2020 Update: We still stand by this general advice on how to find seasonless sweaters for the office — but you may also want to check out our more recent discussion of what to wear to work in the summer!
Is there a magical sweater you can buy that is seasonless — great for summer, great for winter, looks luxe, and retains its shape? In general, what do you look for in summer sweaters? Reader N asks:
It seems that many dresses are sleeveless or cap sleeved, and I am always searching for the right coverup for work. To that end, can you recommend a simple, well made light black cardigan? It seems that every single one I’ve purchased the last few years looks cheap and out of shape after more than a few wears.
We’ve haven’t done a hunt for black cardigans for a while — maybe soon! (Note that both the J.Crew one and DvF one, below, come in black, as does August Silk.) When it comes to shapeless sweaters, I haaaate cotton sweaters for that reason. If it’s a lightweight cotton sweater, it looks shapeless after just a few wears in the summer, and when I wash them I can never get them to look quite as nice as they first did on the rack. If it’s a chunkier cotton sweater in the winter, it’s the same thing — a misshapen mess. Wool is too heavy to be seasonless (although merino wool sweaters are often great purchases), and cashmere can be too expensive or delicate to throw into your bag and survive. So what’s a girl to do?
Psst: check out our updated Guide to Cardigans!
My favorite type of sweater for retaining shape — and being a great layering piece year round — is the silk cardigan. It holds its shape. It blocks the wind. It’s easy to throw around your neck and shoulders for a summertime commute and a freezing office (just button it first, otherwise it looks less like a preppy sweater and more like a cape). It’s just as easy to throw around your neck as a scarf/additional layering piece in the fall when you’re not quite sure how cold it’s going to be outside (or how blazing the radiators will be inside). In my experience, a silk cardigan is easily washed in the machine; doesn’t look too worn, too quickly; and doesn’t snag as quickly as polyester. A few tips:
- Look for 100% silk — if it’s blended with linen, wool, or cashmere, it won’t be as seasonless. A silk/cotton blend can be all right — it may make it more washable — but the higher the cotton percentage, the less it’ll hold its shape.
- Avoid less than full-length sleeves — if you want a sweater to truly be versatile you want to avoid sleeves that are too short to tie around your shoulders in the summer. You can still do it with 3/4 length sleeves, but a sweater with ballet length sleeves will get shoved in your bag.
A few options on the market right now (pictured at bottom):
- The classic: a twinset from Brooks Brothers. Silk and Cotton Cardigan, $128, available in four colors; the matching shell is $98. If you’re looking for a true investment, this style has been sold and in fashion for a looong time; in a conservative office like a law firm it’s hard to go wrong with it. (Incidentally: lots of nice suiting separates are available as part of their Spring Sale, as well as some nice basic pumps. This silk and cotton blend cardigan is part of the sale, down to $118.)
- J.Crew has a number of twinsets — this cotton/nylon blend is affordable ($45 today with code WEEKEND), but I prefer the featherweight cashmere. It’s offered as a twinset (online only, in a zillion colors), or, as pictured, this chic little waffle cardigan. Collection Featherweight Cashmere Waffle Cardigan Sweater, $158 today at J.Crew (five colors).
- DvF has a number of these slinky ballerina wrap sweaters out right now in various colors and textures. The neckline is super low by itself — but if you’re wearing it over a sheath dress or blouse, it should be fine. The pictured one (in black) is $268; it’s a cashmere/silk blend. Diane von Furstenberg ‘Ballerina’ Wrap Sweater
- Admittedly, the more affordable options have less silk, and more cotton and polyester in them. This Gap ribbed cardigan (pictured) looks nice for $20 (available in white, beige, and navy; it’s 55% cotton, 45% rayon, 5% silk). Macy’s also has a ton of silk-blend cardigans from August Silk available in regular and plus sizes for $24-$45; note that you can often find the brand August Silk at spots like TJ Maxx as well. In my experience, sweaters with less silk and more polyester tend to be less warm on a chilly night (they don’t block the summer wind as well, I think); they also tend to be prone to snagging — so evaluate carefully when buying. That said, I’ve had many August Silk sweaters over the years, and they’ve been workhorses.
Ladies, what are your favorite sweaters to wear to work in the summer? What do you look for when buying one? Do you find one color (black, white or cream, for example) tends to get more wear than others? How do you buy seasonless sweaters for the office?
What a great topic! I am a cardigan lover and I’ve had some good & bad ones over the years.
