Layering is a BIIIIIG concept. Group of concepts even. And there’s certainly no right or wrong way to do it. But I wanted to talk about some layering fundamentals because for absolute ages I feared layering. Truly. It was one of those dressing techniques that others appeared to execute effortlessly and I could never seem to nail.
Growing up, I envied the girls who could throw on long-sleeved thermal shirts and then layer their cute little graphic tees on top. Because when I tried this, I looked like an outhouse with legs. It wasn’t until much later that I realized I was doing two things wrong: Trying a layered look that fought with my natural figure AND utilizing pieces that weren’t meant to be layered.
A few years after I moved to Minnesota, I realized that I’d better figure out this layering thing or lose my limbs to frostbite. So I experimented a lot, and finally got the knack of keeping warm through being super layered without bulking up. You’ll have to pick and choose which of these will work with your natural figure, of course, but I’m hoping that at least a few from each category will resonate with you.
Snug shirts: Heroes of the non-lumpy layering arsenal
As I mentioned above, part of my problem in years past was attempting to layer garments that weren’t meant to be layered. Some women can create artfully draped layered looks from loose garments, but most of us will feel more successful if we stick to simpler and closer-fitting ensembles. Make sure your underlayers fit to your bod, especially if they aren’t going to be fully visible. I have several tank tops that would be positively risque worn alone, but work great layered beneath other shirts and just peeking out at the hip or neckline. Underlayers need to provide extra warmth, a bit of length, a dash of color, and STABILITY for outer layers. Make sure you have a few tanks, tees, and long-sleevers that are tight enough to stay put if you want to throw another similar garment on top.
Tights that fit: Essential to layered comfort
Tights can be a bear, people. Unless you have rock hard abs and the exact proportions required for waistband comfort, you will deal with Segmented Worm Syndrome. But if it’s a choice between doing the dance every so often or wearing pants all winter, I will happily get down and boogie. Some folks swear by the cheapie Target versions, and I envy them. I have found that spending big on Falke tights alongside a few pairs of Express opaques serves me well. Also a fan of Spanx high-waisted tights, as my main fitting issue is the rolling waistband and a higher band solves the problem for me. Of course, you may have a whole different set of tights-related issues! The point is this: If you wear tights, invest some time and energy in finding brands and styles that work for you. You’ll be a much happier layer-er.
Slips: Old-fashioned but necessary
I don’t wear slips in summer, a fact that still leaves my mom mildly scandalized. But I wear them in winter, oh yes indeedy I do. Because many of my skirts are unlined and I’m usually wearing tights with them and that means friction galore. Minus a slip, I end up looking like I’m smuggling a squirrel nest between my thighs. Plus a slip, I’m warmer, less frictionalized, and my skirt and tights can coexist peacefully. Slips are key to winter layering. (More on slips here. More on employing underthings here.)
Fitted outer layers: Subtle shapers
Now, don’t get me wrong: Layering isn’t all about tight, tight, tight clothes. But since adding more garments is going to add more bulk, and since many women prefer to keep their bulk to a visible minimum, this bears mentioning. Your underlayers should be tight. Actually tight. Your outer layers can be considerably less tight, but will generally work better if they show the curves and contours of your figure. Sweaters that fit to your torso, blazers with princess seams, cardigans with shaping will help you look more defined and less like you’re preparing to play a game of ice hockey. As the goalie.
Balanced outfit assembly: Because loose stuff feels great
So now that I’ve basically said that the only way to layer is to do so with lots of tight, fitted stuff, here’s the flip side: Loose, oversized, roomy clothes can be fantastic for layering. Tight layers look sleek and chic, but looser ones often look arty, funky, and graceful. That is if they’re part of a balanced outfit. As I’ve said ad nauseum, if you’re gonna do a loose, outsized top it will generally work better with a fitted bottom. If you’re gonna wear a voluminous, flowy bottom, it will generally work better with a fitted top.
Remember my long-sleeved/short-sleeved t-shirt layering conundrum from earlier in this post? Problem one was that my underlayer (long-sleeved t-shirt) was loose-fitting and didn’t work well under my also loose-fitting outer layer (short-sleeved t-shirt). Problem two was that I wore these two enormous layered shirts with big, wide-legged jeans. Slimmer-fitting pants or jeans would’ve worked better to balance out the shirts … although such pants were in short supply back in the early 90s.
ANYHOO. The lesson here is that – in most cases – wearing a loose garment paired with a fitted one will help create visual balance within an outfit and prevent the observing eye from filling in extra body bulk where there is none.
Scarves: The layering accessory supreme
You lose 317% of your body heat out of your neck, and also at least 15% of the body heat of the person standing nearest to you. Scarves are the ultimate layering accessory because they provide welcome warmth and also allow for additional color, texture, and pattern. For some scarf-tying inspiration, here’s a great list of resources. My favorite is the pretzel knot, though it works best for big/long scarves.
Again, layering is a massive topic, and I’ve just scratched the surface in this post. But I consider these to be some of the most basic techniques to use and pieces to try if you’re looking to bust into the layering game.
I’d love to get your input, of course! Got any layering basics to share? Tips and tricks? Garments or accessories that work well? What do you see as the key to successful layering?
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