Article body: As a transitional garment, the cardigan is a little bit of everything. It’s a sweater by construction, yet the buttoned front ensures you can wrap it around it like a lightweight jacket when the temperature takes a dip.
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This arrangement transforms it into a key layer within your wardrobe, and depending upon how you wear it, it transitions from a casual, normcore essential into a smart-to-business-dress basic for the office.
Top Picks For Men’s Cardigans
Casual Cardigan: Barefoot Dreams Men’s Shawl Collar Cardigan*
This Barefoot Dreams men’s cardigan is the very definition of textured effortlessness, complete with a retro fold-over shawl collar, relaxed fit, and visible knit.
Classic Knit Cardigan: Nautica Men’s Navtech Cardigan*
With nautical fashion expected to make a return for 2021, this knit cardigan provides a more low-key alternative to Breton stripes with its fine texture and solid-color body accented with stripes along the inside collar.
Upscale Cardigan: Paige Men’s Caplan Cashmere Blend Cardigan*
For the office and events requiring cocktail attire, this wool-cashmere cardigan fits right in with contrast trim, a refined yet almost louche appearance embodying unassuming luxury, and a classic silhouette that’ll complement your work wardrobe and fit unbuttoned over those camp collar shirts you own.
Retro Cardigan: Tommy Hilfiger Men’s Cotton Cardigan Sweater*
Among the vintage streetwear market, Tommy Hilfiger has turned into a hot commodity as a result of its late ‘90s signature elements. The brand defining the period’s sportswear aesthetic has taken note, and as such, knit cardigans like this one mirror the athletic sweaters of decades past, providing reworked preppy appeal.
Heritage Cardigan: Pendleton Men’s Shetland Bomber Style Cardigan *
While wool and wool-based textiles like tweed are perceived as British heritage garments, Pendleton brings them to an American audience with this accessible knit cardigan patterned after a bomber jacket. Its warmth-retaining construction turns it into a quintessential layer where practical, utilitarian qualities take precedence over style.
Chunky Cardigan: Westend Knitwear Aran Button Men’s Sweater*
In the modern sense, chunky knit cardigans often appear out of touch with current trends. Yet, especially with nautical fashion seeing greater visibility, this style provides more of a classic take with 100% Irish merino wool patterned like a fisherman’s rope.
Streetwear Cardigan: Nudie Jeans Men’s Jimmie Striped Cardigan*
Bright pops of orange contrast against deep blue, while a fine knit lets this colorway take center stage. If classic hues aren’t your thing, this fine-ribbed style made with organic cotton brings the experimentation as a statement sweater.
Men’s Long Hooded Cardigan: H&M Long Hooded Cardigan
When it comes to H&M sweaters, we typically expect something traditional, often knit with acrylic. This cardigan shakes up expectations with a long, asymmetrical design and unfinished edges, feeling more like a sweatshirt with its jersey lining and drawstring hood.
What is a Cardigan?
While cardigans transcend men’s and women’s fashion today, its background, like chinos and balmoral boots, is rooted in the military. During the Crimean War, British soldiers sported a wool knit, sweater-like coat, based on a garment European fishermen would wear in the 17th century to stay warm outdoors.
As it gained popular appeal in the 19th century, this vest-like men’s sweater was named after Major General James Thomas Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan. Enhancing its appeal among elite circles, college athletes in the U.S. started wearing them like letterman jackets to boast of their performance on the court or field, and over the following decades, this status turned the cardigan into a preppy staple.
Today, the cardigan utilizes a specific construction. Among all types of sweaters for men, it’s fully buttoned down the front, occasionally using toggles for variety. ¼-zips and pullovers, even with the distinctive V-neck, fall outside this scope. Secondly, cardigans traditionally feature a V-neck front, adding to their layering appeal with a collared shirt.
Essentially existing between a jacket and a sweater, the design is free of lapels, has no chest pocket, but may include side pockets for the hands – although these aren’t required and tend to be more prominent on casual garments. As a final definitive aspect, cardigans won’t be sleeveless – although you’ll occasionally run into something with short sleeves. Anything sleeveless with a V-neck qualifies as a sweater vest.
Are Men’s Cardigans in Style?
Beyond its preppy reputation, cardigans for years have been considered a garment geared toward older men, due likely to their buttoned appearance and sweater-like construction. Yet, over the past few seasons, they’ve made an appearance on runways and in streetwear lines, bringing back the athletic imagery of its heyday and splicing that with the revival of ‘90s streetwear.
To differentiate this new cardigan from its strictly utilitarian counterparts, the garment shouldn’t be too bulky – either slimmer in cut or intentionally voluminous with some length. At the same time, seek out designs with a degree of contrast, through stripes or trim, that reflect its past as a collegiate symbol.
When Can You Wear a Cardigan?
The cardigan isn’t a formal garment for men. Instead, it can function as a layer for your office wardrobe, has appeal as a lightweight jacket within your casual staples, and is sufficient for cocktail dressing, although you should approach this last aspect with caution. To determine when and how to wear a cardigan:
Examine the Material and Knit
Just as with all sweaters for men, cardigans vary in construction from acrylic on the cheaper, more accessible side to heavier wool and wool blends to refined, upscale cashmere. Outside of the threads themselves, you’ll encounter fine, lightweight textures – the case with most cashmere cardigans – to thicker, chunky wool knits. Generally, for anything business casual and up, seek out a finer texture. Casual dressing, on the other hand, is open to more experimentation.
Consider the Weather
Building off this last point, wool and cashmere are ideal as three-season materials when you’re seeking warmth and often prove their worth in the outdoors for their ability to retain body heat in relation to their weight. While you likely won’t be wearing a cardigan in summer, wool does offer moisture-wicking properties, and as a result, ultra-lightweight, fine-knit merino wool can transition to warmer conditions.
Think About Color
Neutrals like navy and charcoal appear destined for the office, particularly contrasting against a white or light-blue button-front for classic appeal. If your tastes lean more toward streetwear, you have an opportunity to experiment not only with bold, bright shades but with contrasting colorways.
What Can You Wear a Cardigan With?
Ultimately, cardigans fulfill two roles within your wardrobe. One, as a smart- to business-casual layer that can be worn loose or buttoned up over a polo or oxford in the same manner you would wear a V-neck sweater. On the casual end, it performs a similar function, albeit over a T-shirt for a touch more coverage.
Yet, especially with layering defining how we put on outerwear, your cardigan receives a second life beefing up denim jackets, overcoats, and peacoats with just a bit more warmth.