How to Put Outfits Together With Leggings & Cardigans

Pairing a long cardigan with leggings, as actress and A-lister Tinsley Mortimer does here in New York in 2010, gives you a stylish, balanced look.
... Ben Gabbe/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

When you're in a rush to get to school or meet friends, finding an outfit that's comfy and stylish can seem like mission impossible. That's when relying on wardrobe staples like leggings and cardigans help save the day. Both pieces are made for layering, score high on the comfort scale and are easy to dress up. But that doesn't mean that creating an outfit with leggings and a cardigan doesn't require any thought -- the key to a stylish ensemble that features these basics is balance so you have a lean silhouette, and nothing is hanging out that shouldn't be.

1 Go Neutral

While cardigans and leggings both come in plenty of colors, at least one of the pieces should be neutral so your outfit isn’t too loud or flashy. Neutrals are colors like black, white, tan or gray; many colors harmonize with or complement these neutrals. To keep your outfit from looking drab, though, add color with a bright shirt under your cardigan or bold accessories like jewelry and shoes. Black leggings are usually the most slimming option, so they’re a good choice to build your outfit around. You can pair them with a matching black cardigan, a sweater in another neutral shade like gray or white or a cardigan in a bold color like hot pink or cobalt.

2 Length Rules

Since leggings are tight, it’s best to pair them with a top that covers your backside. That means that you skip the cropped or shrug-style cardigans when you’re wearing leggings or you may wind up feeling too exposed. Instead, choose a cardigan that’s long enough to cover your derriere. If you’re self-conscious about your thighs, go for an even longer style that hits at mid-thigh. A boyfriend-style cardigan is usually longer than other types, covers up what you want covered up, and has a loose fit that helps balance the look of tighter leggings on the bottom.

3 Fitted Equals Flattering

When it comes to choosing a top to wear under a cardigan with leggings, you can pick from a variety of styles – a tank top, camisole, T-shirt, tunic or button-down. But the key is choosing a piece that hugs the body so it doesn’t look too bulky layered under your cardigan. If you plan on keeping your cardigan buttoned all day, you can choose a fitted top of any length since your sweater will cover both your front and back. If you want to keep your cardigan open, though, choose a top that is fitted and long enough to keep you covered up in front when the cardigan is unbuttoned. Styles with a banded bottom usually hit at the top of the thigh and have a lean silhouette, adding a flattering factor.

4 Paint It Bold

A cardigan and leggings usually exude a casual, relaxed vibe; the pizazz comes from the accessories you add. Statement pieces that stand out on the low-key canvas of your outfit are the best bet -- that can mean bold jewelry like a jeweled bib-style necklace and glittery chandelier earrings or ballet flats in a bright color like cobalt or lime green. Or wear a wide belt in a funky pattern like an animal print to cinch your top or a headband with embellishments like rhinestones, feathers or even silk flowers to jazz up your look.

Based in New York City, Jennifer Blair has been covering all things home and garden since 2001. Her writing has appeared on, World Lifestyle, and House Logic. Blair holds a Bachelor of Arts in Writing Seminars from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.