Thinking back, two of my all time favorite cardigans have been from Banana Republic. One was a silk blend 3/4 sleeve that I wore year round for over 10 years – so I agree with your recommendation for silk. The other is a merino wool, and while it IS warmer than a summer weight sweater, I wear it year round in the office anyway. Both held up really well over the years and never lost their shape.
I have also had great success with a cotton/poly blend sweater from Title Nine Sports: the Café Sleeve Can-Do Cardigan. A quick google says it’s out of stock, but maybe you can find something similar. I have it in three colors. It has gone through the wash well while holding its shape, and I like the fitted/cropped profile. I may not get the 10+ years of wear out of it like the BR sweaters, but… expectations.
On the other end of things, I have had the worst luck with cotton and cotton blend sweaters from Lands End. They are boxy, frumpy, and lose their shape after the first wear.
Love the BR cardi (“Anna”) and my J Crew Jackie cardigans in cashmere or cotton. Their cashmere is hit or miss it seems, so buy on sale. My favorite J Crew cardi was a merino wool in black with raw silk “trim” around the edges. I washed it once accidentally and haven’t been able to find it since. I’ve similarly been unlucky with my Lands End cotton cardigans. The faded color was the worst part since it was so pretty to begin with!
I love to have a wardrobe of cardigans… I tend to think of them more as accessories since they rarely get worn the whole day long. I try to acquire well-made ones in fun colors when they’re on sale and year-round mix them up with basic shift dresses in navy, grey, and black and coordinating belts/necklaces/shoes.
I love the BR Anna cardigans too! It seems like they haven’t had them for the last few seasons in fun colors. Bring them back!
I am obsessed with that DvF sweater. Has anyone seen something similar for under $100?
I feel like I’ve seen a similar style at Zara sometimes.
Discount Dance Supply… in acrylic, of course.
I’ve been stalking that sweater for months.
I think matching twinsets are quite dated, not classic.
Thanks guys. I’m going to look at Zara next time I am near one. Years ago, I got a wrap sweater like this at H&M for $6 and it was so incredibly versatile and useful. I keep hoping they make a new version. I think I wore it until it came apart at the seams. Bonnie, I’ve been stalking it too, but unsuccessfully. I also tried looking at dance clothing websites, but I think I need to see this in person to figure out sizing and/or fabric if I’m going to go that route.
They will be junky by the end of the summer but every year i buy 4 old navy cardigans. if you keep your eye out there is always a promotion when they are only $10. I buy white, black, navy, and one “on trend” color. They are rags by the labor day but for $40 i think worth it.
The OP is right. I bought some Old Navy and they did NOT last very long, but they were INEXPENSIVE. So if you have to wear something just a few times, go to Old Navy, but do NOT expect the quality you get for more money. Myrna got a lot of Old Navy’s but she has a cat that loves to rip up her stuff, so she wind’s up throwing them out for that reason also. I say FOOEY on cat’s that rip your clothe’s up!
David is nosing around me again. Dad put him up to it and even promised him that he would pay up to $500,000 for a condo if he MARRIED me and we were married for 6 month’s. This way, dad think’s he will NOT have to loose it b/c by 6 month’s I will be pregeneant and will NOT chase David away b/c it will be onley 3 month’s until the baby is born and I could NOT find another man with a big stomach to go with my big tuchus. He is probabley right, but I think I would have to get used to David huffeing and puffeing on top of me. I suppose that would not be to difficult since I let Sheketovits have a lot of sex with me, and Dad probabley figures the same thing.
Wouldn’t it be great if I could just find a rich guy willeing to MARRY me who would onley have sex with me once a week or so? That would be SOOOOO much easier for me (and my laundrey bills). YAY!!!!!
Yay for disposable fashion, amirite guys!?
la vie en bleu
you are just really enjoying being a brat today, aren’t you? Give the snark a rest.
It’s pretty privileged, actually, to be able to scorn “disposable fashion.” Some people have totally different priorities, or finances that require shopping at places like Old Navy, and some people aren’t an average sized 0-14 female and have to first focus on places that even sell clothes that fit.
la vie en bleu
The Land’s End cardigans, the supima blend ones. I liked their more cotton-heavy version in the past, they have recently changed the percentage and increased the synthetic fiber content, but they still hold up really well for me. The simple cardigan shape really works for me, they hit right at the top of my hip, and look the most professional over dresses and skirts, (more professional than boyfriend cuts) and I have several that I have had for about 5 years now and they still look nice. I wait for the sales and grab a couple of colors at a time.
