How to Button Your Cardigans

How to Button Your Cardigans | CorporetteHow do YOU button your cardigans?  I was surprised that I had such a strong opinion when I saw reader S’s email:

I love regular crewneck cardigans and have them in several colors and brands, but I’m always debating whether I should be buttoning up just the 2nd and third buttons, only the top one, or everything but the top two buttons. Is there a look that looks more professional? Is there a style that’s most flattering to certain body types?

Interesting.  We’ve talked about the six cardigans everyone should own, but we haven’t actually talked about how to button them.  Maybe I’m alone here, but I HATE the top-button-only look for the office.  It reminds me of secretaries and housewives from the 1950s (kind of like the picture above, from Peggy Sue Got Married), even when Michelle Obama does it.  Imogen over at Inside Out Style notes that the top-buttoned look flatters smaller busts, which I suppose I can see — but then I would just suggest that almost all of the buttons should be buttoned then, not just the top few.  (I always leave the bottom button unbuttoned, so I say “almost all”).  For my $.02, when I’ve buttoned my cardigans (which is probably only about 40% of the time) I’ve always buttoned my cardigans like this:

  • The 2 or 3 buttons closest to my belly button to emphasize my waist, possibly adding a belt — usually with a full blouse beneath
  • The 5 or 6 buttons in the middle (which is like 75% of the buttons), worn with a contrasting tank top beneath that is part of the look but usually not acceptable on its own — top few buttons undone, bottom few buttons undone so it lays nicely
  • Worn as a sweater that happens to be a cardigan, with all of the buttons but the bottom one buttoned.  I’m usually wearing a hidden camisole or t-shirt beneath it (in case of gaping and also to help stretch out laundering), and I leave the button one unbuttoned to help it lay more nicely.  This can be a particularly nice look beneath a blazer.
  • If you’re getting creative, you can close your cardigan with a brooch or collection of brooches (but again, near your waist) — or you can also leave it open but belted, which almost creates a colorblocking look with whatever you’re wearing beneath the cardigan (like here or here).

Readers, how do you button your cardigans?  Does a certain buttoning style read “work” to you (or weekend)? 


  1. Most of my cardigans are crew neck and I usually wear them unbuttoned.

    • The Michelle Obama picture with the belted blue cardigan just looks like she outgrew it and can’t button it anymore … not the most flattering look.

      • Agreed…but…years ago when I was still trying to make sense of cardigans, a sales lady at Banana Republic made it very clear that some cardigans are not designed to be buttoned but rather to be left open. I suspect that both the blue cardigan is one of those and Michelle either forgot to leave it unbuttoned or is trying to hide a stain/fashion disaster.

        • Anonymous :

          There may be things that are designed to be buttoned, but they still need to be able to be buttoned. This goes for jackets as well. You may leave them unbuttoned as they are intended to be, but, in order to actually fit you, they have to be capable of being buttoned.

          • Anonymous :

            I just looked at the Michelle Obama picture and while the cardigan is bunchy with the belt, it looks like it would button. Here is an example of a jacket that has no hope of being buttoned and therefore doesn’t fit:


          • This was back when I was a size 4 and the sales lady laughed when I requested a medium, then a large, then an extra large cardigan from the dressing room and complained that the arms were too big. So this isn’t always the case.

    • I button maybe 20% of the time, and then normally the middle four or so, leaving at least the top two and the bottom two undone.

      • I usually wear my cardigans with the middle four buttons fastened too and leave the top and bottom two undone. I find it is comfortable buttoned like this whilst driving my car. In cold weather I fasten all eight buttons to be really warm and cozy especially when I wear my funnel neck cardis.
        I have a number of cotton cardigans with six buttons down the front and two on the collar, these cardis can be buttoned as a ‘roll neck’ I sometimes only button the middle two buttons when I wear these.

  2. Why do you leave the bottom one unbottoned? Sometimes I think of doing that, but I don’t know why. Most of my cardigans are banded though, and I figure that bottom button is most supported and not buttoning it will stretch out the sweater.

    • Because her hips are too wide for the cardigan.

