Men’s Cardigan Sweaters – A Man’s Guide To The Cardigan Sweater

mens cardigan sweater

Don’t let anyone tell you that cardigans aren’t manly.

The open-fronted sweaters were named after the 7th Earl of Cardigan, a prominent British military figure who popularized the style.

Cardigans have become a uni-sex garment, which has sadly led many men to move away from the cardigan as a masculine sweater option.

My advice?

Know your history and stop letting what others think determine how you dress.

Cardigans are a classic and should be a core item in your wardrobe. 

If you’re a man who’s never worn a cardigan you’re cheating yourself out of a useful addition to the wardrobe.

Relax, stop worrying about whether it looks manly or not, and learn to wear the soft, open-fronted sweater like a gentleman.


Why You Want to Wear Cardigan Sweater

More Style for Your Buck

Let’s talk style first.

The cardigan opens down the front instead of pulling over the head, meaning it can be worn open or closed.

Open it functions a lot like a jacket in the way it frames your torso but gives a softer, more casual shape.

Good cardigans will give a little taper at the waist to flatter your figure the same way a suit coat does.

Closed, the cardigan has a little more visual texture to it but works just fine as a regular sweater would.  You can wear it under a sports jacket, over a dress shirt and necktie, with jeans or with dress slacks, and so on.

Between the two ways of wearing it you’re looking at something that can be an outer layer, a jacket, a surrogate waistcoat, the bottom layer under a sport coat, and — in warmer weather — just an accent draped over your shoulders.

That’s a lot of use from one piece of clothing.

Three-Season Flexibility

On the practical side your cardigan is also a more functional piece of clothing than a lot of menswear.

mens cardigan sweaterIt’s what people sometimes refer to as “three-season” wear:  useful year-round except for the hot summer months.

On cool days that haven’t started to get really cold it can be an easily-removable outer layer.

When the temperature drops it can layer with shirts, ties, vest, jackets, and overcoats to be a thick layer of insulation.

The cardigan’s also a little looser than a sports jacket or blazer and takes a little more punishment.

It’s good on-the-go wear:  easy to toss in the car or a backpack, forgiving of wrinkles, and big enough to wear over a dress shirt or flannel work shirt while still being small enough to wear under a blazer.

In a pinch it even makes a decent blanket — perfect for the gentleman whose date’s legs are getting chilled at a show or on a drive.

How to Buy a Manly Cardigan

Since both sexes wear them, how do you tell a man’s cardigan from a woman’s or a featureless “unisex” garment?

mens cardigan sweaters

Your first tip will be the fit:  anything too tight against the skin is probably meant for ladies.

They look a lot better than we do when they’re stretching the limits of their sweaters; guys just look overstuffed and uncomfortable.  A good cardigan should have a little bit of a soft drape at the shoulders and hang low enough that it covers your belt when it’s buttoned up.

Big round or decorated buttons are also a feminine feature.  A man’s cardigan should have modest buttons, wooden “toggles,” or a zipper.  The latter is the least formal and downgrades the cardigan into something more like a sweatshirt, so be cautious.

Zipped cardigans are fine as casual outer layers, but they look a little goofy under a nice blazer or paired with good slacks.

A quality cardigan for men should have a taper that flatters our bodies:  narrowest under the rib cage, widening back out down by the hips to give your chest a little bit of a tapered shape.

It won’t be the sharp, precise lines of a suit jacket, but it’ll be creating the same effect in softer and more casual style.

A Man's Guide To Style

Keys to a Good Cardigan

Whether you’re buying your first cardigan or your twentieth you want to be focusing on three things:  fit, construction, and flexibility.

mens aran cardigan

Fit should be comfortably loose but not saggy. 

The shoulder seams should end on top of your shoulder — if they’re coming down your bicep at all the sweater’s too big.  The bottom hem should cover your waistline but not your trouser pockets.  It should button tight enough that you don’t get a big sag in front of your body any time you bend forward.

If you want a little looser of a look go for an oversized shawl collar rather than a looser fit — it’ll give you all the blanket-like spare cloth you could ever want in a sweater and still look good.

Construction is something to check in all garments.

Give the wool a feel and think about how much you’re going to enjoy wearing it.  Anything that’s too scratchy will be impossible to wear without a collared, long-sleeve shirt.  Which is fine when layering but a scratchy wool reduces the cardigan’s versatility.

Looseness at the seams or any “pilling” (little round balls of wool that form when you rub the jacket surface) are also indications of a poorly-made sweater.

Flexibility is all about how it’ll work with your wardrobe. 

You don’t want to buy something that’s identical to clothing you already own, and you don’t want to buy something that doesn’t go with anything at all.  Dark grays and blues and earth tones are the most flexible but also the most generic; brighter colors are more eye-catching but less flexible.

Think about what your wardrobe needs more — reliable core pieces to build off of or bright accent pieces to go with the staples you already own.

