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! I first published this post last May, but I’ve updated all the pictures and links so they’re current, so I decided to republish and bring it back to the top.

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

This might seem like an odd time of year to discuss cardigans, but I actually wear cardigans as much in the spring and summer as I do the rest of the 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

#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.

how to wear cardigans without looking frumpy

blue cardigan // white tank // white jeans // sandals // tortoise hoop earrings // layered disc necklace // similar Brahmin satchel // sunnies

#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.

how to wear cardigans without looking frumpy

long linen blend cardigan // ruched sheath // thong sandals

I try to wear tees that are more form-fitting under my cardigans, and of course I love my skinny jeans.

how to wear cardigans without looking frumpy

open cardigan // white tee // light wash skinnies // 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.

how to wear cardigans without looking frumpy

ribbed cardigan // similar tee // white skinnies // espadrilles

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

Madewell Kent cardigan // white tee // black skinnies // similar mules

#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. 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.

thermal draped cardigan

hooded cardigan // white tee // crop skinnies // white 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!

hooded cardigan // tank // jean shorts

#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, and cocoon cardigans are fun sometimes.

waterfall cardigan // white tee // raw hem skinnies // loafer mules

The cocoon style can work well because it has a way of sitting back and letting the front of your outfit show. I wore this cocoon cardigan over a cami that isn’t very form-fitting, but I think it would be more flattering over a more body-conscious top.

cashmere cocoon cardigan // floral camis // AG legging ankle jeans // ankle strap sandals

This ruffle hem cardigan is different and interesting, and it also has a fitted silhouette that makes it flattering that more relaxed styles.

ruffle hem cardigan // similar tee // light pink jeans

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, 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

Here’s another example of a drapey cardigan that works. I also prefer tank tops to t-shirts under cardigans because the sleeves of a tee can bunch up and create bulk.

drapey cardigan // tank // high rise skinnies // ballet flats // necklace // bracelet

#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 // similar loafers

#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.)

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

Shop My Favorite Cardigans

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