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Sweater vs Sweatshirt: Which is the Best Choice for Your Outfit?

When you’re looking for a warm and comfortable piece of clothing during the colder months, you might gravitate towards a sweater or a sweatshirt. Both options are great for different situations, whether you’re going to the office in a cashmere sweater or going for a brisk hike in a cozy sweatshirt. 

While they may seem similar at first glance, there are several key differences between these two items that can affect which one is the best choice to wear for different occasions. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between sweaters and sweatshirts and provide guidance on what to wear when.

Sweater vs Sweatshirt Which is the Best Choice for Your Outfit

Sweater vs Sweatshirt: Similarities and Key Differences

When you choose between a sweater and a sweatshirt, there are some similarities and key differences to keep in mind. In this section, we’ll explore the similarities and differences between these two popular garments and help you decide which one is right for you.

sweater and sweatshirt


  • Both are designed to keep you warm and comfortable
  • Both garments are made from stretchy knit fabrics, making them comfortable and cozy to wear
  • They both come in a variety of colors and designs to fit any style
  • They can be made from a variety of materials, including cotton and synthetic fibers
  • Both sweaters and sweatshirts come in different thicknesses or weights. The thickness of a sweater depends on the yarn used, while sweatshirt thickness depends on the fabric weight, with heavier options providing more warmth.
  • Sweaters and sweatshirts are perfect for layering during colder weather
  • They are versatile and can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion
  • Both garments have been popular for decades and are still a staple in many wardrobes today

Difference Between Sweater And Sweatshirt

Despite their similar names and appearance, these two garments have some surprising differences. 

Construction Process

The main difference between sweaters and sweatshirts is the way they are constructed. Sweaters are typically knitted or crocheted from yarn (by machine or by hand), while sweatshirts are sewn from knit fabric, usually French terry or fleece. 

knitting machine making a sweater
Clothing factory in China

Type of Material Used

Sweaters are made from knitted or crocheted materials, while sweatshirts feature French terry and fleece which are soft and durable knit fabrics that provide extra warmth.

Sweaters can be made from a wide range of materials, such as wool, cashmere, cotton, linen, silk, or synthetic fibers like acrylic. On the other hand, sweatshirts are usually made from cotton or polyester.

Sweaters often have intricate designs, textures and patterns, while sweatshirts are more simplistic.

Sweaters made from luxurious materials like cashmere, silk, or pure wool can have a more refined and elegant look. Some sweaters are embellished with sequins, beads, embroidery, or lace. 

cashmere fabric for a sweater
fleece fabric for a sweatshirt


When it comes to fit, sweaters and sweatshirts can have very different styles. 

Sweaters are often designed to be more fitted, hugging the body closely to create a streamlined silhouette. This is especially true for dressier sweaters, which are often made from finer materials like cashmere or silk. A well-fitted sweater can be very flattering, highlighting the curves of the body and creating a polished look.

I am wearing a fitted sweater

On the other hand, sweatshirts are generally designed to be more loose and relaxed. This is because sweatshirts are typically worn as casual, comfortable clothing, often for athletic or leisure activities. A looser fit allows for greater freedom of movement and a more comfortable feel. 

Sweatshirts are made from heavier, thicker material, and this can add bulk to the garment. A looser fit helps to balance out this added volume and keep the overall look casual and relaxed.

I am wearing a sweatshirt

Of course, there are exceptions to these generalizations. Some sweaters are designed to be more loose and slouchy, while some sweatshirts are made with a more fitted cut. 

Intended Use

Another key difference is that sweaters often look dressier than sweatshirts.

Sweaters can range from formal to casual, while sweatshirts are mostly casual wear. 

Sweatshirts are ideal for athletic activities or lounging around the house.

Sweaters are best for formal events, work settings, or casual outings, while sweatshirts are ideal for athletic activities, relaxing at home, or running errands.


One of the key differences between sweaters and sweatshirts is that the latter became a way for both designers and wearers to express themselves.

Whether you’re wearing a sweatshirt with a funny quote or a bold graphic, it can say a lot about your personality and style. And with the power of customization, you can create a sweatshirt that’s uniquely you.

While sweaters can also be customized and personalized, they tend to have a more classic and timeless style that doesn’t lend itself as well to bold graphics or catchy phrases. Instead, sweaters often feature more subtle design elements like textured knits or unique stitching patterns.