    • When I see people with the bottom buttons undone, I usually wonder why – did they not realize there were more, did it come unbuttoned itself and they don’t know, etc. I didn’t realize it was intentional! That said, I doubt I notice it most of the time that it happens.

  3. I also leave the bottom and often the second to the bottom unbuttoned. (This makes my stomach look a little flatter; it’s counterintuitive). Most of my cardigans are v-neck, and I sometimes leave the top button open too for a slightly more casual look. With my few crew cardigans, I also leave the top couple of buttons open.

    I don’t think there can be any hard and fast rules about this, since it really depends on body type.

  4. Equity's Darling :

    I feel like there’s a little too much overthinking on this….I generally play it fast and loose with buttoning my cardigans, based on…I don’t know, whether I’m feeling cold?

    I admit though, I never do one button at the neck and I never belt/brooch.

    Related question: I’m short-waisted, and generally short, so draped and boyfriend cardigans always are way, way too long on me (half of them are the length of a short dress). It’s pretty easy to find regular cardigans that are petite (so shorter length and arms), but difficult for draped/long items. Any store suggestions? Altering sweaters is always prohibitively expensive, in my experience.

    • Miz Swizz :

      Fast and loose with buttoning cardigans, I love it!

    • Olivia Pope :

      I’m so fast and loose that I never button! I also avoid the whole situation with some beloved open cardigans.

    • Lily-Student :

      You could learn to knit and make your own perfect cardigan?

    • Not me. All my sweater’s are BUTTONED all the way up and down. Otherwise, Frank will take the oportunity not only to ooogle what he can see, but also to “muse” over what he can NOT see. Some times, he even ask’s why I do that and I say b/c I do NOT want to share my boobies with you, or any one else I am NOT married to. FOOEY!

  5. I didn’t send in the question but I’ve always wondered this, too. Thanks for the tips!

  6. This is why I stopped buying cardigans that have buttons. Too much confusion!

    I agree that buttoning only the top button is very 50s housewife or even grade-school and pigtails. I think buttoning the very bottom 1 or 2 buttons is never flattering.

    • I always button the bottom button and I can’t figure out why, but not buttoning them looks odd to me. I wonder if it’s because I usually button cardigans if I’m wearing them “as a sweater that happens to be a cardigan” to borrow Kat’s phrase. Otherwise I’ll leave them open. I guess I like the fitted look of buttoning the bottom buttons? Funny how things like this become conditioned :)

  7. I typically wear mine open or 75% buttoned as Kat described, but must serve as the Defender of the Top Button Only. Worn with sleek work pants and a nice tshirt underneath, it doesn’t look little girlish at all to me, and it’s a great way to keep color near your face on a tired day. Thinking about it, I’ve only worn this look with Jackies in relatively bold or dark colors (emerald, navy, and orangey red) so perhaps that offsets the girlishness.

    • Top button is a style that has a very vintagey feel, meaning that everything else must be absolutely modern in order to pull it off, in my opinion. Maybe that’s why it works better with trousers?

  8. I find that crewneck cardigans are fairly unflattering on me no matter how I button them, so I avoid buying them unless they’re on super-sale and in a colour I need to replace. When I do wear them, I tend to leave them completely open.

    I prefer v-neck cardis, and will button either all except the bottom or just the top one, depending on what I’m wearing underneath (particularly how the waist looks, how well the shirt underneath tucks if it should be tucked, etc.).

    • I agree re crewneck sweaters. V Neck are so much more flattering on me and easier for me to wear.

      That being said, I usually don’t button, but if I do its just the 3 or 4 buttons in the middle to accentuate my waist & my general hourglassy-ness.

      I never ever button the bottom button because it usually hits at my widest part, so it’s unflattering to have a straight line there, and also there is a very good chance of pulling, and not staying done up anyway.

  9. Pearshaped :

    Am I the only one, or does a wide belt around the waist become too tight and uncomfortable when sitting down or bending? It’s fine standing up, and looks nice, but then becomes unbearably tight when I sit, and I have to loosen it. After a few times trying to find middle ground between defining the waist or suffocating, I have given up belting cardigans or long blouses and reverted back to tucking and belting pants and skirts around the hips.

