entire look is going to be ruined. What are great options to wear under a cardigan for women? It’s time to find out the answer and learn how to style your cardigan just like a pro. Who knows? Maybe one day, people will regard you as a female fashion icon.

The Weird History of Cardigans

Cardigans are everywhere and they seem to be worn by just about everybody. These sweaters are seen so often that it sort of feels like cardigans has always been around. Maybe they were worn in ancient days. The truth is, the cardigan officially emerged on the style scene in the 1850s. And when it first appeared, it was worn by male soldiers.

Wearing cardigan standing against wall

James Thomas Brudenell was a lieutenant general in Her Majesty’s army, responsible for leading a regiment of men for the glory of England. And he liked to dress well. Brudenell caught eyes for his fancy waistcoat, a knitted job that was embellished and very noticeable.

He also became notorious for leading one of the most disastrous attacks in all of military history. But bad tactics aside, Brudenell’s fashion was on point. Brudenell was the 7th Earl of Cardigan. His fancy knitted waistcoat, which was really just a vest, became known as a “cardigan.” Sleeves were added and the item became known as a “cardigan jacket” before it was simply the cardigan that everyone knows and loves today.

Men’s fashion has been widely influenced by the military over the years. But once cardigans made the jump to women’s fashion, their true potential was finally realized.

Women’s Cardigan Fashion

Why do women wear cardigans now when they began as a male-centric piece of fashion? There is one simple answer that says it all: Coco Chanel. History’s most famous fashion designer was known for wearing cardigans in her regular style and she sold cardigans under her designer clothing label. She looked to men’s fashion for inspiration and dug into her own closet.

Wearing a cardigan on the beach

The way the story goes, Chanel designed the first-ever woman’s cardigan herself by cutting up one of her old sweaters. She sewed a ribbon around the collar and wore it. Other women noticed right away and stopped her to ask her where she got the garment.

She’s made the neck wider, creating the distinct V neckline that is seen in cardigans, because she didn’t like pulling sweaters on that messed up her hair. As you probably guessed, the sweater really caught on and Chanel began making many more of them to sell to women around the world. They bought them and soon, female cardigan looks were a trendy, fashionable look.

She was so well known for the cardigan that French critic Lucien Francois once said of her that “when Mademoiselle Chanel gets to heaven, she will surely impose her cardigans and little jersey shifts on the Princesse de Clèves and Marie Antoinette.”

What To Wear With a Cardigan

Some of fashion’s most beloved women have worn cardigans. But they were only able to wear their cardigans well because they knew exactly what to wear underneath them. You have some great options when it comes to what to wear under a cardigan for women. Play around with different combinations to try all sorts of different looks.

Casual Chic

TASAMO Womens Color Block Striped Draped Kimono Cardigan Long Sleeve Open Front Casual Knit Sweaters Coat Soft Outwear (Large,White)

Look sophisticated and casual with a long cardigan and skinny jeans. A cardigan of any length, from hip-length to a long duster, can be used to create this style. Under the cardigan, wear a tucked in T or blouse that fits well. You don’t want your top to be too baggy or too loose. Something that shows off your shape will be far more effective. This look will create a long line that creates a slimming effect. A pair of ankle boots is a stylish finish for this look.


GRACE KARIN Women's Cropped Cardigan 3/4 Sleeve V-Neck Button Down Open Front Ribbed Knit Shrug Sweater Black

Pair a cardigan with a dress or skirt. The lines of this outfit look best if you stick to knee-length or higher hemline and wear a fitted top under the cardigan if you’re wearing a skirt. If you’re wearing a dress, try a dress with a more fitted bodice. This look works with any type of shoes you want, from casual sandals to sexy stilettos.

This look can be casual, professional or semi-formal, depending on the items you choose. Solid-colored and neutral clothing looks more appropriate as office wear, while more colorful looks are better as casual or semi-casual style.

A form-fitting dress under a long cardigan, worn open, is a very stylish look that’s perfect for a date night, a night out with the girls, a business meeting or anything else where you need to look fashionable and classic.

