That Time I Tried 10 Sweaters In Search Of The Perfect Summer Layer

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I can be a bit of Shana’s fashion nightmare at times. A few weeks ago, I brought up my oh-so-important “struggle” of searching unsuccessfully for the absolutely perfect layer to wear over summer dresses. Shana of course quickly rattled off a list of brilliantly stylish solutions. 

How about a lightweight leather jacket? Or a cute, soft denim jacket?? Would you ever wear a knit blazer?
Long pause.
Shana…you know I want a cardigan. 
Another long pause.
And then a long sigh from Shana.

Of course she knows I want a cardigan.

I don’t do leather jackets. They’re not me. I’m not that edgy. Knit blazer? No way. No, no way. Too tailored. I also don’t do denim jackets. Again…just not quite me. Denim is probably more my style than leather or blazers, but most denim jackets feel too constricting for me. Shana offered me hers to try, and although it is SO SO SO cute and feels super-soft, I wouldn’t even put it on. Seriously, I wouldn’t indulge her a bit. Remember, I willingly admitted to being a bit of a fashion nightmare. Luckily, Shana is beyond patient with me.

My perfect top layer has to keep me somewhat warm on cool nights, be VERY comfortable, be fairly casual, be sort of interesting (or at least not totally boring) and not have too precious of a vibe. I know, right? Nightmare! So demanding. So very, very demanding.

I decided to try some new cardigans, but also a few other options just for fun (AND to prove to Shana that I’m totally open and flexible to all sorts of new and exciting experiences). I mean…I got pretty crazy switching out my beloved cardigans for a few pullovers and a lightweight jacket below. I’m such a risk-taker, guys! *There’s a heavy dose of sarcasm in this paragraph, just in case it’s not coming through.

Finding the Perfect Summer Layer

So to the dressing room (i.e. giant selfie mirror in my bedroom) I go. I tried everything on with three of my regular spring-summer “looks” (a bright playful dress, a dress with more earth tones, and jeans and a tee). If I find the perfect top layer, it will look great with all three. One last note before we get started: I will not be offended if you want to quickly see all the options on models instead…the clickable boutique of everything I tried on is at the bottom of the post. For everyone else, here we go…

My Spring-Summer Outfits Before Adding a Top Layer

Cardigans. Shrugs. Pullover sweaters. Shower-resistant Jackets. Hoodies. Finding the perfect summer layer to match my go-to outfits. Try-on sesh right here.Anthro Red Dress | Voloshin Purple Dress | Madewell Tee | Madewell Jeans | Sandgrens Clogs | Smaller Woven Bag

A bright playful dressThis red dress can be worn off-the-shoulder or not. I try not to make these types of dresses too precious, and instead wear them both dressy and casual. Too fun to save only for special occasions.

An earth-tone dressI’m so in love with this Voloshin dress in the middle…on sale right now and still available in a couple sizes. If your size is sold out, this style is available in several other fabrics as well.

Jeans and a teeMadewell tee and jeans (only some sizes left, but other options at end of post)…I wear this outfit basically all year long, and you know I love my various clogs (spring, summer, fall and winter). I was going to take photos of all the cardigans with this woven bag (that it SO cute with everything!) but it sold out quickly. Boo! Here’s the smaller version that’s still available.

 4 “Pretty Good” Top Layers

1. Little Black Shrug

This was cuter than I thought it was going to be. I surprisingly really like it with the jeans and tee. I like the little pop of t-shirt showing below the bottom of the shrug. Because of the shorter length, I think it works really well with a variety of dress styles. I wish it came in other neutral colors. I have a lot of black sweaters.

Cardigans. Shrugs. Pullover sweaters. Shower-resistant Jackets. Hoodies. Finding the perfect summer layer to match my go-to outfits. Try-on sesh right here.Black Anthro Shrug | Red Dress | Purple Dress | Tee | Jeans | Clogs

2. Pullover Soft Sweater

This was the biggest surprise of my try-on sesh. Shana said she usually wears a pullover sweater instead of a cardigan if she’s going to do a sweater over a dress. I dismissed this “wild” idea initially, but then decided to give it a try. I liked it way more than I thought I would. This particular sweater is REALLY soft and I like where it hits as well as how it drapes. I would still prefer to wear a cardigan (so that you can see the top of a dress under the top layer), but I’m keeping this sweater as another option (and because I just really like it).

