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Sweater and Sweatshirt: What's the Difference?

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As the chilly season approaches, we often find ourselves reaching for a warm and cozy garment to ward off the cold. When it comes to choosing between a sweater and a sweatshirt, many people may use the terms interchangeably, but in reality, they refer to distinct clothing items with unique features.

The main difference between a sweater and a sweatshirt is that a sweater is typically made from woven materials like wool, cotton, or synthetic fibers, designed to be more form-fitting, and used in a variety of settings, whereas a sweatshirt is usually made from thicker, knitted fabric, designed for a more relaxed fit and primarily used for casual wear or athletic activities.

In this article, we'll delve into the world of sweaters and sweatshirts, exploring their histories, materials, styles, and occasions where they are best suited.

Comparison Table: Sweater Vs Sweatshirt

HistoryOriginated in 15th century British Isles for fishermenIntroduced in early 20th century for athletes, laborers
MaterialWool, cotton, synthetic fibersCotton, synthetic fibers (fleece, blends)
ConstructionWoven, form-fitting, intricate patterns and stitchingKnitted, relaxed fit, ribbed cuffs and hems
StyleCrewneck, V-neck, cardigan, turtleneckPullover, hooded, zip-up
FormalityCasual to formal eventsCasual, athletic, loungewear
OccasionsEveryday wear, business casual, some formal gatheringsAthletic activities, casual outings, loungewear
Style PreferenceDressier, wider variety of stylesMore casual, limited styles
ComfortWarm, breathable materialsCozy, relaxed fit

What is a Sweater?

turtleneck sweater
A man wearing a turtleneck sweater

Sweaters have been a wardrobe staple for centuries, with their origins dating back to the 15th century. Fishermen in the British Isles initially wore them as a means of protection against the cold and wet climate. Over time, sweaters evolved into a fashionable garment worn by people from all walks of life, incorporating various styles and designs.

Sweaters can be made from a range of materials, each offering unique benefits in terms of warmth, comfort, and appearance:

  • Wool: Derived from the fleece of sheep, wool is a natural, breathable, and warm material that has excellent insulation properties. It can regulate temperature and wick away moisture, making it perfect for cold weather.
  • Cotton: Cotton is a soft, natural fiber that is lightweight, breathable, and comfortable. It's an excellent choice for those with sensitive skin or for wearing during transitional weather.
  • Synthetic fibers: Materials like acrylic, polyester, and nylon are often used in sweater production due to their affordability and versatility. These fibers can imitate the properties of natural materials like wool and cotton, while often being more resistant to wear and tear.

There are several types of sweaters to cater to different tastes, styles, and occasions:

  • Crewneck: The crewneck sweater features a round neckline and is a classic, versatile choice that can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion.
  • V-neck: The V-neck sweater has a neckline that forms a "V" shape, which can be more flattering for some body types and pairs well with collared shirts or statement necklaces.
  • Cardigan: The cardigan is an open-front sweater that typically has buttons or a zipper. It can be worn as a layering piece and is a popular choice for both casual and business casual settings.
  • Turtleneck: The turtleneck sweater features a high, close-fitting collar that covers the neck, providing added warmth and a sophisticated look. It can be worn on its own or as a layering piece under jackets and coats.

What is a Sweatshirt?

hoodie sweatshirt
A woman wearing a hooded sweatshirt

Sweatshirts have their roots in the early 20th century when they were introduced as a practical garment for athletes and laborers. Designed to keep the wearer warm and comfortable, sweatshirts quickly gained popularity and became a staple in casual and athletic wear. Today, they are not only functional but also a fashionable choice for people of all ages.

Sweatshirts are generally made from thicker, knitted fabrics that provide warmth and comfort:

  • Cotton: Cotton is a popular choice for sweatshirts due to its softness, breathability, and durability. It often appears in the form of fleece, which has a brushed, fluffy inner surface that enhances insulation.
  • Synthetic fibers: Polyester, rayon, and other synthetic fibers are often blended with cotton to improve the sweatshirt's performance. These materials can provide better moisture-wicking capabilities, durability, and resistance to wrinkles and shrinkage.

There are various types of sweatshirts to suit different preferences and needs:

  • Pullover: The pullover sweatshirt is a classic design featuring a round or crew neckline and a loose, relaxed fit. It is easy to wear and versatile, making it a popular choice for casual wear.
  • Hooded: Commonly known as a "hoodie," the hooded sweatshirt includes an attached hood, often with drawstrings for adjusting the fit. It provides extra warmth and has become a fashionable choice for streetwear and athleisure styles.
  • Zip-up: The zip-up sweatshirt features a front zipper that allows for easy layering and temperature regulation. It can be worn as a jacket or an additional layer over other clothing items, depending on the weather conditions and personal preferences.

