cardigan to wear with dress

15 Cute Outfit Ideas to Style a Cardigan with a Dress

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With sweater weather right around the corner, it’s time to get creative with layering and pull out your cute cardigans! 

Heading from summer into fall when the mornings are cool and the afternoons are warm, you need a way to wear summer looks and short sleeve dresses without getting cold.  As you head into the winter season and need extra warmth with your dresses, cardigan sweaters offer a great option!

In this post, I’ve got 15 outfits to demonstrate how to wear a cardigan with a dress. Different styles of dresses work best with certain types of cardigans. I’m sharing with you the different ways to layer a cardigan over short dresses and long dresses. 

How do you wear a cardigan sweater over a dress?

A cardigan is a great way to stay warm in a dress in cold weather. Pair short and fitted cardigans with loose and flowy dresses and dresses with flowy skirts. Wear oversized cardigans and long cardigans with body-hugging dresses. Experiment and try different outfits. Sometimes the best ideas come from trial and error. You may be surprised by the combinations that work! 

Ready? Let’s dive in by looking at how to wear a cardigan over short dresses!

Cardigans with short dresses

With a short tiered dress

Tiered dresses are a popular current trend. But they can be tricky to pair with a cardigan because they’re so flowy on the bottom and have an undefined waistline. Wearing a long cardigan can quickly take you on a trip to frumpy town with so much extra fabric on the bottom. Especially if your body shape is larger below the waist. The best cardigans with these dresses are hip length or shorter.

In this outfit, I’m wearing a short crewneck cardigan in a contrasting color. Notice how the hem of the cardigan and my pushed-up sleeves draw the eye to the waistline, adding the appearance of more waist definition than this dress provides. 

With a short tiered dress

Sweater | Similar Shoes

With a short t-shirt dress

A t-shirt dress is a summer staple that you can easily wear into fall with the right cardigan. With this crewneck dress, I’m pairing a crewneck short cardigan that’s not quite a cropped cardigan. You don’t have to pair a crewneck dress with only a crewneck cardigan, but it creates a nice symmetry and a neater appearance when you can.

I’m having a total love affair with this cardigan with its black and white stripes and gold buttons. The hem of the cardigan and pushing up the sleeves draw the eye to the waistline to help define the waist. I’m also wearing a belt over the dress to add definition.

With a short t-shirt dress

Similar dress | Belt | Shoes | Sweater | Bag

With a short tiered dress

Here’s another tiered dress look. V-neck cardigans are a great option with a v-neck dress. They draw the eye up toward the neckline. A slim-fitting short cardigan doesn’t add any visual weight to the outfit. A longer cardigan that hits at the hem of the dress would draw the eye down to the widest part of the dress at the hemline and create a frumpy look.

With a short tiered dress

Similar Ankle Boots | Sweater | Bag

I’d like this look even more with the sleeves of the sweater pushed up to help define the waistline. 

With a t-shirt dress

Sometimes you want a sweater with you just in case you need it, but you don’t want to wear it. What do you do with it? Throw it over your shoulders. This laid-back look has a bit of a preppy country club vibe thanks to the loafers and the sweater over the shoulders. Leaving the sweater sleeves untied creates a more casual look. 

With a t-shirt dress

Similar dress | Similar sweater | Similar belt | Loafers | Bag

With a loose dress

This dress is boxy. I bought it because it easily fits my larger bottom half. But you have to be careful styling a dress like this or it can look really frumpy.

I tried it with 2 different cardigans. The first shorter cardigan is the clear winner. The short length helps to define the waist in a dress that’s not meant to be belted. Pushing up the sleeves on the cardigan helps to reinforce the waistline. Notice that this is a v-neck cardigan paired with a crewneck dress. The v-neck and the position of the top button on the sweater help to draw the eye up and to the top of the body. 

The second cardigan is a long heavy cardigan that reads like a long coat. In this look, the waistline is very flowy and undefined even when I push up my sleeves. Your eye falls straight down to the heavy hemline of this sweater. That’s the heaviest spot on my body as a triangle body type who is larger on the bottom. The heavy hem amplifies the widest part of my body.

Similar Dress | Similar Short Cardigan | Long Cardigan | Shoes | Bag

With a short striped fitted dress

This dress is longer than a mini dress but hits above the knee. It’s belted with matching fabric and is the most fitted dress I own. With a tighter dress, you can wear a more flowy cardigan. Here I’m wearing the flowy black long cardigan that I nixed with the last dress. It works here because the dress is fitted. But also because the white and black striped dress provides such a strong contrast with the black cardigan. The dress that peeks out from the cardigan creates a vertical column of stripes from the neck to the knee, drawing the eye up and down and to the center of the body. You can intentionally create the appearance of a slimmer silhouette when you pair a dark cardigan over a lighter dress in this way.