Cardigans. Shrugs. Pullover sweaters. Shower-resistant Jackets. Hoodies. Finding the perfect summer layer to match my go-to outfits. Try-on sesh right here.Madewell Pullover Sweater | Red Dress | Purple Dress | Tee | Jeans | Clogs

3. Cute Tie Sweater

I think I’m keeping this one. It’s perfect for right now, but is a little heavier than I want for my ideal top layer (especially a little heavy for travel). It IS very much my style, though, and I’ve found myself wanting to reach for it several times in the mornings. A good sign it will be worn regularly.

Cardigans. Shrugs. Pullover sweaters. Shower-resistant Jackets. Hoodies. Finding the perfect summer layer to match my go-to outfits. Try-on sesh right here.
Madewell Tie Sweater | Red Dress | Purple Dress | Tee | Jeans | Clogs

4. Shower-Resistant Jacket

I like that this jacket is shower resistant, but doesn’t totally look like a rain jacket. A nice cute option for if it’s really windy or if it’s actually going to rain. It’s soft and flexible enough to still meet my comfy requirements. I maybe should have sized down, though. This is a size 6.

Cardigans. Shrugs. Pullover sweaters. Shower-resistant Jackets. Hoodies. Finding the perfect summer layer to match my go-to outfits. Try-on sesh right here.
Boden Navy Jacket | Red Dress | Purple Dress | Tee | Jeans | Clogs

 3 “Fine” Top Layers 

5. Black Drapey Cardigan

I like this cardigan, but I have several similar ones my closet already. If you click through to Anthro’s pics, you’ll see that it’s shorter in the back, which is a cute feature. If you zoom in, you can also see that it has a nice texture that’s more interesting than many black drapey cardigans. Also comes in a pretty pink.

Cardigans. Shrugs. Pullover sweaters. Shower-resistant Jackets. Hoodies. Finding the perfect summer layer to match my go-to outfits. Try-on sesh right here.

Black Drapey Anthro Cardigan | Red Dress | Purple Dress | Tee | Jeans | Clogs | Black Sandals

6. Little Blue Cardigan

I think this cardigan actually looks the best with everything of all the options I tried, but it’s a little boring. I’m okay with boring, though, sometimes. Especially with the dresses since they have enough going on that a simple little cardigan is sometimes just what I’m wanting.

Cardigans. Shrugs. Pullover sweaters. Shower-resistant Jackets. Hoodies. Finding the perfect summer layer to match my go-to outfits. Try-on sesh right here.
LOFT Blue Cardigan | Red Dress | Purple Dress | Tee | Jeans | Clogs

7. Another Shower-Resistant Jacket

Same jacket as the navy, but in army green. I thought this might be an interesting neutral to throw in the mix, but the navy is more me. I’m debating whether I should have gone down a size, though. Wearing a size 6 here.

Cardigans. Shrugs. Pullover sweaters. Shower-resistant Jackets. Hoodies. Finding the perfect summer layer to match my go-to outfits. Try-on sesh right here.

Boden Army Green Jacket | Red Dress | Purple Dress | Tee | Jeans | Clogs

The 3 “Terrible” Top Layers  

8. Long Pinkish Cardigan

Ahhhhh! So bad. So so bad. In so many ways. The color’s not good for me, way too long with the dresses; I don’t like the shoulders…the list can go on and on. If this is your color, and maybe if you’re taller (?), click through and look at it on the Anthro model. There are really cute wooden buttons on the sides that initially made me interested in this sweater.

Cardigans. Shrugs. Pullover sweaters. Shower-resistant Jackets. Hoodies. Finding the perfect summer layer to match my go-to outfits. Try-on sesh right here.Anthro Long Pink CardiRed Dress | Purple Dress | Tee | Jeans | Clogs | Black Sandals

9. Easy White Hoodie

This was the most surprising fail of the try-on sesh. I bought this from Athleta, and I thought it was going to be perfect. It’s a nice change up from my usual cardigan. It’s a neutral color that goes with everything, and it’s super-soft, but no. At home, I didn’t like it with anything.

Cardigans. Shrugs. Pullover sweaters. Shower-resistant Jackets. Hoodies. Finding the perfect summer layer to match my go-to outfits. Try-on sesh right here.

Athelta Off-White Hoodie | Red Dress | Purple Dress | Tee | Jeans | Clogs

10. Soft Gray Sweatshirt

I love this sweatshirt. I like the sleeves, I like the cut, I like the length, but I do NOT like it with the dresses.  Oh well.

Cardigans. Shrugs. Pullover sweaters. Shower-resistant Jackets. Hoodies. Finding the perfect summer layer to match my go-to outfits. Try-on sesh right here.

