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Knowing how to wear a shawl collar cardigan properly can change your style.
And as it’s only really made a slow resurgence over the last 15 years, more and more guys than ever are wondering how to pull off the look.
Unfortunately, people often associate it with looking either ‘feminine’, or ‘grandad’ like; but when you master this uber masculine film classic properly, you’ll look anything but.
However, not all shawl cardigans and their outfits are created equal.
Read on for 5 actionable steps on how to wear a shawl sweater, including its fit, colouring, and styling choices, followed by 10 outfits and ways to style them.
How to Wear a Shawl Collar Cardigan
To summarise, in every case, you will want to:
- Have a great fit.
- Wear a classic and traditional shawl cardigan colour such as navy, ecru, or grey. Keeping within a classic and conservative colour pallet reduces the risk of you looking like a 1960s magazine model (unless, that’s what you’re going for.)
- Under most circumstances, make sure you leave the top and bottom buttons undone, and, depending on your cardigan, the second to bottom.
- Wear a generous, but not overly wide, lapel.
In terms of outfits, it pairs well with other ‘classic’ items, such as:
- Smart boots, such as Chelsea boots, or Chukkas.
The rest of the article will go into each of these points in further detail, how you can master them, and will show you 10 outfits that I’ve put together, and why they work.
To jump straight to the outfits, click here.
#1 Nail The Fit – How Should a Shawl Cardigan Fit?
As usual, getting a great fit throughout your shawl collar cardigan is my number one tip, as it will be the main thing that differentiates you from, or brings you closer, to those dreaded feminine or grandfather looks.
A shawl cardigan should fit as close to the body as possible, without being restrictive. The fit should take into account layering, as you may want to wear thicker items underneath it, such as an oxford button down. You may opt for a tighter or looser fit based on your style preferences.
- The collar roll should fit flat on your chest, and not gape, or sag.
- There is no definite position for where your shoulder seam should be, but as a guide, it should be on, or slightly above, the point your shoulder starts to curve down. More importantly, they shouldn’t be so tight that they uncomfortably push into your shoulders, or too loose that they sag.
- The shawl collar sweater’s sleeve length should break just after your wrist bone, and not extend further into your hand, or sit above your wrist bone.
- The chest of the jumper should fit comfortably, but not sag, or be too tight and excessively gape.
- The jumper’s midsection should follow and hug the natural lines of your body, but not pull.
- The jumper’s sleeve should be slim, tapered, and follow your arm line, but not be restrictive, especially in the elbow joint. Some cardigans tend to hug the forearm area, which is fine.
- The jumper’s armholes should be relatively high to allow for a wide range of motion, but not cut into your arm pit.
- On average, your cardigan’s length should hit mid to lower crotch, but is a matter of personal preference and proportions (mentioned below).
For points 2, 4, 5, 6 and 7, you have a little bit of individual interpretation, depending on what look you’re going for.
Shoulder Seam (2) – Your cardigan may have a ‘raglan’ sleeve like in the photos above, where the shoulder seam that comes from the armpit doesn’t connect up and around the shoulder, but is connected at an angle, and points to the collar bone. In this case, you don’t have to worry about where the shoulder seam lies, just that the sleeve length of the cardigan is fine, and your are comfortable.
Chest (4), Torso (5) and Sleeves (6) – Some people like a slightly more, or less, room in these areas, so you are free to adjust the ‘tightness’ to your preference. Be sure to always take into account if you’re going to use your cardigan as a layering piece, as a slightly looser fit will make it easier to wear thicker items underneath.
Length (8) – Again, cardigan is a matter of personal preference, which you may choose to pay attention to if you’re on the shorter, or taller ends of the height spectrum. Those with average high should aim for the sweater’s back to cut your buttocks in half. Taller gentlemen may opt for full rear coverage, while shorter guys will leave 3/4 of it on display, to help with proportions.
Match the Fit To The Thickness of the Fabric
In my opinion;
- Chunkier shawl cardigans should have a slightly tighter fit
- Thinner shawl cardigans should have a slightly looser fit.
The idea is that a tighter fit with chunkier fabric will reduce the risk of it looking oversized and ‘old man like’, and a slightly looser fit with a finer fabric will help it drape better, and not look too skin tight – unless, you’re going for either of these specific looks.
At the end of the day, it’s really about trying out different sizes, and seeing what works best for your preferences, body type, and layering ideas.
I usually order two sizes, and keep the one that follows the above bullets points.
There are a few main colours that I would recommend getting a shawl collar cardigan in.
