Back To Basics: The Goes-With-Anything Cardigan

Eileen Fisher textured silk/organic cotton cardigan. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

It’s Spring, and a woman’s fancy turns to thoughts of….cardigans. Every year about this time, I take up the hunt for what has turned out to be an elusive wardrobe item. I’m talking about a lightweight goes-with-anything cardigan, a no-brainer piece I can toss on while dashing out the door.

Spring Cardigans: Getting Specific

A cardigan doesn’t sound like it would be such a tough find, I mean, cardigans. They’re everywhere. But I have some very specific parameters in mind:

  • First, I’m looking for something in a light neutral, preferably some shade of cream or ivory.
  • Second, it needs to have an interesting shape or texture, something that makes a simple outfit look finished. I’ve had it up to here with limp, dish-raggy sweaters.
  • Third, I’m not looking for a One Season Wonder. I’m doing my best to shop sustainably, and want something that will hold up.
  • Fourth, I prefer natural (and/or sustainable) fabrics.

So let’s take a look. Above: I managed to order this one (Plus) when it was marked down. I like the texture, and the finished diagonal pockets. It’s still spendy, but if it lasts several seasons (as most of my Eileen Fisher cardigans have), could be a good investment. I should receive it later this week and will report back.

Cashmere/linen blend cardigan with button front and patch pockets. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

A button closure isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but it might come in handy. This one’s a cashmere/linen blend.

AllSaints merino wool duster cardigan. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

This longer, merino cardigan has possibilities. It’s very lightweight, and you really can’t tell from this image, but both sides have button fastenings all the way up, an interesting detail that allows you to play with the look of the piece.

Nic + Zoe long cardigan plus size. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Here’s an easy plus-size duster cardigan in a cotton/modal blend.

AQUA fringe trim cotton cardigan. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

If your style leans more Boho, this one with fringe trim along the sleeves is fun. (Cable detailing on the back, too…check out the image on the website.)

Madewell ryder cardigan cotton blend in ivory. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

Sometimes simple wins the day. This cotton blend sweater has pockets and a laid-back vibe. Offered up to size 3X. (It’s very well reviewed too.)

Styles So Nice, I Bought Them Twice

More Spring Cardigans

Is there a particular basic wardrobe item that you’ve found elusive?

Stay in touch.

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36 Comments

  1. March 26, 2019 / 12:52 am

    I like the top one best because the pockets open on the side rather than across the top. The horizontal pockets sag a little, which makes them just a tad less sleek.
    I also like its length–just a little longer than some, but shorter than the dusters.
    A nice cardigan is great for travel–doesn’t wrinkle and packs smaller than a blazer.

  2. karen
    March 26, 2019 / 3:22 am

    hmmm….i hadn’t really thought about the need for “the perfect” cardigan until i read this post, but yes, the cardigan you are questing for would be the perfect addition to my closet as well….so off to investagate your finds…thanks!

  3. Dee
    March 26, 2019 / 4:15 am

    The longer ones, dusters, to me, always look like bathrobes when in pale colors.

    • Katrinka
      March 26, 2019 / 4:28 am

      I thought the same thing! And, I find the longer cardigans aren’t as versatile as a shorter length.

  4. March 26, 2019 / 4:16 am

    I find it difficult to track down classic khaki pants for (petite) women. They’re all over the men’s department but elusive in ladies’ sizes.

    • Nancy D
      March 26, 2019 / 6:59 am

      Try LL Bean, Lands End and Everlane online.

  5. Kelly
    March 26, 2019 / 5:01 am

    I like the first one also. I totally agree on the dish-raggy material being used on so many cardigans lately! What is with that?! Even companies like Lands End and J Crew, who used to have a nice medium weight cotton cardigan have gone to a super light weight, thin cotton which feels like something you’d pay $9 for at Target.

