Key Differences Between a Sweater vs Sweatshirt

Tuesday, February 22, 2022
Key Differences Between a Sweater vs Sweatshirt

It’s not always easy to find the right outfit for all-day comfort. Seasonal transitions and air-conditioned offices alike can combine with the fluctuations in your body temperature to leave you feeling too hot or too cold.

That’s where a sweater or sweatshirt comes in. But if you’re shopping for your next fashionable and functional layering piece, you might wonder about the actual differences between the two garments.

While there are some similarities between sweaters and sweatshirts, they differ in intended use, construction, and more. This guide is here to help you stock your closet for year-round comfort and style, with a variety of ladies sweatshirts and sweaters.

Sweater vs Sweatshirt: Materials and Construction

You might not notice this subtle difference when you put one on, but long sleeve sweaters and sweatshirts are usually made out of different materials. Depending on the textile, your garment will require specific washing and care (which may change how and when you choose to wear it).

Your cozy sweaters are often made with the following fabrics:

  • Wool
  • Lightweight cotton
  • Cashmere
  • Acrylic

Your sweaters need to be washed gently and hung carefully to extend their quality and lifespan. Always check the label on each specific sweater to identify what fabric is used and to understand its washing and drying requirements. Wool and cashmere usually need to be air-dried, requiring a laundry line or drying rack. There are many tips and tricks that will help you better understand how to wash sweaters yourself, but in many cases, professional dry cleaning is the best way to ensure longevity.

On the other hand, the more athletic sweatshirts you have hanging in your closet are more likely made of:

  • Heavy cotton
  • Polyester
  • Fleece
  • Jersey

Your sweatshirts are more bulky and durable and can often be handled with a little less care.

When you reach for a sweater or sweatshirt, keep the day’s activities in mind. Wet conditions, outdoor activities, or time with little ones may call for casual wear and favor a sweatshirt that can be popped in the wash with your next load of laundry. But of course, some occasions favor the formality and grace of a sweater.

Sweater vs Sweatshirt: Style and Formality

When you feel cold hanging around your house, you’ve probably grabbed both random sweaters and sweatshirts out of the closet—the difference doesn’t matter in a pinch. But while the closest layers and leggings in reach are more than okay for relaxing at home and providing ample warmth, you probably prefer clothing that can make you look a little chicer when you’re out and about.

Here, your choice between a sweater and a sweatshirt can make all the difference.

While you can have casual or comfy sweaters, on the whole, they’re considered much more formal than sweatshirts. You can easily wear to:

  • The office
  • An upscale restaurant
  • A business lunch

Despite the rise in “athleisure,” sweatshirts aren’t always appropriate attire for these places. As casual or athletic wear, a crewneck sweatshirt or hooded sweatshirt is often better suited for:

  • The gym
  • A run in the park
  • A casual meet up with friends

Despite these general distinctions, much depends on your specific garment and its styling. A fun twist like fringe can give a sweatshirt a more refined, upscale look, making it a more versatile garment when paired with sleek slacks and heels. Likewise, a sweater can be dressed down.

Sweaters and sweatshirts are both fabulous garments that deserve their place in your wardrobe, but that doesn’t mean they’re interchangeable. As you get ready for the day, consider which garment will make the most impact and keep you looking fabulously yourself.

Sweater vs Sweatshirt: Intended Use

Exercising is a fantastic way to seek out an endorphin rush, boost your mood, and improve your feeling of productivity. But running on the treadmill or going for a jog around the neighborhood wouldn’t be half as enjoyable if you had to do it in a bulky sweater or knitted garment.

Wearing a sweater while exercising can leave you feeling extremely hot, not to mention sweaty around your upper body. And even after you’ve cooled down, the sweater will hang on to any odor, necessitating an immediate wash afterward. 

Sweaters aren’t meant for the gym, but for:

  • Cold weather days
  • Low-key events where you’re unlikely to sweat
  • Relaxing at home or out on the town

In contrast, sweatshirts are designed for athletic activities. While sweaters will hold onto odors, sweatshirts can absorb your sweat from exercising using synthetic fiber (even if you forgot to apply your deodorant). They’re perfect for:

  • Cold gyms and yoga studios
  • Outdoor exercise

A sturdy crew neck sweatshirt will also be able to stand up to the rain or sleet. In contrast, your favorite knit fabric sweater might be much more delicate, and a run in unpleasant weather conditions could risk ruining it. 