Sweaters come in various shapes and styles and can feature more textures, while sweatshirts have limited design variations. 

Sweaters often have a more textured appearance, while sweatshirts are smoother and more uniform in texture. 

Sweatshirts can have a hood or a zipper closure. They often have a front pocket. 

I ma wearing a sweatshirt with a hood and a front pocket

Sweatshirts almost always have a crew neck design, while sweaters can have diverse neck styles like turtlenecks, V-neck or even off-the-shoulder necklines. 

Sweatshirts can be plain or have graphics, logos, or other designs on them.

Speaking about the design, I like to beautify my sweaters and sweatshirts with machine embroidery. 

This is an example of flower embroidery on a sweater (cardigan) – Machine embroidery tutorial: how to embroider flowers on knits.

3d flowers machine embroidery on knits

And this tutorial is showing in details how to embroider a hoodie (which is a type of a sweatshirt) – How to Embroider a Hoodie: a Complete Guide

I am wearing a hoodie that I embroidered

History in fashion

Sweaters have been around for a much longer time than sweatshirts. The first sweaters were likely knitted by hand, and they were primarily worn by fishermen and other outdoor workers to keep warm in cold weather. Over time, sweaters became more fashionable and were worn by people of all ages and backgrounds.

Sweatshirts, on the other hand, are a relatively new garment. The first sweatshirts were developed in the 1920s and 1930s as athletic wear. They were designed to absorb sweat and keep athletes warm during workouts and training sessions. It wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that sweatshirts became popular casual wear, worn by people of all ages for a variety of occasions.

In recent years, however, sweatshirts have become increasingly popular as fashion items, with designers creating high-end versions of the classic athletic wear.


When it comes to sleeves, sweatshirts tend to have a similar style, while sweaters offer a wider range of options.

Sweatshirts typically feature a loose cut sleeve that tapers into a fitted ribbed cuff at the wrist. This style allows for plenty of room for movement and feels roomy and comfortable. Sweatshirts sleeves are designed to be functional and practical, making them a popular choice for athletic and leisure activities.

On the other hand, sweaters can have a wide variety of sleeve styles. 

Some sweaters have a classic set-in sleeve, which is attached to the garment’s armhole.

Others have bell sleeves, which flare out from the shoulder and create a feminine look. Still, others have batwing sleeves, which are cut wide and taper down to a fitted cuff at the wrist. There are also oversized sweaters with baggy raglan-style sleeves.

The wide variety of sleeve styles available in sweaters allows for greater versatility in terms of style and occasion. A sweater with bell sleeves can be dressed up for a special occasion, while a sweater with batwing sleeves can be worn for a more casual, comfortable look. The fitted cuffs on sweatshirt sleeves, on the other hand, make them a practical choice for athletic and leisure activities.


Sweaters can range from affordable to expensive, with high-end options made from materials like cashmere and silk. Sweatshirts are generally less expensive than sweaters, especially when made from polyester.

Care and Maintenance

Sweaters and sweatshirts have different washing and drying requirements. 

The first step in caring for your sweaters and sweatshirts is to understand the materials they are made of. Each material requires different care and cleaning techniques.

For wool sweaters, it’s best to hand wash them in cool water with a mild detergent. Avoid wringing or twisting the sweater, as this can cause it to lose its shape. Instead, gently squeeze out excess water (or roll it in a bath towel) and lay it flat to dry. Cotton and synthetic fiber sweaters can usually be machine washed on a gentle cycle, but be sure to read the care label first. Expensive cashmere sweaters need to be dry cleaned. 

Sweatshirts made from cotton or polyester can usually be machine washed on a regular cycle, but be sure to wash them with similar colors to avoid bleeding or fading. 

Proper storage is just as important as proper cleaning when it comes to caring for your sweaters and sweatshirts. 

Sweaters and sweatshirts can be stored differently. 

When storing your sweaters, fold them neatly and avoid hanging them, as this can cause them to stretch out of shape. Consider storing them in a drawer or on a shelf with some cedar chips or lavender sachets to help keep moths and other pests away. By the way, you can make lavender sachets yourself, it’s a very simple project. I have a step-by-step tutorial DIY sachets: how to make lavender sachets for closets and drawers.

