Cardigan Hunt of 2011
March 15, 2011 2:37 PM   Subscribe

Upgrading work wardrobe, in need of cardigans. I think.

Basically I am asking this question from a 2011 tall person perspective.

I start a new job next week where people dress classier than my previous workplaces - not suit and tie, but slightly-dressy business professional. As a result, I seriously need to upgrade my cardigan situation. I'm also open to cardigan alternatives, such as things I can wear with skirts or over dresses. Where do you suggest I look? Have you hit any cardigan motherlodes lately?

I'm tall and pretty thin, so I have a really hard time finding tops where the arms and torso are long enough but the torso isn't too baggy/boxy. Three-quarter sleeves might work, but often cubicle air-conditioning demands full sleeves, you know?

I've hit up the local thrift and consignment stores, and the cardigans there were very sad - worn, pilled, and not office-worthy (I found some good tops to wear under them, though). I'm tired of Target sweaters looking misshapen after a month or two. I've had mixed luck with H&M and no real success there in the last couple years. My arms are too long for most of Ann Taylor. I'm too thin for Eddie Bauer tall sizes, which start at Medium Tall. I found one regular-sized cardigan on sale at Banana Republic a couple weeks ago, but it wasn't flattering enough to buy in multiples.

Any thoughts or even ideas on how to move beyond the cardigan would be appreciated. Depending on awesomeness and quality (i.e. this sucker will last for years), I am willing to pay up to, say, $80.
posted by Maarika to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: P.S. Location-wise, I'm in the Midwest and have the entire Mall of America at my disposal.
posted by Maarika at 2:42 PM on March 15, 2011

Ann Taylor has a tall collection, as does Ann Taylor LOFT. No cardigans in the collections, but several nice jackets and dresses.

Good luck with your search and congrats on the new job.
posted by cior at 2:47 PM on March 15, 2011

I'm tall with long arms, too. The Gap/Banana Republic carry their tall sizes online (but not in stores), so maybe try ordering some cardigans from them). The best-fitting long-sleeve cardigans I've found in recent years, though, were actually the regular size small cashmere cardigans from the J.Crew factory online -- they actually come down all the way to end of my wrist, which is a small miracle, and their prices are lower than regular J. Crew. (J. Crew itself is good too, though, if you can catch a sale and/or find a discount code online.)
posted by scody at 2:49 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry, meant to link to the J.Crew Factory site. You can see a bunch of cute cardis on the front page that are definitely in your price range, including several that appear to have adequately long long-sleeves.
posted by scody at 2:53 PM on March 15, 2011

Best answer: I (5'4") am not totally sure about the tall part, but you could try Lands' End Canvas -- I am not a fan of most Lands' End cardigans as they are too stodgily cut, very boxy, but I like my LEC "Heritage Cardigan," shaped notably differently from the LE equivalent, and I got a very nice cashmere cardigan there at an amazing sale price; the sales are great.

If you search for "cardigan refashion" you can get six zillion tutorials for interesting ways to sew ribbon &c on old cardigans to perk them up. People also cut them down, a possible option if you spot a nice men's cashmere job in a thrift store and know a seamstress.

+1 J. Crew but I have been disappointed with the "Factory" quality (overall J. Crew quality is wobbly; with Factory the let-down is more consistent -- some very good pieces, but be prepared to make returns. Which prompts me to mention that Lands' End is my first recommendation in no small part because of the wonderful return policy). Speaking of J. Crew, Talbots has been going a bit J. Crew-y lately and there are some nice things to be found. It may be imagination/fancy but I tend to think of Talbots as running long, which I explain as: they have a petites section, and thus are not making an attempt to outfit everyone in a one-foot range with the same stuff.
posted by kmennie at 3:16 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take boxy cardies to a decent tailor. Four days later, you'll have the perfect cardie. So don't worry about that.

Has this been said? Buy cashmere - around now there might be decent sales. It's worth it. I recently found the for like $60. Better a couple of those than four cotton. Department stores will have them - even the mens dept.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 3:26 PM on March 15, 2011

Best answer: I've always thought of myself as not a cardigan wearer, but the drape-style sweater changed my mind. Looks good with dresses, looks good with pants, I've worn it on the weekends when I'm tired of having the same jeans-and-knit-top as I always do, I've worn it under winter coats... very flexible, and feels fun compared to average officey clothing.

I can't recommend you a specific garment/brand, mine 2 yrs old now, from Kohl's I think... I found that link just searching "drape cardigan" - the nice thing is that it's one-size (or nearly so) without being boxy, so fit's pretty easy.
posted by aimedwander at 3:29 PM on March 15, 2011

Response by poster: Good call on Talbots and Lands' End - I've never been in my neighborhood Talbots, and it's been years since I went to the local Lands' End Inlet store. I'll check them out this week!

