My Take on the Great Cardigan Controversy

Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy stirred up a firestorm recently when she called a cardigan “the easiest way to ruin a good outfit.”  It was one of her most commented-upon posts of the year.  Cardigans!  People feel strongly about their cardigans.

I have to agree with her for the most part.

So many times I think, “What’s wrong here?  Can’t I just throw on a cardigan?”  And the answer is no (no, no, nope).

I tried finding a pink cardigan to wear with a black dress for a school auction earlier this year.  I was hoping for something like this:

Instead I ended up with this:


and this:


I returned them both and went without.  Fortunately it was a warm evening.


Another example is one night long ago when Pat and I went out for dinner.   I have a hard time with dressy-casual outfits.  I wore a sleeveless top and jeans.


Because it was nighttime and slightly chilly, though, I threw on a cardigan.


It killed any potential that outfit had.  (I still wore it.  Marriage, you know.)  In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t so awful, but it wasn’t great.

A blazer would have been better.  I love my navy blazer.



On the other hand, some of my favorite outfits over the past few years included cardigans.

IMG_1511 IMG_1457 photo (18)


It bothers me at this deep deep level that I can’t have a just a few pieces that all go with each other.

But a completely mix-and-match wardrobe only seems to work if your pieces are all the same shape.  The same cardigan that goes with skinny jeans most likely will not go with flared jeans and an A-line dress, too.

I’ve thought and thought about this (chronic overthinker here!) and I’ve concluded: it’s all about proportion.  Aesthetics and beauty are all about proportion, right?  Symmetry is the most universally accepted standard of beauty.  The aesthetics of proportion are unavoidable.  Who am I to think I can get away with wearing any old cardigan with anything?  Nature and nature’s laws, etc.

How that for starting out with cardigans and ending with philosophy?  Are you impressed yet?


Never mind, I’m going to shop for more blazers.



12 thoughts on “My Take on the Great Cardigan Controversy

  1. I love a great cardigan, but yeah, it has to look *just so* with the outfit, and dang it all, I usually don’t have the time to try multiple versions of one outfit before leaving the house, lol.

    Love you in the chambray/white skirt/printed cardi!

  2. As you say, it’s all about proportion, and frankly, I’m just not a jacket person. I have a strange shoulder-upper arm ratio, and I just look and feel bad in a structured jacket. I feel like a Dynasty reject, and definitely overdressed, even in a casual-style jacket. Cardigans are my go-to, but I’ve found the length has to be waist-length or it overwhelms my outfit. I also tend to wear my cardis a little on the small side, and very fitted, which helps too, I think. I basically think the problem with wearing a cardigan with a dress like your black one is that the detailing on the neckline gets lost, plus a crew neck doesn’t work with that style neckline. I had a dress with a sweetheart neckline that was fiendish to layer over because of the bulk at the front. I ended up consigning it because it drove me nuts to have one shawl-neck cardigan that looked okay with it. I also have a pretty streamlined wardrobe these days, with similar silhouettes throughout, so I can stick with one style of cardigan and it will look good with a variety of things.

    Also: I think your date night outfit with the cardigan is cute! Nothing wrong there!

  3. So agree about proportion. The top that looks terrible with a skirt can look completely different with skinny jeans. I’ve more and more come to believe that balancing everything from cut to sleeve-length to the length of one’s top is what makes or breaks an outfit. Same with jewelry. Outfits just call out for specific jewelry.

  4. I’ve always been a big fan of cardigans but the more outfits I see with blazers, the more I feel my cardigan outfits seem droopy and shapeless or something- I often find myself thinking a structured blazer would look a lot better. And I balked a bit when I first started reading that MMD post, but after looking at her pictures I saw what she meant! I agree that it is all about proportion, and I just wish blazers weren’t so darn expensive. 🙂

  5. Totally agree cardigans can make or break an outfit. My sister has really great style and she always buys a new sweater to specifically match each dress rather than assuming you will have one at home to match.

  6. I’ve never been a huge fan of cardigans. I think because I have trouble making them look good on me. I definitely agree that proportions are everything. I think a lot of cardigans can look shapeless and drab if you aren’t careful and you have to balance it. I think cardigans are especially tricky with dresses because dresses tend to be more loose/flowy and if a cardigan is too loosy/flow it ruins the shape of the dress.

    That said, I really like the cardigan pictures you posted on the bottom….especially the pink flower one iwth the white skirt and the belted navy/gold one. I also think the cardigan in the date picture looked good!

    Personally, I’m a fan of the denim jacket ….I just got one thrifted, but haven’t worn it too much, because it’s summer and hot and haven’t needed it…looking forward to fall when I can wear it more.

  7. I’m so overtired right now that when I read this post and the MMD post, I cried. I literally cried. Cardigans are my thing! What am I going to do now?

  8. Great post, Laura!

    Ah, the Great Cardigan Debate of 2014. I agree with your conclusion – it is all about proportion. Cardigans can work, and work really well, as you so perfectly illustrated in the bottom photos. That being said, I think that they are the most COMMON way a great outfit can fail. They are so ubiquitous that our generation takes it for granted that you can just throw on a cardigan and the outfit isn’t really affected.And it really isn’t as easy as that, as the line and the color of the existing ensemble (which the wearer has probably been very intentional about) are changed. Also, there is something very attractive about simplicity; it is a fine line between “polished” and “busy.”

    “It bothers me at this deep deep level that I can’t have a just a few pieces that all go with each other.”

    ME TOO.

  9. Pingback: Fall clothes, fat clothes | This Felicitous Life

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