+ Career Style, + Work

How to Find the Perfect ‘Desk Sweater’

Most offices are chilly because the thermostats are either controlled by penny-pinching managers or men who like things cool.  The needs of female employees are rarely considered.  Regardless, shivering is not good for productivity.  So many women, including myself, have invested in “desk sweaters” to keep at work.

As a person who is usually cold, desk sweaters are a topic that I have spent way too much time thinking about.  A good desk sweater should be several things:

  1. A desk sweater should be a cardigan or wrap;
  2. It should be a relaxed-style or sized up so it can be worn over any work outfit;
  3. It should be a neutral color;
  4. And it should be warm. (Obviously.)

There are also a few things a desk sweater should not be.  Because if it’s going to sit in an office closet or on the back of a chair, it’s going to take a beating.

  1. A desk sweater should not white or a pale ivory.  Oatmeal is as light as you should go;
  2. It should not be cashmere, unless you don’t mind seeing a cashmere sweater thrown to the wolves;
  3. It should not be a material that holds smells.  Some poly-blends are notoriously malodorous;
  4. It shouldn’t be difficult or expensive to clean.  Machine washable is best.

I think that about covers it.  So here are a few examples.

The MM. LaFleur Morandi sweater is the only sweater of $150 that I would put in this category.  I know, $265 is a lot to spend on a sweater.  But there are few items in my wardrobe that I feel this strongly about.

This sweater is chic, cozy, and versatile.  It can be layered over almost any outfit.  And I have never — and I mean never, ever — owned a warmer sweater.  On a plane, in a chilly office, on a foggy afternoon stroll, this sweater is your best option.

The Morandi comes in three colors, charcoal, oatmeal and navy.  It’s machine washable.  And it also comes in plus-sizes.

Lastly, if it feels a bit like a bathrobe, skip the flimsy tie belt.  Just buy a wide belt in a coordinating color.  Cognac for oatmeal, grey for charcoal, navy for navy.  I chose men’s belts so they would be big enough to fit over the sweater.

Now, for the more affordable options…

Madewell Kent Cardigan ($98)

This sweater is very cozy.  I also enjoy the longer cut, the side slits, and the pockets.  It comes in several colors, both neutral and otherwise.  Sadly, it’s hand wash, but it’s not dry clean, so that’s good.  And, best of all, it’s 25% off with code HEARTEYES.

Plus-size?  This cardigan sizes up to 3x.  Isn’t it nice (and about time) that more retailers made plus-size items?  It’s going to make finding pieces to share here so much easier.

Express Geo Print Cover-Up ($79)

Yes, the sweater is ivory.  However, the geometric print makes it work for this application.  It’ll get a bit dirty, but it won’t be as obvious as it would with a solid.

The slouchy shape is great.  I also really like the dolman sleeve; it should fit over a suit jacket.  And it looks very cozy.

The sweater is an acrylic, cotton blend, good for those allergic to wool.  It’s also machine washable. As for sizing, it also comes in petites.

Abercrombie Open Stitch Cable Cardigan ($48)

I love the cable detail on the sleeves.  The cut is a nice mix of structure and slouch.  And the soft gray color is a lovely neutral.

The sweater can be machine washed on cold.  Just don’t dry it.  That’d be a mess.  This sweater is selling out fast, so if you want it, don’t wait.

J.Crew Striped Scarf ($39)

If a long cardigan isn’t your style, try a blanket scarf.  Think of it like a work-appropriate blanket.  Just wrap yourself in it, and keep typing.

The grey-and-white is a nice combination.  I also think the navy-and-olive could be a chic choice, if you’re not feeling like a standard neutral.  And since there are no sleeves, you could layer it over anything.

So do you have a desk sweater?  Need a desk sweater?  Or just skip over the sweater?

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  1. Chelsea says:

    The BarefootDreams cardigan is supersoft and my desk sweater forever: https://shop.nordstrom.com/s/barefoot-dreams-cozychic-lite-circle-cardigan/4114466

    September 18, 2018/Reply
    • Belle says:

      They’re soft, but I never found them to be very warm. I bought my mother one of their robes a few years ago, and she said it was cold. Maybe the sweaters are better.

