What is a Cardigan? The Cardigan vs. Sweater

The Fashionisto

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Updated August 5, 2023

Male Model Closeup Cardigan Sweater in Black What is a CardiganPin
Photo: Shutterstock

Have you ever been shopping for a cardigan or a sweater, pondering what is a cardigan, using the terms interchangeably, only to be corrected or find you may not be as specific as you thought? If you’re confused about cardigan vs. sweater and think that a cardigan and sweater are the same, it’s time to think again. The two are very different and serve their unique purpose in your wardrobe.

Here are the key differences between a cardigan and a sweater to help bring you up to speed with your fashion knowledge. This will help you articulate exactly what you’re shopping for, distinguishing between what a cardigan is and how it differs from a regular sweater.

Male Model Cardigan SweaterPin
Photo: Shutterstock

What is a Cardigan?

Let’s start with a cardigan. What is a cardigan? Cardigans are, in fact, a type of sweater, but they have a very defining feature about them—they have a zipper or buttons on the front, or they can drape and hang open. Like a sweater, they are typically made from some knitted fabric, and the idea behind a cardigan is they act as a layering rather than a standalone piece.

Cardigans can be pretty dressy and even office appropriate, depending on the workplace’s expectations, or they can be more casual and comfortable—perfect for cozying up with. The most common fabrics you’ll find a cardigan made from are cotton, wool, and cashmere—each of which hangs differently and has its look to it.

Where cardigans shine is with the versatility they offer. There are several seasons where layering makes sense, as it may start chilly in the morning and then warm up. A cardigan is a perfect item to reach for. They are even popular in the summer months when air conditioning units can be kept very chilly, and you need that extra layer while indoors.

Male Model Navy SweaterPin
Photo: Shutterstock

Sweater 101: A Basic Guide

Like with a cardigan, a sweater is typically made from a knitted material, often pulling over the top of your head. You’ll find them in various fabrics, from heavy warm options like wool to more lightweight and breathable fabrics like cotton and synthetic fibers.

A sweater tends to be an informal piece of clothing and isn’t usually well-suited to the office unless you have a more casual dress code. These can also be used as a layering piece, as many wear a t-shirt under the sweater, which is ideal for winter.

Where sweaters shine and show off their fashion personality is with the neckline. Common necklines include round, V-neck, turtleneck, cowl neck (a looser and draping version of a turtleneck), and more. You can also purchase a long-sleeved or a short sleeve sweater—giving you the versatility to match the season and the weather outdoors.

Final Words

With a newfound understanding of the nuanced differences between a cardigan and a regular sweater, the choice becomes a matter of personal preference and occasion. While cardigans provide versatile layering options with distinctive buttoned or open fronts, sweaters showcase personality through varied necklines and sleeve lengths.

This knowledge enhances the shopping experience, allowing for more informed decisions that reflect individual styles and the demands of different seasons.


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