  6. Lee
    March 26, 2019 / 5:55 am

    I wear cardigans throughout spring & summer since the A/C can be quite cold in many buildings. The Madewell Summer Ryder cardigan is my most recent purchase (I’m wearing it as I type this!). It’s definitely on the slouchy-side, but the cream color goes well with so many items in my closet. It’s also comfortable and has pockets! I’d suggest sizing down. Im usually a medium in cardigans and went with the small in this. If I weren’t worried about the sleeves being too tight, I might have gone down one more (it’s definitely a roomy fit). Last summer, I bought the blush colored version and still wear it all the time.

  7. Margie
    March 26, 2019 / 5:59 am

    I’m one who likes more coverage than a tank top under a cardigan; the back of my neck gets cold. Sounds weird, eh? Does anyone else feel the same way? In addition I get cold easily and having my “front” open makes me even colder. Any suggestions?

  8. Susan
    March 26, 2019 / 5:59 am

    Before I click ‘buy’ can you tell me if you call yours (shown) white or ivory? Thanks. Been looking for just this sweater for months. But only white.

    • Lee
      March 26, 2019 / 6:08 am

      If you are asking about the Madewell cardigan, mine is ivory. The one on the website does look white, but the one I bought in-store is ivory.

    • Susan B
      Author
      March 26, 2019 / 6:08 am

      The color listed on the website says “Ivory.” Here’s a similar shape in white: http://bit.ly/2JGL61S

  9. Eileen
    March 26, 2019 / 6:17 am

    You DO love cardigans! My elusive item is a to the waist cardigan, 19”! Not a shrug, a button up , to wear with fit and flare dresses, similar to a 1950’s style cardigan. I’m pear shaped with a small torso, and wider bottom, the long cardigans pull at the hip.

    • Elizabeth
      March 26, 2019 / 7:36 am

      Try Pure (purecollection.com)- they have a 19.5” cropped cardigan (cashmere) in many colors. They’re a British company and I’ve found their things to be of good quality.

    • Dana
      March 26, 2019 / 8:53 am

      Try talbots for that

    • Dana
      March 26, 2019 / 8:54 am

      Try Talbots for a classic cardigan

    • Tracy
      March 26, 2019 / 6:21 pm

      Boden had some last spring. Maybe they do this year, too.

    • noreen
      March 27, 2019 / 11:57 am

      try lk bennett and boden. they have lots of these

    • Angela in NZ
      March 27, 2019 / 6:37 pm

      Try Woolovers (UK)

  10. Jen
    March 26, 2019 / 7:25 am

    I am always on the hunt for the perfect cardigan. I do prefer a longer length cardi since I’m 5’10. I want the Eileen Fisher cardigan you posted but I might have to settle on the Madewell sweater. I do agree with the person that said sometimes light colored cardigans can look like bathrobes.

  11. PatB
    March 26, 2019 / 7:47 am

    Long sweaters and vests I love and at the correct length as I am 5’2”: Your article was spot on regarding quality and slouchy looks. Loved your first choice. I do need some structure, fitted at the shoulders, raised at the neckline, and pockets that lie flat. Thank you

  12. Vicki Levy
    March 26, 2019 / 11:27 am

    Can someone please explain to me why so many of the cardigans and sweaters around now have a dropped shoulder halfway down the upper arm? No offense to anyone, but I think this look is unflattering on almost everybody, (me included,) particularly from the side. I’m thinking it must be cheaper to make the clothing this way or something. I have sweaters, cardigans and tops with the dropped shoulders, but I sure do prefer a nice regular seam that sits at the edge of my actual shoulder!
    I recommend that EF pearl grey snap sweater you are showing in plus. I also love the long linen cardigan (the very last piece) you are showing from Nordstrom. It is very well priced, fits and drapes so nicely, looks more expensive than it is (and has a regular shoulder seam, ) I have two, may need to add a navy to my collection. They work really well in the summer over all the sleeveless tops, dresses etc., around.

  13. Rondi
    March 26, 2019 / 11:37 am

    You have made a great point that ivory is the perfect color for a cardigan! And I’m going to go out on a limb and confess I love the boho style with the fringe. Just unique enough but still classic. It would be perfect for throwing on over almost anything.