Cardigans Sweaters in Conclusion

As we head into fall and winter a couple of good cardigans are going to be some of the best pieces you could add to your wardrobe.  Be thinking about it if you haven’t, and if you have congratulations — you’ve already got some key wardrobe pieces for being a well-dressed man!

Buy Men’s Cardigan’s at FYI – I love Amazon because of their great return policy and as a prime member they deliver purchases within 2 days free.  

  • RStefani

    “Anything that’s too scratchy will be impossible to wear without a collared, long-sleeve shirt, which reduces the cardigan’s usefulness”

    What else would be acceptable to wear under a cardigan other than a collared, long-sleeve shirt? Would a polo work? All the photos show at least a collar.

  • rmrstyle

    @RStefani Good catch – the wording was off as I rec wearing it with a collared shirt. What I meant to say was that if it can’t be worn against the skin the versatility is reduced. Sometimes you want to match a cardigan with a polo – which isn’t convenient if it makes you itch!

  • JamieRife

    I’ve worn Cardigan sweaters for years and find them not only warm but very adaptable and quite classy. Thanks for the article!

  • JamieRife

    I’ve worn Cardigan sweaters for years and find them not only warm but very adaptable and quite classy. As far as “hoodies” go, they were originally meant to be used as athletic warm-up apparel, particularly for runners. But somewhere along they way, they have been co-opted as everyday fixtures among the teenage and 20-something sets, which is a shame. There is a place for them, but not in school or at work, unless your class or business involves some sort of athletic activity.

  • Morty62

    @RStefani You can wear a long-sleeve polo, or maybe even a long-sleeve, colored t-shirt. But to be honest, it really does look best with a long-sleeved button down sport shirt of some kind, which shouldn’t be a problem. If it’s cool enough for a sweater it should be cool enough for a long-sleeve shirt. The problem is that the term “casual” has been completely devalued. Dressing casual shouldn’t mean wearing your pajamas out to a restaurant. For people who present themselves respectably, “casual” usually means a collared sport shirt, chinos, a sweater or sport jacket, and a pair of loafers or boat shoes (worn sockless). When a man “dresses up” it usually means he put on a suit and tie or a tux. The way most “guys’ dress in public is not casual, it’s sloppy and clown-like. Believe me, once you get used to wearing decent clothes you’ll see things through the same prism and wonder how you let yourself go out in public like that.

  • Morty62

    I have two shawl-collar cardigans, one in navy and the other light gray, both made of lambswool. They look great. I think the main reason cardigans have fallen from favor is because Fred Rogers wore one every day on his children’s show. Fred was a wonderful man and a kind spirit, but he was not exactly a symbol of male virility. When I reach for my cardigan I think of Steve Mcqueen, who wore shawl-collar cardigans in many of his films. Steve wore it like he was wearing a leather jacket, which is one reason he’s called the “King of Cool.” So cardigan’s in, hoodies out.

  • Morty62

    @JamieRife I couldn’t agree more. Wearing hoodies and other athletic clothes to work , school or even to the grocery store is absurd. Wear athletic wear when you are being athletic, not when you are taking your girlfriend to a movie. Things like baggy pants, hooodies, tennis shoes should only ever be worn by people under 21 (if ever). When grown men wear them they look like cases of arrested development. The irony is that people in the ’30s and ’40s who try and dress like teens wind up looking much older than if they put on clothes appropriate for their age.

  • geoffrey.cubbage

    @Morty62 We almost went with a Steve McQueen photo instead of the Daniel Craig. He knew what he was doing with one and so does Mr. Craig. Too bad about Mr. Rogers, though, you’re right!

  • geoffrey.cubbage

    @JamieRife I think one of the reasons I like cardigans so much (as a youngish man) is that they give you a comfortably loose, casual shape without dressing down to the point of a hoodie. You give people the same relaxed impression but stay looking like a respectable adult.

  • samumaxwell

    @geoffrey.cubbage@Morty62 Craig is doing a pretty decent badass pose there!

  • samumaxwell

    I made the transition to the cardigan this fall, and have had nothing but compliments on it. It’s not even like I am wearing an expensive piece, it’s just the cut of the sweater that seems to set me apart. I didn’t change anything else about what i wore, I just swapped out a hoodie for a cardigan and presto! I’m a refined bad ass too

  • JohnBullock

    I have two charcoal grey front button cardigans and one jet black zip front cardigan. I love them. I especially love them with jeans and a great pair of loafers, although the loafers I choose are typically not very traditional. Smart play putting the Danial Craig picture first. Men who may resist this will get the message.

    I also still like hoodies, but only for a workout, or under a jacket to add a touch of style.

  • geoffrey.cubbage

    @samumaxwell Easy, right? You gotta love the affordable pieces that most people don’t bother with for their stand-out value.

