Versatile Summer Cardigans for Freezing Cold Days at Work

summer cardigans

It’s likely that the most important piece of work clothing in the summer is the cardigan. With freezing cold workplace temperatures and flimsy clothes, most lacking sleeves, layering is crucial. Last week, I shared a post on summer workplace outfits and this week I am taking it a step further and sharing tips on how to choose versatile summer cardigans.

Not all cardigans are versatile

Here’s what happens: you have summer work cardigans and you have summer work clothes. Putting them together should be easy, right? You get cold and you throw on a cardigan. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Unless you have a specific cardigan for an outfit, cardigans aren’t always versatile. You may not own the right color cardigan, the neckline of the cardigan clashes with the dress or top and, as a result, your cardigans look like “I’m cold” afterthoughts. The wrong cardigan can ruin an otherwise perfect outfit. Plus, most women like to keep at least one cardigan at their desk to throw on when they get chilled. How can you ensure that this one universal cardigan with will with most things you wear?

What to look for in versatile summer cardigans

Through working with clients, I have found there are a few things to keep in mind when purchasing a cardigan from which you hope to get universal wear. These are the things we don’t think about until we find ourselves reaching for a cardigan and realize we don’t have the right one for the outfit we are wearing.

  1. Choose a neutral: Sure, a black cardigan seems versatile, but what happens when you wear a color like navy or brown? Dark neutral colors, like black, navy and brown won’t work as universally as mid-to-light toned neutral shades will. Instead of dark neutrals, select shades like grey, camel, tan or ivory. This way, no matter what color you are wearing in an outfit, these cardigans will more likely work. To select which mid-to-light neutral shade is right for you, look at the majority of your wardrobe and figure out which color is right for you. Certainly, you can have several versatile summer cardigans.
  2. Avoid jewel necklines: I’m not a huge fan of jewel neck cardigans. I find the neckline shape doesn’t work as universally as a v-neck or cardigan a clean closure that falls straight. A collared cardigan can also be tricky. It’s not that you shouldn’t own cardigans with jewel necklines, collars or interesting closures, just don’t expect them to be the ‘wear with everything’ solution.
  3. Be mindful of length: Proportion is important. Styles that are too long or too short can throw off the balance of a look. Make sure that the versatile summer cardigans you choose hits at that sweet spot that works with most of what you own. I find around 2″ below the pelvic bones to just above the thigh to be a good range.
  4. Avoid novelty trims and details: I saw this super cute cardigan that I thought was versatile…until I saw a pink ribbon on the back. It was cute, but not versatile. This is not to say you can’t have these fun types of cardigans in your wardrobe, but if you are looking for a style that will work universally, novelty trims and details likely won’t work.

Versatile Summer Cardigans for Freezing Cold Days at Work

Below, I have put together five different work outfits using this one summer cardigan from Eileen Fisher to give you some outfit ideas. Shop for more versatile summer cardigans at the end of the post.

Outfit #1

This dress is a perfect example of why a clean front cardigan is so important. You can layer this Eileen Fisher style over it and it doesn’t mess with the collar of this brick colored dress from Lafayette 148. To finish the outfit, I added these block heel sandals in soft blue from 27 Edit and gold oval necklace from Boden.

Outfit #2

This outfit is an example of what happens when you have versatile summer cardigans only in shades like black or navy. You’re wearing a black top and the universal cardigan you have at your desk is navy. It will keep you warm but it won’t look like it goes. Also, the neckline. A jewel neckline will also fight with the neckline with the boat neck of this top, unlike the way the cardigan I used will work. With the cardigan and top, I added these tattersall pants in yellow from Madewell and finished the look with black ankle strap sandals from Vince Camuto and pendant necklace from Madewell.

Outfit #3

It can be hard to get one cardigan to work with a variety of outfits, especially ones that are colorful and have interesting necklines. You want to make it look like the cardigan is meant to be there. Certainly, it’s unrealistic to expect that one cardigan will work with all things, but it is helpful when at least one or two cardigans work with most of your outfits.

I styled the cardigan with a sleeveless printed top and evergreen pants from Cos and finished the look with blush slingback flats from Everlane and mint green earrings from Talbot’s.

Outfit #4

With the ruffles around the neckline of this sleeveless top from Boden, a simple, unfussy cardigan doesn’t add any additional distractions. I further styled the outfit with a mosaic pencil skirt and finished the outfit with beige slingback kitten heel pumps from Bella Vita and Labradorite earrings from Nakamol Design.

Outfit #5

I styled this last look using the same cardigan with a navy short sleeve dress from BOSS. While a navy cardigan could work, what are the chances you will get the different shades of navy to match? This universal cardigan works equally well. I finished the look with red pumps and a printed scarf from Lauren Ralph Lauren and hoop earrings from Michael Kors.

Shop for more versatile summer cardigans