The easiest way to ruin a good outfit

The easiest way to ruin a good outfit

I love Shana of Ain’t No Mom Jeans, and I love podcasts, so when I found out she was doing a style segment on The Home Hour podcast I updated my iPhone accordingly. 

In this episode, Shana and host Meagan Francis discuss what to wear to a high school reunion. (Such a great topic, right?) Reunions are tricky because you want to look amazing, without looking like you’re trying too hard.

Shana gives tips for looking fabulous and effortless at the same time, as well as a few other tips and tricks for reunion dressing. But my eye-opening moment came when Shana and Meagan addressed the challenges of dressing for a hotel conference room, which can easily feel like a sauna or an igloo (or sometimes both, in the same hour).

When asked about her take on layering a sweater over a dress for warmth, Shana said, “nothing ruins a good outfit faster than a cardigan.”

I’ve never heard this articulated before, but knew immediately she was right.


coral dress: Stitch Fix 

I love dresses for summer. They’re pretty, they’re breezy, they’re darn close to effortless.  But I tend to get cold—and there’s a big temperature difference between a sweltering day and an air-conditioned room—so AI always grab a layer when I’m heading out the door. Until a few years ago, that piece would be a cardigan.

Layering a sweater over a dress sounds like a great idea. But it ruined the look every time I tried it.

Instead of a cardigan, Shana suggests a scarf, a moto jacket, or a blazer. Or a poncho! (That last one I gotta see for myself, because I cannot picture it. Although I’m betting this would be cute over the right dress.)

My go-to layer in the summer is an old denim jacket. I got mine at Loft many moons ago. I leave it open, and usually roll the sleeves because I like the proportions better that way. 


maxi dress: Stitch Fix 


striped dress: Target

(Bonus: with a jacket on top, I can get away with wearing dresses more places than I otherwise would. I feel naked wearing skinny-strapped dresses in church, or the grocery store, but with a jacket it’s no big deal.) 

Non sequitur: Silas wanted to get in on the backyard photo action. This photo kills me. Four going on thirty.


He looks more like my little boy in this one, even if he wouldn’t crack a smile. (Not while he’s wearing the catcher’s helmet, obviously.)


A cardigan kills a good dress: agree or disagree? And what do YOU layer over your summer dresses? 

cardigan photo via J. Crew’s 2007 (!!) catalog

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  1. Ginger says:

    My absolute favorite piece in my closet is a sweater blazer — I have a olive green one in jersey material and then a thick sweater one in gray.

    They provide the structure of a blazer, and the comfort of a sweater. I wear them over dresses often. They are absolute magic on airplanes, when you want to look polished, but cozy.

    I wish I had a million!

    • Katie says:

      I have one of those I bought a million years ago and I seriously wish I had bought a dozen of them. They are the BEST.

  2. Katie says:

    I thought the easiest way to ruin a good outfit was to wear it around a nursing baby and/or toddler! 😉

    My cardigans were staples of my freezing-office wear (as were a blanket and fingerless gloves) and I love them for nursing layers, but it’s true that sometimes you need more structure (or a collar). But I would find a jacket too heavy and stiff for sitting at a conference all day. Scarves are my go-to there, since they fit in the purse even more easily than a cardi, are soft and cozy, and can be used to target your child spots–maybe you’re in a skirt and it’s actually your legs that are cold, or your arms are chilly but your torso is warm. A good scarf is like a fancy, socially acceptable, portable blanket!

  3. Anne says:

    What about a belt and jewelry with the coral dress and light jewelry? Too hot? My favorite is the blue dress with the jacket. Was the dress from Stitch Fix?? Cute! (And that’s one super cute ball player!)

    Quality of cardigan is a big deal, too.

  4. Kym says:

    I am also in the “respectfully disagree” camp. I do understand that perhaps we’re analyzing out of context here, but I strongly dislike statements like this that are divisive and “all or nothing”. I have a large chest and I have to be VERY careful what I wear on top or I look like a big ol’ apple. A moto jacket would hang all wrong on me, an open blazer is a recipe for disaster, and my beloved denim jacket has it’s place but I still have to be careful with it. The right cardigan, especially one with a little drape, is flattering on me. I try not to take things personally, but I think people forget about helping ALL body types dress attractively when statements like this are made.
    Related: I’ll bet you never guessed simple cardigans would generate this much discussion! 🙂

    • Anne says:

      You’re right about the discussion-generating factor! I had no idea. 🙂

      Thanks for the input. It’s wonderful that you know what works for your body type. 🙂

  5. Melanie E. says:

    I highly recommend the style blog Putting Me Together. She gets most of her stuff from Target, Old Navy, Kohl’s, etc., and is cute while also conservative and not too trendy. This post (from today, actually) isn’t totally about this topic, but it can show you the different looks you can achieve with the same base, in this case a striped dress. There are good looks for cardigans and jackets, and I think the accessories (belts, necklaces) really contribute to the overall look.

    Check it out!

    • Anjanette says:

      I just found the Putting Me Together blog and I have also found it to be extremely helpful! Great wardrobe advice for dressing during pregnancy right now too– I’m done having babies, but I wish I’d had the blog as a resource during my pregnancies.

      • Tim says:

        Something very judge-like, such as jeans and a T-shirt. If I want to snazz it up, I’ll wear a polo or sport shirt. Plus a sweat shirt for the rooms kept at meat-locker temperatures,

        Yes, I’m a real fashion plate.

  6. Anjanette says:

    Interesting post, Anne!