  14. Geri
    March 26, 2019 / 11:44 am

    Thank you always for including Plus sizes in your info, it’s nice to be considered! Thanks to you I know Madewell carries them, eternally grateful. Keep up your beautiful blogging, I love you & your style sensibilities.

  15. March 26, 2019 / 2:44 pm

    I like everything about the first one! It looks comfortable and yet not sloppy. It’s a good length… not overly long, but not short and boxy. And as already mentioned, the diagonal pockets don’t bag.

  16. Drew
    March 27, 2019 / 4:21 am

    Cardigans are my go-to piece. But you really never know about the quality until you own it. I’ve paid a lot for cardigans that begin to pill badly within a few months of ownership. And I’ve paid very little for cardigans that turned out to be pieces I wore for years. For example, I went into an Old Navy on a whim. Hadn’t shopped there in years because the stores are always so messy and my kids are grown but I was killing time. Spotted this long oatmeal-colored cardigan and bought it for $40. Two years later, I still wear it constantly. It’s a great sweater. It really is hard to tell which sweaters will be keepers.

  17. ,robyn
    March 27, 2019 / 6:05 am

    Many years ago I purchased a chunky zip up ivory cardigan from the Gap, which was inspired by the one Dianne Keaton wore on the beach with Jack Nicholson in Something’s Gotta Give. It became stained and worn so I had to let it go. I’ve been on the hunt for one to replace it for years. No luck so far.

  18. Susan D.
    March 27, 2019 / 7:03 am

    Now I feel the need for the perfect ivory or white cardigan! I like the Eileen Fisher sweater you ordered. I was in our local (Dallas) EF shop a couple of days ago and did not see it. I may look for it a couple of other places, but I am tempted!!

  19. Nancy
    March 27, 2019 / 9:23 am

    Thank you for this post, Susan. I thought I must be the only person searching for the “just right” white cardigan every spring! I have ordered the Madewell one – we shall see!

  20. Katie
    March 27, 2019 / 11:08 am

    Guess I’m the odd one here since black is the color of my go-to cardigan irrespective of the season; – in the summer I layer it over light neutrals. Thank you, Susan, for the EF suggestion. I just ordered it (in black) for our trip to Scandinavia this May.

    • March 27, 2019 / 3:13 pm

      I love black, but now that my hair is a mix of silver and black (silver predominating at the top) I adore greys, especially one called zinc. I honestly don’t see how people keep white or ivory clean IRL. And yes, of course I wash things either in the machine or by hand. Katie, such a treat when the days are getting VERY long! I’ve only been to Denmark … in December, working at an NGO meeting (travelling from Amsterdam, not from Montréal). I don’t particularly fancy crossing the ocean to visit other boreal forests, but there is so much more in the Nordic countries, whether in terms of food, style, arts or town planning.

      • Katie
        March 28, 2019 / 7:08 am

        I visited Denmark years ago, and now we are spending 5 weeks in Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Iceland. Should be exciting, especially the cruise from Bergen to Reykjavik on the ship that made the news this week! And like you, gray has taken a new meaning as my hair has changed to a silvery hue.

  21. Elizabeth A
    March 27, 2019 / 2:41 pm

    Susan, would you mind sharing the size you ordered in the EF cardigan? I am 5’3″ and 108 lbs. given not worn Ef before, toying to determine size to order. Thank you

    • Susan B
      Author
      March 27, 2019 / 2:44 pm

      Hi Elizabeth, I ordered the Petite Small which is my usual size in Eileen Fisher. (I’m generally a 6 Petite, or 4-6 Regular.)

      • Elizabeth A
        March 27, 2019 / 3:24 pm

        Thank you . This is most helpful.

  22. MaureenC
    March 28, 2019 / 12:56 am

    If anyone in the UK likes the Allsaints cardigan with the buttons on both sides it’s currently half price in the spring sales here. I’m certainly going to investigate!

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