Instant Upgrade: How to Wear Rock a Shawl Collar Cardigan

Dave Bowden

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how-to-wear-a-mens-shawl-collar-sweaterIt’s a dilemma many men face when stepping up their style games during colder months.

When Daniel Craig or Steve McQueen wears a shawl collar cardigan sweater, they look like they could beat you up and steal your girlfriend at a moment’s notice.

But when you do one up, you look like a lowly humanities professor at a third-tier community college.

So what gives? And more importantly: how can men who aren’t James Bond or Thomas Crown make a shawl collar cardigan look good?

Below I’ve collected a few good rules of thumb for rocking a shawl collar, suggested a few different ways you can wear it for maximum impact, and included a list of some select sweaters you might want to try once you’re ready to become a card-carrying member of the cardigan club.

As always I’ve tried to provide options that will be easily attainable for most guys either online or at your local mall, and note that some of the links included are affiliate links, so if you click through and make a purchase I may receive a small commission.


Part 1:

How to Wear a Shawl Collar Cardigan: The Rules

how-to-wear-a-mens-shawl-collar-sweater1. Fit: Keep it slim

This one comes with a slight caveat: keep it as slim as you can. Shawl collars are often made of thicker types of wool that are comfortable as hell, but not always the most form-fitting.

That’s why it’s even more important to make sure that yours fits you like a glove and hugs your shoulders, arms and torso fairly tightly. Because of the thicker fabrics, the shawl collar sweater may not show off your physique the way a merino wool sweater would, but if you pick a size that’s slightly too large, you’ll look more like you’re wearing a housecoat than a classic piece of menswear.

Speaking of which…

how-to-wear-a-mens-shawl-collar-sweater2. Length: Not much lower than your waist

Another easy way to look like you’re wearing a housecoat is if you opt for a sweater that’s too long.

Some shawl collars cardigans are actually designed this way and some – for reasons that boggle the mind – actually come with a cotton belt! These are not the sweaters you’re going for.

Instead, look for one that hits either right at or just below your belt line, which is pretty much how you want all of your sweaters to fit.

3. Buttons: What kind of look are you going for?

The rules are a little looser when it comes to how many of your sweater’s buttons you should do up.

how-to-wear-a-mens-shawl-collar-sweaterIf you’re going for a more casual look, you can leave either the top button or the bottom one undone, as both Daniel Craig and the J.Crew model do in the photos in the intro and banner to this post, respectively.

You can also leave the whole thing undone for a look that’s much more casual and laid back, as Steve McQueen famously did in the bad-ass boating picture seen here.

But if you’re wearing a tie and/or going for a more formal or dressier look (more on that below), I suggest doing up all the buttons for a look that’s more… well, buttoned up.

One last note on buttons: it’s ok to leave the top or bottom one undone, but I don’t suggest leaving both undone. It might look like your sweater is too small to wrap around your waist, which is probably not an implication you want to give.

how-to-wear-a-mens-shawl-collar-sweaterThe Five Best Stores
For Shawl Collar
Find out which brands do ’em best.

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how-to-wear-a-mens-shawl-collar-sweater4. The Pants: Different color than the sweater

This is a good rule of thumb for sweaters in general, but especially for shawl collars.

Even if your sweater fits perfectly, if your pants are the same color or anything close, you won’t look like a stylish man rocking a classic look – you’ll look like a 1970s ski bum wearing a onesie.

Make sure your pants contrast both your sweater and the undershirt you’re rocking beneath it. Jeans are usually a safe and stylish bet with shawl collars (unless your sweater is too similar a shade of blue), as are khakis.

Part 2:

3 Go-to Ways to Wear It

how-to-wear-a-mens-shawl-collar-sweater1. Over a t-shirt or henley

One of the most classic casual looks in all of menswear, layering your shawl collar over a t-shirt or henley looks stylish in almost any setting.

A few things to keep in mind though: first, make sure your under shirt is a different color (or at least a different shade) than your sweater. You want to make sure people can visually distinguish between the two easily.

Secondly, try to keep the fabrics in the same ball park. Since shawl collars are generally made from hearty wool, you don’t want to wear a shiny or synthetic shirt underneath. Stick with something cotton.

2. Over a proper shirt

Throwing on a collared shirt underneath your shawl collar opens up a few more options for you, including the option to add a tie into the mix for a look that’s more formal or business-like.


If you’re wearing your sweater over a “dress shirt,” – aka the type of shirt that you would wear with a suit and need to get pressed or dry cleaned – and you decide to rock a tie with it, I recommend knotting your tie all the way up.

But if you want to wear a tie in a way that’s a little more casual and laid back, opt for a button-down shirt (so-named because you can literally button your collar to the body of your shirt) instead. Button downs are generally less formal, so here you can get away with undoing the top button of the shirt and leaving the tie loose.

It’s a great way to look put together but laid back all at the same time.

Photo via Pinterest
3. Under a jacket or coat

One advantage of rocking a shawl collar under a jacket, especially during the really cold winter months, is that it allows you to skip the scarf.

When rocking this look, you have two options. You can keep the shawl collar fully contained within the lapels or collar of your jacket, or you can splay it out over the top and let your sweater’s collar cover your coat’s.

Splaying the sweater collar out over the jacket’s lapels can look good in certain select instances, but keep in mind that it runs the risk of looking like a warmer version of John Travolta’s character from Saturday Night Fever, which as a general life rule I wouldn’t recommend.

However, as the gentleman pictured here demonstrates, sometimes letting the collar dip over the jacket’s lapels gives a certain devil-may-care look that can totally work, so use your own discretion.

Part 3:


A Few Good Options

I recently wrote a (rather lengthy) post all about what to wear in the fall, and as you’ve probably guessed by now, the shawl collar cardigan is definitely one of my top choices when the temperature starts to dip.

Below I’ve rounded up five of the best-looking options available on Amazon, and included a link where you can peruse all of their offerings for yourself.

Good Looking Shawl Collars on Amazon:

Vincenzo Boretti | Chunky Knit Shawl Collar Cardigan 

H2H | Slim Fit Soft Shawl Collar Cardigan

Cali Holi | Cable Knit Shawl Collar Cardigan

Citizen Cashmere | 100% Tibetan Yak Wool Shawl Collar Cardigan

HARRISON83 | Slim Fit Basic Button Up Shawl Collar Knit Cardigan

Amazon – See All Options

Of course, some of us still prefer to go old school and buy our clothes in brick and mortar stores, where we can try them on before purchasing. (Personally I like to buy online from chains that are in my local mall, then return in person – that way I can either get a refund, or exchange it for something else I find in store.)

To find out which stores offer the best combination of style and value, enter your email address in the form below and I’ll send you a list of the five best stores for shawl collar cardigans.

how-to-wear-a-mens-shawl-collar-sweaterThe Five Best Stores
For Shawl Collar
Find out which brands do ’em best.

Enter your email address below to discover which stores offer the best shawl collar cardigans — and the best prices.

I will never send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

4 thoughts on “Instant Upgrade: How to <del>Wear</del> Rock a Shawl Collar Cardigan”

  1. great post. i literally had the “third tier community college prof” problem and didn’t know why shawl collars weren’t working for me. i think mine was too long, and too baggy. thanks for the explanation, and the recommendations. i signed up to get your list and will be hitting up the stores you recommend next week to try and find one that fits proper.

    • You’re welcome James! Glad to hear that you found the source of your sweater problem. I used to have the same issue with bagginess before I figured out how to make sure they fit right.

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