How to Layer with Confidence

May 29, 2015

We just celebrated Memorial Day in the U.S. which, besides honoring those who have served our country, also signifies the official start of summer. With rising temperatures you would think we would be consistently warm or hot by now, right? But in the past two days we have seen a 30-degree temperature drop and now both the temperature and the humidity level (which has been very low) are inching up as we speak. Earlier this week, while visiting my mom I spent about 20 minutes in the sun getting my vitamin D during which time I was pretty warm. When I moved into the shade it was cool.

What’s the message here: One outfit might not meet all your temperature needs!

The answer: Layers!

The question is how do you put layers together in a way that doesn’t look haphazard or completely unflattering?

I know what you’re thinking…there was a time not so long ago when, whether you liked the look or not, you matched everything and you were done. No more fussing. No more wondering. You patted yourself on the back that the colors and styles matched perfectly and went about your business.

Not any more!

Have you seen examples recently in catalogues, websites or fashion magazines of how to layer an outfit? Do you stare at them quizzically and think, “I can do that. I will reach blindly into my closet, pull out the first 3 things I find and wear them together.” If you did, you probably wouldn’t be far off from what you see advertised. There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme nor reason to why those specific items on the model were put together and, in many cases, even on that model they are not particularly becoming.

I am not suggesting that we go back to matching everything to within an inch of its life. It’s more fun to play, but there has to be a happy (and flattering) option somewhere between expected and ridiculous.

If you have a curvy body it gets even trickier. Longer layers can get caught up on your hips or thighs and too many shapeless layers make you begin to look and feel shapeless, too. Boxy layers can make you look three times bigger than you are and I know no women who are shooting for that look.

Layering takes practice and is not an exact science, but with these 5 tips below you will be on your way to finding a layering style that works for you.

1. Keep the First Layer Slim

Whether you have a curvy body or not, if you start your layers by having the bottom layer be bulky or too floaty, you have nowhere to go. Adding more bulk or volume on top of that will just make you feel heavy. Generally avoid lots of ruffles, tiers or extra layers in the foundational layer. Instead, keep it simple.

That said, if you are wearing layers so you can moderate your comfort level then you also want to feel comfortable removing the outer layers. That means that whatever you wear as your first layer must be wearable on its own. If you worry about revealing too much or feel self-conscious wearing anything too tight then the top needs to skim your body rather than be skin tight.

Here are a couple of ideas (and you will find many more here)

Something slim but with a little texture:

If you prefer a top that is snug or don’t plan to remove the outer layer, then makes some of the best tops around in a lot of colors and at a reasonable price. They are one-size-fits most and I’ve found that they fit approximately size 0 to 16-ish.

Three other quick tips:

  • If you are wearing a fuller top and you want to rein it in, tuck in your top and belt your skirt or pants. This will immediately give you definition at the waist and anything you put over it won’t feel as overwhelming.
  • If your first layer is a tank top, be sure that the straps are bra-friendly or wear a strapless bra.
  • If you will be removing the outer layer frequently, avoid cap sleeves on the underneath layer. I know there are millions of them out there, but most cap sleeves are not the most flattering look—they hit you at the widest part of your arms and do not balance the body vertically. Opt for sleeveless or a true short sleeve instead.

2. Choose the Most Versatile Neckline

Generally, a scoop neckline works best as the foundation garment. The scoop is the most flattering and balancing to your body and doesn’t make you feel bulky when you start adding layers. A scoop neckline also is the most versatile in terms of what you can wear over it – an outer layer in a v-neck, shawl neckline or collared neckline all look great over the scoop.

Asymmetrical necklines or one-shoulder tops can look odd when you add layers because you lose the full effect of the asymmetry. I would avoid those unless you can confidently wear them without a layer or want to wear a wrap over them to add warmth as needed.

A high neckline is one of the trickiest over which to add a layer. It is one of the big problems right now with the popularity of high neck dresses. The dresses, which are mostly sleeveless, look great on their own, but as soon as you add a sweater or jacket you feel a little strangled. That’s not to say you can’t layer over them, but if you do, be sure to wear a necklace or scarf that brings the eye lower. Using the to figure out where that necklace or scarf should end will be helpful to pull everything into balance.

