Unbutton this trend: The long cardigan

Stores are brimming with fall merchandise - biker-style jackets, sheath dresses, distressed jeans, boyfriend blazers, purses with studs and other hardware - but money is tight.

What's a fashionista with a recessionista's budget to do?

Buy a cardigan.

Whether it's a classic style that ends at your hip or a longer sweater that stops mid-thigh, the cardigan is capable of being the most versatile piece in any woman's wardrobe.

"Value is about the longevity of an item," said Gregg Andrews, a Nordstrom fashion director. "Can she wear it for weekend and wear it to work? Can it take her from spring to fall and fall to winter?"

With the cardigan, the answers are yes, yes, and yes.

Wear it buttoned up, wear it open, wear it in place of a jacket, wear it over your shoulders like a shawl.

Wear it with jeans and a T-shirt from Target or a little party dress and heels from Saks.

Shoppers this season have lots of cardigans in lots of different styles and price points from which to choose.

Buy the best you can afford. And know that light cashmere or merino wool knits can be worn year round.

The most current cardigans end about mid-thigh.

"That mid-thigh cardigan is great because it's that longer, almost tunic length so it helps disguise figure flaws," said Andrews.

If you think your hips are a problem, don't worry. A longer cardigan will cover them.

If you have a waist and want to show it off, no problem. Just belt your longer cardigan.

If you want something to balance your skinny jeans - or leggings - a loose-fitting or boyfriend-style longer cardigan is your answer.

Now, if you can only buy one cardigan, go for long sleeves in a neutral shade such as gray or black.

"It's going to be best in terms of versatility," said Kamal Bosamia, a style expert for Macy's. If you can buy more than one or want to be daring, think about something in one of the season's popular berry colors or maybe an interesting argyle.

Cardigans have always been a favorite sweater style, but what makes them so appealing now - besides the fact they seem to be a favorite of Michelle Obama, style icon - is the economy.

Cardigans, because of their versatility, make financial sense.

And they're familiar and warm. "Given what's going on in the world and we're surrounded by so much hardness, having a fashion item that is accessible and cozy . . . it's something that women are longing for," Andrews said.

- Georgea Kovanis, Detroit Free Press