+1. I have these in many colors. I also like the Eddie Bauer Christine cardigans.
I admit I’ve always gone low-end with my cardigans, but I didn’t know there were silk ones out there. I noticed the picks are all blends, but the recommendation was for 100% silk. Is anyone making 100% silk ones, or is that another clothing item that is falling to the fast fashion world?
Generally to make my cheapie cardigans last longer, I avoid washing as long as possible (usually 3-4 wears is easily doable) and only put in the dryer for long enough to get the wrinkles out, then I hang to try. I can get a couple years out of most of them.
la vie en bleu
I have a couple that are silk blends, I think the blend is better because it makes it more sturdy. I have a silk/cotton one from BR that is several years old, but washes and holds up beautifully. Dries flat with almost no wrinkles, and any wrinkles fall out when I’m wearing it.
I have silk – cashmere – cotton blend from Massimo Dutti.
I wash them in the machine and hang to dry. 4 years and still ok
Can anyone speak to the sizing on the August Silk cardigan?
I don’t know about that particular cardigan, but have always found August Silk to look very appealing on the rack and then be extremely boxy and too short.
I think that a seasonless sweater is a unicorn. I live in the upper south and we have 4 seasons. My office has two: cold and colder. No sweater that works in winter works in the summer (and vice versa). I think that two sets of 3-season sweaters is more realistic.
My summer go-to is a 3/4 v-neck lightweight cashmere one from Boden (my sister has one from Old Navy in cotton) in a mushroom color. It goes on easily over sheath dresses as long as they don’t have long sleeves.
My colder-weather go-to is a merino Charming Cardi from Talbots (2 colors). I have them in S (but probably need a petite small). They are 4+ years old and may be moved to the weekend bucket from the office bucket, but they have served me well. Also, LE cashmere is good (but they run large, so factor that in). I liked merino better than cashmere, as it looked a bit more polished; in the 2014-2015 winter offerings, no ideal replacement jumped out, so I will be on the lookout this fall.
I always found silk to be rough on my elbows and not that warm, so I’d never rebuy that fabric.
I agree with seasonless being a unicorn. My city can be -40C or +30C – the same sweaters do not work in the winter as in the summer.
+1 I might wear the “summer” cardigans (merino wool) paired with a long-sleeve shirt and heavier scarf as winter transitions from fall or into spring, but generally, I have separate sweater wardrobes for summer vs. winter.
That’s interesting – I’m in the South, too, and I pretty much consider any cardigan that’s not very heavy (i.e., cable -knit wool or similar, but those aren’t usually the type that I would wear to work anyway) to be seasonless. You can always take them off if you get warm, after all (and it is usually so cold indoors). I only have one or two that I wouldn’t wear in the summer, and none that I wouldn’t wear in the winter (changing up what I’m wearing underneath and as outerwear, of course, and I try to avoid non-long sleeves).
I’m hoping to do a good wardrobe revamp soon, so I’ll have to look for silk and merino ones.
In defense of the Talbots merino Charming Cardis, I beat them up (washing in hot water and putting them through the dryer on hot) trying to shrink them. They took multiple rounds of this quite well and did not really shrink or noticeably pill. I have an older model (2011? 2012?) with gold buttons that are heavy enough to pull a bit, so the buttonholes are not as rigid as they once were (which can look a little odd and less polished). If the buttons had been horn or pearl, they would probably be in pristine shape. I am definitely considering checking out Talbots in the fall to see what they do for the colder-weather CC, hopefully in merino with lightweight buttons.
Does anyone have any experience with Woolovers (not putting a link because I’m sure that it will fail to post)? Seems to be a UK-based company with a US site. They have cotton-silk (70/30 cotton silk, so I guess not optimal but better than 100% cotton?) blends in a nice range of colors, for about $35 for a cardigan.
They also give garment measurements like Boden does, which I really love. Makes it so much easier to figure out sizes!
I’ve bought silk blend v-neck sweaters from Woolovers in the past. The quality was good and I liked the fabric, but they were SO SHORT!! I was always using double-sided tape to avoid exposing my muffin top to the world. I tried hang-drying (to stretch), but they would not budge. I finally gave up and donated them. Too bad, because the selection and the quality were great.
Same here, and I am only 5’4″. No idea why they cannot add a couple of inches of length to their sweaters.
(That was me who first asked about Woolovers).