The first colour that I would recommend is navy – it’s super classic, classy, versatile, and slimming. You simply can’t go wrong.
Aside from its ease of wear and appropriateness, navy’s also great because it works with all colour intensities within an outfit.
- You can wear a navy shawl collar cardigan over, or adjacent to, clothes of lighter colours. For example, a navy cardigan over a white t shirt, or above a pair of cream jeans.
- You can similarly wear it over, or adjacent to, clothes of darker colours, such as a black t-shirt, or indigo denim jeans.
In both cases, you will look great. Because of this, navy is the ultimate colour for a shawl collar cardigan.
The second is ecru, a much bolder, rarer, and harder to find colour. Because of this, it will be more unique, and really set you apart.
Also, specifically for shawl collar cardigans, I get the impression of ‘luxury’, ‘class’, and ‘sophistication’ whenever I see one in ecru – not bad things to look like.
Despite this, it is just as classic as navy, but makes more of a statement. However, as it is a lighter colour, it is inherently less formal, so should be avoided being worn to more formal events.
On top of this, unlike navy, it doesn’t work with all color intensities in an outfit:
- Adjacent pieces are okay, such as navy trousers
- However, a super harsh contrast between the piece underneath, such as a black t-shirt, should preferably be avoided, unless you’re going for an ultra edgy look. A harsh contrast is much easier to pull off with the navy colour – though it is possible with ecru, it can look a bit tacky.
The Classics (Grey, Brown, Olive, Burgundy)
Aside from the two mentioned above, if you’re a frequent wearer, you may want to extend your collection.
I would recommend acquiring shawl collar cardigans in:
- Light/Dark Grey
- Bottle green
- Other classic colours
These classic colours allows you to switch up your looks and look unique, while still maintaining a versatile and smart formality.
Darker colours, such as dark grey, or bottle green, have the same ‘intensity’ rules as navy, as stated above, and can be worn as so. However, if you have any non-neutral tones, such as green, you have to make sure that the individual colours of the items don’t clash.
If you brave any lighter and brighter colours, such as red or orange, you should pair them with muted neutral colours, so you don’t clash, and look like a walking Christmas tree. Follow the intensity rules stated above for ‘ecru’.
#3 Button Your Shawl Cardigan Correctly
So, now you’ve got a cardigan that fits correctly, in a colour that fits your need – it’s time to button it correctly.
There’s not much to it; I personally avoid buttoning the top and bottom buttons, as it usually leads to the most elegant look.
You may also want to unbutton the second to last button if the front is slightly too tight and puckering, or button the top button for warmth.
Second to Last Button
In my opinion, the bottom button should always be left undone, as it hangs better. This then leaves you with the question of if you should go further on your unbuttoning efforts, or not.
Here is the difference between the second bottom button being done up, and undone:
Personally, I prefer the left, as it produces a more elegant look – but it’s completely up to you, and your preferences. Unbuttoning it can also provide the benefit of added comfort and mobility.
In either case, you should preferably not be able to see any shirt poking out around the bottom buttons, though it’s isn’t a big deal if you do.
Though there’s less of a visual consequence as the one above, here is the difference between the top button being undone, and done up:
I personally prefer this one undone, as it’s more comfortable, and I feel hangs better.
Feel free to also experiment with buttoning and unbuttoning different buttons. Alternative buttoning configurations, such as having only one button done up, may look good, depending on the cardigan.
#4 Find a Shawl Lapel That Works for You
The defining feature of the shawl collar cardigan is, well, its shawl collar.
So, you have to make sure that the specific design you get works for you and your style personality, as it could make or break the piece, and its place in your wardrobe.
There are three factors that alter the appearance of the shawl lapel:
- Width – How wide the lapel is.
- Height – How far the lapel extends down into the chest.
- Depth – How ‘chunky’ the lapel is.
How you prefer your lapel to be in these respective categories is up to you.
I personally prefer a lapel on the wider side, with a higher height, which extends deeper into the chest, and a ‘depth’ that matches the rest of the cardigan. This generally produces a smart and classic aesthetic.
Alternatively, you may want a really modern and trendy version, and may opt for a slimmer width and a not so deep height.
Shawl Lapel and Stature
On top of this, you can continue to do what many suggest to do with suit jacket lapels, which is to match the lapel type to your stature:
- If you’re shorter and slimmer, a slimmer lapel with less height will generally proportionally work best.
- If you’re taller and broader, wider and deeper lapels will usually look best.
#5 Know What to Wear With a Shawl Collar Sweater
The shawl collar cardigan just ‘goes’ with a few other classic pieces, almost like an outfit.
