How to Become an Expert at Layering Your Look

How to Become an Expert at Layering Your Look

Use layers like a pro to create entirely different, chic outfits with the same articles.

By: Helen Jane Hearn

Historically, I have been unsuccessful at the art of layering my clothing. Whether it was the giant Guatemalan sweater over baggy jeans in college or the too-short tank tops under ill-fitting jackets in my early twenties, my busty frame hasn’t always worked well with layers.

In need of layering help, I consulted my most stylish friends and bloggers to collect tips for perfect layers.

Consider Your Body Type
What’s your silhouette? Do you have a flat chest and narrow hips? Or maybe you’re curvy and 5-foot-2-inches? This will come into play when you're ready to layer.

A shapeless military jacket would be problematic for a short-waisted woman, but she can create a waist with a belt, fitted jacket or a flattering color.

Go easy on the puffy jackets and thick sweaters. A good rule is to not add bulk to your bulk. If you do choose one chunky piece — like a vest — pair it with a layer made from a thinner fabric.

It might go against your natural inclination, but if you're trying to camouflage your stomach, keep layers at your midsection fitted, not tight, rather than oversized. Babydoll cuts and billowy clothing clothes can make you look larger than you really are.

Trying to minimize a large bust? Wear an open neckline to focus on those gorgeous collarbones.

“If you have a bigger bust, make sure you don’t have pockets up around your chest,” says fashion blogger Amanda Holstein of Color Me Blue. “Your jacket should nip in at your waist to give you more of a shape.”

Contrast Colors and Styles
One reason to layer is to show off creativity in the cuts and contrasts you pick — mix it up. Avoid layering with like colors and styles. Basically, you don’t want to layer a ruffled shirt with a ruffled cardigan, especially if the pieces are the same color.

A plain shirt with a ruffled cardigan will focus attention on your sweater — right where it should be. It’s also fine to mix and match patterns with solids. You want to make all layers a clear component of your look. You can also mix fabrics. Putting sequins with T-shirts, a vest over a white shirt, or a shrug over a tank top can really set off the look of both items.

Want to be perceived as more polished? Layer a cardigan over a fitted top (just watch a matching cardigan and shell; you're risking a dated look). Go for different colors, patterns and fabrics.

Lightest to Heaviest
The clothes closest to your body should be lighter in color and weight, and get darker and heavier as the layers get farther from you. The tux is a great example of that look.


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Wearing the thinnest garment closest to your skin means that the thickest garment is on the top. I would wear a camisole or a fitted tank as the layer closest to my body and a cardigan or jacket on the outside.

Keep Your Balance
As in most things, even layering clothing is about balance. Wearing a camisole, cardigan and jacket up top? Keep the bottom half fitted. Skinny jeans, leggings and short skirts all keep things simple on the bottom. Make your body appear even longer by matching your shoes or boots to your pants, tights or leggings.

If you’re layering up top, make sure you keep the bottom slim. If you are wearing a big flowy skirt with boots, keep the top fitted.

Stick to a maximum of three layers for the top half of your body. Any more can cause bulk to overwhelm your figure.

Knee Socks and Tights
The same principle for the top applies. More fitted and thinner garments become the bottom layers, so these would be your leggings or "jeggings." Then layer knee socks, skirts and boots over the bottom.

Wearing a short skirt? Over the knee socks can layer your bottom half without much effort. (Tucking leggings or jeans into boots looks more on trend.)

Just because you're layering doesn't mean you can get away with hole-ridden shirts or a torn sleeve.

My sister, a popular San Francisco colorist, is adamant about clothing quality.

“Wear layers that are well made and stand on their own. You should be able to wear a dress, tank or T-shirt without holes or stains,” she says, looking at me pointedly.

Short Over Long
Layer shorter items over longer items. This works for both the fashion-forward and the practical. Putting a longer layer over a shorter layer doesn’t allow you to see the shorter layer. This leads to bunching and difficulty adjusting.

Layer a long cardigan with a vest or a shorter jacket for something casual. If you're looking for an evening look, layer a shorter dress with a sparkly, sequined cardigan, scarf and belt.

Layering Accessories
Speaking of accessories, we’re not done until we’ve accessorized. Scarves, belts and jewelry can help to enhance your overall look. If you are wearing more plain clothing, layer that with a long necklace or maybe a sequined or a colorful scarf. Statement chunky necklaces and contrasting bracelets can complete your look.

Helen has written about Internet culture and home entertaining at her eponymous site Helen Jane since 1998. Napa Valley-based, she is a certified specialist of wine and founder of Cheesewhizzes, a nationwide cheese-tasting club. She also captains her bocce team, Joanie Loves Bocce.

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