  • geoffrey.cubbage

    @JohnBullock Cardigan under a jacket looks great too! Thanks for the comment.

  • KarWee

    I completely agree. I have a Royal Purple coloured cardigan and it gets great comments every time I put it on. And I particularly like the look of a cardigan over a shirt and tie. It’s just the right amount of casual + sharpness for me.

  • juergslk

    My opinion: Cardigans do well to add sharpness to a casual loo and they can also add to a formal look so they are a lot more versatile than hoodies. However, to say “stop wearing hoodies” wouldn’t be a good idea, as there are times when hoodies are just the easier option – obviously only in casual settings. So keep wearing both I say…

  • geoffrey.cubbage

    @KarWee That’s a good comment — cardigans definitely allow for some more vibrant colors that would look a little odd in a jacket or suit. Dressing them up with a tie lets you stay sharp without looking dull!

  • geoffrey.cubbage

    @juergslk I live about three blocks from one of the biggest college football stadiums in the country — game day would be pretty awkward without my school-colors hoodie! Definitely a time and a place for both in a man’s wardrobe.

  • JesseB

    I agree with the comment on hoodies, but what about fleece jackest.Maybe that is for another article.

  • geoffrey.cubbage

    @JesseB I think we could definitely take an article-length look at the “performance fleece” family of clothing (actually a trademarked term that’s become genericized, much like “Kleenex.”)

  • gp_dc

    What’s the rule on pockets for a cardigan? Some have ‘em some don’t

  • geoffrey.cubbage

    @gp_dc You just said the rule: some have ‘em, some don’t. I like having the place to stick my hands, personally. If you like a slimmer, more streamlined look, skip ‘em.

  • JohnBullock

    @geoffrey.cubbage@gp_dc Honestly, if the cardigan is of a lower quality, I like pocketless because if you put your hands in your pockets often, cheap materials stretch more and ruin the line. You look like you have a potbelly and if you already have one, it looks worse.

    Higher quality cardigans with better wool don’t seem to do that so much and retain thier shape.

    It isn’t a hard and fast rule, but I’m an educator, so wasting money is just not part of my lifestyle.

  • StevenEarl

    Daniel Craig looks like a badass! This changed my view on the whole cardigan sweater not being manly. I love sweaters in general, but I usually wear the v-necks or sweater vests. I have a hard time finding them in stores, the sweaters are usually in the women’s section…I do believe Amazon is a great place to shop, so I will probably be getting some there! Great article!


    Steven E.

  • geoffrey.cubbage

    @StevenEarl Glad you liked it!

  • Morty62

    J Crew has some really nice shawl-collar cardigans in various colors.

  • Morty62

    @StevenEarl This is a classic cardigan from Brooks Brothers you can’t go wrong with:

    Or this:

    Or, if you hit the lottery any time soon:

    At J Cre4w you can get a perfectly nice cardigan from between 70 and 140 dollars. To me the sharpest-looking ones have the shawl collar.

  • StevenEarl

    @Morty62 Wow, no wonder why I do not have a cardigan, they are pretty expensive! Thanks for the links though!

  • JohnBullock

    I used to work at Brooks Brothers when I was in college. They really do have quality clothes with a classic style. That cardigan looks great. Thanks for the links, now I know exactly what I want for Christmas.

  • Morty62

    One last link, this one from LL Bean:

    This is a very straightforward, solid Cardigan and it comes in a bunch of colors. No shawl collar but still a classy addition to any wardrobe.

  • geoffrey.cubbage

    We mostly steer clear of advocating specific brands/stores in our articles, but these are all helpful suggestions — great to have this sort of comment; thanks Morty!

  • gnatalenko

    I prefer cardigans when I buy sweaters for two reasons:

    They’re more versatile. You can dress them up or down and wear them in almost any season.

    They’re more stylish. V neck sweaters scream business casual (in a bad way) and crew necks are very plain.


  • handslikesecrets

    Nice article! I’ve been wearing cardigans for a couple of years now and I get nothing but compliments. Check out the ones at Jovve, I have four of them and they are trendy & don’t break the

  • geoffrey.cubbage

    @Gordey Glad you’re making use of these great sweaters! Thanks for commenting — we always appreciate hearing from readers.

  • geoffrey.cubbage

    @handslikesecrets Thanks for the link! An unusual style — some of those colors aren’t for the faint-of-heart, but I like what they’re going for!

  • Steph L.

    Neat ! My husband like Cardigans. I’m about to get him couple new ones, love the style on your screenshots.

  • Shelli Byrd

    On the sweaters do you roll the cuff up if it is too long or leave it down?

  • rmrstyle

    @Wow gold fast Thank you!

  • rmrstyle

    @Shelli Byrd Depends on the thickness of the sweater and style. It can give a more casual look but if too much you’re better having it shortened as it will always look to big for you.