Style Guide: The Cardigan

  • Paul Evans Style Guide: The Cardigan
  • Paul Evans Style Guide: The Cardigan
  • Paul Evans Style Guide: The Cardigan
  • Paul Evans Style Guide: The Cardigan
  • Paul Evans Style Guide: The Cardigan

One thing I have noticed on my quest to make men appreciate timeless style is the hesitation of wearing certain garments. The fear seems to stem from the possibility of being viewed as less manly, too stuck in the past or various other reasons that really shouldn’t be applicable.

Negative perceptions are no higher and more frequent than what is experienced by the men’s cardigan. For one reason or another, the cardigan is seen as a feminine item and this has been ingrained into the minds of men everywhere.

This is one perception that I would like to change.

Cardigans should be a staple for every man and as I will point out in this blog post, have been worn by men for centuries and will make your entire wardrobe better.


The cardigan was named after a British army general, James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan who was in charge of many developments during the Crimean War in the mid 1800s. More specifically, the army that Brudenell was in charge of wore a knitted wool waistcoat, which was the inspiration of the cardigan you see today.

Given Brudenell’s success during the Crimean War led to the rise in popularity of the wool waistcoat worn by the British Army. The general public in Britain mimicked the wool waistcoat and the cardigan eventually became a staple for men everywhere.

What is a Cardigan?

In its most general terms, a cardigan is a knitted garment that has an open front and ranges in style from button-ups (more classic and formal) to zippered varieties. A great cardigan is either hand or machine knitted and should flatter a man’s physique by being constructed and cut to fit a man’s body.

Over time, Cardigans have grown in popularity and are available in numerous varieties with the most differentiating aspects coming from the treatment of the collar.

Why is a Cardigan Still Relevant for Men?

Men should look at the cardigan as one of the most classic and practical garments they can own. The great thing about a cardigan is that it can be worn in every season and is a great transition piece between colors.

  • In the summer and especially spring, wear the cardigan as the most outer layer over a dress shirt or t-shirt. If the weather begins to get too hot, simply remove the cardigan and you will become instantly cooler without much hassle.
  • In the fall and winter, you can use the cardigan as a middle layer, over a dress shirt and under a blazer. This will keep you warm as well as stylish. If the weather gets too cold or hot during the day, add a pea coat overtop the blazer or remove the blazer respectively. Both will keep you looking sharp during ever changing weather conditions.

As you can see, the cardigan is an excellent transition piece and much more stylish than a sweatshirt and much more comfortable to wear than a vest.

Top 3 Cardigan Styles

Before I get into the top 3 cardigan styles available, remember: to have the garment considered a cardigan, it has to have an opened front.

  • Classic Buttoned – The classic buttoned cardigan is the most popular and for good reason. It is the most versatile of the 3 mentioned on this post and really forms the man’s body well to create a tapered, masculine look.
  • Shawl Collar – This type of cardigan has become extremely popular particularly with men as of late due to it’s aggressive front that signifies masculinity. This collar works the best as the outer layer to avoid additional bulk and to highlight the turned down collar.
  • Double-breasted – The double-breasted cardigan was popular back in the day, died down the last 30 to 40 years but is making a strong comeback. The double-breasted cardigan can work great as both a middle and outer layer depending on the button placement and thickness of the material. If the buttons are placed higher and form the body less, then a middle layer would be your best bet with a slim fitted blazer overtop.

Things to Consider When Wearing a Cardigan

  • Never button the bottom button on a cardigan, regardless of which layer it is on for your look. Sometimes, leaving the bottom two buttons unbuttoned looks well on men.
  • Ensure that the cardigan is not too tight fitted but not too baggy as well. The cardigan is meant to be worn as a middle or outer later so keep this in mind when selecting one. Ideally, the cardigan should have a fitted look once over a t-shirt, dress shirt or other base layer.
  • Like many other garments in your wardrobe, black, navy and grey cardigans should be the three purchases you make first. All three colors look great paired with pretty much any shade and you will never be hesitant when trying to match more complex patterns.
  • Solid colored cardigans always look more classic and refined than patterns and will stand the test of time.
  • Never tuck in a cardigan.
  • For men, cardigans should have simple, small buttons with as little detail as possible. Actually, flashy and large buttons are a good indicator of a female cardigan.
  • Like a blazer, the shoulder seams of a cardigan should line up with the ends of your shoulders for the most proper fit.

So men, do yourself a favor and include this garment in your wardrobe. If you follow the steps I have outlined here, there will be nothing feminine about the cardigans you purchase. Instead, you will own great pieces inspired by gentlemen of the past that will last many years into the future.

For more style advice check out Timeless Gent, a new style consultant offering specialized style services.

Images above are from Mr. Porter's excellent cardigan collection.