Reader Request: The Stylish Twinset

How to wear a twin set

Reader Tricia dropped me an e-mail with this question:

I should admit up front that I have a cardigan obsession. It’s the one thing my eye goes straight for when I shop. I do wear some cardigans alone with different-colored bottoms, but I have a couple of matching twinsets as well. I didn’t realize that was a style no-no! Can you explain why and help me out with mixing and matching some? I have a black twinset (I do wear that cardigan with other things too) as well as a pale blue one and a grassy green one. I just found out that those latter two are of a length to wear with skirts (something else I learned from your blog!) but beyond that, I’m lost. Also, they’re V-neck in both the shell and the cardi. Crew necks look terrible on me.

Twinsets aren’t a no-no at all! It’s all down to personal taste, and I am just not a fan myself, mostly due to my experience seeing women use them as a fallback option. Many women appear to view twinsets as no-brainer, ready-made outfits. In that context and without some creative finishing touches, they just don’t express much about their wearer. Many folks at the university where I used to work would throw on a solid-colored twinset and a pair of black slacks and then just … stop.

Images via Land’s End.

As with any item of clothing, it’s all about how you accessorize and style. The J.Crew folks do an amazing job of taking preppy staples and making them look fresh and current with styling and accessorization. But you don’t have to copy their styling verbatim, as it tends to involved destroyed/pegged jeans and giant, statement-y necklaces. A brooch here, a funky belt there, a little scarf action, some amazing shoes, and choosing a printed skirt instead of plain black slacks all the time can elevate those twinsets from dull to darling.

Image courtesy J.Crew

Image courtesy Talbots Woman (plus sizes)

Image courtesy Banana RepublicImage courtesy Talbots

Another way to get that classic matched look without erring on the side of boring is to wear a cardigan with a shell of matched color, but different material. Try some ruffled or raw silk, rayon, or detailed cotton voile.

Image courtesy J.Crew

But the simplest trick is to swap out shells and cardis. Of course this works best if you’ve got multiple twinsets in a variety of colors, but even if you’ve only got two I’m betting ONE is a neutral. Pull the old switcheroo, add a fun brooch or necklace, and see how much less conservative you look.

Image courtesy J.Crew

Finally, think about what else you’ve got in your closet that could go with the pieces. Any blazers to throw on over the shells? Blouses or button-downs that would look great with a cardi on top? How about getting some patterns in the mix – via scarves or tees?

For those looking to spice up the twinset look, my advice would be to just spend some time playing. Throw the twinsets on the bed, and then throw a ton of other stuff on there, too. Try it all on, even combos you’d never wear in real life, and see what grabs you!

Top image courtesy J.Crew

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details. Sustainable options are either used, handmade, made in the U.S., artisan made in non-sweatshop conditions, or made using sustainable/fair trade practices.

Originally posted 2009-11-30 06:37:00.

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32 Responses to “Reader Request: The Stylish Twinset”

  1. Marta Represa

    Really interesting post. I think twinsets can be cool, you just need to rock them up!


  2. aurelia.donka

    Here's a question for you. What, exactly, is wrong with dull clothes?

    It seems to me this falls into "I'm not here to decorate your world" territory.

    An unadorned twinset and black trousers constitutes a put-together, simple, un-fussy, functional, casual, comfortable outfit.

    Where's the line between dull and elegantly simple?

  3. Sal

    aurelia.donka: Style is all about personal choices, needs, and desires. I think anyone who takes a "I'm not here to decorate your world" attitude is probably not particularly invested in her personal style. I've never heard that phrase before and it strikes me as downright combative.

    An unadorned twinset and black trousers requires absolutely no imagination, and expresses nothing about the wearer's style, taste, or personality. How hard would it be to add a patterned scarf or contrasting colored belt to that ensemble and elevate it from plain to adorable? Or to swap shells and cardis for a richer look? Or throw on an interesting necklace? Clip on a brooch or two? I was asked by a reader to suggest ways to update and revitalize her twinsets, and that's what I did.

    What's wrong with dull clothes? Nothing. If you want to wear things that even YOU consider to be dull, go for it. Again, style is deeply personal and no one – not me, Tim Gunn, your mom – can make you wear anything you don't want to.

    Where is the line between dull and elegantly simple? In my opinion, it varies from person to person.