    • Yes, actually – I did exactly this to myself yesterday! Wore a wide belt around my waist and was so pleased with my outfit when I left the house. Actually felt ill in the early afternoon and finally realized that it was from sitting in the damn belt all day – loosened it a couple notches and felt better immediately, although then it looked too loose standing up.

      Sudden realization: this is why many wide belts have an elastic/stretchy portion! All becomes clear…

      • In the Pink :

        I find the wide patent leather belts the worst offenders in not moving! Esp. if one sits alot.

        Stretchy belts indeed! They do come in narrow widths, but you have to look hard and long for them. Narrow seems to avoid the midsection of a cotton cardi pilling after one year’s wear. YMMV of course. I do wish Halogen would stop stop stop putting those hip area pockets on their regular length cardis … don’t need to emphasize that area and it often conflicts with belt choices. I can’t wear the boyfriend lengths nor the waterfalls… if anyone has regular length suggestions sans pockets, I’m all ears!

  10. I tend to stay away from crewneck cardigans because they look a bit too preppy for my taste and they don’t flatter me much (much more the real reason), but for the few that I have accumulated, I button all the buttons but I wear them backwards. This way it’s just a regular sweater from the front, with pretty button detailing down the back.

    • TO Lawyer :

      This is such a good idea! I just bought two Jackie cardigans on sale – maybe I’ll try this

    • I’m not saying this to be rude, but I find this look quite odd. Different strokes I guess.

      • Not rude at all, different strokes indeed. But I will say that if done correctly (e.g., no tag showing, no weird puckering, etc.), it doesn’t look like a backwards sweater; it looks like it was meant to be that way. I got the idea from an actual sweater with buttons down the back. And as much as I am not a fan of the exposed zipper trend, I think buttons down the back look really nice and delicate.

        • You know AIMS, after the Kriss Kross discussion about this several months ago, when you mentioned wearing crewneck cardigans backwards, I tried it myself. Love it! The look is very fitted in front, but not inappropriate, and indeed they look like “back-button cardigans” that are sold as such. I have 4 blah sweaters that have almost been donated many times, now with a new lease on life.

          • So glad to hear it! That’s what motivated me — I would buy crewneck cardigans on sale and then never wear them because they just made me look like a schoolmarm. I think the key is just to try it with freshly washed cardigans so they haven’t had a chance to get stretched out from being worn as intended.

            Now if only I could figure out a way to rock my old baggy jeans backwards…..

    • In my mind this sounds cool, but I have a feeling that because my front is a lot more voluptuous than my back, this might look weird.

      • I have the same problem. My cardigans take my front ladies into account so it would look odd turned around.

    • When you wear it backwards, doesn’t the back (now front) of the cardigan come up pretty high on your neck? Just thinking about it makes me feel like someone is choking me!

  11. Veronique :

    Most of my cardigans are crewnecks (J Crew Jackie or similar in other brands). I usually wear them completely unbuttoned (if the top/dress underneath has a defined waist), with most of the middle buttons buttoned, all except the top few buttoned or open but belted. I would like to try wearing cardigans as sweater more often.

    Imo, belted cardigans look best when the cardigan lays flat (first MO picture with Oprah) as opposed to bunching (second picture in blue cardigan). When I’m belting a cardigan, I button it completely, put on my belt, then unbutton the cardigan. This helps the cardigan to lay neatly and evenly under the belt.

  12. sweetknee :

    I lurk here often, but don’t post much. However, I just have to scream today. . .

    Guess who made partner ???? Sweetknee, that’s who ! Yay for me. I know you ladies can appreciate it. Most of my friends are not lawyers, and can’t really appreciate how hard it is and how much work it takes.

    Now, what shall I buy myself as a “partner present”?

    • Congratulations, what an awesome milestone! I think I would celebrate with an upscale handbag or pair of shoes.

    • mintberrycrunch :

      Congratulations! :)

    • Congratulations! That is a fantastic accomplishment. Go you.

