Sweaters vs. Cardigans: A Guide to Cold Weather Fashion

A woman wearing an emerald green pullover

Whether you’re shopping for fall and winter clothes or updating your work wardrobe, you might face a dilemma that all women have encountered before. Sweater or cardigan? What’s the difference, and which one is better for your needs?

Don’t worry! You’re not the only one who didn’t realize there was a difference or mistaken one for the other. However, there is a difference between cardigans and sweaters—and it can make a real impact on your wardrobe decisions.

If you want to learn more about sweaters vs. cardigans, which is better for every occasion, and what to look for in each garment, our style experts are here to help. Check out our breakdown of sweaters and cardigans today to learn more!

The Ultimate Guide to Sweaters

Our first order of business is to define a sweater. This is one of the most popular layering garments for fall and winter. Traditionally, it’s a knitted piece with long sleeves and extra room around your middle.

You can wear sweaters as your first and only layer, but we like layering sweaters over another piece, like a tee or blouse. A sweater won’t open and close with buttons or zippers, but it can have other unique details, like cutouts, ruffles, and graphic designs.

As sweaters and fashion have evolved, you can find these pieces in more than just the typical scoop-neck cut. Explore sweaters with v-necks, turtlenecks, off-the-shoulder, cropped, and oversized silhouettes. You may even find three-quarter sleeves and sleeveless sweaters!

The Ultimate Cardigan Guide

A woman wearing a beige duster cardigan

Now that we’ve defined sweaters, we can move on to cardigans. The difference between a cardigan and a sweater is that a cardigan is open in the front. A cardigan easily shows off your other layers, and you can choose to wear it open or closed.

Some cardigans offer button, tie, or zipper closures, while others are designed to be worn open at all times. You can find cardigans in a variety of materials, colors, and silhouettes—which makes them similar to sweaters in some ways.

Originally, cardigans were designed to mimic the waistcoats that male British officers wore in the 19th century. For the longest time, only men wore cardigans. But today, they’re for everyone!

To Recap

So, the main difference between a sweater vs. a cardigan is that one can be worn open, and the other cannot. While each style has its place in your wardrobe, they’re both versatile options you can wear in formal and casual environments.

Check out this styling guide below to get some ideas for choosing between a sweater and a cardigan.

Sweater vs. Cardigan Style Guide

So, if these two pieces are so similar, how do you decide which to wear and when? Well, a lot depends on the style of the design. While sweaters are traditionally more casual, you can shop them in upscale materials that make them appropriate for more formal occasions.

Discover our favorite ways to style sweaters vs. cardigans to find inspiration for your own wardrobe!

How to Wear a Cardigan

A woman wearing a kimono cardigan

Cardigans are typically the ideal choice for business casual outfits, but you can make them work for a number of occasions. Here are some of our favorite ideas:

  1. Make a bright-colored cardigan a statement piece when you pair it with a simple tee and black midi skirt.
  2. Mix and match formality with casual, fun clothing when you wear a cardigan with a crop top. A loose-knit cardigan or kimono cardigan offers a lightweight outer layer for a laid-back look.
  3. Try a preppy look when you drape a cotton cardigan over your shoulders, paired with your favorite jeans and a printed top.
  4. Make it cozy when you layer a super chunky cardigan over a long-sleeved layering top and leggings to take your look from home to running errands and back again.

How to Wear a Sweater

So, how do you style a sweater vs. a cardigan? Let’s find out with a dive into our styling recommendations!

  1. Wear a bulky sweater over skinny jeans or leggings, and balance the look with booties for a cute, casual fall look.
  2. Layer your style for warmth when you wear a long-sleeve shirt, sweater, and cardigan all together. Create contrast in color and texture for a more interesting ensemble.
  3. Create a dressier look with a sweater when you opt for a refined knit and sleek silhouette. Pair it with a skirt and belt it at your waist. Finish off this look with heeled boots for a flirty fall ensemble.

Find New Faves at The Willow Tree Boutique

A woman wearing a loose knit white sweater

Now that you know the difference between a cardigan and a sweater, you can make better styling decisions in the future. If you ever need more help and guidance, our blog has tons of inspo to keep you on trend.

If any of these sweater vs. cardigan styles appeal to you, make sure you’re ready for every season with the selection at The Willow Tree Boutique. We have a massive stock of outerwear that appeals to all types of aesthetics to ensure you can truly express your personality.

Now, we want to see what you come up with! Share your newest sweater vs. cardigan ensembles with us, and we might feature you on our social media pages. Tag us in your posts today!