    I love Shana’s blog, even though I could never pull off most of the outfits she wears so beautifully. As you and many readers have pointed out in the comments, I think Shana’s point was not that cardigans should never be worn with dresses, but that you shouldn’t just throw any old cardigan on for warmth (especially when you’re dressing to impress for your reunion!). I often do exactly that, so I very much appreciate the cautionary advice as well as all of the tips in the comments to help me better determine what to consider when adding a warmer layer to dresses.

    Laura’s point about room temperature being geared to men and suits was interesting too– if I thought I’d look as good in a suit as Ellen Degeneres or Diane Keaton, I’d have a new go-to dressy outfit for my next freezing-room function 🙂

  7. Alison S. says:

    I love how a denim jacket looks with a casual dress, but have a hard time pairing anything but a cardigan with a work outfit since I work in a professional office. Maybe I need to try more jackets? I have learned the value of using accessories. Jewelry, shoes and belts done tastefully make a world of difference.

  8. Holly says:

    The lines of the clothing are also important. The v-neck of the coral dress creates vertical lines and then when you put those cardigans over it you are adding more verticle lines. I predict that a well fitting cardigan would look better over the striped dresses because it would be adding veritical lines over dresses that have none.

  9. Sloan says:

    I really wanted that striped dress from Target and tried it on the other day. However, the arm holes were too big and it looked kind of weird. I’m trying to be super picky about what I buy, so I had to let it go. But I was sad.

  10. I love how you showed the difference between the cardigans and jean jacket! It really brings to life what you’re saying! Jean jackets have been my go to but I’m also not a big dress wearer. 😉

  11. Dana Dooley says:

    Thanks for sharing this! As a teacher, I often wear dresses to work (school), but I like to pair the dress with some over thing to make it more professional. Of course, the cardigan has been the go-to, but it always felt like the outfit didn’t really work… Now, inspired by your post, I found the perfect crop moto jacket that will give my dresses a little edge. Thanks!

    (Also, this is the first time I’ve read your blog. I love it! And your boy looks freakin’ adorable!)

  12. Wendy says:

    Wow! I wouldn’t have believed it until I saw the pictures! I will definitely be reaching for other pieces instead of a cardigan now. In fact, I have a denim blazer that I never knew what to do with — over a summer dress might be perfect!!

  13. Jennifer says:

    I think what’s missing is the context of the event — I would assume a hotel ballroom is for a more dressed-up affair, so that’s why cardigans wouldn’t be a good match — they’re too casual and take away from the fanciness of the event 🙂 Cardigans over a dress would be fine for casual events, but again, if you’re wearing a nicely cut dress and throw a long cardigan over it, it’s taking away from the effect of the dress. (And that’s totally fine if that’s the intention; maybe people are trying to tone down a dress?)

  14. Katherine says:

    I agree about cardis looking frumpy with a dress. Forgive me, though, because I don’t know how to say this in a way that sounds kind, but the striped dress is so wrinkled that the outfit was ruined before the jacket came into the mix. The fastest way to really ruin an outfit is simply not looking after your clothes properly.

    • Anne says:

      Busted! You’re so right. That dress had been in a plastic bag for two days and I didn’t iron it (or even hang it so the wrinkles could hang out a bit) first. It shows, to say the least. 🙂

  15. Jill says:

    I disagree, because the statement is a blanket one and dismisses variables. It depends on the dress and the cardigan in question; and it depends on style preference, comfort and situation. A moto jacket, blazer or denim jacket could inflict harm as well. 🙂

    One person’s preference is not another’s law.

  16. Amanda says:

    You know what? 99% of the time when I am wearing a cardigan, I am not trying to be stylish. I’m trying to stay warm. If someone feels that “ruins” my outfit, they can shove it. I’ll take warm and comfy over cold and fashionable, thanks.

  17. Kate says:

    Honestly, I hate cardigans. Just something about them really puts me off. About the only thing I hate more is denim jackets (sorry!!)
    You know what’s pretty great though? Convertible skirts, worn as kimonos. They’re so flowy and comfortable – it feels like you’re wearing a blanket outside, but actually you look like an ancient goddess.

  18. Catherine says:

    I think a cardigan that is intentionally part of the outfit and accessorized can look nice. However, so many cardigans are just tossed on as an afterthought when someone is cold and they make an outfit look blah and sloppy.

  19. Faith R says:

    Noooooooo! I wear cardigans and sweaters all of the time. I realize that it totally earases whatever good spots I have left to my figure but I feel covered and that’s important to me. Maybe I need to step out of my comfort zone a little more often. Your jacket looks SO cute!

  20. Anne-Marie says:

    Agree Agree! I could not agree more with your post! I feel like I’ve come out of the matrix and realized that cardigans should just generally not be worn over dresses. Cardigans with jean? Fine. Fitted and tucked into a high-waisted skirt? Fine. With dresses, thought they almost always completely ruin the silhouette of the dress, detract from any style the outfit had before, and add about 10 years of age and librarian status to the wearer. When I realized this I started trying to find an alternative, as I also tend to get cold. Thank you for confirming that I am not alone in this realization!

  21. Melwyk says:

    Hmm. I love my cardigans – have about 25 different styles and colours that I use a lot. But I also have some knit blazers that work wonders. I agree that everyone needs to find the silhouette that works for their body type – and that throwing something on at the last second that hasn’t been thought of as part of the outfit can make you look sloppier or more uncoordinated, but the right cardie can be great.

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