While many of us consider fall our favorite season, it can be challenging to dress for this time of year. The weather oscillates from late-summer heat to an early-winter chill, and often varies throughout the day. Who among us hasn't based our outfit on the feel of a cold, dewy morning, only to find that the temperature has risen to 80 degrees by our lunch break? Because this transitional time of year is so unpredictable, I often rely on layers to keep me comfortable throughout the day and even into the night. This makes cardigans the most reached-for fashion items in my wardrobe.
"There are many different types of cardigans," says celebrity stylist and personal shopper Elisabeth Kassab, meaning you can craft a look that slouchy or slimming, cropped or sweeping, with this versatile fashion essential.
Below, Kassab breaks down each type of cardigan and explains how to style this autumn essential. You'll also find some of the best fall cardigans on the market—pieces that transcend trends and are meant to last you year after year.
How to Style Cardigans for Fall
When opting for a cardigan, it's tempting to take the easy way out and layer it over a tank top or body suit and jeans—and that's perfectly fine. Kassab herself says, "I love styling a cardigan with a classic pair of straight leg jeans and boots."
However, if you're looking to spice up your cardigan game, she reminds us that "the styling possibilities are endless." For instance, she suggests, "You can find a cardigan and skirt matching set and pair it together with heels and a long coat."
Looking for an edgier look? In that case, she says, "Another way I love is to style a cardigan is layering heavily and starting with a t shirt underneath and a leather jacket on top, with trousers."
On a functional level, cardigans are intended to keep the wearer warm and comfortable. For that reason, Kassab says, "When looking for a high quality cardigan, I start with the fabric. The most important thing is what material it’s made from because its sole purpose is to keep you warm, and the fabric plays a massive part in that."
Just as we opt for lightweight, breathable fabrics during the summer months, certain fabrics are best suited for chillier temperatures.
"I personally love wool and cashmere," Kassab says of her cardigan shopping priorities. "It’s the highest quality and will last you all season. Especially in a cardigan, it will hang nicely and look soft as can be."
And when it comes to styling, she recommends pairing a cozy, knit cardigan with tall boots and a silk skirt.
Cardigans are typically thought of as having a chunky or flowing silhouette, but Kassab reminds us that they can be form-fitting, too. "This season I anticipate lots of hourglass cardigan shapes," she says Kassab. "I think ever since the Khaite Scarlet Cardigan blew up, everybody is trying to embody that feminine shape. It actually accentuates your figure instead of just draping over you." To balance out the tightness around the waist, consider an option with flared or puff sleeves, or pair with wide-leg pants.
In line with the revival of Y2K style, cropped jackets and cardigans are making a tremendous comeback. Kassab agrees, admitting. "Another trend I’m seeing is a cropped cardigan. It’s such an effortless style that keeps coming back." A breeze to style, the cut looks great with high-waisted bottoms or even with a dress.
When the weather is especially cold or when I'm simply in the mood for a cozy piece I can wrap around my whole body, I love opting for a long cardigan. Kassab identifies this length as one of the primary popular styles of cardigan, and it's no wonder: It's ideal for bringing an outfit together from top to bottom, and can create a flowy, Bohemian silhouette that's always on-trend.
Buttons, like jewelry, can turn a simple cardigan outfit into an eye-catching fashion statement. Kassab points out that, depending on what the buttons are made of, they can also elevate a simple cardigan to a more elevated one.
"I love to pay attention to the buttons," she gushes. "I love a gold or wood button to lay on my cardigan. It adds a level of luxury to it that I think is super high quality." To draw attention to these luxe details, opt for a simple top, pair of pants, or dress.
A belted cardigan is another way of achieving that form-fitting, cinched waist cardigan look without opting for an hourglass option. In addition to accentuating the waist, belted options allow the wearer to cozy up and pull the piece around them on those particularly chilly days.
Meet the Expert
Elisabeth Kassab is a celebrity and personal stylist who has worked with private clients, brands, and museums alike. She is currently based in New York City and Michigan.