14 Sweater Dress Outfits That Aren't as Basic as They Sound

Here's how to liven up this timeless wardrobe staple.

If autumn is the start of sweater weather, by wintertime, we're well into sweater dress season. Think about it: The combination of back-to-back holidays and chilly temperatures call for looks that are comfortable, classic, and warm, right? Well, no ensemble achieves those qualities quite like sweater dress outfits. In fact, this cozy wardrobe staple is one you can get away with wearing from now until spring, and with a few key styling tricks, it's possible to make sweater dresses feel fresh and fashion-forward.

Sweater dresses are essentially an outfit in and of themselves, which is exactly why we love them. A done-in-one article of clothing, they can be worn as-is or amped up with a few small additions, ensuring you'll look fabulous with minimal effort.

Sweater Dress Outfits to Wear This Winter
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That being said, any sort of effort you do put into accessorizing will determine the number of looks you can get out of just one dress — and you might just find that these babies are even more versatile than you thought. To prove it, we scoured Instagram to find a few examples of how influencers are styling this quintessential winter piece. Scroll and learn.

Invest in a Set

There's no denying Bella Hadid made a compelling argument for why shrugs should make a comeback this season. We're still on the fence about layering these seemingly nonsensical sleeves over tanks, crops, or even sports bras (Hadid's influence, not ours), but we'll admit, something like a matching shrug and sweater dress set does have the InStyle stamp of approval. Then again, we'll get behind almost any monochromatic moment.

Experiment with Outerwear

Trench coats, shackets, and utility jackets are all fall staples, but if you're looking for an easy way to spice up your sweater dresses, aim to get creative with the outerwear. Experiment with whatever's in your closet by adding a seasonal accessory, or try a trend you'd normally shy away from, like a knit poncho or sophisticated cape.

Go Traditional With Tights

Weather forecasts can be frustrating in autumn. One minute you're chilly and the next, you're sweating. Rather than layer on bulky pieces, these days call for balance, like wearing a long-sleeved sweater dress with a pair of breathable tights. This way, your legs stay cool while the rest of you stays comfortably cozy. Plus, tights come in an assortment of colors and fun patterns these days so while pantyhose might feel traditional, it doesn't have to look the part.

Add a Shacket

Shackets stole the spotlight back in the fall of 2020. One year later, and the shirt-jacket hybrid is still a hot commodity. While we wouldn't necessarily recommend reaching for this outerwear option if you're heading somewhere formal, it is the perfect cozy layering piece when keeping things casual.

Embrace Bold Patterns & Colors

Sweater dresses come in every color and pattern imaginable, so if you're not one for accessories, let your one-and-done ensemble make a statement all its own. And if you're feeling particularly daring, keep your eyes peeled for sweater dresses with sexy slits and eye-catching cutouts like this little number from NBD.

Style an Oversized Tunic as a Sweater Dress

Have any oversized sweaters or tunics that hit just above the knee or lower? Give lampshading a shot. The styling technique (originally coined by TheSkimm) saw a lot of traction between 2015 and 2017, with celebs like Ariana Grande, Kendall Jenner, Beyonce, J.Lo, and even Katie Holmes embracing the pantless look. Grande is still known to rock the trend on occasion, and it's a great way to upcycle an item already sitting in your closet. Simply pair the oversized top with knee-high boots and accessorize how you see fit.

Opt For Mock Neck Sweater Dress

Aside from adding warmth, there's something about a mock neck that looks so sophisticated and sleek. Embrace the elegance of a high-neck sweater dress by pairing it with a tailored blazer and cunning heels or ankle booties.

Add a Belt

Some sweater dresses are form-fitting, but most are loose and roomy (which is what makes them so comfortable). Clasp a belt around your waist to ensure you won't get lost under all that bulk, and be strategic about where you place the accessory. How you wear your belt and what kind of belt you choose can be the difference between a sweet or sexy vibe, so feel free to play around with placement and proportions to ensure you end up with something that suits your style.

Focus On Your Footwear

Pull on a sweater dress and you have an outfit as-is, but if you want to take said outfit to the next level, accessories are what's going to get you there. Case in point: a pair of statement footwear that command attention and pop against a solid knit. Sweater dresses and boots go together like peanut butter and jelly, and experimenting with color, strappy details, or animal prints will a bit more pizazz to the classic combination.

Try Something Sleeveless

Grandpa-style sweater vests have been peppered throughout celebrity wardrobes over the past year, and while "shests" (vests styled as shirts) saw a resurgence, the sweater vest dress is a good pick for winter. To nail the look, layer an oversized sweater vest over a long-sleeved button-down or turtleneck (and remember, the longer the vest, the better). Pair with heels or chunky combat boots, then add a belt to accentuate your curves.

Layer With a Leather Jacket

Leather is one of those multifaceted materials you can pretty much pair with anything, but it looks especially good layered over something fuzzy or knit. A leather moto jacket or vintage-style leather blazer over a longer sweater dress will create a kind of street-style look, and if your dress is a bit on the shorter side, you can add a pair of leather leggings to your ensemble for added warmth.

Color Coordinate Your Accessories

Instead of matching your accessories to your sweater dress, choose a separate color scheme to add a bit of contrast. Coordinating your footwear to your hair accessories, jewelry, and handbag will keep the finished look from looking too busy, but it won't be boring, either.

Show a Little Skin

Holes are the new polka-dots, so when it's not too brisk outside, don't be shy to show a bit of skin with a slit or cutout. We particularly love sweater dresses like the one photographed above, designed with the slightest hint of a cold shoulder. It's subtly sensual, and if the wind picks up you can throw on a cozy scarf for warmth.

Grab a Cardigan

Cozy on cozy? Yes, please. Sleeveless sweater dresses are elegant and sophisticated, but they're more fashionable than they are functional when you're facing brisk weather conditions. Still, if your heart's set on wearing a sleeveless sweater dress to an upcoming event, shrug on a cardigan to keep your arms warm. You'll thank us later.

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