Key Differences Between Sweaters and Sweatshirts

Material composition

Sweaters are made from woven materials such as wool, cotton, and synthetic fibers, while sweatshirts are primarily crafted from thicker, knitted fabrics like cotton fleece or blends containing synthetic fibers. This difference in material composition contributes to the distinct qualities of each garment, such as warmth, breathability, and overall appearance.

Construction and fit

Sweaters tend to have a more form-fitting design that follows the contours of the body, while sweatshirts generally feature a relaxed, looser fit that provides additional comfort and freedom of movement. The construction of sweaters often involves intricate patterns and stitching, whereas sweatshirts usually have simpler designs with ribbed cuffs and hems.


cardigan sweater
A cardigan sweater

Sweaters come in various styles, from crewnecks and V-necks to cardigans and turtlenecks, offering a wider range of fashionable options for different occasions.

zip up sweatshirt
A zip-up sweatshirt

Sweatshirts, on the other hand, are more limited in style variations, with pullovers, hoodies, and zip-ups being the most common types. However, sweatshirts have become increasingly popular in streetwear and athleisure fashion trends.


In general, sweaters are considered more versatile in terms of formality, as they can be dressed up or down to suit various occasions, from casual outings to business casual and even some formal events. Sweatshirts are predominantly viewed as casual garments, best suited for athletic activities, loungewear, or relaxed everyday wear.

Choosing Between a Sweater and a Sweatshirt

When deciding whether to wear a sweater or a sweatshirt, there are several factors to consider to ensure you make the best choice for your needs:


Think about the setting in which you'll be wearing the garment. If you're attending a business meeting, a family gathering, or a more formal event, a sweater is likely the more appropriate option. However, if you're engaging in athletic activities, lounging at home, or dressing casually for a day out with friends, a sweatshirt might be the better choice.

Style preference

Consider your personal style and the type of outfit you want to create. Sweaters offer a wider variety of styles and can be paired with dressier clothing items, such as collared shirts, slacks, or skirts. Sweatshirts, on the other hand, are more casual and pair well with jeans, leggings, or athletic wear. Both sweaters and sweatshirts can be layered to create different looks, so think about which garment best complements your desired aesthetic.


Your comfort should always be a priority when selecting clothing. Sweaters made from materials like wool or cotton can provide warmth and breathability, while synthetic fibers may offer additional durability and resistance to wear. Sweatshirts, with their relaxed fit and cozy fabrics, are ideal for a more laid-back, comfortable feel. Assess the weather conditions and your personal preferences when choosing between a sweater and a sweatshirt to ensure you stay comfortable throughout the day.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I properly care for my sweater or sweatshirt to ensure longevity?

To maintain the quality and appearance of your sweater or sweatshirt, always follow the care instructions on the label. Generally, gentle washing, air-drying or tumble drying on low heat, and folding (instead of hanging) can help prevent stretching, shrinkage, and fading.

Is a sweatshirt a sweater?

A sweatshirt is a specific type of sweater characterized by its thicker, knitted fabric and casual, relaxed fit. While they share some similarities, they differ in materials, construction, style, and formality.

What type of sweater is best for individuals with wool allergies or sensitive skin?

For those with wool allergies or sensitive skin, opting for sweaters made from cotton, silk, or synthetic fibers like acrylic or polyester can provide a comfortable alternative without compromising on style or warmth.


In conclusion, understanding the differences between sweaters and sweatshirts is essential for making informed wardrobe choices. While sweaters are versatile garments with various styles and materials suitable for a range of occasions, sweatshirts are primarily casual, providing comfort and warmth in more relaxed settings. By considering the occasion, your personal style, and comfort preferences, you can confidently choose between a sweater and a sweatshirt to create the perfect outfit for any situation.

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About the Author: Nicolas Seignette

Nicolas Seignette, who holds a scientific baccalaureate, began his studies in mathematics and computer science applied to human and social sciences (MIASHS). He then continued his university studies with a DEUST WMI (Webmaster and Internet professions) at the University of Limoges before finishing his course with a professional license specialized in the IT professions. On 10Differences, he is in charge of the research and the writing of the articles concerning technology, sciences and mathematics.
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