  4. Tricia

    Hey, I'm famous! 🙂 Thanks, Sally. While my twinsets are a little less dull than those Land's End ones, I am totally guilty of throwing them on with black pants and calling it a day. I'm terrible with accessories!

  5. Elissa

    Funny you mention twinsets, I've been reconsidering them, but I've always thought that because of my hulking boobage that twinsets look sloppy on me. I think that on the less emboobened they look more crisp, girlish, all the things one would want them to be. I love the white on white and navy on navy from JCrew. Damn them and their impeccable styling!!!

  6. Erica

    This was a great post! I never even thought about spicing up a cardigan I just never bought the shell! Thanks for the advice!

  7. SR@MyStyle

    Hi there-a good post with some great tips to make the look less mumsy and boring!!

  8. Taylor Sterling

    I love J Crew's cardis. They are perfect for work and the holidays!

  9. becky f.

    I had a conversation with my aunt once about twinsets. She was passing on two sets to me, and I said at first that I didn't want the shells, just the cardigans. When she asked why I wouldn't wear them as a set, I didn't really have an answer. But now I can use your tips to make them work for me — thanks! 🙂

  10. bekster

    To address the "dull clothes" question, I would ask another question: "What do you want out of your clothes?"

    As already mentioned, style is a deeply personal thing that varies greatly from individual to individual. Still, we ALL have to wear clothes, even if only for modesty and warmth. For myself, I dress also as an outlet for creativity. However, the more creative I am, the more attention I attract. Sometimes I'm in the mood for that attention, but sometimes I'm not.

    My guess for someone who wears "dull clothes" (on purpose) is that they are trying NOT to attract attention. For whatever reason, they don't want to be noticed. Inherently, there is nothing wrong with that, BUT I would say that if a person finds him/herself purposely wearing dull clothes ALL the time, he/she may need to think about why he/she is hiding from the world. (Are there self-esteem issues, etc.?)

    Also, there IS a difference between "dull" and "elegant." Again, "dull" deflects attention, but "elegant" attracts it. Just think about what actresses wear on the red carpet. Their dresses may be both simple and elegant, but people still say "wow" when they see them.

    As far as sweater sets, if you are going for camouflage, throw on your matchiest set with a pair of black slacks and call it a day. However, if you WANT to be noticed, reach for those accessories. Even if you want to be "elegant," I would say that can be accomplished better with jewelry or other "nice" pieces than with clothes that simply lack creativity.

  11. futurelint

    While I am a huge cardigan wearer, I've never owned a twinset… I think they USED to be only for conservative adult ladies, when I was a teenager. Now that J.Crew and some other places have made them more modern and youthful yet still classic, I like them! I guess since I like to wear a lot of color, I wouldn't wear the cardigan and shell together anyway…

  12. Anonymous

    aurelia.donka: If you can't tell the difference between the plain twinset with black trousers vs the accessorized version, then I have nothing to say. There is nothing wrong with one selecting to wear dull looking clothes, (but let me tell you, there is a huge difference between elegantly simple and dull), like everyone said, it's one's choice.

  13. Kimberly

    Many shells make great "sweater vests" also and can be used to layer over a top or dress. Also, I do believe I would be lost without cardigans – they are such a fabulous piece to have!

    Great post, Sal!

  14. ebinbaby

    Thanks for the tips! I've always had trouble with things I think are too matchy as I feel like I'm wearing pyjamas or a uniform. I feel the same way about suits and try to jazz them up with unexpected shirts or jewellery. (Maybe that could be your next post?!? Hint, hint!)

  15. lisa

    Great post! Twinsets have always struck me as being a bit too matchy-matchy for my taste. If I were to receive one as a gift, I might split them up and wear the cardigan with a white cami, or wear the shell under a blazer. Regardless of how you style them, though, they're a versatile wardrobe option (as you've demonstrated so well!).

  16. Diana

    This is a great post! I've always shied away from twinsets, since I don't like to look too matchy-matchy. But this post has given me some great re-mixing ideas, so I might try a few twinsets out.

  17. Amy

    I own tons of cardigans (I'm obsessed, too!) but no matching sets. If i recall correctly the only cardi twin sets I've ever seen in stores have been on clearence in Sears with cardinals embroidered on both pieces, so I never thought of twin sets as particularly fashionable either! Your suggestions are really great!