    • Congrats, that is incredible!

    • Possibly an accountant.

      See if you can find out if you will be a W-2 partner (so partner in name only) or a K-1 partner (in which case you have to file estimated taxes, which can be a pain in the butt, especially if >1 state [never mind country] is involved). And is there any buy-in (and what are the terms) and g*d forbid you have to guarantee the lease (in which case singles are worse off than married in terms of which asssets the firm’s LL could cart off in the event your firm folds) (see all stuff involving Arthur Anderson’s going belly-up and leaving the partners on the hook since it was a general partnership and not any sort of limited partnership — yikes).

      Welcome to the club!

    • Congrats! That is AWESOME! Good for you.

    • Congrats! Splurge on a purse? jewelry?

    • Calibrachoa :

      Woo, go you! :D Congratulations!

    • Congratulations!

    • Veronique :

      Congratulations!!! +1 on the purse or jewelry suggestions!

    • Anonymous :

      woot woot! A gorgeous and ridiculously expensive right hand ring.

    • AnonInfinity :


      I’d but an awesome bottle of wine. Yummmm.

    • Congratulations times so much!!! I’d probably celebrate with a nice meal out with some close friends or family.

    • Congratulations! I have been sending a lot of those today!

    • SO EXCITING!!!!!!!!

      (and so jealous – I hope this is me in two years!)

      I am buying myself a Cartier tank watch if I make partner. One of the cheaper ones, but yes, still a lot of money. So I fully support something memorable and significant to you, even if inexcusably pricey :-)

  13. Threadjack on Istanbul…

    I’ll be leaving for a week in Istanbul shortly and would greatly appreciate any travel tips. Favorite restaurants or sites off the beaten path? In particular I’d appreciate any thoughts on going to hamams, particularly for someone who is somewhat uncomfortable being nude in a locker room.

    Lastly, I’ve read that for going to mosques it’s required to have your shoulders and knees covered. Any thoughts on whether this dress would be appropriate?
    I’m 5’4″, so I think it would cover my knees, but wondering if I should plan to wear something more of a maxi length.

    Any feedback much appreciated! TIA!

    • Honestly, I think that dress is probably borderline for the mosques. I would err on the longer side (and for some reason, it looks somewhat low cut in the front on the model), but you may be able to get away with it. Don’t forget that you will also need a scarf to cover your hair.

      Our favorite casual restaurant was Pandeli in the Spice Bazaar (upstairs at the entrance).

    • I went in Istanbul at the end of July, when it was very hot, so dressing modestly was a bit of a challenge. Some of the mosques we visited asked female tourists to cover their legs to about mid-shin level, so the dress you posted would still be too short (even though it would be modest enough for wearing around town). So I would just wear trousers or a maxi length skirt, and bring your own pashmina to cover your hair and shoulders.

      We had a really nice dinner at Caffe Privato near the Galata Tower, and wish we would have had time to check out some of the lively restaurants in the Moda neighborhood south of Kadiköy (on the Asian side). Hope you have a nice trip!

    • Assuming this is all for play and not work, I’d do full length maxi skirts and full length sleeve tops in thin cotton or linen (if you need, layer a cami–or just a really invisible nude bra). Did this when I was there during the summer and it worked fabulously. (Don’t forget whites/pale colors absorb less heat–seems silly now but under that sun you will understand.)

    • When I visited Istanbul, all the mosques had shawl-type garments they offered free to the female tourists to wrap around your waist/shoulders over your clothes if your regular outfit was not appropriate. I just did that so as not be uncomfortable the rest of the day. But I’m not squicked out by such things.

    • Thank you all for your suggestions and feedback on the dress! I’ll plan to take something more of a maxi length for the mosques.

  14. Anonymous :

    Strange question for the Hive. Did any of you married ladies every wonder if your SO is that into you before you got married? Mine has always been tough to read as a person in general and I don’t want to get severely hurt or have my time wasted, but sometimes I get paranoid.

    • Interesting question. What is it that makes you think this? Have you ever had similar doubts about other men, or even in terms of other situations (e.g., imposter syndrom, etc.)?

