Back in my private schooling days, the coolest thing a girl could do to jazz up her uniform of a plaid kilt and white blouse was to throw on a cool cardigan overtop. Sometimes they were fitted and brightly colored to jazz up the dark tones of the plaid, other times they were oversized, cozy, and borderline sloppy — it was the ultimate sign of resistance against our otherwise tidy, boring ensembles. It's taken until 2019, but the rest of the world has finally taken to the cardi trend that was so popular in my youth, and I couldn't be happier to see the look resurface, which is why I've rounded up 10 cardigans under $50 for you to stock up on and style as you please. You don't have to wear them with a plaid kilt and white blouse, but I can say from experience that it's actually a pretty cute look. Jeans and a tee works too, I guess.
First up is what I like to call the ultimate staple cardigan: black, soft, and slightly slouchy. The Express Wedge Cover-Up ($36, originally $60, express.com) is the kind of piece you could wear to school, work, the mall, a date, you name it, and always look chill. This particular pick features a no-button front, ample pockets and an ultra-soft fabric for comfortable, cozy vibes, and I most definitely had something similar in my locker at all times, just in case.
Next up is something for those of us already wearing head-to-toe black. To spice up a monochrome outfit, throw on a patterned cardi, like the ASOS Curve Houndstooth Cardigan in Brights ($48, asos.com). Also available in straight-sizes, the white trim on this piece really allows the blue, black, and red print to pop, and the light tortoiseshell buttons keep it from feeling too mod overall. This is a statement cardigan bound to land you compliments, so wear it when you're looking to be noticed.
Another bold choice is to ditch patterns and prints altogether and opt for one bright hue. Something like the Fashion Nova Crew Love Cardigan in Neon Yellow (fashionnova.com) would be ideal, and depending on how tall or short you are, the super-long fit will hit around your knees or calves for a full-body bright look. The cozy fabric done in a shade that's typically reserved for going-out crop tops is such a fun idea — and BTW, this one comes in a neon pink version, too.
Moving right along, I'd like to direct your attention to my current favorite cardigan, the simply named Zara Cardigan With Buttons ($30, zara.com). This camel color is just so classy, and the bottom band of the cardi is wide and slightly more fitted than the rest of the piece, resulting in a blousy-looking top half with a more defined middle. I personally like having a defined waist, and often shy away from sweaters that look too boxy on me, so I bought this in three colors the second I saw it. If you are looking for a less-tailored fit, though, simply size up and you're back to baggy.
If you're looking for a cardigan to throw over a going-out outfit, consider the Forever 21 Sequin Fringe Cardigan ($34, originally $50, forever21.com) the perfect piece to spice up your jeans-and-tee look for happy hour. This comes in all-black as well, but I'm loving the white looped fringe paired with the rose gold disc sequins. Pair with matching rose gold hoops and you've got yourself a lewk.
Another cardigan trend I love is when the fabric has a bit of fuzz, like the BP. Fluffy Cardigan ($49, nordstrom.com). This cardi runs from XXS-3X, so pretty much anyone can rock it and serve major Clueless vibes. It's available in mustard as well as white, and while Cher would rock the mustard with her signature yellow plaid skirt, she'd probably throw the white version over a minidress before heading out for the night. So basically, you need both.
Another popular trend at the moment is the whole "wearing your cardigan as a button-down shirt" thing, achieved simply by buttoning your cardi all the way up and calling it a top. Genius! For this, a fitted piece is especially great, and the ASOS Design Wrap Cardi With Button Detail ($45, asos.com) just looks so right. The V-neck and wrap-style fit definitely make this rust sweater stand out in a sea of boring, straight-buttoning cardigans, and the ability to wear it open as an asymmetrical look or buttoned-up like a shirt means you get two shirts for the price of one, aka a win-win.
If you're wearing a cardi for comfort, the longer and softer, the better. I love the Universal Thread Plus Size Striped Duster Cardigan ($43, target.com), also available in straight-sizes, because it feels like you're wearing pajamas, but it adds a little something extra to practically any outfit. The long, loose fit, open front, and cozy knit fabric make this an easy, socially acceptable way to wear a blanket in public, and the muted, colorful stripes are a fun pattern that isn't too wild for a toned-down day.
Allow me to sing the praises of one last long cardi before I hit you with my final favorite! If you're on the hunt for a cardigan you can wear on an almost-daily basis, but want something a little more interesting than basic black, look no further than the Tobi Lucid Dreams Wine Longline Knit Cardigan ($31, originally $78, tobi.com). It's got everything you need: a lightweight yet soft knit fabric, pockets at the sides, one button to keep it closed in the front, and an ankle-skimming fit that still looks tailored, not oversized or slouchy.
Last but certainly not least, the pom pom cardigan trend has been everywhere, and the Lulus Haille Navy Blue Knit Pom Pom Cardigan Sweater ($27, originally $89, lulus.com) is a great option to try out the look for less. The little poms on this sweater form tiny hearts, so it's as adorable as it is comfortable, and it's bound to step up your sweater weather style.
Are you feeling inspired? If you thought Cardi B was the only cardi for you, think again — the cardigans above are all cute and affordable, and I give you permission to buy one, if not more, right now, because you deserve it.