The men’s cardigan is not always the most intuitive of fall and winter layers. Whereas men’s crewneck sweaters or a men’s v-neck sweater can simply be pulled over a t-shirt or a men’s dress shirt and left as-is, a cardigan comes with choices. Typically, five to six choices–depending on how many buttons that cardigan has
But choices create possibilities, which can create problems. When should the cardigan be fully buttoned? Under which circumstances should it be left unbuttoned? And does it look weird if the bottom button is buttoned, or left open?
We’ll tackle these tricky cardigan-related questions and more below.
One of the cardigan’s chief charms is its unique ability to be worn open. And if the legend is to be believed, the ability of the cardigan to be pulled on without having to go overhead is how it got its name in the first place. According to this story, James Brudenell, the 7th of Earl of Cardigan, was so fastidious about maintaining his hair that he had a sweater made with buttons so that it could be slipped on without mussing up his mane.
If you share a similar concern with your own hair, the ability of the cardigan to be slipped into like a jacket will be a bonus. But there are non follicle-related reasons to keeps its buttons unfastened once the sweater is being worn.
An open cardigan makes for a decidedly casual, laid-back look. You can even wear your cardigan as a substitute men’s blazer in situations where wearing a blazer would look too stuffy or formal. And obviously, a cardigan worn open provides less warmth than a cardigan buttoned to the very top. A cardigan worn open can make for an excellent layer during in-between weather when wearing a shirt by itself would prove too chilly but a crewneck or v-neck sweater would feel too warm.
When a cardigan is fully buttoned from top to bottom, it not only becomes warmer but also changes its look to appear more structured, and thus more formal. You may wish to fully button the cardigan in situations that require a more professional look.
If you are relying on a cardigan as a practical layering piece, you shouldn’t hesitate to fully button it when trying to maximize its warmth. Once fully buttoned, a cardigan should be able to provide the same amount of warmth that you would expect from a crewneck or a v-neck sweater.
Then we get to the in-betweens: cardigans that are not fully buttoned or fully unbuttoned. It’s worth considering why you might want to leave the top button unbuttoned. For dress purposes, you may wish to leave the top button unfastened if you are wearing the cardigan under a suit jacket and with a men’s tie. Leaving the top button open will expose a bit more of the tie, and allow the cardigan to stand in for a suit vest.
On the other side of things, a cardigan that has only its top button undone will allow more air to circulate while still allowing for a more structured and formal look.
As an informal rule, many men do not button the bottom button of their suit vests. While some say that this practice came about because of King Edward VII’s inability to button the final button over his paunch, there are practical reasons for any man to want to leave the bottom button open.
If you will be sitting while wearing your cardigan, it may bunch up around the bottom or pull on the stomach. Leaving that final button undone creates a “v” shaped opening at the bottom that can better adapt to a seated position than the totally straight hemline created by buttoning to the very end.
In fact, you may find that the most comfortable way to wear a cardigan is a combination of our final two points: with its top and bottom buttons left open.