For sweatshirts, you can hang them on a hanger to avoid wrinkles. However, be sure to use a padded hanger to prevent stretching or distortion of the fabric. If you need to fold your sweatshirt for storage, fold it neatly to avoid creases.

While there are some clear differences between sweaters and sweatshirts, there are also some garments that can be classified as both.

In some cases, the line between sweaters and sweatshirts can be blurred, and it may be up to personal interpretation as to which category a particular garment falls into. 

Regardless of whether a garment is classified as a sweater or a sweatshirt, both offer a comfortable, cozy option for cooler weather. Whether you prefer the dressier, more refined look of a sweater or the casual, relaxed feel of a sweatshirt, there are plenty of options available to suit your personal style.

What is a Sweater?

folded pink sweater

A sweater is an upper-body garment knitted or crocheted from yarn (by knitting machine or by hand) or sewn from so-called “sweater knits”, keeping you warm and cozy (if you want to read more about sweater knits, here is the link). These garments can be constructed from various materials, ranging from thick wool and delicate cashmere to thin cotton or silk, and often include synthetic fibers like polyester or acrylic for cost-effectiveness and added warmth.

Machine-made knitted fabrics are now more common than hand-knitted patterns, formed by interconnected yarn loops. Depending on the cut and accompanying attire, sweaters can either have a relaxed or tailored appearance. 

There are numerous sweater styles, with the pullover being a classic choice. This type of sweater has a neck opening and is worn by slipping it over your head and shoulders, akin to a t-shirt. In the United States, it’s often referred to as a sweater or a pullover, while in the United Kingdom it’s called a jumper.

Cardigans are also popular, distinguished by their front-opening design and buttons. Fun fact: cardigans earned their name from the 7th Earl of Cardigan James Brudenell, who supposedly invented the cardigan after noticing that the tails of his coat had accidentally been burnt off in a fireplace. 

Other variations include the crewneck sweater, a knitted and warmer version of a standard t-shirt, and the turtleneck sweater, characterized by a high, foldable collar. In recent years, sweater dresses and vintage-style sweater vests have also gained traction in the fashion world.

To summarize, sweaters are versatile, knitted upper-body garments that offer warmth and style, available in a range of materials and designs. From classic pullovers and cardigans to trendy crewnecks and v-necks, you’ll find a wide array of options for your wardrobe.

What is a Sweatshirt?

woman wearing a sweatshirt

A sweatshirt is a cozy, outer layer garment usually sewn from French terry knits or fleece. These unique materials consist of a knitted cotton or polyester exterior and a soft interior, providing both warmth and a slight stretch.

Sweatshirts come in various weights and thicknesses to accommodate different levels of insulation. Some heavier options can even replace a coat in chilly weather.

The classic sweatshirt design features long, loose sleeves with ribbed cuffs, a crewneck collar similar to a t-shirt, and a ribbed hem that cinches the garment at the waist or hips.

There are several style variations of the standard sweatshirt, such as the ever-popular hoodie, which includes a hood and zipper closure. 

Sweatshirts often showcase graphic prints, like comic book characters, humorous phrases, sports teams’ logos, or school colors.

Regardless of the particular style or print, sweatshirts exude a casual, informal vibe, making them a versatile staple in your wardrobe.

Choosing Between a Sweater and a Sweatshirt

When I was working at the university, I received an invitation to attend a high-level Halloween party. All the bosses and professors were going to be there, so I knew I had to dress appropriately. The invitation said not to wear a costume, but to wear something with a Halloween theme. I was stumped – should I wear an appropriate sweater or a Halloween embroidered sweatshirt?

I didn’t want to look too casual or too dressed up, so I decided to go with the sweatshirt. It was a black sweatshirt with cute Halloween embroidery that I had bought on Etsy. I didn’t even have my embroidery machine back then, so I was really glad I found something that fit the theme. By the way, if you’re in the market for a new Halloween embroidered sweatshirt, be sure to check out the many options available on Etsy.

I paired the sweatshirt with some black cat earrings and headed to the party. When I arrived, I was relieved to see that I had made the right choice. Some people were wearing costumes, but most were dressed in business casual attire with a touch of Halloween.