This is mostly the work of a few legendary style icons, which have almost ‘set the look’.
The items that I typically see being worn with a shawl cardigan are:
- White t-shirts
- White button down shirts
- White/Ecru/Navy jeans and chinos
- Brown suede chukka boots
- Chelsea boots
These items, worn together with a shawl cardigan, produce a ‘sophisticated bad boy’ – the best of both worlds.
You’ll see the influence of this specific styling look later on in the post in the outfits section.
But remember, if you’re ever struggling to pair your cardigan and create your own combinations, revisit this list, and look at historical pictures.
Styling a shawl collar cardigan successfully can easily be achieved by sticking to the above tips.
However, specifically, I would stick to pairing it with low-middle formality clothing items, such as:
- Jeans and chinos, of any colour.
- Low – high formality shirts, all the way from oxford button downs, to formal dress shirts.
- Low – medium formality footwear, from white tennis shoes, to Chelsea and chukka boots.
- Casual ‘formal’ accessories, such as knitted ties, or ties in bright colours.
All of these items cement it firmly in the middle formality level, though you can easily bring it down to more casual styling, or up to a slightly more formal look, by changing up the other pieces.
Depending on what you pair it with, it makes your outfit in the range of ‘smart casual’ to ‘business casual’, meaning it shouldn’t be worn to very formal events.
The following section consists of 10 great shawl cardigan outfits to emulate in your own wardrobe, or give you inspiration on how to wear a shawl cardigan.
How to Wear a Shawl Collar Cardigan With Jeans and a T-Shirt
This is the staple shawl collar cardigan outfit, and is a perfect example of its ability to be an ‘enhancer’; it takes a basic t-shirt and jeans combination, and makes you stand out.
Furthermore, adding accessories such as a great watch or some cool shades will take everything to the next level, and dress you up without looking tryhard.
The key of this look is to keep it simple and casual everywhere else, so the cardigan can bring the outfit together.
Therefore, I would suggest finishing this combination off with trainers, or casual boots.
If you start introducing smarter items such as monk straps, or dress trousers, and keep casual items such as the t-shirt, you’ll confuse the formality of the outfit, and detract from the look that you’re going for – in this case, a badass casual look that is achieved when pairing the cardigan with other casual items.
However, if you want a more dapper look, but want to keep the t-shirt and jeans, throw on some Chelsea boots; even though they’re more formal, they don’t enter the realm of dress shoes, so there’s more consistency.
If you are looking to dress up your cardigan further, I would suggest choosing all the other pieces with intention, and work it around all of the other pieces.
For example, swapping out the t-shirt for a white button down would allow you to wear monkstraps, as you’ve got another more formal item present, and you’re not confusing the formality.
- Navy Chunky Shawl Collar Cardigan from Tesco (I bet you didn’t guess that)
- Grey Tesco T-Shirt
- Next Indigo Premium Stretch Jeans
Alternative T-Shirt and Jeans
Here, we’re keeping in the same space as above, but switching out the navy cardigan for a slightly more fitted ecru one, the grey t-shirt for a white one, and replacing the jeans with more formal navy chinos.
This shows that you can switch up the base t-shirt and trousers shawl cardigan combo, but introduce some different colours and styles into the mix, while still remaining similar.
This would continue to work perfectly well with any other colour of shawl cardigan, and most trouser colours – for a guide on how to match the colour of your shawl collar cardigan to the rest of the outfit, refer to tip two about colour!
I’ve also swapped out the converse trainers for a pair of black Chelsea boots, to make this specific pairing a bit more formal, while still remaining casual.
- Ecru Next Chunky Shawl Neck Sweater
- White Tescos T-Shirt
- Next Navy Premium Stretch Chinos
- White Converse All Stars Low Top (Top) & Arthur Knight Black Chelsea Boots (Bottom)
With a Button-Down Shirt and Bold Tie
This shawl collar cardigan outfit is a personal favourite of mine.
However, even though the cardigan has the capability to be dressed up more formally, it generally isn’t appropriate for most formal business meetings.
This means that, when you have the opportunity to wear it ‘formally’, you will be able to have a bit of fun with the other items you pair with it, in this case, an awesome oxford button-down, and a bold pink tie.
The button-down and tie add interesting visual elements, help to frame the face, and work well with the more casual nature of the cardigan.
Furthermore, because they’re in the middle of formality levels, Chelsea boots are acceptable at this level, which is why I’ve worn them here.
However, as we have jumped to a higher level of formality, you are able to bring smarter monk straps or whole cuts if you desire, unlike before, where it’s too much when you’re just wearing a t-shirt.
