Like it or not, cardigans are critical players in a summer wardrobe. The hotter it gets outside, the colder it becomes indoors, making cardigans—unless you want to die from hypothermia— incredibly necessary. In addition to providing warmth, cardigans also camouflage bits we think are unsightly, which can be helpful in the summer world of sleeveless tops, tanks, and spaghetti straps.

We all know and appreciate the magic that summer cardigans can do, however, when cardigans seem like the only defense against warmth or jiggly arms, these valuable summer cardigans can also sometimes feel like monotonous security blankets—not to mention like afterthoughts— during those times when you create a great look sans-cardigan but find you need to carry one along just in case.

There has been a recent surge in interest in crisp, relaxed button-up shirts. As someone who has gone headfirst into this trend, I’m completely here for it. A pop of the collar, a relaxed tuck, or not, and I feel pulled together with ease. I’ve worn these easy styles under blazers, on their own with jeans and loafers, under sweaters, and more. Once I found styles that didn’t stress the bust buttons to the point where they could be used as deadly weapons if they popped off from the pressure, I was in.


Now that it is summer, I’ve leaned into the trend of wearing my crisp, relaxed button-up shirts as a layering piece. I’m still pro-cardigan but have been leaning more toward this solution as a third layer. At a gathering of friends Memorial Day weekend, I wore my Frank & Eileen Joedy shirt tied over an inexpensive Old Navy camel-colored tank with my J.Crew factory cotton linen pants. I wore this look with my Birkenstock Gizeh sandals in patent alloy and a paperclip necklace I bought on Etsy. Those pants were almost on the chopping block because I always felt like they were too relaxed, but now with the tailored touch of the shirt, the pants have gotten a new life.

I have also worn this Quince jumpsuit with their striped linen button-down, have put my oversized crisp button-ups over tees, and even wear an old chambray button-down over my workout clothes when heading to my local studio. In fact, last Saturday, when a fellow member and I were getting ready to leave, I noticed she also layered a chambray shirt over her workout clothes. We looked like twins.

You can choose to wear the shirt completely open over another top, can partially tuck, and simply tie. There is no right way to use your button-up shirts in lieu of a cardigan— the look just needs to look casual and carefree, like you just threw it on. If you are looking for inspiration, I have put five looks together using a relaxed button-up shirt as a third layer.


This look is similar to the Quince outfit I mentioned earlier, I styled this Theory jumpsuit with a striped button-up shirt from Alex Mill. I tied my shirt at the waist but also just let it hang open. In my look, I wore my patent alloy Birkenstocks but would also wear it with a pair of sneakers, as I did with this Adidas pair. I finished the outfit with gold hoops and a navy nylon crossbody.


If you’re a shorts-wearer, a relaxed chambray shirt over a white tee or tank creates an easy yet tailored look. I styled this Rails button-up over J.Crews vintage v-neck tee and pleated navy shorts from Boden. I finished the outfit with a cognac braided belt, cognac flat sandals from Margaux, a link necklace, and an orange Longchamp crossbody.


I love Everlane’s silky cotton relaxed shirt. It has shape while still being relaxed and the collar pops beautifully. I styled the shirt over a black and white striped tank from Kule, paired with MM. Lafleur’s better than denim Milo jeans which have an adjustable hem, and finished the look with M.Gemi platform sandals, gold and black hoop earrings, a black leather belt from COS, and Demellier crossbody.


button-up shirts

Tuck this shirt from Reiss in or tie it at the waist, a collared shirt adds a lovely finish to a midi or maxi, like this pleated style from J.Crew. I styled this relaxed cap sleeve tee under the shirt and finished the look with black platform espadrille sandals, a white crossbody, and a statement necklace from Etsy.


button-up shirts

In this last look, I layered a white linen Alex Mill shirt over an easy olive dress from Mango. To add shape at the waist, the shirt can be tied closed, or for a more relaxed look, left open. You could also put a belt over the shirt and dress, or just the dress. You have several options. I finished the look with Nisola flat sandals, a woven leather crossbody in cognac, and a chunky gold layering necklace.

Cardigans are wonderful, have their place, and truly serve a purpose, but if you are looking for an alternative for summer coverage, break out a crisp, relaxed button-up shirt. You may be surprised by how useful they are and chic they look.