Funky Cool

Astylish Womens Fashion Winter Fall Thick Cozy Open Front Long Sleeve Chunky Knitting Ribbed Cardigan Sweater Small Size 4 6 Yellow Brown

Create a look that’s hip and cool by pairing a loose-fitting cardigan with fitted jeans and a graphic T shirt. Tuck in the T to flatter your shape and wear the cardigan open. Add a pair of tennis shoes and you’re ready for any casual event.

Summer Style

Ermonn Womens Crochet Cardigan Sweater Kimonos Boho Solid Color Oversized Summer Open Front Outwear Beige

Yes, cardigans can be summer fashion, too. Wear shorts, a crop top and a cardigan that’s about thigh-length to create an amazing summer look that’s perfect for cooler summer evenings when you need just a little bit of warmth. Lightweight and loose knit cardigans are great as summer wear. It’s a perfect extra layer when you’re going to the beach, the lake or you’re out and about on a summer night.


EIMIN Women's 3/4 Sleeve V-Neck Button Down Stretch Knit Cardigan Sweater White L

Try a polished, preppy look by slipping into a fitted blouse or tank top and a pair of fitted pants. A shade of khaki, gray, black or navy will work for any day or night event, while white can also work for day wear. Top it off with a fitted waist-length cardigan and wear it buttoned up to complete the preppy look. Preppy style has long been the fashion for royal family members and many other style icons who like to maintain a neat, buttoned-up appearance. Finish this look off with a pair of loafers and you will be ready to wow any country club.

The Cardigan Dress

CMZ2005 Women's Button Down Long Sleeve Cardigan Outerwear Sweater Dress Bodycon Party Maxi Dress 6088 Black

Some women are wearing cardigans completely buttoned up as dresses. With a belt, a cardigan becomes a figure-flattering beautiful dress option. This is a perfect look for casual or semi-formal wear. Wear a full slip under a cardigan dress because knit material can feel scratchy, itchy and hot on bare skin. You don’t want to feel too much of your cardigan.


Happy Sailed Womens Retro Boho Printed High Waist Elastic Waist A Line Flowy Long Maxi Beach Skirts with Pockets Red Small

Create a boho look with a cardigan with a long, full skirt and sandals. Top your skirt with a tank top or fitted blouse and a cropped or waist-length cardigan. The cardigan should be fitted. With the long skirt, you want to wear something more form fitting on your torso so your shape doesn’t look swamped and hidden by your clothing.

What Are Great Options To Wear Under a Cardigan for Women?

When it comes to what you’re wearing under your cardigan, you have practically unlimited options. From tank tops to T-shirts to dresses to all sorts of other options, there are a lot of things you can wear with your cardigan. Play around with different looks and try on different lengths and styles of cardigans to experiment with cardigan style. The more you practice wearing cardigans, the better you’re going to be at styling cardigan-centric outfits.


Still have questions about styling your cardigans? There’s a lot to know and a lot to consider when you’re wearing different layers. Get the answers to the most frequently asked questions about cardigans and get to know the ins and outs of cardigan style.

Close up detail of cardigan

Can you hang cardigans in the closet?

Some sweaters should not be hung in the closet because the weight of the item can make it stretch out as it hangs there. This also applies to heavier cardigans. You don’t want the cardigan to become misshapen, so it’s a good rule of thumb to fold cardigans and keep them in a drawer or on a shelf.

Cardigans that are made in lightweight designs, however, are fine to hang up in the closet. Usually, lightweight knitted clothing will hang well without stretching out because it’s not being pulled down by its own weight.

How tight or loose should a cardigan be?

Cardigans are made in all sorts of different styles and lengths, from wrap designs to cropped styles to oversized and baggy cardigans. That can make it hard to know f your cardigan is fitting you the way it should.

What types of cardigans are in style?

So what kinds of cardigans are in style? Which types of cardigans will make you look stylish and which are just outdated? To see all the hot looks, follow some well-known celebrities on social media sites. Celebrities who are known for their style post pictures frequently of their latest looks and their hot outfits.

Follow some of these people online and you’ll start to get all sorts of outfit ideas. This will give you a great idea of what people are wearing and what you should try to be wearing to stay up with all the latest style trends.


The Atlantic – The Military Origins of the Cardigan

Modern Ratio – 8 Beautiful and Stylish Ways to Wear a Women’s Cardigan

Savoir Flair – A Brief History of the Cardigan, from Coco Chanel to Taylor Swift