How to Wear Cardigans Without Looking Frumpy #FightTheFrump

Do you struggle with how to wear cardigans without looking frumpy? Then this post is for you!

(updated October 2020)

Fight the Frump: How to Wear Cardigans Without Looking Frumpy with real life examples and style tips geared for women over 40!

Cardigans are trending right now, and they’re very practical, but they can be tricky. 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 here are my best tips!

How to Wear Cardigans Without Looking Frumpy

#1. Figure out 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 by trying on different styles and lengths of cardigans — take pictures if you’re unsure, and compare.

color block cardigan // white tee // skinny jeans // similar booties

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

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

A body-con dress like this one works well under a long cardigan.

long cardigan (exact; but my color sold out) // ruched sheath (exact)

I try to wear tees that are more form-fitting under my cardigans.

cardigan // white tee // light wash skinnies // sneaker mules

#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. This one is really old, but the thin ribbed material keeps it fitting close to the body.

how to wear cardigans without looking frumpy

ribbed cardigan (similar for less) // white tee // white skinnies // espadrilles

I sized down to an XS in this cardigan for a closer fit.

long cardigan // rust tee (option) // utility pants // booties // initial necklace // boho cuff // sunnies (option)

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

This is another big revelation I had after comparing several pictures of myself wearing various cardigans. My favorites — and the ones I feel are most slimming — are the ones that have skinnier arms.

thermal draped cardigan

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.

hooded cardigan // white tee // crop skinnies // white crossbody

I also prefer a cardigan with shoulder seams ON the shoulder, as opposed to the drop shoulder that is so popular right now. The drop shoulder adds visual bulk to an area most of us don’t want it.

These are close . . . also note the ribbed material and long, slim cut to this sweater.

Jo-Lynne Shane shares two stylish ways to wear a long cardigan for Fall 2019

cardigan (exact, but my color sold out) // grey tee // similar black jeans // similar spotted mules // similar bag

#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 adds bulk and visual weight. Also, the shirt underneath is rather shapeless (see #2.)

Almost every woman, no matter what her size or body type, 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!

(This is true for tops worn with cardigans or without!)

cardigan // tank // similar grey jeans (budget option) // booties (tortilla suede)

#6. Pay attention to current trends.

Like with any other article of clothing, cardigan trends evolve, and you will always look less frumpy if you’re wearing a more current style — as long as it is appropriate for your body type.

While super long cardigan coats are trending right now, I steer clear because they’re so long on my 5’5″ frame, I feel they overwhelm me.

But I do like some of the longer styles — like to the knee or mid-thigh.

Try pairing a graphic tee with a long cardigan — the graphic tee creates a pleasing juxtaposition with the more refined cardigan. Also, in this case, the Chelsea boots help keep the look current.

graphic tee // cardigan // skinnies // booties // belt

Or try a cardigan over a printed cami for a dressier look.

cardigan// leopard cami // skinny jeans // booties

And this is taking the cardigan in a totally different direction, but right now, the shorter cardigans are making a comeback… most often worn buttoned-up like this.

camo cardigan // black tank // washed black jeans // similar black suede mules // Lucky Brand earrings // initial pendant // Coach courier bag

#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, I recommend wearing something more form-fitting underneath. Also, wear the cardigan so that it frames the outfit rather than covering it.

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.

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 personally.

cardigan (old) // similar tee // crop skinnies // wedge sandals // pendant necklace

#8. Don’t ignore the rear view.

The long, straight cardigans are having a moment right now, 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.

long linen blend cardigan // AG legging ankle jeans

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

Shop My Favorite Cardigans

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