How to layer clothing for cold weather: 7 essential tips

Layering your clothes is stylish and practical, what more could you ask for?

How to layer clothing for cold weather: 7 essential tips

The coldest months of the year are here and that means styling is a bit more complex. As we pack on extra layers to stay warm there is also more opportunity to play around with how each piece interacts within an outfit. But the extra choice can also be a little daunting.

How do you properly match patterns and what’s a good way to coordinate colours? What is the function of each layer? To help navigate some of the complexities, this guide will help with how to layer clothing for cold weather so you can stay cosy and stylish all the way to next spring.

What is layering all about?

Knowing how to layer well is important for two reasons – practicality and style. Reason enough to get good at it, right? Extra layers allow you to retain heat as the seasons change while also opening up a range of styling options you simply don’t get in the summer.

On the practicality side, layers obviously keep you warm and dry when the mercury drops. But one less-discussed aspect is how underlayers provide an all-round solution for handling sweat and moisture. With a layer of cotton underneath your outer layers, you’ll feel more fresh and comfortable at the end of the day.

1. Layering is stylish

There is a huge difference between throwing on a jumper over a collared shirt and stylish layering. The latter takes some forethought and bit of sartorial panache. Nailing down the basics is not super complicated, however, and will get you surprisingly far – don’t think you should be standing in front of your wardrobe trying to crystal ball the right mix every time.

Having a think about colours, patterns and how layers can interact with one another is enough to give you confidence to approach dressing stylishly for the colder seasons. Layering shows that you have good taste and an eye for detail, which not only sends the right message about your personal style but will also make you feel good – and more comfortable regardless of the weather forecast.

Here is T3's selection of base layers:

2. Each layer has a function

Be creative with layering but also remember the function each one has on its own. The ideal scenario is to find the best combination of function and comfort. So because the innermost layers are on your skin, they should be rather thin, breathable and absorb moisture when you sweat. Similarly with shirts, they should be light and comfortable but, if they’re visible, should have some kind of relationship with outer layers through colour or pattern.

The middle layer is usually a jacket or jumper and will be your main indoor layer after you’ve removed your coat, scarf and beanie. Being a little loose fitting and also breathable will ensure you stay comfortable. And outer and shell layers – such as coats and rain jackets, respectively – should generally be cut longer than the layers underneath and loose-fitting enough to sit over them as well.

Here is T3's selection of mid layers:

3. Outer hems should be longest

While you could do the opposite without the world ending – as with an untucked shirt – it’s generally a safer bet to keep outer hems longer. You can definitely play around with layer length and go for some unusual combinations, but generally it looks better when the inner layers are tucked away.

The main thing to watch for is the length of jackets, blazers and jumpers in comparison to the winter coats you will wear on top of them. This shouldn’t be so much of an issue with long trench coats, but it’s just easier to want an under-layer to be longer than accidentally realising it with a new item you’ve bought.

4. Layer thin to thick

Another reliable point is keeping the heavy stuff on the outer layers. Of course, there’s no rulebook saying you can’t do the opposite, but it’s a lot more comfortable to wear thinner layers under thicker ones.

If layering is about practicality as much as style then you’ll want to have some kind of order to your outfit. For example, you might wear three layers as you head out to meet friends for dinner. It’s cold outside so you feel comfortable in your outfit. But between the taxi ride and entering the restaurant, you’ve gone from warm to cold a few times. 

If your thinnest layer is a shirt, rather than a thick wool turtleneck, you can avoid the sweats right when you want. When in doubt, go for a cotton T-shirt underneath.

Here is T3's selection of shell layers:

5. Go easy with colours

Okay, so you’ve studied the colour wheel and know your complementaries quite well. Perhaps you also worked out what your ideal palette is. Now comes the fun part of mixing layers together to create eye-catching combinations. But hold up before getting carried away with it.

As a starting point it’s good to have at least a couple of colours that are similar. Also definitely keep bright colours to one or two per outfit, unless you want to stand out for the wrong reasons. 

So if you’re wearing a light purple scarf with a bright yellow jumper, then it’s better to avoid another bright colour. Try and match the rest with varying shades of the two you’ve selected. Layering for balance is generally the best bet.

6. Scale and alternate your patterns

Playing with patterns can have a big effect on your style. Pulling it off isn’t always easy but there are some simple ideas that can help. The first is to layer with patterns along a consistent grade. 

So if, for example, you’re wearing a tweed coat that makes a strong impression on the eye, then match it with more subdued patterns or solid colours as you move towards the inner layers.

You can also play with pattern contrast to good effect. A checked shirt pairs nicely with solid colour ties, while a solid shirt pairs well with a patterned tie, plus a solid jumper and patterned coat over the top. Have a go at alternating the patterns along a scale and see what interesting combinations you come up with.

Here is T3's selection of outer layers:

7. Playing with colours

On the scale of effort, sticking to a monochrome outfit is the easiest way to layer (such as with a three-piece suit).  But if you want to layer with more skill then it’s essential to think of how the interplay of colours can affect your look. 

A good rule of thumb is to alternate each layer with contrasting colours; so either go with differing shades of one colour, or try a mix of complementaries as you go from shirt, to tie and then to jacket.

But how do you know if the combination is properly coordinated? One way to create cohesion between the layers is to use bridge colours. Think of this as selecting a layer that contains a bit of colour from another layer to create a visual relation between them. So you might have a cardigan with navy and grey to match the navy shirt and grey blazer you’re also wearing.

Here is T3's selection of layering accessories:

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