Sweater, jumper, jersey: whatever you want to call it, that extra layer of clothing meant to be layered over your shirt when temperatures drop is an invaluable wardrobe staple.
And just as there is no single type of shirt, there’s also no single type of sweater. Women’s sweaters are as diverse as any other type of clothing, encompassing everything from a shawl collar cardigan to a turtleneck.
There are four key sweater categories: cardigans, pullovers, tunics, and turtlenecks. All the different sweater names and styles of sweaters can fit into those for categories. Read on to learn more about what makes each of these different types of sweaters special.
It’s said that the cardigan sweater owes its name to James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, a 19th century British general known to fuss over the appearance of his hair. To prevent his locks from being ruffled by a pullover sweater, the Earl added buttons to his sweater so that it never had to go over the head in the first place.
You can thank this Earl’s vanity for the rich variety of cardigan sweaters that exist today. There’s the simple, long-sleeve, button-front cardigan you may throw over a t-shirt or fitted blouse. And then there are cardigans that dispense with buttons entirely. Open cardigans, also called open sweaters, are cut longer and looser, and meant to be worn open over your first layer of clothing for a slouchy, laid-back look. Wrap cardigans are cut in a similar fashion but feature a bathrobe-like wrap or belt that can be used to cinch the garment closed.
Another distinct design feature among cardigans is the shawl collar, which can appear on button-front and open cardigans alike. The shawl collar adds an extra layer of folded-down fabric around the neck area, which provides extra warmth and strikes a rustic look.
Pullovers represent an enormous category. In fact, any sweater that does not include buttons or hang open can be considered a pullover, but we’ll relegate tunics and turtlenecks to their own special category based on the unique characteristics of those sweater types. To put it in the simplest terms possible, a pullover sweater is a sweater that must be put on by pulling it over your head. Among these non-turtleneck, non-tunic sweaters, two chief points of difference exist: crewneck or V-neck.
Crewneck sweaters are derived from the sports sweaters worn by athletes in the early 20th century to prevent skin irritation. Today, it's their more casual, sportier look is what makes them popular among men and women alike. Crewneck sweaters are characterized by a round neckline and no collar, lending it a more relaxed look without going completely casual. They are a great choice for situations where you want to dress up a little bit but are worried about overdressing.
The shape of a V-neck makes it a bit more formal in contrast to its crewneck cousin and lends itself to being layered over a collared shirt or fitted blouse. You can dress it up by pairing it with a sharp tie or sport coat for more professional occasions or leave the collar alone for a polished but less formal look. Always make sure you tuck in the shirt you wear underneath it though!
The tunic is a tricky garment of clothing to define. Unlike the other categories that appear on this list, tunics are not always sweaters. In fact, you may be just as likely to see a tunic worn as a shirt as you are to see a tunic worn as a sweater. The key distinguishing point for a tunic versus other sweaters is its shape. Rather than falling to a fitted hemline, tunics will be more loosely cut, hang slightly lower on the body and flare out at the hem rather than taper. Many other types of sweaters can be defined as a tunic, depending on the sweater’s cut and drape. Most tunics are pullovers; some tunics feature a V-neck or sometimes a mock neck.
Of all these styles, the turtleneck is likely the easiest to define and identify. A sweater can be considered a turtleneck sweater only if it meets the following criteria: the sweater features a high collar that folds down over itself and completely covers the neck. The turtleneck also goes by several other names, including the roll-neck or the polo neck. Turtlenecks may be confused with mock neck sweaters, but the two are not the same.
While a traditional turtleneck reaches from the collarbone up to the lower jaw, mock turtleneck sweaters are much shorter and only go up to just below the Adam's Apple on men. The mock turtleneck lends the illusion of its high-necked sister but is much less constricting. It's still a cold-weather staple, but it also makes a seamless transition to warmer conditions. Mock turtlenecks provide an alternative for those who love the look but just don't feel comfortable with the additional fabric gathered around their neck
Quarter-zip sweaters are very similar to V-necks in terms of collar shape, but with a zipper that goes about a quarter of the way down the sweater to make it easier to get on and off. This kind of sweater also tends to be thicker and warmer than others and are often worn as outerwear in that warm season between summer and fall. They're also incredibly versatile and can be dressed up for a night out or down for a family picnic and leaf-jumping outing. Quarter-zip sweaters are also a great option for the office because they look professional while also being super comfortable all day long.
The key aspect of a boyfriend sweater is that it looks like something you might have stolen from your boyfriend's closet. Any style can fit in this category, really, as long as it's oversized enough to be extra cozy. All that extra fabric makes for a super comfy outfit while also providing a casual yet chic touch to your look. Boyfriend sweaters are a great option for going from warm sunshine to chilly nights or air-conditioned homes because they can be easily layered over a t-shirt or tank top when you need it and tied around your waist when you don't.
Sweater vests are the odd one out when it comes to sweater types because they don't have sleeves! They seem to go against the sweater oath of keeping the wearer comfy and warm by leaving your poor arms to fend for themselves but, in all honesty, sweater vests are a must have. Pair your favorite sweater vest with a button down shirt rolled up to the elbows for a professional look for warmer weather or a sleek sport jacket and tie once it gets to get chilly out. You'll be hard-pressed to find a situation your sweater vest can't handle!