What’s the Difference Between a Cardigan & Sweater

Male Model Closeup Cardigan Sweater in Black
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Have you ever been shopping for a cardigan or a sweater, using the terms interchangeably, only to be corrected or find you may not be as specific as you thought? If you’re under the impression that a cardigan and sweater are the same, it’s time to think again. The two are actually very different from each other and therefore serve their own 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 to articulate what exactly you’re shopping for.

Male Model Cardigan Sweater
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Cardigan 101: A Basic Guide

Let’s start with 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/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 piece rather than a standalone piece.

Cardigans can be quite 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 own look to it.

Where cardigans, such as these from Tribal Fashion, 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 Sweater
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Sweater 101: A Basic Guide

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

In general, 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 choose to wear a tank top, camisole, or t-shirt under the sweater, which is ideal for winter.

Where sweaters really 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), scoop neck, and more. You can also purchase a long-sleeved, three-quarter length sleeve or a short sleeve sweater – giving you the versatility to match up with the season and the weather outdoors.

Each Has a Place in Your Wardrobe

Rather than choosing between a cardigan or sweater to purchase, keep in mind that each serves its own purpose, and each has a place in your wardrobe.