I RECENTLY bought a very cute cashmere cardigan from Zara for £60 in a rather elegant mushroom grey. Having got it home, just this one item is the lynchpin to another dozen outfits in my wardrobe – so much so that I’m going to be rationing the number of times I wear it. This particular cardigan is short with three-quarter length sleeves and a v-neck, and the first thing I put it with is a dress that I used for my most formal, glamorous outings last year, and although sleeveless, it’s still perfect this year for work. The addition of the cardigan means it is now very wearable and comfortable for a smart-casual workday. This short style is also ideal to warm up the ubiquitous floral fifties dresses that are making their mark this winter.

There are hundreds of cardigans of all shapes, colours and prices around this season, perfect for that cosy alternative to a jacket, or even for extra warmth underneath. Choose a bright one to add a splash of colour that’s so welcome in an otherwise dull office on a wintery day, like the red Empire from LK Bennett, pictured (£75). It would look fabulous over your grey shift or tweed dress – and don’t forget your lipstick to match. Paul Smith has a quirky Horse & Hound short cardigan, a must-have to go with your country check wool skirt; and if you really feel the cold then Agnes B (Floral St) has a gorgeous luxury turquoise cashmere cardigan for £265 – the colour will remind you of the Caribbean and so will the heat radiating from it.

Men can enjoy cardigans too, great with jeans and a shirt or polo shirt, and while they don’t replace a smart jacket for the office in quite the same way as they do for the girls, it’s certainly a relaxed way of making your shirt and trousers smarter and more contemporary.

Long or short, thick or fine, a cardigan will help complete your outfit, daytime or evening, smart or casual. This is the year of the cardi - how fabulously useful this simple item of clothing is.

Sara Hollamby is a business image consultant with Working