Any ideas on how much it would cost to have a tailor alter a cardigan? I used to live two buildings away from a fancy British tailor but never stopped in.
posted by Maarika at 3:57 PM on March 15, 2011

If you have a store like Winners in your area, you can see a variety of sweater/cardigan types and get lots of ideas. I discovered my current favorite office cardigan-ish there, loved it so much I now own 3 - can't find a picture but it's a buttonless longish cardigan with a tie under ye bosoms - immensely flattering to a variety of figures.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:59 PM on March 15, 2011

Old Navy has tons of cardigans in Tall sizes. I was in a store a couple of weeks ago and they had many cardigans in store, but I don't know if they carry Talls in the store (I'm guessing not) -- but you can order online (any order over $50 gets free shipping) and return to a store to save return shipping costs. Not that you mentioned a concern about shipping costs, but I am always concerned about them. :) Anyway, they're inexpensive and come in a ton of colors and styles. Good luck!
posted by hansbrough at 4:40 PM on March 15, 2011

I'm not sure how much it would cost - maybe $20, depending on how much has to be done. I'm shit on my sewing machine and did it myself. Looks SO much better - from the outside. But who's looking inside? Maybe a friend could even do it. Try a nearby dry cleaner with one cheaper sweater.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 4:50 PM on March 15, 2011

Gap tall sizes are awesome. I am 5'11" with long arms and my gap tall clothes are my favorites because they actually FIT me. The Grandpa cardigan is pretty cute and comes in 8 colors. Your cold wrists will thank you.
posted by ohohcyte at 5:17 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Old Navy cardigans will pill, wrinkle and be misshapen really quickly. I recently bought a Land's End cardigan after a thorough search (although with different criteria) and I have been really happy with the quality. I've also been disappointed with JCrew quality over time.
posted by lvanshima at 7:30 PM on March 15, 2011

I like cardigans because I enjoy wearing tank tops or sleeveless dresses but I need something to wear with them. For that reason, I also like knit jackets but they're harder to find. I find cotton works best for me because I am way too lazy to take stuff to the dry cleaner. I've bought wool and wool blend cardigans from Gap and been disappointed - after washings they just don't look good. I also bought a cotton cardigan from Target but I have been underwhelmed.

Personally, I like this one at Ann Taylor Loft. It's a hearty cotton, not a wimpy thin one, and I like the buttons. I recently traded one in for a new one because the old one was too small. They also have a V neck version and one with 3/4 sleeves.

The challenge is finding a way to make a cardigan look less librarian and more sophisticated. I think a cute long necklace helps. Wearing a sexy lace tank top can do the trick too (though I've been stepping that back lately - I'm concerned that it looks like people are seeing my underwear, especially when it's a color like black or nude that looks like underwear. Maybe I need to chill out). I also scoop up cute cardigans that are more interesting than a simple solid. There was a cute one at The Limited over the holidays that was a grey v neck with a black lace overlay.
posted by kat518 at 7:33 PM on March 15, 2011

It can feel more dressy at first, but be on the lookout for jackets, too. A tailored jacket in corduroy or heavy cotton is comfy, but looks even more polished than a cardigan.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:32 PM on March 15, 2011

I agree with aimedwander, drape-style sweaters are awesome. If you're worried about either those or regular cardigans looking too boxy, try belting them with either a super skinny or a really wide belt. I'm short and wider, so I can't pull off really skinny belts, but my experiences have been that taller, skinnier women usually look the best on one of the extremes of belts- wide belts tend to look trendier, but skinny belts (especially with a pencil skirt) can look a little too librarian, so there's definitely a balance that needs to be reached. My favorite dressy-casual look right now is a sheath dress with kitten heels, a drape sweater, and a wide black belt; it looks classy and pulled together but is still comfortable.

This varies greatly depending on the store near you and what kind of weather you're in, but I absolutely adore Forever 21 for cardigans. I tend to stay away from them for shirts, but they really can't be beat for accessories, and their sweaters/jackets definitely fall into that. I wear some kind of cardigan or jacket every day, and I reach for my F21 cardis more often than some of my more expensive ones because they're a little trendier (avoiding the librarian look), lightweight and crazy comfortable. I also live in Florida and it's getting really warm here, so if you live in a colder climate that might not be applicable. Just from glancing at their website, I really like this and this.
posted by kro at 10:02 PM on March 15, 2011

A quick and currently stylish fix for a too-boxy cardigan is to wear it with a skinny belt over it, like this.

