Men’s Cardigan Outfit Inspiration: 19 Getups That Won’t Make You Look Like Your Dad
Forget what you thought about this classic knit. Here's how to wear a cardigan in a number of contemporary ways, from streetwear fits through to office-ready attire.
The cardigan might just be the most underrated knitwear style of all. Far from the grandma of knits that many (wrongly) assume it is, the cardi is a menswear mainstay that suits a variety of sartorial needs. It may be a humble design, with its simple buttoned front, but this is a garments that will work with everything from jeans and a tee at the weekend to a shirt and tie in the office.
If you’re after a comfortable fall/winter layer that will bolster your casual wardrobe, the cardigan is your friend. Want something that’ll dress down your smartest tailoring? It’s got your back for that, too. So from which cardigan is right for you to contemporary ways to wear them, here’s everything you need to know about styling this underappreciated knitwear icon.
How to wear a cardigan tips
Watch your weight
Broadly speaking, cardigans come in two variations: lighter weight merino wool styles, and chunkier lambswool versions. But within those parameters there are plenty of design twists to consider. For example, a chunky cardigan can have two pockets at the hip, or a shawl collar instead of a regular V-neck hem. These details drastically change the look and feel of the cardigan, so it’s worth considering where you want to primarily wear yours.
A chunky cardigan with a shawl collar and pockets works best as a makeshift piece of outerwear (an alternative to your fall jacket, for instance), while a minimal, fine-gauge merino cardigan is better suited as a layering piece.
Essentially, the more pared back the style of cardigan is, the smarter it looks. This is also true of fitted, lighter weight designs in merino wool or cashmere, which are better matched with tailoring given that they sit comfortably under a blazer without ruining its lines.
Fit, as always, plays a big part in the success of a cardigan. It’s subjective to a point, but it’s definitely possible to get it wrong.
For smarter, merino wool or cashmere styles, you should be prioritising a slimmer cut. This is especially true if you plan to combine it with tailored trousers and a blazer or overcoat. You want it to fit relatively close to the body so that it doesn’t ruin the line of a jacket, but not too tight that it doesn’t accommodate a shirt underneath. An easy way to see if your cardigan is too tight is to do it up – if the buttons are straining across the mid-section or chest then it’s time to size up.
For chunkier knits, more relaxed, boxy cuts are welcome. Again, you don’t want to go too extreme with a baggy fit, but heavyweight cardigans often look their best when worn a little looser, allowing them to be paired with more relaxed pieces like jeans, utility pants and flannel shirts.
Plain, solid colour cardigans are foolproof and deserve their spot in any modern wardrobe. But in 2022, consider something a little more exciting, such as a bolder/richer shade or patterned design. It’s this bolder approach to the cardigan that’s going to push it out of the realm of your dad’s weekend uniform and into something that looks contemporary and on trend.
For example, a slim-fitting, merino cardigan is ideal for warming up winter tailoring. But instead of taking the easy route and opting for a waistcoat that matches the colour of your suit, try a contrasting shade instead, which adds a welcome pop to otherwise staid businesswear. A burgundy or bottle green version, for example, would finish off a navy suit wonderfully.
Heavyweight cardigans take pattern and texture particularly well. This could be in the form of a ribbed, cable or fisherman-style knit – which instantly adds a rugged, workwear feel to casualwear – or the introduction of colourful block stripes, seasonal fair isle prints or subtle houndstooth motifs.
Men’s cardigan outfits for 2022
Mid-century cardigan outfit
When done right, the cardigan can reference one of menswear’s coolest eras: the mid century. It was, after all, an item favoured by Messrs Dean and McQueen, who often teamed theirs with classic raw denim jeans and white T-shirts.
Channel this timeless look for yourself with a chunky shawl collar knit, then finish with loafers for a smart casual twist.
Oversized cardigan outfit
Cardigans often look and feel their best in slightly looser fits. After all, they should be a comfortable piece you throw on without thinking too much about and, given that they always have a garment underneath, should be able to accommodate at least one layer.
Go for a relaxed cut with dropped shoulders, as shown here, and you’ve got a slouchy, jacket-like piece that works equally well with jeans and polos as it does tees and chinos for a variety of laid-back weekend looks.
All black cardigan outfit
It’s difficult to go wrong with an all-black look. For ultimate ease and effortless cool, it’s hard to beat. The cardigan is no exception, perfectly complementing an outfit consisting of a black tee and tailored trousers.
If you fancy switching things up ever so slightly, look for one with a subtle pattern, such as the above, which helps bring a touch of personality to what is otherwise a very simple look.
Wearing a cardigan as a mid layer
As a mid layer, the cardigan is tough to beat. It’s versatile enough to blend with everything from tailoring to streetwear, plus its button fastening allows you to alter the entire look and feel of your outfit on the fly.
For a summer outfit that’s perfect for the business-casual office, try a lightweight shawl collar navy cardigan under an unstructured cotton blazer, finishing with off-white chinos and a tee. Multiple layers allow you to add or shed pieces to suit changeable weather conditions and temperatures, helping you maintain your cool.
Black and white cardigan outfit
There aren’t many easier and cooler ways to dress than with a monochrome fit. Combining both black and white shades removes all the fuss and confusion over what colours to combine, essentially making your life easier.
Here we take what would typically be a fusty look – black trousers, black cardigan, white T-shirt – and give it a contemporary Parisian feel by tweaking just a few key elements. The trousers are tapered and cut slightly cropped, bringing a different dimension to the silhouette. The cardigan has a slouchy dropped shoulder and subtle yet striking pattern. We finish with Chelsea boots instead of dress shoes to give it an edgy, rock ‘n’ roll feel.