The sweatshirt was comfortable. I felt stylish and appropriate for the occasion. It was a great reminder that sometimes, a casual piece like a sweatshirt can be dressed up to fit a more formal occasion.

This experience also reminded me of the ongoing debate between sweaters and sweatshirts. While they may seem similar, there are some key differences between the two that can affect which one is the best choice to wear for different occasions. 

As the weather starts to get chilly, it’s always a good idea to have some comfortable and warm clothing options. Two popular choices for fall and winter are sweatshirts and sweaters.

When deciding between a sweatshirt and a sweater, it boils down to the occasion and your personal preferences. Both garments keep you warm. However, each has distinct advantages.

Overall, having a mix of sweatshirts and sweaters in your fall and winter wardrobe is a great way to stay comfortable and stylish throughout the colder months. Whether you prefer the relaxed fit of a sweatshirt or the form-fitting style of a sweater, there are plenty of options available to suit your needs and preferences.

Why would I use a sweatshirt over a sweater?

There are several reasons why you might choose to wear a sweatshirt over a sweater. Here are a few:

Comfort: Sweatshirts are made from soft, cozy materials like French terry cotton or fleece, which can be more comfortable to wear than some types of sweaters. They are also typically looser and more relaxed in fit, which can make them ideal for lounging around the house or running errands.

Casual style: Sweatshirts are often associated with casual, laid-back style, making them a great choice for wearing with jeans, leggings, or other casual clothing. They are also often adorned with graphics or logos, which can add a fun, playful element to your outfit.

Athletic wear: As mentioned earlier, sweatshirts were originally designed as athletic wear and are still commonly worn for this purpose. They are great for keeping warm during outdoor activities like jogging, hiking, or playing sports.

Versatility: Sweatshirts can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. For example, a plain, neutral-colored sweatshirt can be paired with a skirt or dress pants for a more polished look, while a brightly-colored or patterned sweatshirt can be worn with jeans or shorts for a more casual look.

Why would I use a sweater over a sweatshirt?

There are several reasons why you might choose to wear a sweater over a sweatshirt. Here are a few:

Style: Sweaters are often considered to be more stylish and sophisticated than sweatshirts. They come in a variety of styles, from classic crewnecks to trendy turtlenecks, and can be made from a variety of materials, including wool, cashmere, silk, linen, and cotton. If you’re looking for a more polished, put-together look, a sweater may be the way to go.

Warmth: Sweaters are often warmer than sweatshirts, making them a great choice for colder weather. They are also often made from natural fibers like wool or cashmere, which are excellent insulators and can keep you warm even in very cold temperatures.

Dressier occasions: Sweaters are often considered to be more dressy than sweatshirts, making them a great choice for occasions where you want to look a bit more polished. For example, you might wear a sweater to a dinner party or a holiday gathering.

Durability: Sweaters are often made from high-quality materials that are designed to last for many years. They are less likely to pill or wear out quickly than sweatshirts, which are often made from less durable materials.

Here are some examples to help you decide:


  • In a professional setting: A sweater can be a great choice for a professional setting, as it can look polished and put-together while still being comfortable. Choose a sweater made from a high-quality material like cashmere or wool and pair it with tailored pants or a midi skirt.
  • On a date: A sweater can be a romantic and cozy option for a date night. Choose a sweater with a flattering fit and a unique design and pair it with jeans or a skirt for a chic and stylish look.
  • For a special occasion: A dressy sweater can be a great choice for a special occasion, like a holiday party or a wedding. Look for a sweater with unique embellishments like sequins or beading, and pair it with a skirt or dress pants for a sophisticated look.


  • For athletic activities: Sweatshirts are a popular choice for athletic activities, as they are comfortable, breathable, and allow for a full range of motion. Pair it with athletic pants for a functional and comfortable outfit.
  • For a casual day out: Sweatshirts are a great choice for a casual day out, as they are comfortable and easy to wear. Choose a sweatshirt with a fun design or graphic and pair it with jeans or leggings for a relaxed and casual look.
  • For lounging at home: Sweatshirts are the perfect option for lounging at home. Pair it with sweatpants or leggings for a relaxed outfit.

How Do You Buy a High-Quality Sweatshirt or Sweater?