I'm also tall and I have mixed luck even in tall sizes. I always look for turned back cuffs that I could choose to leave down if necessary.
posted by cali at 10:27 PM on March 15, 2011 -- can be pricey, but I have found, shop the bargains, and then splurge for what you really love. I bought my favorite coat ever from them, and wore it for nearly ten years until it literally fell appart. Saddest day of my coat-wearing life.

Shapeless sometimes, but also with talls in some cardies and jackets:

Also, you can try alterations. You need a tailor with a serger if you're going to try altering anything knit, but if you get a creative tailor, you can take some men's stuff and get some darts up in there. Some of my favorite outfits have been too-large sale items that for fifteen dollars I got altered into ka-CHOW. Especially sleeve-lengths on jackets. Shop for ones that have generous inseam allowances. When you're in the store, put your finger on the inside of the cuff--if there's a lining, make sure that the fabric goes a good inch-and-a-half, two-inches up before the lining starts. A good tailor will be able to make that work, maybe inserting some extra lining. When I got that done for my wool coat, it cost $20.

Another style you might want to consider is the 3/4 length cardi with the full-length sleeve underneath. Maybe I'm in the PNW of the US and things are different here, but it looks pretty stylie here. Then you can get a long-sleeve knit shirt with sleeves long enough, but the cardi provides your structure/shape, and you can do cool things with color.

Old Navy is good for the short term, until you find the pieces you can really stick with. But don't expect them to last past the season, if that long.
posted by e to the pi i at 10:29 PM on March 15, 2011

This vid is helpful to wrangle a cardigan that isnt quite behaving, J is also very slight: J's everyday fashion: How to belt a cardigan.

I'm a big fan of thrifted cardigans and look out for quality brands and when I find them will buy them even if the colour is a little frightening - I've come to adore a lilac cardigan I thrifted that I would never have dared to buy new. You have to look out for pilling as you say but if theres only a little bit going on around the arms or so you can always give the area a once over with a disposable razor.

If arms keep coming up too short pick up some bangles or beads. More often than not I roll up my cardi sleeves to show off my bracelets. I'm 5ft 10.
posted by Ness at 4:40 AM on March 16, 2011

These cashmere cardigans from Lord and Taylor aren't cheap, although certain colors of them are on sale for $50, which is pretty inexpensive for a cashmere cardigan.

I got a few of these as gifts over a year ago and after constant, almost daily wear, they still look like brand new. And cashmere is super warm without being bulky, which is good for freezing offices! The only downside is they are dry clean only.
posted by inertia at 6:09 AM on March 16, 2011

Response by poster: Holy cow, Metafilter! I went on a cardigan expedition today and was successful. I bought a trendy-ish drape sweater at le TJ Maxx and absolutely hit the jackpot at Lands' End - I ended up buying 3 different colors of this one (in medium) because they fit well and were only $25 each! I also found this in a size small tall, which fit nicely and will work well with dresses. Talbot's didn't have anything that caught my eye after my Lands' End finds.

I am on the fence about this belting trend (mostly because I own three belts, none of them attractive enough to wear over my clothing), but I will keep it in mind.

Thanks again for your suggestions!
posted by Maarika at 11:48 AM on March 16, 2011

Response by poster: Correction: I bought 3 different colors of this cardigan - a bit more feminine than the one I erroneously linked to.
posted by Maarika at 12:03 PM on March 16, 2011

Go for the super-skinny belts like they have right now at Club Monaco, if you have one of those near you (because, after years of their "definitely this summer" lies, you still can't shop CM online), and maybe Talbots has some, too. Unless you are a hanger-shaped model or a perfect hourglass, a normal width belt will just look strange. Either super wide, sometimes called "cincher" belts which are like elasticky, or super skinny.

I have really noticed a bizarre turn at JCrew in these past couple of catalogs--it's almost like they are going after the Urban Outfitters/American Apparel market. For what I used to want and buy from JCrew, I'm now going to Talbots and LLBean.

Also, do you have a Zara? Zara and Talbots make up 85% of my work wardrobe.
posted by thebazilist at 12:09 PM on March 16, 2011

I am on the fence about this belting trend (mostly because I own three belts, none of them attractive enough to wear over my clothing)

Easy way to see if it might work for you: get a couple of inexpensive belts someplace like Target or H&M in different widths (one skinny, one wide; you don't want anything too utilitarian or clunky, unless you're belting a very heavy sweater) and try them with different outfits. If you find they work for you (and speaking as a fellow tall skinny girl, I always like the fact that they give the illusion that I have something other than the waist of a teenage boy), then you can spend a little more on some nicer leather belts -- they can be a surprisingly useful accessory to give a little more form/polish to a look.
posted by scody at 12:20 PM on March 16, 2011

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