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