  18. rb

    I've worked in a professional dress environment for my entire career and have largely stopped wearing twin sets. I never liked the crewneck versions you show, but had a couple of v-neck sets that I thought were attractive. There was a time in corporate america where a twinset was an acceptable alternative to a suit jacket look, or in ultra conservative environments, OK on certain days like "casual friday."

    The same cardigan worn with a blouse or mismatched shell looked a little too casual and possibly secretarial.

    Now that business dress has loosened up to allow more creativity, the matchy twinset look has started to seem too matronly to my eye. I still wear the cardigan of one of the nicer sets, but I tend to mix it up over an interesting underpinning. Keyword being interesting – I don't think a cardigan over a plain button down shirt looks any less matronly than the straight-up twinset.

  19. LPC

    I'm a fairly dull dresser. Both by background, and career necessity. But stylish. Stylishly dull. As such, I love twinsets but I find a good necklace to required. Otherwise you don't even notice it's a twinset, just looks like one sweater with a lot of extra folds:). But I'm not one to "accessorize", per se, finding ways to express my style in the simple main pieces that I wear. Just personal choice. I enjoy and support the more exuberant among us.

  20. issa

    i do love my cardi's but i tend to break them up if so they're not too matchy

  21. What Would a Nerd Wear

    what lovely ideas! i've only had a twinset once, when i was 14, but this post almost makes me want to get one, just so i can play with it.

  22. Hanako66

    I don't really wear twinsets…or not together. I tend to break them into separate pieces! Great tips!

  23. Rosie Unknown

    I don't actually own one. Cardigans just aren't my thing, I prefer the structure of a blazer, or a well fitted sweater.

    Great post though, I will definitely be keeping it in mind!

  24. Mens casual jackets

    Really nice pics! Loving the clothes, especially that pink cardigan. that is to die for!

  25. budget chic

    My sister loves twinsets. I don't have any but thats because I really have not focus on adding any to my wardrobe, but I think they're fine, great for layering and building different looks. Beside nothing is a "no-no" unless you find it unflattering to your body type, skin, not working for you because of your height, weight, etc. Each person should set their own parameters.

  26. daddylikeyblog

    Such a great post, Sal! You're the master of secretly giving me tons of information without making it boring, like those moms who put blended vegetables in brownie batter. OK, that was a terrible example, but you understand, right?

    I love love love pairing my simple cardigans with embellished, bright colored tops and vice versa. It's one of my favorite sartorial combos.

  27. Jingle Bella

    I thought this:
    "So many folks at the university where I work throw on a solid-colored twinset and a pair of black slacks and then just … stop."
    was interesting.

    I know this isn't quite what the post is about (forgive me for digressing!), but – for staff members at least – might this be a good choice? (Even if it's one they haven't thought about much)

    I'm a University student (studying maths), and I read the Academichic blog a fair bit, and it's making me aware of how I react to my lecturers based on what they wear … and I've come to the realisation that actually, I do automatically respect those who wear more boring clothing. For example, one of my lecturers wears black jeans, a black T shirt, and a black jumper every day (so far as I can tell these may be actually the same clothes. Although I assume he washes them). Another always wears black trousers, and has a collection of plain solid-coloured T shirts that he wears. Very occasionally I think he has a T shirt with stripes.

    My unconscious reaction to them is 'This guy is dressed to be comfortable and not distracting. The mathematics he is teaching is the only important thing here.' I take them seriously. I feel like they know what they're talking about.

    I know that, of course, there is no reason why someone who is much more snappily dressed should be any less good a lecturer. But I know that I would react to them slightly differently.

    Isn't it weird how we work? How we assimilate people's appearances and they tell us a million things (which may or may not be true) which affect how we see them?

  28. Sal

    Jingle Bella: Ooooh, I think I'll have to get an actual academic to weigh in on that one. I totally see your point … but know that many people feel that boring dressing should NOT be the lot of academics. More soon!

  29. Jingle Bella

    Yeah – I totally agree that academics shouldn't have to dress like that – if I could *not* have this reaction to boring clothing, that would be a lot more fair! And I don't *want* to take people more seriously for dressing in a boring way. But if I do, then I might as well admit it to myself and try to work out why.