Your grandpa wouldn’t approve. But that’s a good thing.
Varsity cardigan outfit
Some of the most stylish cardigans owe their credence to Americana and preppy style. College sweaters and letterman jumpers often feature bold, primary colours, stripes and insignias, referencing a particular school and its sports teams.
Try it for yourself and look for a retro-inspired cardigan with pipped detailing that channels vintage flair, especially when combined with wide-legged shorts, sports socks and minimal sneakers, as shown here.
Preppy cardigan outfit
Cardigans are ideal for smart casual preppy outfits, making for a great alternative to a stuffy sports coat. Find one with patch pockets at the front and combine it with Ivy League staples like chinos, an Oxford shirt and canvas sneakers, and it’ll be hard to not look stylish.
Edgy cardigan outfit
This look turns everything you thought about the cardigan on its head, taking it from a ‘geeky’ piece of menswear and transforming it into something edgy and contemporary.
The open design, the removal of extraneous pockets, the subtle rolled collar, the dark moody colourway – this is a modern-day knit that works perfectly with similarly grungy pieces such as cropped black jeans, chunky Chelsea boots and leather jackets.
Business casual cardigan
For a more relaxed take on business casual, the cardigan is perfect. Go for one in dark navy or black and it can be used in the same way as a blazer, albeit one that’s inherently more laid back.
Layer it over a crisp white shirt and grey suit trousers though and it’s plenty sharp enough for days in the office when a tie isn’t required.
Winter-ready fair isle cardigan outfit
Fair isle knits don’t just have to be reserved for the festive period. This most classic of weaves looks just as good throughout the cooler months, especially in cardigan form.
Opt for one in a simple colour palette, such as this white and grey version, and combine it with a rollneck, tailored wool trousers and suede sneakers to see exactly what we mean.
Bold colour cardigan
As previously mentioned, cardigans look particularly modern when rendered in bolder shades. Rich tones of burgundy always work, as do bottle greens and even dark purples. But lighter, brighter colours are also worth consideration, and look superb against darker skin tones.
Take this teal number, for instance. Teamed with off white jeans and a light blue roll neck to create a vibrant contrast, it injects an easy summer feel into an otherwise fall-ready look.
The shirt cardigan
For a slightly different approach to the cardigan, consider a collared version. Popular with the mods of the 60s, this is a sharp and sophisticated option that will slot seamlessly into a smart casual wardrobe.
Try yours over a pair of pleated trousers and finish with suede loafers and you’ve got an easy, versatile office-to-bar look.
The cardigan coat
If you’re looking for a way of using your cardigan as an outer layer, we present this outfit.
Go for a chunky, ribbed cardigan made from lambswool (or a cotton blend if your skin is sensitive) and it can work as a jacket on dry days. It’s practical, warm and endlessly more comfortable than many alternatives, and can be layered over everything from a tee to an Oxford button-down.
Cardigans are chameleons of the knitwear world, in that they can blend into virtually any style of dress, from sharp and tailored to playful and preppy.
However, sometimes you just want to stand out and make a statement. And the way to do it is with a striking patterned design such as this. A bold block-stripe cardigan looks superb worn open over a dark graphic print T-shirt (notice the shades of blue, burgundy and purple linking the two pieces together), making the top half the focal point. This is emphasised further by playing it safe down below: brown wool trousers and classic canvas high-tops anchoring the outfit.
All-white cardigan outfit
All white looks are bold, there are no two ways about it. But when you get it right, there’s no better signifier of your style credentials. The key is to combine different fabrics and shades, which gives the outfit depth and makes it look more varied than it actually is.
The above is a case in point: white linen trousers are combined with an off-white cotton half-zip sweater, bright white T-shirt and chunky ecru ribbed cardigan for a look Jay Gatsby might have worn on his off days.
Tonal blue patterned cardigan outfit
Blue is a colour all men can pull off, and will feel confident doing so. It’s also extremely versatile – able to be worn alongside other staple shades like black and grey, or by itself as part of a tonal blue look, as shown here.
The printed cardigan is the statement piece, instantly drawing the eye. However, due to the subtle tonal palette used, it looks modern not garish. The rest of the outfit is pared back and complemented by a matching navy roll neck and chinos combination, which allows the cardigan to take centre stage.
Contrast colour footwear is a nice touch that punctuates the look and provides a definitive break point for the eye, which is sometimes required in a tonal ensemble.
The cardigan is ideal for this, given that it acts as a jacket with its button through design. Try a mid-weight version over a fine-gauge turtleneck, and finish with tailored trousers and loafers. Notice how the flash of socks links the top and bottom – a pro move.
It can be tempting to go for a cardigan in navy or black, which are arguably the most versatile colourways. But find one in a rich neutral shade like camel or beige and it brings something extra to the table, while being just as easy to wear.
Here, the cardigan is a mid-weight version in a cashmere blend that works particularly well as an outer layer on balmy spring days. Combined with an earth palette of white (T-shirt) and cream (chinos), it’s a seasonally-appropriate look that requires very little thought.
The cardigan comes into its own when worn as a mid layer, particularly if you opt for a contrast colour to add a focal point to your look, as shown here. The rich beige cardigan complements the brown shearling jacket and black jeans perfectly, which being bright enough to stand out in its own right.
The boots are a similar shade to the cardigan, expertly tying the top and bottom halves together to create continuity.