With a short striped fitted dress

Long Cardigan | Similar Shoes | Bag

With a short plaid shirt dress

Let’s look at one more short dress. This is a plaid shirt dress with a drop waist and a matching belt. Because the bottom is flowy and tiered, to keep this look from becoming bottom-heavy, I’m choosing a short sweater. Chunky knits like this cable-knit cardigan make sense over top of the flannel fabric of the dress. And pairing different colors together like a gray cardigan with a red dress provides a nice compliment. The top button of the v-neck sweater and the red next to the gray draw the eye to the middle upper body, slimming the upper body and creating the appearance of a defined waistline. Pushing up the sleeves also helps with that.

With a short plaid shirt dress

Dress | Similar Cardigan | Similar Ankle Boots | Bag

If the bottom of the dress is flowy, you want the upper half to be more fitted.  

Okay, now let’s move on and look at long dresses and cardigans. 

Cardigans with long dresses

With a fit and flare midi dress

This blue dress has a rib-knit high-neck top and is sleeveless. The midi skirt is full and flowy. You want to keep a tight top next to a flowy skirt as much as possible. Choosing a slim-fitting short cardigan keeps a defined waistline and a slim top so you avoid creating a frumpy appearance overall.

With a fit and flare midi dress

Sweater | Shoes | Dress

Notice how this light gray cardigan looks pretty and harmonious with the light blue dress. Silver Mary Janes blend with the cardigan. 

With a midi shirt dress

This short-sleeved black midi dress is one of my favorite pieces from the summer. The top is more fitted with a flowy skirt. This is the perfect way to wear a cardigan with it. The short classic style striped cardigan defines the waist. Buttoning the sweater is a great way to create a body-hugging silhouette that counters the flowy skirt. It also makes a dressier look.

With a midi shirt dress

Sweater | Dress | Shoes | Bag

If the skirt is flowy, keep the proportions balanced by creating a fitted top. 

With a maxi dress

Maxi dresses are very on-trend. This one combines two trends, a long skirt with tiers. I’m pairing that short gray cardigan with it to draw the eye to the waistline and create a slim upper body. 

With a maxi dress

Sweater | Shoes | Dress

With an empire waist midi wrap dress

I wasn’t sure if this cardigan style would work with this dress. The cardigan is very thin and also very short. It’s one that you can wear buttoned up like a top. But it works perfectly. The dress has a fitted v-neck top, an empire waist, and a full skirt. So it’s important to define the waist as much as possible by wearing a short cardigan. Choosing a v-neck cardigan and creating a column of stripes between the lapels of the cardigan draws the eye to the v-neck and up and down the center of the body for a slimming look. 

With an empire waist midi wrap dress

Similar Sweater | Shoes

With a very flowy tiered midi dress

This dress is very flowy and has multiple tiers in the skirt without any waist definition. In the first look, I’m wearing a short navy v-neck cardigan with it. It’s okay but I’d like a jean jacket with it better. Why? The dress fabric is so loose and flowy, I want the structure that denim provides.  Sometimes a denim jacket is a great option. Ultimately, it comes down to your personal preference and what you like best. 

Dress (size down)| Sweater | Denim Jacket | Bag

With a v-neck maxi dress

Unlike the last dress, this maxi dress has a thick ribbed waistband that provides nice waist definition, plus a straight skirt without any tiers. So while the skirt is roomy, it’s not voluminous like the last dress. A short black cardigan that hits the hip is a great choice and creates a slim silhouette up top.

With a v-neck maxi dress

Similar Cardigan | Dress | Shoes | Bag

The overall effect is a slimming and straight fit.

What if you have oversized cardigans? An oversized cardigan works best with a fitted and body-hugging dress. It’s the perfect way to balance the proportions of a slim dress.

Likewise, if you’re putting together long cardigan outfits, body-hugging dresses are the best way to keep balanced proportions. Pair a short body-hugging dress with a cardigan that comes down longer than the hem of the dress.  

Cardigans are a great option when temperatures change during the day or you need to stay warm. Experiment and have fun with them! Wear them in a way that feels like you.

Infographic, cardigan to wear with dress

Hi, Friend. I'm Marya. I'm so glad you're here!

I’m here to help women feel good inside and out through approachable everyday style inspiration and encouragement for midlife. Once upon a time, I worked as a therapist and coach. Now, I’m a holistic style blogger studying style coaching! Be So You celebrates leaning into who we were meant to be! 

Keep in touch by signing up for my e-newsletter hereRead about my  journey to self-discovery at 40. Follow me on Instagram here and Pinterest here. Send me a quick question through my contact page here.  

Fit Note: I’m midsized at 5’6″, 160 pounds, with size 12 jeans. 

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