You could also swap out the bold tie and casual button down for more formal alternatives, to allow you to wear it to slightly more formal situations…
- Navy Tescos Chunky Shawl Collar Cardigan
- White Charles Tyrwhitt Oxford Button Down
- Navy Stretch Next Chinos
- Pink and Light Blue Striped Silk Hawes & Curtis Tie
- Black Samuel Windsor Prestige Chelsea boots. I’ve written a comprehensive review of these (£50!) boots here.
How to Wear a Shawl Cardigan With a Formal Shirt and Tie
Well, here we are – I’ve kicked the previous look up a notch, and introduced:
- Brown suit trousers.
- A white poplin dress shirt.
- A darker tie.
- A thinner burgundy cardigan.
Despite being in the same ball park as the outfit above, the formal shirt, darker tie, and formal trousers, make this look slightly more, well, formal.
Feasibly, you’d still wear this outfit to mostly the same situations as the one above; it’s just more muted and ‘classy’.
To reflect this, I’ve paired it with brown oxford toe capped dress shoes.
- Burgundy Charles Tyrwhitt Shawl Collar Cardigan
- Charles Tyrwhitt White Poplin Cutaway Collar Dress Shirt
- Navy, purple and gold striped tie
- Brown Suit Trousers
- Brown toe capped oxfords
How to Wear a Shawl Sweater as a Layering Piece in a Suit
Pairing your cardigan with a suit is the most formally you can wear it, and is something that I personally don’t see too frequently.
Unfortunately, as it’s quite chunky, the fit of this outfit can be quite tight, so, if you intend to wear this all day, you will probably need to size up on your suit jacket, to better accommodate the cardigan.
Furthermore, though you’re wearing a suit, this is one of the most casual pairings you can make, so I wouldn’t recommend wearing this combination to an important business meeting, as it brings down the formality just a little too much.
If you still want to wear a cardigan, I would recommend looking into a thin merino wool cardigan. In fact, I’ve written a section in a post about this suit and thin cardigan pairing, which tells you how to wear it, and where people usually go wrong.
With a Turtleneck
Though sophisticated and elegant, this combination finds itself in an odd formality spot.
Both the turtleneck and shawl collar cardigan are versatile, and are wearable in casual and more formal settings. This means that there is a lot of weight on the bottom half of your outfit to decide on the formality of the whole look.
Depending on what event you are going to, prepare a bottom ensemble, and the top half will slot into place like Lego.
- For example, if you’re going to a formal event, you may put on navy flannel trousers, and smart black shoes.
- Contrastingly, for a casual event, you may decide to wear indigo jeans, and some chukka boots.
- Navy Tesco Chunky Shawl Collar Cardigan
- Navy Uniqlo Merino Wool Turtleneck
- Navy Stretch Next Chinos
- Black Samuel Windsor Prestige Chelsea boots.
With a Gingham Dress Shirt
This pairing is one of my favourite, but most simple looks.
Essentially, we’ve taken look one, and swapped out the grey t-shirt for a slightly more formal large gingham button down oxford.
This shirt is basically the shirt equivalent of the cardigan, so it’s no surprise that it works well with it; it’s rugged, and medium formality, and in this case matches in colour with the jeans and jumper really well.
Style a Shawl Cardigan as a Layering Piece with a Rain Mac
One of the shawl collar sweater’s main strengths is in layering, so in this outfit, I’ve paired it under a navy rain mac, and over a t-shirt, acting as a middle layer.
This dresses up the outfit, and makes it more fall/winter appropriate, warm, and comfortable then just a regular t-shirt and mac pairing.
You could even implement this same idea in a more formal capacity. Taking one of the above outfits as an example, I’ve plonked the same rain mac on top, making the cardigan act as a layering piece. Here, it is especially potent as it’s a different colour as the layering piece, and gives more dimension to the look.
Finish it off with an awesome umbrella that complements the colour of your middle layer, in this case the cardigan, and you’re done.
- Individual pieces the same as mentioned above.
- Navy technical fabric rain mac from Mango man.
- Mustard yellow Charles Tyrwhitt umbrella.
So, now you know how to wear a shawl cardigan.
There’s a little more to it than some other garments, but once you pull it off, you’ll be able to look like a Hollywood legend, like Daniel Craig, or Steve McQueen.
All in all, remember to:
- Get a great, but not too tight, fit.
- Undo the top and bottom buttons for the best drape.
- Find a classic colour that works for you.
- Make sure the width and depth of the lapel matches closely to your stature.