Madewell Gray Sweatshirt | Red Dress | Purple Dress | Tee | Jeans | Clogs

All The Summer Layer Options, All Together

 

I don’t know guys. I don’t think I found my absolutely perfect top layer. Everything felt a little meh. Pretty good, totally fine, but a little meh. Maybe I’m being too critical? Thoughts? I’m keeping a few of the items because I do like them, but I don’t think I found one that REALLY met all my requirements. 

Okay…it’s your turn. You’re enjoying your weekend with your family, you want to wear a midi or maxi dress with flat sandals to the park and then the local pizza place — a very casual outing — and it’s supposed to get cooler later. What’s your go-to? Please share.   

-Linzi

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Linzi (or 'Linz' as we like to call her) is our reigning Queen of Comfort Shoes but we suspect you'll love even more about her style than what's on her feet. You can also look to her for everything Kids - from the best toys to the cutest functional coats, she's got the well-researched recs and we love her for it.

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26 Comments

  1. I think my “weekend maxi dress to the park then pizza” layer would be a denim jacket, but I will be honest and say I rarely wear dresses except on vacation, and although I have owned a series of denim jackets since high school, I don’t actually wear them much.

    Love that red dress on you, BTW.

    • Thank you, Renee. So nice of you to comment. I’m one of those “don’t wear shorts” people, so in hot weather it’s all dresses and skirts for me. The denim jacket would make sense, I know. So glad to hear, though, that there are other people out there that have owned series of items they don’t actually wear that much. Ha! Thanks again.

    • Ooooh! Good idea. I tried an old ballet wrap sweater and it didn’t quite work, but maybe one that isn’t as fitted? Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. I laughed when I heard your top layer preferences, I much prefer a good cardigan despite myself. Wish I liked leather denim and structure, I always love it on other people. I do love the pullover sweater best of the ones you tried!

    • I totally love leather, denim, and structure on everyone else too. It looks so put together. Gotta stay true to me, though. Glad I’m in good company, Heather. 🙂

  3. Denim is my summer layer go to, but I usually wish I had something more cozy and warm. I just haven’t found something structured enough that works for summer and brings enough warmth. I, too, am super high maintenance 😘

  4. I have some cardigans with a little ruffled back which can solve this problem. There in a Nordstrom Hinge ruffle trim cardigan that I wear and a shorter CAbi ribbed black one – the “cardi party” from their Spring 2018 collection. They add something to my look instead of take away from it.
    https://shop.nordstrom.com/s/hinge-ruffle-hem-cardigan/4479481?origin=keywordsearch-personalizedsort&breadcrumb=Home%2FAll%20Results&color=grey%20light%20heather

    https://www.ebay.com/b/CAbi-Party-Cardigans-for-Women/63866/bn_120957319

  5. If I care what I look like, I have a thin bomber jacket, and add a scarf/shawl if I need more warmth. Or it layers well over or under a wool vest I use a lot. Both the thin bombers I have are very soft and don’t feel constricted or structured at all. It feels more like wearing a zippered cardigan than like wearing a jacket.

    If I care less what it looks like and more about function I wear a hoodie from Houdini sportswear (the power houdi) which is super comfortable and works as a mid layer in winter, and as a jacket on its own the rest of the year. Though next time I’d like one in wool.

  6. Gap made some cute tencel icon jackets the last few years. The shape of a denim jacket but the lightness and movement/drape of tencel. I have one in pastel pink and one in olive green. I think they still make a sort of similar version.

    • Great idea, Lola. I just found this tencil and linen collarless jacket from Lucky HERE that looks promising. Maybe collarless is what I need and from the fabric you suggested. Going to look at Gap too. Thanks for the suggestion!

  7. Have you shopped Evy’s Tree yet? They are the best at cardigan style hoodies and pullovers, etc. The Elizabeth in Navy is darling, it has a fun detail on the sleeve. Female owned small business, too!

  8. I love these posts that demonstrate the thought process and side-by-side looks. How about something like a button up shirt in white or chambray, tied at the waist, maybe a linen fabric? Its structure-ish??

    • It feels very weird sometimes posting this shopping thought process out to the whole world, so thank you for that comment. And I do love linen, so thank you for the suggestion too! Still soft, but with more structure. I don’t do collars usually, but maybe a white linen button down like THIS would work. I like that it still has an easy feel. Great idea!

  9. This post is great! I love your process. My favorites, FWIW, are the blue pullover from Madewell and the traditional little blue cardigan. Both work in all three looks. I’d also consider a charcoal grey pullover in the same shape to go with those outfits.

  10. Thank you for your post. On my fifth try for a denim jacket, so uncomfortable. just got the madewell sweater and it’s so great.

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