Another option for high neck, sleeveless dresses: layer UNDER them. One of the easiest ways is with Sleevey Wonders. You don’t have to worry about obscuring the beauty of the dress and yet you can add a layer of warmth or propriety when necessary.

3. Tips for Selecting the Best Sweater or Jacket

A lot of outer layering pieces are flowy or boxy right now. This is one of the main reasons you want to keep the foundational layer more fitted to your body.

If you have a straight body, even if you have a tummy, you can wear straight, boxy or flowy tops relatively well. They give you the ease and coverage you want.

Here is one example:

This jacket (you’ll see similar white options by different designers for summer here) looks good on many women. If it’s too long it can easily be shortened to a flattering length. It looks chic, elegant and is not overpowering. Because of the structure in the shoulders it can possibly work on a curvy body as well, especially if you have good waist definition under the jacket.

Remember, if your body is curvy, you must respect the curve. This is particularly true when you are layering over a dress. It is easy to get lost and overwhelmed by fabric and to lose the definition of the dress when you are curvy.

This jacket looks great over a dress and conforms nicely to a curvy body or gives the illusion of curves on a straighter body:

Finding a cardigan or shrug that doesn’t completely obscure a dress or make you look frumpy can be difficult right now because so many are boxy or have huge or drapey collars and lapels. Here is one classic option (they have several colors from which to choose) that works nicely:

If you are large busted and curvy, having lots of extra fabric in the lapels will make you feel overwhelmed and even bustier. A sweater like this can be a lovely option instead:

See more options here.

What About Denim?

Since denim has become even more popular, the rise of the denim jacket has reached a peak this season. The magazines swear that when in doubt you can throw a jean jacket over a dress, skirt or even (gasp!) jeans and look chic.

Well, maybe…

This is easily an entire article all on its own so stay tuned next week and I’ll share more ideas then.

4. Balance Your Bottom and Top

If you are wearing a foundational or outer layering piece that has some volume, length and/or float to it, then you will want to keep your pants or skirt slim.

If you are wearing one of the shorter, more fitted jackets I show above then you can wear an A-line skirt or a wider leg trouser.

Never, unless perhaps you are very tall and slim, wear volume on the top and bottom. It can bury you in fabric and will absolutely make you look wider than you are!

5. Think Outside the Box

Traditional cardigans and jackets certainly work for layering, but they are not the only answer.

Here are a few more:

Ponchos – lightweight, elegant and easy to wear, they can look chic (and make you feel warmer) in seconds.

Vests – No, they won’t keep your arms warm, but every layer adds more protection so when just a little extra something is needed, a vest could be the answer. Or, wear one with a sleeved top and it keeps your center warm while letting your arms breathe.

Scarves – Scarves continue to be popular and there are more and more ways to wear them. Check out my scarf vides on my YouTube channel and here’s another way to wear one – again it won’t add a lot of warmth, but it’s one more layer and a great way to keep your scarf handy until you need it around your neck or shoulders. You can see two of my favorite options here.

See more vest and poncho ideas here.

BONUS: What (Layers) Not to Wear

Playing with layers can be great fun and we’ve only hinted at all the options, but beware. There are many choices out there that are downright terrible!

See examples of what to avoid here and I will explain WHY they don’t work.

Layering is very popular right now so take these 5 steps and begin to explore for yourself. An easy way to do that is to wear a foundational piece and pants to the store and start trying on different outer layering options. You won’t even need to go into the dressing room if you don’t want to. You have the basics ready—just grab pieces (great colors, of course!) off the rack and try them on. Take these written steps with you if you need some confidence and support as you shop. Most of all, as always, have fun!

Please note: All garments pictured here (and in the catalogue) are vegan-friendly (made from fabrics that did not harm any animals).

Some of the affiliate links may generate commissions for Total Image Consultants which helps support the time spent creating these very specific recommendations.

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