      September 18, 2018/Reply
      • Chelsea says:

        It’s not super warm, but it’s great for Texas!

        September 18, 2018/Reply
    • Anna says:

      Is the texture kind of fuzzy? That looks really similar to a cardigan I bought from the Gap last year that my mom wants but is no longer for sale.

      September 19, 2018/Reply
  2. Megan says:

    Speaking as a woman who is usually too warm and prefers a cooler office space, I always think casting this is as a sexism issue is really misplaced. It’s not a gendered issue, though the lines usually fall that way. In a professional environment, people who are too warm simply tend to have fewer options to regulate their own temperature than do people who are too cool. One of my officemates prefers the thermostat on tropical, and a fan doesn’t do anything except move around the warm air. I’m practically at the point of having to come to the office in a t-shirt and shorts just to think straight during the workday! (I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone in a full suit. The cardigans are lovely, but I’m in need of the ice-cube shirt that Jon constructed in an old Garfield cartoon.)

    September 18, 2018/Reply
    • Eleni says:

      I thought I was the only one!

      September 18, 2018/Reply
    • e says:

      I respectfully disagree! There have been multiple studies done to show that overall, women actually feel colder than men at the same temperatures, so it isn’t all perception and clothing. Coupled with the fact that in our society, women have to choose which office battles to wage, and you end up with office temperature as just one more way in which women are ever-so-slightly inconvenienced in their workplace.

      September 18, 2018/Reply
    • EVIE says:

      I’m in the same boat! The vast of my female colleagues are freezing, while I’m basically a human furnace. I’m lucky that my workplace is okay with sleeveless tops and dresses. I’d love to wear a cute jacket, but the office would have to lower the thermostat 10 more degrees in order for that to happen. If the temperatures ever get raised, I’ll be looking for a “desk swimsuit” (kidding, but only somewhat).

      September 18, 2018/Reply
    • ASHLEY says:

      I too am in the ranks of women who are often too warm. I am usually sleeveless and my colleagues have their space heaters going with blankets and jackets. My view is that you can always add more layers but there are only so many that you can take off. And don’t even get me started on how warm I was when I was pregnant – I don’t think I ever stopped sweating for 9+ months.

      September 18, 2018/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Studies have shown that office temperatures are usually calculated on based on the metabolic rates of men. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/office-thermostats-sexist-research-men-women-clothing-less-a8084871.html

      September 18, 2018/Reply
      • Elizabeth says:

        Yes! I’m an HVAC engineer and when I was taught how to size systems (aka the cooling capacity), we almost always used the heat loss rates of men in our calculations.

        September 19, 2018/Reply
    • J says:

      I don’t have any reason to doubt the generalized findings of studies about office temperature, but like, well, pretty much any data, such findings applied broadly can channel a bit shallow and simplistic. Turns out that even though men and women might be generally different on the temps question, there are always exceptions to the rule (see: other comments/the rest of life). I’m in all-of-the-above categories; sometimes our AC is too high, other times it’s much too low. Comes with the territory of working in a large office that has central controls; “just right” doesn’t happen much, and frankly, unless it’s wildly inhibiting my ability to work (fortunately this hasn’t ever happened), I’m okay with that.

      That said, this strikes me as one of those issues where while it’s impossible to please everyone, clear communication about varying preferences should allow for some semblance of a happy medium. Good managers will always be striving to set their teams up for success, so in a healthy culture, having a reasonable conversation about office temperature shouldn’t be a big ordeal. If it is, I’d posit that there are bigger problems at work than who’s wearing a cardigan and who isn’t.

      September 18, 2018/Reply
    • Dorian says:

      You need to move your desk to a space that’s under the blower. I’\m so cold at the office in the summer that I’m wearing fingerless gloves to type and slipper socks to keep my feet warm.

