Reader Request: Styling Long Cardigans

Love the look of long cardigans but not sure how to make them work? This post has tips for making boyfriend and duster cardigans look fantastic!

Amanda e-mailed me this request:

I was wondering if you consider doing a blog post or offer some advice on styling long cardigans so they don’t look frumpy. I just bought my first one [and] it seemed like a good way to convert some of my summer dresses into fall or winter ensembles, and I see outfits with long cardis that I just love on other people. But I’m not sure what I think about making ti work for me. I’m on the tall side with a proportional curvy figure. The cardigan I bought is nice (and I love the belt that comes with it), but it has pockets that make it not lie super-flat over the hips. And basically it just didn’t look quite “right” when I tried it with some of the dresses I’d been thinking of.

Mollie seconded this request in the suggestion box, so clearly, it needs addressing!

Select your cardigan carefully

There is a vast universe of long cardigans out there, and many of them will look horrendous on you. And on me. And on that lady over there. Don’t assume that you’re doing something wrong if you can’t get a long cardi to look right in the context of an outfit. In all likelihood, it’s not you it’s the clothes. If you carry your weight in your hips and butt as I do, anything with a tapered/ribbed hem will emphasize your rear. If you’ve got a big bust, a one-button jobber like the cardigan shown above may cause bust-related mayhem. If you’re petite, truly long styles may shorten you up quite a bit. Try a variety of styles, lengths, and designs before you decide this garment is a lost cause.

Mind your body chops


Since long cardigans may hit you at a spot on your leg that’s not quite shirt and not quite dress length, they can wreak havoc on your proportions. Especially when you mix in underlayers that chop your body in spots that visually fight the cardigan. In my experience, long cardigans pair best with dresses/tunics that are the same length as the cardigan (or within 2″-3″ either way), or with a top and pants.

Skirt/top combos often to look wonky with this style of cardi, as you can see in this photo. At least on me, I’m getting chopped in far too many and conflicting places: Skirt waistband, skirt hem, cardigan hem, boots. It’s a cute enough outfit, but not ideal for proportions.

Watch those hemlines

Already Pretty outfit featuring Eileen Fisher cardigan, Gudrun dress, conac boots, wrap bracelet, long pendant necklace

As I just mentioned, if you’re doing a dress or tunic with your long cardigan, it’s best to keep the hemlines as close as possible. Not vital that they match exactly, although as you can see here that looks clean and intentional. But within that magic 2″-3″ window will look best, and the closer the better.

Above is an outfit where I shirked this rule. Again, cute, but choppy. If the cardigan and dress had been closer in length, it would’ve worked better. This particular cardigan is short enough on me that it works best with top/pants outfits.

Belt with caution

Since long cardigans seldom have waist definition, there’s a strong temptation to belt them. It CAN work, but if  the sweater is at all bulky, adding a belt will look a bit awkward. However, belting your INNER layer instead of the cardigan itself can give the impression of a nipped-in waist without the bunching caused by belting a big ol’ sweater.

Hope this was helpful to those of you struggling to make longer cardigan styles work!

Originally posted 2012-02-21 06:11:10.

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17 Responses to “Reader Request: Styling Long Cardigans”

  1. Cynthia

    I like long cardigans — the really long, drapey kind, not so much the hip length so-called boyfriend or grandpa kind. I don’t think of most of the ones you’re showing here as “boyfriend” style — some are more sweatercoats or long drapes. The ones I’d think of as “boyfriend” style are the red one and the stripe one. Long drapey cardigans can be really flattering but boxy/chunky hip length looks do not work on me.

    Here’s what I think is important with a long cardigan: not too big, and shaping to fit close around the chest and shoulders (my favorite cardigans from Kische have pintucks at the shoulders), good soft drape, and either hem shaping that you like or a straight hem that falls just in the exact right place. I’m fond of cardigans where the hem makes points. I have a big orange one with pockets that I thought I wouldn’t like, but somehow it’s shaped and the pockets hit at just the right place on the hips, and it’s fine.

  2. Courtney

    I had a really crappy, stressful weekend. I’m in the middle of a high-stress project for the next two weeks (i.e. the forecast is crappy, with a chance of horrendous.)

    I’m just writing to say that the phrase, “bust-related mayhem” gave me a sorely needed giggle this morning.

  3. GingerR

    I agree with Cynthia that you do seem to mix sweatercoats and long cardigans, and they aren’t the same. I’m always taken with the sweater coats I see in the Anthro catalog, but have to remind myself they’re draped over human coathangers, not real women.

    • Cynthia

      I wear Anthro sweatercoats on my chunky, non coathangery bod all the time, Ginger! You should give them a chance. I love that giant plaid one I scored this winter.

  4. Miss T

    In the pictures where you suggest that the proportions are “choppy”, much of the choppiness is actually coming from the boots and the boots + boot socks. I suggest that maybe if the hem of the long cardigan and the under layer are not the same, that a continuous line of leg (e.g., shoes and hosiery that match/blend color-wise) would mitigate that visual choppiness. If the hems of cardigan and under layer do match, then I think boots are fine.

  5. FutureLint

    Whoa! I’m always amazed when you do these round-ups at how many different ways you can pull off similar items! I love a long cardigan because they’re so warm and snuggly when it’s cold, but I agree, you have to watch your proportions!

  6. Pat

    My favourite outfit was the one you thought looked chopped up. That would be the red cardi over the patterned skirt and black top. Loved that and some others that you show. BTW, do you have a huge wardrobe and own all these clothes or do you borrow for picture taking purposes. Love the tips for different body shapes.

  7. Juli

    I’m so curious… how many clothes do you have? Can we get a picture of your closet? You never seem to have the same thing on twice!

  8. Rachel

    I love long cardigans, especially how the reader is considering wearing them (to winterize summer dresses). I don’t think the same length rule always needs to apply and I actually like my cardigans at least a few inches shorter than the hem of my skirt. What I do think is important is the drape of the cardigan. My favorite is a very thin (doesn’t add a lot of warmth, but I usually do some invisible layers under it in the winter) and drapey and I prefer to leave it unbuttoned. It’s a slouchy look, not a tailored one, but it works perfect for me.

  9. sigourney

    I think it’s important that the material hangs well and doesn’t cling to the clothes underneath. I had a very flimsy long cotton cardigan once that bunched, clung and creased and just did not look classy despite a great colour.

    Being tall I just love long cardis, knit coats etc. They give you instant casual polish, if such a thing exists.

  10. Trystan (the CorpGoth)

    I like long cardigans too, but I’m not so worried about hemlines meeting or being close. I don’t think it looks all that choppy, esp. when (as noted above) the material is light & drapey. Chunky sweaters might do it tho’ (perhaps the sweatercoats, & I don’t have any of those).

    For an incredibly sleek line, you can go monochromatic or tonal with a long cardigan, & the ‘endings’ won’t matter at all. But it just depends on what your fashion/body shape priorities are, as you might say 🙂

  11. Susan, the one in Berkeley

    I love my long cardigan. I use it to create a 1920s flapper flavor – short dress with similar hemline, lotsa leg and small shoes. The boxy shape helps to disguise my curves as I no longer possess the required boyish figure.

  12. Brenda Marks

    Thank you! I was just thinking of making a long jacket/cardi type of garment and this is very helpful.