When looking to buy a high-quality sweatshirt or sweater, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

Firstly, it’s important to consider the material. A sweatshirt made from French terry cotton knit without polyester is generally considered to be of higher quality than one made from fleece. This is because cotton is a natural fiber that is breathable, soft, and durable, while fleece is a synthetic material which is 100% polyester. It can be prone to pilling and may not hold up as well over time.

For example, I love my Fila sweatshirt, which is made from 95% cotton and a small amount of spandex. The addition of spandex adds some stretch and flexibility to the fabric, making it even more comfortable to wear.

my sweatshirt made from cotton

However, I’ve noticed that it’s not easy to find sweatshirts made from 95% or 100% cotton fabric on Amazon. This is because many manufacturers choose to use cotton blends or synthetic materials like polyester, which can be more cost-effective to produce. While cotton blends can still be comfortable and durable, they may not have the same softness and breathability as 100% cotton fabric.

So if you are looking for a sweatshirt made from 100% cotton fabric, you may need to do some searching to find the right one. Some brands and manufacturers may offer sweatshirts made from 100% cotton, but they are more expensive or harder to find than sweatshirts made from cotton blends or synthetic materials.

I found this one on Amazon.

Similarly, when it comes to sweaters, those made from 100% wool or cashmere are typically of higher quality than those made from acrylic. Wool and cashmere are natural fibers that are warm, soft, and durable, while acrylic is a synthetic material that may not be as good for your skin.

If you’re in the market for a high-quality cashmere sweater, you can find plenty of options on Amazon. With a wide variety of styles, colors, and sizes available, Amazon is a great place to shop for cashmere sweaters that are both stylish and affordable.

In addition to considering the material, it’s also important to look for well-made sweatshirts and sweaters. This means checking for things like even stitching, well-finished seams, and high-quality zippers or buttons.

How to style a Sweater vs Sweatshirt?

Both garments have their own unique styles and can be styled in a variety of ways to fit different occasions and personal preferences.

Sweaters are typically more form-fitting and often styled for a more formal or dressy occasion, and can be paired with skirts, dress pants, or jeans.

On the other hand, sweatshirts are more relaxed and often styled for a more casual occasion, and can be paired with leggings, jeans, or shorts.

Styling a Sweater

# 1. Pair with dress pants: One of the easiest ways to style a sweater is to pair it with dress pants. This is a classic combination that can be dressed up or down depending on the style of the sweater. 

I am wearing a sweater with dress pants

#2. Layer with a collared shirt: Another way to style a sweater is to layer it over a collared shirt. This adds a preppy touch to the outfit and can be worn with jeans or dress pants.

man wearing a sweater with collared shirt

#3. Pair it with a skirt: Pairing a sweater with a skirt can create a chic and stylish look, especially when accessorized with tights and boots.

I am wearing a sweater with a skirt

#4. Add a scarf: To add some extra warmth and style to a sweater, add a scarf. This can be a chunky knit scarf or a lightweight silk scarf depending on the weather.

woman wearing a sweater and a scarf

Styling a Sweatshirt

#1. Pair with Leggings: Sweatshirts are often worn with leggings for a comfortable and casual look. This is a great option for running errands or lounging around the house.

i am wearing a sweatshirt with leggings

#2. Pair with jeans: Pairing a sweatshirt with jeans is a classic and comfortable look that can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion, and can be worn with sneakers or ankle boots for a casual style.

woman wearing sweatshirt and jeans

Did you find this guide on the differences between sweaters and sweatshirts helpful? If so, I’ve got a quick tip for you. You can save this pin (see below) on your fashion board so you can easily come back to this article later when you need this information again. And if you’re looking for more tips, tutorials, and inspiration, be sure to follow me on Pinterest!

Sweater vs Sweatshirt Which is the Best Choice for Your Outfit

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Saturday 23rd of September 2023

Although I have a few sweaters, I absolutely LOVE my sweatshirts! I buy solid colors and use my imagination to create one if a kind sweatshirts that compliment my dresses and skirts. If I want a dressy look, I add lace around the neck, around the sleeves and sometimes at the shoulders. I also embroider many designs on them: some very simple and some are intricate.

Olga Balasa

Sunday 15th of October 2023

Perhaps you can share some of your projects? Contact me via email please if you can. Thank you!

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