How to Wear Cardigans Without Looking Frumpy #FightTheFrump

This might seem like an odd time of year to discuss cardigans, but actually, I wear cardigans as much in the summertime as I do any other time of year. I tend to get cold indoors, and I don’t always want the stiffness of a denim jacket, so I always keep a couple of lightweight cardigans in my summer wardrobe.

Cardigans are tricky, though. If you’re not careful, they can read frumpy really fast. I’ve been trying to determine what makes some cardigans look cute and others look frumpy, and I decided it would make a good Fight the Frump post.

Here are my best tips!

How to Wear Cardigans Without Looking Frumpy | Fashion for Women Over 40 #fashiontips #momstyle #fashionover40

How to Wear Cardigans Without Looking Frumpy

Also, don’t hate me, but I don’t have links to most of these sweaters because these are old pictures that I rounded up from previous blog posts. I will link to some cardigans that I like at the end, but remember that not every one will work for every woman. Take my frump-fighting tips into consideration when purchasing.

#1. Learn what style/length of cardigan looks best on your body type.

As with all matters of fashion, women’s bodies are all different so certain styles will be more flattering on some of us than others. Learn what works for you buy trying on different styles and lengths of cardigans — take pictures if you’re unsure, and compare.

If you really have no idea what works best for your body type… or what your body type even is… I highly recommend the Adore Your Wardrobe course. Find out more about my experience with the course in THIS POST.

#2. Wear form-fitting clothes underneath or a dress that belted.

Especially when the cardigan is slouchy, make sure the silhouette underneath is form-fitting; otherwise you will look larger than you are.

wearing: Halogen long linen blend cardigan (tan cobblestone) // ruched sheath (older color) // Sam Edelman Gigi sandals

#3. Size down in longer cardigans and/or choose cardigans that are more fitted. 

Slouchy cardigans are trending for the younger set, but let’s be honest — unless you are tall and skinny, slouchy oversized cardigans tend to add visual weight. I find that I look best in cardigans that are designed to fit closer to the body. Oftentimes these are made of a fine-gauge knit or ribbed material.

wearing: Vince skinny ribbed cashmere cardigan // WHBM tee // Paige Verdugo ankle skinnies // J.Crew espadrilles

#4. Pay attention to the fit of the arms.

This is another big revelation I had after comparing several pictures of me wearing various cardigans. My favorites — and the ones I feel are most slimming — are the ones that have skinnier arms. Now, keep in mind, I do have thin arms. I realize this may not be the best advice for those who carry extra weight in their arms (see #1) but it’s something to consider.

wearing: Splendid thermal draped hooded cardigan // AG legging ankle jeans // Vans // Love crossbody

#5. Show some skin.

This is more about what you wear under your cardigan than the style of the cardigan. Many of us wear cardigans to feel cozy and warm, so it’s tempting to throw a cardigan on over a turtleneck or crewneck top, but most cardigans will be a lot more flattering over an open-neck top.

See how wearing an infinity scarf over this sweater, which on its own has a fairly slenderizing shape, adds bulk and visual weight. Also, the shirt underneath is rather shapeless (see #2.)

Almost every woman, no matter what her size, looks best in a top that shows her collar bones — especially when most of the rest of your body is covered up. So if you’re stuck on turtlenecks and crewneck tops, try swapping them out for a scoop neck or a v-neck. You may be surprised how much difference it makes!

#6. Try different shapes and pay attention to what is trending. 

Cardigan styles go in and out of vogue, so pay attention to what is trending and try different shapes. A waterfall cardigan can be nice for a change, or the cocoon cardigans are fun sometimes. The ruffle detail on this cardigan is fun, and it’s elongating, although I think it would look better if the arms were more fitted.

The cocoon style can work well because it has a way of sitting back and letting the front of your outfit show. In both of these looks, I wore the cocoon cardigan over a cami that was not very form-fitting, and I think they would look a lot better over a more body-conscious top.

A belted sweater can be a nice way to add structure to a typically unstructured piece, but you need to know your body type rules here. I don’t look good in belted sweaters because of my large chest and short-waisted figure, but some women look super chic in this style.

#7. Wear slouchy cardigans cautiously.

A cardigan can be cute if it’s intentionally slouchy, but not if it’s simply oversized. If you do wear a slouchy cardigan, make sure it works for your body type, and that you are wearing something form-fitting underneath.

I didn’t think I was going to love this oatmeal cardigan when it arrived in the mail, but when I threw it on over my favorite t-shirt and cropped skinnies, I found that the slouchy style works because it sits back and allows the rest of the outfit to show — kind of like the cocoon cardigans above.

It also helps that it’s also not super long. I think this just-below-the-hip-length tends to be the most flattering on me.

#8. Don’t ignore the rear view.

Right now the long, straight cardigans are having a moment, but make sure to look at the rear view before deciding to purchase one. They may look okay from the front, but if you turn around, they can go terribly wrong.

This yellow cardigan is longer than my ideal length, but because of the fine-gauge ribbed knit, it follows the lines of my body without adding a ton of visual weight, so I think it works. Also, the side slits help.

#9. Wear your cardigan unbuttoned, or only button a couple of strategically chosen buttons. 

Many cardigans come without buttons at all, which is just fine because it is a rare situation that you would actually want to button a cardigan.

See how this cardigan looks frumpy and plain all buttoned up? But the same cardigan unbuttoned over a cute blouse has a whole different vibe. (I will point out, though, that the choice of the scoop neck tee under the navy cardigan is a good one, but it would be better if the cardigan was left unbuttoned with a long layered necklace to add interest.)

shown: Talbots v-neck cardigan

I hope these tips are helpful! What would you add to this list?

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