Sweater vs Sweatshirt: Hoods and Haberdashery 

We all enjoy pulling on an oversized hoodie and curling up on the couch with a fun movie, especially if the weather is dismal. 

These pullover hoodies usually fall into one category: sweatshirts. Of course, there are exceptions, like cozy hoodie sweaters.

The other accessories you find on your cozy garments can help you determine their classification as sweater vs hoodie or sweatshirt.

A soft, cozy sweater can have a hood, but it’s more likely to display the following elements:

  • Haberdashery (buttons, fringe, etc.)
  • A collar
  • A variety of neck-lines from crew neck sweater to v neck

While sweaters come in a variety of sleeve lengths and styles—from cardigan to Hi-Lo and beyond—they’re all made of knit textiles.

In contrast, sweatshirts and hoodies are often more limited in their designs. They’re the kind of fleecy outerwear that can come with a hood, as well as the following features:

  • Zippered or pull-over designs
  • Fuzzy insides
  • Long sleeves

These design elements mean that your favorite comfort sweater might actually be your favorite comfort sweatshirt—although that doesn’t make it any less comfortable to unwind in.

How to Style a Sweater

While you have some go-to outfits that spring to mind when putting on your favorite sweater, others may sit at the back of your closet because you don’t know what to do with them. But that’s where we can help offer inspiration and show you how to style an oversized sweater or how to tuck in a sweater to achieve that perfect go-to look.

If you have a sweater that you’re stumped on how to style, try rocking one of the below looks:

  • Match it with distressed jeans – For an effortless casual look, you can throw your sweater on over some distressed jeans like these and finish the look off with a pair of nice boots or sneakers.
  • Pair it alongside a midi skirt – If your day is stacked with professional meetings, you can create a chic, business-worthy ensemble by wearing your sweater with a mid-length skirt and a pair of pumps or stacked boots. Try one with a fun pattern or opt for a classic, solid color that lets your accessories shine.
  • Wear it with subtle jewelry – Everyone knows the idea of pairing a sweater with a statement necklace, but matching one with subtle jewelry can deliver the same impact in a more elevated way.
  • Go for a monochromatic outfit – Instead of digging through your closet to find jeans in a shade that will perfectly complement your sweater, grab a pair that are the same color and go for a stylish one-shade ensemble. Introducing another color with a coat or scarf will make your outfit pop.

With these tips, you can confidently and innovatively style any sweater in your closet and even come up with a few new ideas for your favorites.

How to Style a Sweatshirt

Sweatshirts are a stay-at-home staple, but there are more styling options than pairing yours with sweatpants. You can make your sweatshirt the star of the show with these outfit ideas:

  • Put a button-down shirt underneath – Dress up a sweatshirt by putting on a button-down and pulling the sweatshirt over so that the collar pokes through. For an extra accent, try a button-down with a fun pattern.
  • Match it with leggings – Leggings are an excellent bottom for sweatshirts because you can take the outfit in numerous directions. A pair of faux leather leggings can elevate your sweatshirt, while classic leggings provide a perfect sporty aesthetic for activities from pilates to chores.
  • Wear it with a miniskirt – For a cute, casual warm-weather outfit, you can throw your favorite sweatshirt over a miniskirt and complete the look with some stand-out sunglasses.
  • Try it with tall boots – While matching a sweatshirt with jeans might not feel super sophisticated, throwing on some tall boots will instantly step up this everyday look. And you can make it even classier by accessorizing with mother-of-pearl earrings. Pull your hair back to show them off.

With these looks, you can elevate your sweatshirt game for most casual occasions.

Stay Cozy and Stylish With Karen Kane

Sweaters and sweatshirts are a staple of every cold-weather wardrobe. And while there are many differences between them, there are fabulous ways to style both.

Of course, your layer’s versatility all depends on its style and quality. That’s where we come in.

Karen Kane offers a variety of high-quality sweaters and sweatshirts that can serve as the basis for any timeless look. And since our clothes are ethically and sustainably produced, they’ll benefit the environment while also looking fabulous in your wardrobe.

Shop our sweaters and sweatshirts today to stay chic in any weather.


Primer. Primer’s Complete Guide to Sweater Types: Fabric, Fit, and Care.

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