Hmm, I can’t decide if too short is a feature or a bug. I’d like a cardigan that hits just slightly below the hip, so the Woolovers may work for me. Guess I’ll pull out the tape measure tonight and do some measuring.
I ordered a silk blend cardigan from them recently, and with a promo code, it came to about $2o shipped! It’s lovely. I maybe should’ve sized up to a medium, but the fabric itself is beautiful–really nice weight and feel. The only thing I don’t like about it is that I bought a white/cream sweater and the buttons are gray and dated looking. I think I’ll replace them with white buttons and it’ll freshen up the look.
I’ve had good luck with the 3/4 sleeve cotton cardis I’ve gotten over the years at Gap Outlet. I have a rainbow of colors now. I love them because they’re V-neck (don’t care for jewel neck cardis) and hit at the high hip. I haven’t seen them out yet this year. I machine wash and dry them with no issues.
I usually get a lot of wear out of Talbots cardigans.
My go to office cardigan that works for spring/summer/fall is the basic Merona crewneck from Target. It’s incredibly soft and holds up well with lots of use (several times a week) over years (oldest is pushing 5 years and still looks great).
I love a good cardigan, I live in Texas and wear them year-round. (Seems like everywhere cranks the A/C as soon as spring hits!) I have a wool sensitivity (even cashmere), so I look for cotton or a viscose blend.
I have had really good luck with the Merona cardigans and it seems like I can find some colors on clearance fairly often.
I also have several from Loft in my closet right now. I just looked online and the ones I have are on clearance, yay!
I have a few of those as well. I appreciate that the buttons match the fabric.
This! I don’t have anywhere near 5 years on mine, but it’s at a year and counting and looks awesome!
I’m wearing one from the Limited right now in a dark cobalt blue, but I don’t see it on the website. I really like it.
Oh man, so timely as my absolutely favorite perfect seasonless sweater (a black 3/4 sleeve J. Crew “boyfriend” v-neck cashmere cardigan) finally bit it — huge hole in the elbow from a ton of wear. I think I purchased it in December 2010? I don’t know what I’m going to do without it. Probably resort more frequently to my Rag & Bone blazers. I’ve tried to find comparable J. Crew cashmere cardigans before this one’s tragic end, but they were never quite the same: not as soft, the cut not as flattering.
I’ve got some other J. Crew merino cropped cardigans for wearing over dresses, and they hold up pretty well, but are not as comfortable as the cashmere, obviously. And the cotton Jackie cardigan is awful.
My other favorite summer cardigan is a featherweight White + Warren cashmere in a silvery gray. Super light and versatile, and has held up against being tossed into totes for a good while now.
I know it’s still new to you in the States but Uniqlo is my go-to for knitwear. I have a green cotton/cashmere blend cardi that’s still looking good after nearly five years (bought for £19.99) and this spring bought a gorgeous red merino crew neck cardigan which I’m in love with – it was, bizarrely, also £19.99
Does anyone have a good white cardigan that is not see-through? I feel like finding a good quality white cardigan that is not see-through is nearly a unicorn type purchase, but maybe I’m just looking in the wrong places.
I got a great one at Macy’s last winter (JM brand), but have now donated as it was sized to look good while I was pregnant and now that I am back to my normal shape, it looked like a lab coat.
I know I’m late but I thought I would add just in case you were still reading. I have the Nic & Zoe Back of the Chair Cardi and Lands End Dress cardi – both in white. I wear them both equally. The Nic & Zoe sweater is not quite bright white but works well with most things. I probably like that one better but the LE cardigan works better with dresses so they each have a purpose.
The DVF cozy cardigans are worth stalking. Despite the blend they don’t look wintry and wear very well. I’ve had 2 for probably 5+ years and they are staples. I wear them just about year round (though I snagged 2 Lilla P origami wraps off a flash sale that now get more summer action). I stalked them on sale at bloomies and n-m online and have one in charcoal and another in bright turquoise. I always get compliments. I wear them several different ways. They are the most amazing travel item ever. I dread the day when they wear out.
I’d just like to throw out there that I bought a blazer at Uniqlo a few months ago and I’ve been wearing it constantly, rather than reaching for my trusty black cardi (Gap, silk/cotton blend). It looks professional, but it also looks great styled with tshirt/jeans/sneakers.
All of the J Crew featherweight cardigans I’ve had recently haven’t made it through a season without tiny holes appearing from snags, especially around the shoulders and back (either from washing or from carrying a purse or a laptop bag, or a duffle bag…).
They are way too fragile for how much they cost, I don’t think they are worth it.