      My SO & I have chosen not to get married, but I can’t say I have ever wondered this in the 7 or so years we’ve been together (though maybe I am just overly optimistic?). Sure, sometimes I think it’s normal to get a little jealous and wonder if he is, say, finding someone else attractive, but I can’t say that even in those moments I had doubts that he was also “into me” so to speak. But it’s hard to respond in the abstract. I definitely feel like I have seen marriages where one person did not particularly appear smitten with the other, but it seemed more like a situation of “time to get married” or “best friends getting married,” etc. I am always mindful though that no one really knows what goes on between two people in a relationship so I always just give each relationship the benefit of the doubt.

      • Anonymous :

        I’m having horrific anxiety lately after he’s been super busy and we haven’t been seeing as much of each other. I’m totally an “imposter syndrome” person and I don’t want to invest more of my emotions unless I’m sure that he is into it. I’m just trying to protect myself but I really like him.

        • I finally started reading Lean In and one thing that SS talks about w/r to imposter syndrome is that you have to remind yourself of all the other times you didn’t fail a test or get fired or make an a** out of yourself. In other words, you need to correct for the distortion in your own mind. Perhaps you should try something similar?

          All that said, are you talking about someone you’re just dating or about to actually marry? You say that you “like” this guy, but like is an early stage emotion. If you’ve just started seeing each other, of course it’s normal to wonder if he really likes you. That’s what makes dating so fun – it’s that little bit of uncertainty that keeps you still guessing.

          • Anonymous :

            Thank you both–I’ve been seeing him for a few months. I have no idea why I’m bugging. Sometimes I can’t believe that someone like him likes someone like me.

    • No, my dh (even after 19 years of marriage) never leaves me with any doubts how he feels about me. He’s a very verbal and physically affectionate person.

      However, I’m more reserved (even after all these years) and even though I’ve come a long way in regards to telling him that I love him, I don’t match him in frequency, and I know occasionally he feels like you do, especially if I’ve been extra busy or stressed at work and I slip into my old patterns of not telling him as often as he needs to hear.

    • In case you’re still reading… it might be helpful for you to think about whether your anxiety is stemming from internal sources (your own sense of not being good enough for this guy) or from external sources (e.g., a change in his behavior). I’d also suggest you try to slow down, in your own head — a few months in may be too early to be convincing yourself that this guy is marriage material, even if you do really like him. It’s been recommended here before — check out Baggage Reclaim.

  15. I never button my cardigans.

    In the fall/winter, I wear them open with scarves that are longer/fuller and of a somewhat lightweight material.

    Other times I’ll throw them over a dress and wear a belt at my natural waist UNDER the cardigan; It seems to look much better on me than belting over the cardigan.

  16. Any hints on how to keep your cardigan buttons from rolling under when they’re not buttoned? Or is this just a bosomy person’s cross to bear? I have some cardigans with pretty buttons and I am always bummed that nobody ever sees them.

  17. I can never figure out how/whether to button my cardigans, either. I might try back-buttoning though.

    This also sent me down a delightful Pinterest rabbit hole, where are there are many many pins about ways to style cardigans. :)

  18. I just pretty much never button them at all. I like them open, like an unbuttoned jacket.

  19. Matter of generation, I think. It’s because it’s a 50s thing that younger women have been wearing them buttoned only on top for several years. By now most have figured out that whether it’s flattering is a matter of bust. Personally I tend not to button at all, or to button a bit in the middle if I want to look buttoned :-), or to button everything if I want to be super warm. The good part about a cardigan with lots of buttons is that you can change what you do with them, I hate cardigans with only some buttons.

  20. I don’t usually button mine, but, when I do, I leave the top one open and close the one below it, or the one or two below that – so it closes for a couple of inches just below the suprasternal notch. I can’t stand the top-button-closed look either.

  21. Most of my cardis are crew neck with eight buttons and I feel more comfortable wearing them fully buttoned to my neck. I have some cotton turtleneck cardis where the collar buttons to a roll neck. They are lovely and cosy when the weather is cold.