Cardigans can either be the star of the show — picture Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks, her cardigan tucked into a tight skirt — or a casual cover-up you absentmindedly throw over an outfit. Endlessly versatile, a cardigan can be whatever you want it to be — as editor turned acupuncturist Joanna Ellner points out, “the clever thing about the cardigan is that it is one of very few pieces that can run the entire gamut between scholarly, indie introvert and wanton, comely siren.”
With brands like Hades and Pearl Reddington creating cardigans that are gloriously conspicuous and high-street favourites like Uniqlo that produce versatile, low-key knitwear, there is a cardigan out there for everyone. We’ve surveyed nine cardigan aficionados, from stylists to editors to art directors, to identify the best cardigans in the shops right now for every kind of person. Read on for the best V-neck cardis, the best plus-size cardigans, the best high-street cardigans, and more.
The Best Cardigans Under £120
Writer and editor Phoebe McDowell recommends shopping Uniqlo’s menswear section when it comes to knitwear. “It hangs better,” she says. McDowell opts for this lambswool V-neck cardigan in a light grey, pairing it with casual pieces. “It makes any casual outfit, such as jeans and a well-cut tee, unequivocally cooler,” she says.
Lawyer Thandi Maqubela recommends this V-neck crochet cardigan from Cos, which is made from ecofriendly paper yarns. She thinks it’s the perfect cover-up for warm evenings. “It is great for balmy summer nights as it provides just the right amount of coverage to be practical while allowing whatever outfit you’ve paired it with to still shine through,” she explains.
A cardigan in summer doesn’t have to feel like a sensible option; in fact, it can be the centrepiece of a great, fun look, especially if you choose one from sustainable brand House of Sunny (whose Hockney dress was ubiquitous this spring). Stylist Benjamin Canares recommends pairing this one with “denim cutoffs, Teva sandals, a nylon bucket hat, and an old Céline string bag.” It has to be preordered, so place your order before summer is out.
McDowell calls this cardigan a “hybrid,” noting that it has “the practicality of a shacket and the cosiness of a cardi.” All in all, that makes it a particularly versatile cover-up, with McDowell pointing out that it looks equally good “open or closed, with the sleeves up or down.”
Book editor and podcast host Camilla Ackley is a recent convert to cardigans — “There’s something incredibly comforting about them,” she says — but still prefers to avoid the girlier styles: “I tend to gravitate towards bolder, structured cardigans that make more of a statement and this & Other Stories one is everything I want a good cardigan to be.” She recommends wearing it with silver jewellery and a tan, or chucked over a little black dress.
An archive sale item, this Rejina Pyo cardigan is a “delicious steal,” according to McDowell, who recommends keeping an eye on archive sales. (Pyo’s directional knitwear usually retails for upwards of £300, she points out.) The shirt detail and buttons set it apart from every other V-neck cardigan and McDowell recommends “wearing it with nothing underneath, of course.”
The Best Cardigans Under £300
Broadcaster and writer Louise McSharry has a complicated relationship with cardigans. “During the years I was drowning in body shame, they were an absolute staple lest I inflict my human arms on the world, “ she says. “Once I got over that, cardigans were kind of tainted for me.” It is only recently that she has rediscovered the cardigan, and this Olivia Rubin number is particularly joyful. “This cardigan is lovely over dresses but also looks great over a white T-shirt with jeans or a skirt,” McSharry points out. “I’m into the collar detail and love the lilac colour. It’s also just exciting for me, as a plus-size woman, to be included by a designer like Olivia Rubin.”
Benjamin Canares loves cardigans. “They are playful and kitsch yet always chic,” he enthuses — and this lambswool cardigan from British brand Hades ticks all his boxes. A versatile cardi that can be worn on its own or layered over a T-shirt, Canares is a particular fan of the buttons.
McSharry wears her merino-wool Pearl Reddington cardigan almost constantly: “I don’t think it would be too much to say that this cardigan was instrumental in getting me through the pandemic.” Designed in Dublin and spun in Donegal, it is a distinctly Irish garment, but “its splash of neon makes it unmistakably contemporary.” “Every time I put it on I feel like I’m getting a hug,” says McSharry. “There’s a weight in it that is so comforting.”
For a long time, writer and editor Mina Holland considered jumpers more stylish than cardigans — but in recent years, she has become a cardi convert: “It always feels a shame to wear something nice and then cover it up; a cardigan allows for whatever else you’re wearing to be visible. Also, a cardigan is super-handy for breastfeeding.” One of her current favourites is this oversize cotton cardigan from Spanish brand Babaà. Made in Spain using locally produced yarn, it’s created using an ecofriendly process. Throw it over a dress for understated, insouciant vibes.
Theatremaker and screenwriter Bryony Kimmings is always cold, and so cardigans are an important, hardworking element of her wardrobe. She buys two a year (one each season) and “they have to be smart and modern and not [make me] look like a bag lady.” She generally turns to Sandro, and this summer, she has gone for the brand’s cardi-coat. A mash-up of a denim shirt and a cardigan, it looks good with “everything else in her wardrobe,” from jeans to dresses.
Looking for a cardigan that is brilliant for any occasion? Mina Holland recommends this wool-cashmere number from Toast. “It is fitted around the arms and shoulders but falls beautifully and loosely over my hips,” she says. Holland’s is in grey, which is currently sold out, but it’s still available in mustard and bright rust.
The Best Luxury Cardigans
If you’re seeking to invest in a classic cardigan that will look as good in ten years as it does now, Thandi Maqubela recommends this one from Totême. “The flattering silhouette helps pull almost any outfit together,” she says, “and the muted colour makes it versatile, going with almost everything in your wardrobe.”
Volume is what separates an Audrey Horne-style cardi from a grungy Kurt Cobain-style cardigan, explains Joanna Ellner — “and this Khaite cardigan, with its voluminous bell sleeves and cinched body, magically straddles both [types of cardigan] in a way that no cardigan has ever managed to before.” She recommends pairing it with men’s suit trousers.
Miuccia Prada designs the best cardigans, asserts Benjamin Canares — “She’s the queen of irreverent,” he says, “making the ugly sexy and cool!” This sailor-style cardigan is classic Miu Miu: young, fresh, and witty. Canares says he is “obsessed” with the mother-of-pearl buttons.
Searching for a cardigan that’s as cosy as a blanket? Then look no further than this Acne number, says art director Rasha Kahil. As well as its deeply comforting blanket vibes, Kahil also praises its yellow and rust hues. “Since I mostly wear black, the cardigan is an easy way for me to incorporate colour or pattern in my outfit, for day or night,” she says.
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