Aren’t cardigans great? Recently, I was looking at women on the street and noticed how many were wearing them. Over the years they have become such a wardrobe staple and, now that women have embraced them, I really can’t imagine them ever eliminating them from their lives. Why would anyone do that?
However, not only is it easy to get over saturated with cardigans, but it is really easy to get bored with them too. After a while, these fail-safes, particularly for work, can start to feel like a uniform. Unfortunately, with few to no alternatives out there as easy as the cardigan. What else can we do besides suck it up and wear yet another cardigan?
Yes, cardigans can be magical wardrobe items, but, let’s be clear, they’re basically sweaters with front openings. Expecting them to be any more than that would be as silly as expecting them to do things like your taxes, prepare dinner or launch a man into space. If you’re bored with your cardigans it is for good reason. You’re expecting more from them than they can deliver on. The key, instead, is to understand that you have to do something with your cardigans to make these outfits look interesting. Anything more would be way too much pressure on what this little basic can do.
I recently had a client show me the outfits in her wardrobe. Many of her looks included cardigans. She told me she had gotten terribly bored by this look. Yet, when she showed me her Pinterest board of outfits that she was inspired by there were a lot of cardigan outfits on there. She couldn’t figure out why she felt flat in her looks while the outfits in the photos looked great. As I pointed out to her, the problem was that the cardigan outfits in the photos were styled more interestingly than the way she was wearing hers. It’s not that the inspirational cardigan photos were avante garde or anything, but with some simple color mixes and accessories, these outfits were much more exciting to look at.
It’s not what you own, it’s what you do with it
When a woman feels bored in her clothing she often tries to solve the problem by going out and buying more clothing. Realizing that there aren’t a lot of alternatives out there that don’t already exist in her closet, she usually loads up on more of the same. For some odd reason, a woman thinks that more of the same will give her more options. Illogical, at best. What few women understand is that it’s usually never about buying more but learning how to make outfits interesting. For the most part, a woman who lives a relatively normal life has a pretty basic wardrobe consisting of pieces like jeans, a few dresses, pants, some cardigans, skirts, blazers, etc.. Few of us leave the house looking like Lady Gaga. Therefore, if most women have the same basic items in their closet, why do some women look amazing in what they wear and others look blah? The answer: It’s all in how these basics are put together and finished. Using basic work cardigans as the example, below are three outfits that further explain this point while giving you some ideas on how to make your cardigans more exciting and less snoozy.
How to Update Those Boring Work Cardigans
Take a look at this outfit and imagine that, instead of how it is styled here, this burgundy cardigan from Modcloth was styled with a back pencil skirt, black pumps, black belt and no jewelry. While it would be a perfectly acceptable outfit, it’s certainly not winning any prizes on the creativity meter. After a few times of wearing this outfit a woman would get bored to tears, would blame her boredom on the cardigan and probably go out and buy more cardigans to wear the same way as I just described.
Yet, here, in this outfit, by mixing colors in an interesting way, the cardigan is not left to shoulder the burden of making this outfit inseresting and the whole entire outfit is less boring. Same cardigan, different stying. Using this mustard skirt from Boden, a pair of plaid shoes from Anthropologie, a white button down shirt, blue belt and Kate Spade earrings, what makes this outfit pop is how these pieces are combined.
If you’re someone who is afraid of combining color, there is nothing wrong with using cheat sheets, like I am with these plaid shoes. When a woman doesn’t feel confident with color combining, I tell her to look at prints and patterns in her wardrobe as they are wonderful little road maps on what colors work together. Few would think to pair mustard, blue and burgundy without looking at these shoes (well, maybe I would, but I am a freak), but, not only do these shoes provide an interesting color combination to consider, but they also bring all of the colors found in this outfit together.
If too much color in an outfit just isn’t your thing, you can still add some interest to a basic work cardigan outfit. Take, for example, how I am styling this grey boyfriend cardigan from J. Crew. I love a good basic cardigan like this because it can styled simply with a white t-shirt and jeans on the weekends to something more creative. It’s a good staple to have. However, again, if your basic work look of a pair of black pants, grey cardigan and layering piece underneath has your as bored as watching a pot of water come to a boil, the subtlest of touches can make all the difference.
If color combining isn’t your strength, but you want to play with color as an accent, here is a simple little tip: Use my base, accent pop method. How it works is you start with a neutral color or colors, like I am here with these Reiss pants and grey cardigan. From there you add your accent. In this outfit it is the blue and black leopard top. Now, you can stop there, and most women do (which is why they are bored), but, if you go one teeny, weeny, itsy,bitsy step further it will make all the difference. By adding the pop to this outfit, like I did with the orange ballerina flats from Nordstrom, the outfit looks a lot more interesting with the tiniest bit of effort. Lastly, to further pull in the accent and pop colors, I added a watch with a blue strap, an orange and gold bracelet, light blue stud earrings, and long gold pendant necklace from Stella & Dot.
Breaking down the base, accent and pop- the base is typically neutral, which means that any color can be paired with it for the accent shade. For the pop, this should be a color that works with the accent. The accent shade is used in the smallest percentage in the outfit. A great way to start playing with harmonious accent and pop colors is to look at colors on the opposite side of the color wheel.
You’ve been adding more jewelry to your wardrobe, thinking, “Bridgette would be so proud of me.” I am, of course, proud. However, to take this a step further, like prints, see the colors in your jewelry as a way to add some more excitement to the rest of your outfit.
Here, for example, I am using these purple Ivanka Trump shoes to add some finish to this orange Vince Camuto dress. If you look at the necklace, there is purple in it, and the orange and purple work together, while also creating a striking contrast. With these pops, the ivory cropped cashmere cardigan blends into the total outfit vs. taking anything away from it. Often, a cardigan can look like an after thought, or something that is thrown on to offer arm coverage or warmth. By having these other accents, the cardigan looks like a part of this pulled together look.
Keep it simple, or change it up
If you have been wearing your basic work cardigans in a more simple manner and it is working for you, this post certainly isn’t meant to discourage you or tell you it is wrong. Some days I just love the simplicity of a basic outfit using one of my many cardigans. However, if you feel like you have fallen into a cardigan rut, or aren’t sure how to make them look more interesting, try playing with the colors of your outfit. By doing this you will be able to keep you work looks as basic and appropriate for work as they have been, only now they will have a bit more flair.
Shop for cardigans
If your wardrobe isn’t already overloaded with cardigans, check out these additional styles. And, don’t forget to style them in fun ways.