Brrrr . . . it’s cold outside! Even in Sacramento, we’re reaching for our long underwear and puffy coats. Layers are a must at this time of year, but they don’t have to be a drag. Done right, layers will keep you toasty and add interest to your ensemble. Layering adds color and texture to an outfit. Layering can change your silhouette. Layering can make an awkward piece work. And, of course, 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 just right 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 “made” the silk top pictured above by cutting it from a dress that didn’t fit my hips. I love the pattern and fabric, but the bottom is ragged and awkward with the original side zip. By layering it under a dress, I get to show off the pattern and color I like so much and cover my hack job.
Keep it Legal
As much as you may love your decolletage or legs, sometimes, it isn’t appropriate to have them exposed. Layers to the rescue! I hide the cleavage of deep, v-neck dresses (like the, honestly too small, wrap dress above) with a collared shirt beneath and make miniskirts less scandalous with thick leggings.
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. I wore a longer (and longer-sleeved) dress as a slip under an itty bitty silk wrap dress for both modesty and interest. Consider a short sleeved jacket over a longer sleeved top or dress. It may not be your first instinct, but it looks fresh.
Do the Vest Thing
I’m a vest fan from way back. When I worked in a corporate setting, a suiting vest was my favorite way to formalize an outfit as simple as a skirt and blouse. Nowadays, I’m obsessed with denim vests. Whatever your vest type, they are perfect to define the waist and even hide any midsection awkwardness. A cropped vest, fastened over an otherwise somewhat shapeless outfit, is my favorite way to create the illusion of legs for days.
Some pieces are better for layering than others. My favorite layering items are lace blouses, collared shirts, and sleeveless dresses. I love lace tops. They add dimension when worn over a dress and modesty when worn under. Collared shirts can be worn as a lightweight jacket or worn underneath another layer with just the collar and cuffs exposed. Sleeveless dresses are especially versatile. They can be worn a la carte for summer and with a turtleneck, thick tights, and boots for winter.
Dress over Jeans?
This has been a fringe trend for the past ten years. Layering skinny jeans under a short dress is the “safest” way to do this trend. Anything bulkier and longer verges on lagenlook. The effect should be similar to a tunic over leggings, only a bit more structured. I plan on using this layering trick (albeit with skinny trousers) to wear my shorter dresses to teach and speak. I bought a pair of black, Sloan pants from Banana Republic just for this purpose.
Watch your Waistline
When piling on the layers you can easily end up looking like the Michelin Man. 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 layer can help define your waist.
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. 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!
This post is an updated version of Layer It, originally published 10/5/2007 at whatiwore2day.blogspot.com/2007/10/layer-it.html