Layer for Fashion

How to layer clothing...ways to combine your favorite pieces and wear something comfortable and flexible, while showcasing your sense of style
Written by Kasmira K

I remember the first bit of advice I read on layering. It was in Seventeen magazine. The article broke down a layered look, one piece at a time. First the gorgeous model donned an adorable tank, then a trendy tee, next a lovely long-sleeved layer, and finally a hip jacket. It was all topped with an of-the-moment hat. I found the article terribly frustrating because my own wardrobe was so sparse (and I was so incredibly awkward). If I had four cute tops, there was no way I'd wear them all at once! I had to stretch out the few things I did have so that I didn't repeat more than once every two weeks.

Fifteen years or so later, I have plenty of clothing to layer, but why do it? Just because Seventeen (and Lucky and In Style, etc) says so?

If you ask an outdoorsy, sporty person, they'll advise you to layer in order to better regulate your temperature. This is a fashion blog, so you won't hear me going on about the merits of Capilene, Gore-Tex, and polyester fleece. I layer for other purposes. My favorite reason for layering is to add color and texture to an outfit. Layering can also change your silhouette. It can make an awkward piece work. And it can keep you warm.

I've pulled together a few of my guiding principles when it comes to layering.

Highlight the Best (and Hide the Rest). It seems everyone has some clothing item in their closet that would be perfect except that it's too short, it doesn't fasten properly, it has an ink-stain, etc. Layering is a perfect way to highlight the parts of that garment that you like, and hide those you don't. For example, I have a red silk wrap top with flutter sleeves and a ruffled neckline. However, it's much too short and the wrapping looks awkward. By layering it under another top, I get to show off the ruffles and color I like so much and cover the rest. You can also use layers to cover skin that you wouldn't like exposed. Wearing a cami under a low-cut top or tights under a short skirt can make you feel more comfortable and adds dimension to your outfit.

Short over Long, Small over Large. Traditionally, one thinks of layering so that the outer piece is the largest (e.g. longest arms, longest length, etc.) But if you want to show off that bottom layer, think of putting short over long and small over large. A short sleeved jacket over a 3/4 sleeve top may not be your first instinct, but it looks fresh. A shirt that's too short for modern low-slung pants can be the perfect accent over a super long tank. I've seen folks on Wardrobe Remix layer shorter skirts over long, but I haven't been able to successfully pull that one off myself!

Do the Vest Thing. The prevalence of the vest (sleeveless shell) look may not be as much a classic as a trend, but I'm onboard! I love the look of just about any sleeveless top (except lingerie-strap camisoles) over another sleeved shirt. You can layer on knit shells (like the kind that come with a twin set), tanks, or even strapless tops to create a different look. The results can be anything from preppy to punky. Doing "the vest thing" is an easy way to introduce another color or texture into an outfit. In this photo, I'm also "hiding the rest" as the coral shirt doesn't have a pretty shirttail or tuck in nicely.

Great Lays. Some pieces are better for layering than others. My favorite layering items are sheer blouses, sleeveless dresses, camisoles, cardigans, jackets, and vests. I love sheer blouses. You can layer two sheers together or with a solid (over or under). I have three lace blouses and they make regular appearances in my outfits. Sleeveless dresses, layered over just about anything, are hot right now. They can be worn a la carte for summer and with a turtleneck, thick tights, and boots for winter. Like vests, though, I predict that this is a trendy look and not likely to be in style for more than a few years. If you like the look, though, enjoy it while it's here. The layering possibilities of camisoles, cardigans and jackets are pretty obvious. These are basics that you will find yourself reaching for again and again for both practicality (coverage) and aesthetics. I don't mention skirts here because, again, I haven't had good experiences with wearing more than one skirt at once. I will note that a cute, current layering trend is to wear an apron over your clothing. It adds color, a skirted silhouette, and (often) pockets to your ensemble. It's a bit kitschy, but, if you can pull it off, go for it!

Graygoosie models an apron outfit

Dress over Jeans? This is a hotly contested look. I like to layer a dress over jeans. Other people think it is just AWFUL. If you do wear a dress over jeans, keep in mind a few guidelines. Dark, slim jeans and a shirt/coat style dress are easiest (as pictured here). I strongly advise against wearing a any dress longer than knee length. The effect should be similar to a tunic over leggings, only a bit more structured. It's a trendy look and will probably look terribly dated in a few years.

Watch your Waistline. When piling on the layers you can easily end up looking like the Michelin Man (a la Daddy Likey). To avoid over-bulking, keep an eye on your waistline. Where on your waistline do your layers hit? Do they compete or do they complement one another? Be sure that you keep some definition. If you wear a boxy top and a baggy bottom, add a belt or leave some space between the two items so that you don't lose your shape. Sometimes buttoning or unbuttoning your top can help define your waist. I used both the buttoning technique and a thin belt to define my waist while wearing the pictured multi-layered outfit.

Accessories are Layers. I admit that I'm a bit of a layering addict. I went through some severe withdrawals during our especially hot and humid summer - until I began to treat accessories as layers. You can pile on necklaces, belts, and scarves to add interest, but minimal heat, to an outfit. I initially thought a necklace and scarf together were a bit too much to drape around one neck, but I've since changed my mind. As the weather cools, tights are a fun layering option. As they are currently so very popular, you can find neat textures and patterns in the stores. I've even layered tights (open weave over solids) when it got really cold (also pictured in the Watch Your Waistline photo).

Plan Ahead. Good layering doesn't "just happen." I do not achieve my layered masterpieces by putting on something simple and then adding bits until I'm fabulous. Sometimes I have a good idea of what my outfit will look like before I begin putting it together, but, more often than not, it is an organic process in which I discard more than I keep. If you don't mind wearing the same outfit again and again, consider "planning ahead" an investment in your future look book. Create a few layered ensembles, take a Polaroid, and tape it inside your closet to repeat. If, like me, you'd rather try something different every day, planning ahead has to happen on a daily or weekly basis. It sounds vain, it sounds time consuming, and it might even sound boring, but I am a convert to weekly planning. Anytime between Friday and Sunday night I plan five work-day outfits for the coming week, to include accessories. I hang complete outfits up on a single hanger (if possible) and set out the shoes and jewelry. Come Monday, all I have to do is decide which one I want to wear. (I also use a printed 10-day weather forecast as a planning tool. Yes, I'm anal.)

As always, have fun! If you're new to layering, try it with casual outfits before you wear a layered confection out to dinner with your future in-laws. Only by experimenting will you come up with novel combinations. I think that you'll find that your wardrobe seems much bigger, rather than smaller, as you find ways to wear things that have long sat neglected. You'll have hits and you'll have misses, but you will also be learning what works for you and your clothing inventory. If anyone gives you grief, tell them you're just being practical - you wanted to be prepared for any climate eventuality!

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