Let’s talk a little about cardigans. I like to call them an accessory. In fact, they’re on my top 10 list of essential accessories all women should own for signature style.

But a cardigan is primarily a clothing item–and a great one! It’s a great layering piece, especially in the spring and summer when the temperatures are warmer but you may feel a little chilly inside a restaurant or if it’s breezy.

I’ve talked before about how I don’t like my skinny arms, so a good cardigan is my favorite way to look stylish while covering my arms. Other reasons a cardigan is worth adding to your wardrobe are:

  • For when you need a pop of color
  • To cover up a little extra
  • When you need to dress up your outfit
  • When you’re traveling and need a small and compact jacket
  • When you feel your outfit is missing some structure
  • To break up the lines or mix up the proportion of an existing outfit

How to pick the right cardigan

There are many styles and cardigan lengths. Some cardigans don’t even have buttons and look more like a wrap. I think all women should have two classic, button-down cardigans: a longer, relaxed fit style and a traditional shorter length one like I wear in the images. A v-neck or round neck option is strictly up to you! More importantly, pick a quality material for your cardigan. I prefer a lightweight cashmere or a silk blend, like the one I’m wearing in the images.

Most cardigans are shown in stores as part of a “twin set” with a matching top underneath. I say skip the twin set look and create your own, signature style. I want to give you new and fresh ways to wear a cardigan that flatters women of all ages and shapes. Sure, you can just throw one on and be done but let’s add something different to the look. It’s all in the styling…

How to style a cardigan for spring (and summer)

I’ve taken one of my favorite spring cardigans from Ann Taylor and given it 3 looks. This cardigan is lightweight and has a little sheen to it so I can wear it day or night. (It looks great with a little black dress in the evening!)

Cardigan styling option 1: With a blouse underneath.

How to style a cardigan for spring | 40plusstyle.com

If you own a classic white shirt or blouse, you can create a super crisp and fashionable look fast. It just takes a little primping to get right. You can wear your button down shirt tucked in or loose. I prefer wearing my shirt underneath loose, because tucking in the blouse ends up ballooning throughout the day and makes me look like I have a big belly.

Put on your favorite button down shirt. White or denim are good color options. Grab your shirt’s sleeve with your hand as you slip on the cardigan to hold the sleeve in place.

In this image, I folded the blouse over once to create a “cuff”. Give the sleeves a push up to your elbow area and voila! You have a lovely cardigan styling option for spring.

This styling of the cardigan looks great with jeans or cropped pants. This isn’t the best look for dresses and long maxi skirts because it may age you, but a shapely pencil skirt could be fun.

I’ve accessorized my look with a small, silk scarf in the size of a handkerchief. Be mindful of how big your scarf is when tying it around your neck! You don’t want to completely cover up your skin or look like you’ve been swallowed up by a big scarf when you’re wearing one with a cardigan.

Other ways you can build on this look and style it further include:

  • A bold necklace that falls at the collar bone
  • A big, statement bracelet, bangle or sports watch
  • A skinny belt at the waist

Here are some accessory ideas for this option. Wait until you see the stunning watches I found!

Cardigan styling option 2: Tie it up!

how to style a cardigan for women over 40 in spring and summer | 40plusstyle.com

Depending on the style of your cardigan, tying it up is a fresh, new way to style your cardigan for spring and summer. This look would work best with a one-color outfit (like my all white one). Or with a long maxi dress. The key here is to tie it up at the waistline to cinch you in and give you some curves. And the shorter effect adds a nice proportion while lengthening your legs.

Longer cardigans are easier to tie up but the most important thing to look out for is how thick the fabric is. The look is cleaner with a thinner cardigan that doesn’t create a big, knobby knot.

This look is great with dresses. Long and flowy or form fitting and short, tying your cardigan up adds some shape to your style.

Other ways you can build on this look and style it further include:

  • A long, pendant necklace
  • With a cool, vintage-style pin
  • Long, bold earrings and no necklace

Here are some accessory ideas for this option.

Cardigan styling option 3: Wear as a standalone top.

How to style a cardigan for spring | 40plusstyle.com

Want to look a little sexier or show off your bust? Why not wear your cardigan as a top? Just remember to streamline your shape with a good camisole or supportive shapewear underneath. I like this look the best with a v-neck style cardigan to add a little cleavage to the look. A thin little belt in a coordinating or bold color would call attention to your upper body and face, so be sure to look on point from the waist up!

Other ways you can build on this look and style it further include:

  • A dainty little pendant necklace that falls at the cleavage or higher
  • With a cool, vintage-style pin
  • A kimono or wrap style belt if your cardigan is longer in length.

Here are some accessory ideas for this option.

One more idea! If you’re slightly crafty or can at least sew a button on, why not take an ordinary cardigan and give it new life? I took my lime green, long cashmere from Autumn Cashmere and cut off all the boring plastic buttons. I sewed on a mismatched collection of small, gold and pearl vintage buttons. Just make sure the buttons fit through the button hole first.

An idea to make a simple cardigan extraordinary | 40plusstyle.com

And if you don’t have a great, versatile cardigan, it’s time to add one to your wardrobe. You’ll use it for years!


There’s a stunning Diane Von Furstenberg cardigan in my picks below for 60% off and free shipping at Nordstrom for about $130 total. Here are some of my favorite ones for sale now. Don’t be put off by the featured image color; many of them come in several color options. I may just add one or two to my closet to keep my other cardigans company.

What do you think of my cardigan styling options for spring? What style would you be willing to try?

Until next time, Cynthia

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