      Honestly, sitting still for 8 hours at 68 degrees is JUST TOO DAMNED COLD.

      June 13, 2019/Reply
  3. Jenna says:

    That MM.Lafleur sweater is gorgeous and looks super versatile. I don’t mind spending more on things that can be worn several ways and will last a long time. The sweater has now been added to my fall must haves.

    September 18, 2018/Reply
    • Crystal says:

      It is one of my absolute favorites. It’s warm, comfortable, cute, and never wrinkles. The only drawback is that it’s bulky, so if you’re traveling you may need to wear it rather than pack it (but that usually works because it’s wonderful for flights!).

      September 18, 2018/Reply
  4. heatherskib says:

    I bought a grey Ann Taylor wool ruana several years ago on major clearance and it’s perfect. It’s soft, roomy and warm and it has pockets, so I can tuck a pair of gloves away for those really cold desk days. I wish I’d bought two so I had one at home too. As it is I tend to kidnap my office sweater to snuggle at home or travel with.

    September 18, 2018/Reply
  5. Mary says:

    Sometimes the too-cold-office issue is due to the layout and effectiveness of the HVAC system. In my building, for the temperature to be moderate overall, some offices end up extra cold and some end up extra warm. I happen to be in the extra cold one, so I have an office sweater (and a blanket, too, for the worst days).

    September 18, 2018/Reply
    • Karen says:

      Agreed! My office faces due east and is sweltering in the AM, but freezing in the afternoon when the sun moves. And we’re in the desert, so the AC is always on.

      September 18, 2018/Reply
  6. Emily says:

    I have a reversible cape/scarf from Uniqlo and while it does make me look a bit like a witch, it definitely does the trick and doubles as a lap blanket.

    September 18, 2018/Reply
  7. Kelly says:

    I’m seriously hoping my next job is at a place that sets the thermostat above 70 degrees. Last winter I repurposed a grey Old Navy cardigan as a desk sweater, but a heating pad is among the best $40 I ever spent during my last five years. (Thanks, Belle!) If the next place is cold, I’ll be buying the Morandi.

    September 18, 2018/Reply
    • Lindsay says:

      I just bought a heating pad last week and it has been great!

      September 18, 2018/Reply
    • Belle says:

      The heating pad was one of the top discoveries of my life.

      September 18, 2018/Reply
    • Niki says:

      Our office is so cold the men complain. I have multiple Bobeau cardigans/wraps and I sit on a heating pad. I’m about to bring in slippers because I like to kick off my shoes at my desk.

      In the winter, I wear my down coat. No. Shame.

      September 18, 2018/Reply
  8. James Morgan says:

    I am always sweating to death because women are too cold. But that’s okay, right?

    September 18, 2018/Reply
    • Belle says:

      If I have to buy a heating bad, I really see no reason you can’t buy a fan.

      September 18, 2018/Reply
  9. Kelly says:

    Not sure on others opinions on the professionalism factor, but I made the executive decision that the office sweater was not cutting it and invested in an office blanket. I went with one of those fuzzy oatmeal throws and I use it almost daily. It looks nice draped across my office chair. I generally have it wrapped around my legs like a cocoon, but my desk is solid, so you can not see my legs anyway.

    My fingers get cold enough that I have actually considered gloves, but for now I am sticking with a mug of hot water.

    September 19, 2018/Reply
  10. Clark says:

    I keep a White & Warren cashmere wrap and slippers in an oatmeal shade at my desk at all times. I can wrap it around my upper half or use it as a blanket when my legs are cold.

    September 19, 2018/Reply
  11. Caitlin says:

    I have an enormous blanket from LOFT that was mysteriously billed as a “blanket scarf”, but I find it’s been shedding on my black work slacks, so I’ve switched over to… the company branded fleece we had produced for our last conference. Hey, if I have to look unprofessional, at least I’m company branded?

    The cape scarf looks great, though it looks kind of thin/stiff. I usually expect higher prices from J.Crew so I’m a bit suspicious.

    September 24, 2018/Reply