28 Comments.

Hey gents,

Right now, in some parts of the world, it’s cold.

Like freezing balls, I-don’t-want-to-leave-this-blanket-much-less-my-house cold.

In other places, it’s just a bit chilly, like here in San Francisco right now.

If you’re not among the (whom I consider) lucky crowd that experiences balmy summer-like weather all year long, you’re probably in the same boat as I am… if not worse.

In the dead of winter, you should prepare thoroughly before you leave the house. Rarely should you walk out with just a shirt and a coat.

One, because you should probably put on pants. But also, two layers for your upper torso simply doesn’t cut it.

Temperatures change from place to place, and you don’t want to leave yourself with only two choices: coat on or coat off. It sucks when temperatures outside are below freezing, but indoors at your destination, it’s REALLY warm because the heater is pumping.

Why’s it so tough?

A few days ago I asked EG readers on Facebook what some of their hang ups were when it came to layering. Here are a few:

Pretty good with colors and “matching.” I have more of a hard time with fabric and styles. – Joshua

The constant heat all year round in miami. – Carlos

Hard to pull off when the layers begin restricting movement under the arms and across the back… – Scott

I understand your concerns, but take solace in the fact that layering is still achievable despite your many worries.

Yes, there’s even a way to layer effectively for those in warmer climes. This article is focusing on cold weather layering, but don’t worry, we’ll get to you in a separate article.

Regardless, you can use some of these morsels of advice and apply them to your situation (using lighter fabrics, of course.)

First off, some benefits to layering

I can’t suggest you do something without first explaining why it’s a good idea, right?

Easy to get warmer or cooler as needed

Effective layering makes it easy to maintain your desired temperature. Too hot? Peel off the topmost layer. Getting cold? Simply start adding your layers back on.

Adds more interest to your outfit

When you have more items on your body, the more you get to experiment with looks as you combine different colors, patterns, and textures.

Take a look at any menswear store’s window displays or dress forms during the fall or winter, and you’ll see some great examples.

It can help you achieve the high / low look

We’ve discussed this idea of high / low before, remember? Doing so will help you make use of all the clothes in your closet, plus it adds visual interest and balance to whatever you’re wearing.

Effective layering helps you with this simply by having more pieces on your body to work with.

The BIG Question: How to layer

Let’s start with some general pointers about layering.

The lighter and thinner the layer, the closer to your body

This might be common sense, but in case it isn’t, the lighter and thinner the layer, the closer it should be to your skin. Doing so will help ease restriction, and it also prevents you from having to take all your clothes off if your innermost layer is super thick and causing you to overheat.

Colors should complement each other

I always refer back to this article because the ladies pictured here have their ish together. You’ll see that they’ve pulled off layering perfectly, but not only that, they understand how to put together colors that complement each other (not match… complement).

This idea of complementing could be an article all its own, but for now, try to get a feel of what looks good together.

vintage RL swatches

For some visualization, check out the web app Kuler. There are plenty of color combos to feast your eyes on, for example, this one.

If you explore further by clicking on the little button that looks like an equalizer, choose a base color, then click on the different rules (Analogous, Triad, Complementary, etc.), you’ll get an idea of how to pair colors.

Stick to one bright pop of color

To add to the color conversation, make sure you choose at most one bright pop of color. You already have a lot going on with individual layers, and you don’t want two, three, or more bold colors. They’ll all end up competing with each other.

Contrast!

You want the items in your ensemble to have a lot of contrast. Pair your lights with your darks. Don’t go all light, or all dark, or all muted, or all washed out. More on this further down… just keep reading.

Patterns: a reader suggestion

Remember to have “deeper” patterns father out. So have a smooth shirt, lightly textured jacket, and then heavily textured overcoat. Simple and it works. –William

I like this idea, and it makes sense. Try it out and see how it works for you.

How to layer: A visual explanation

The best way to explain “how” is through pictures. Our friends at Onassis were gracious enough to let us style and shoot some outfits at their San Francisco location to help illustrate layering.

As we were doing this, I was super excited to see the fit of all these pieces and how well they seem to go together.

Anyway, I digress. On to the examples (click images to view full size):

Layering example #1

outfit 1

Here’s an example of that high / low look in regards to the dressiness of each individual piece. This would be a great choice when going about your day, or even for work (if your office has a casual dress policy).

Starting off with a basic light-colored chino and pencil stripe dress shirt, add a silk tie (dressy), a rugby shirt for warmth (casual), and finish it off with a close-fitting wool top coat (dressy).

outfit 1 frontRegarding pattern: Don’t be afraid to mix stripes. The bold stripe pattern of the rugby works well with the thin pencil stripe of the shirt. The tie has its own subtle pattern as well. Everything else is relatively muted.

Shoe suggestions

(side note: all shoe suggestions are affiliate links. If you happen to purchase one, you’re supporting this site in a very small way, which I appreciate. If you don’t want to use these links, you can easily do a search on Google or Zappos to find the shoes.)

Depending on weather, you can do a loafer, lace-up, or rugged, weather-appropriate boots.

Layering example #2

outfit 2

Another take on high / low. What really dresses this up is the wool sport coat. Everything else is more casual. Good example of how one thing (in this case, a sport coat) can really elevate an outfit.

The quilted vest adds that additional layer of warmth (not to mention visual interest) which could potentially make you leave that coat at home. Of course, if it’s freezing outside, bring the coat anyway.

Regarding colors: Notice the one bright pop of color, the mustard pants. Every other piece grounds that color by remaining neutral, muted. The nice thing is, even up close, you can see subtle textures and shades of color that work well together.

Regarding pattern: Subtle stripe on the jacket, quilted pattern on the vest, plaid shirt. Subtlety is key.

Shoe Suggestions

Layering example #3

This one is pretty straight-forward. Throw on a v-neck under a flannel shirt, add a middle layer (in this case, a shawl collar knit vest, though a cardigan would also work), and a substantial leather jacket. Dark denim on your bottom half.

outfit 3 frontRegarding colors: Again, notice there’s one bright pop of color (the red check flannel).

Regarding fabric thickness: To minimize bulk, you have to make sure each item works well together. The sweater (or vest) should be loose enough to fit a flannel comfortably underneath, but obviously not so large that you could fit a litter of puppies in there.

Shoe Suggestions

Layering example #4

outfit 4

This example utilizes that pop of color well, but this time, it’s in the outerwear. Starting with a light blue striped shirt and brown cords, add a warm V-neck sweater and finish off with the flight jacket and beanie.

Regarding colors: Hopefully you’re seeing the trend here. Notice the one bright pop of color is the jacket, everything else is muted / earth tones. Even the beanie, though it has color, isn’t too bright or attention grabbing.

Regarding contrast: If you focus specifically on the cords and the sweater, you’ll notice that even though they both have brown tones, one is really dark like a cigar wrapper, and one is light like oatmeal. That’s contrast. Do more of that.

And then in the middle of it all, it’s broken up by that subtle injection of color from the blue and white stripes. Browns play really well with light blue. Keep that in mind.

Shoe Suggestions

Some of your concerns

I hear ya. Even after I’ve shown you some visuals, you may still be a bit skeptical that you can pull it off.

Well, I believe in you! (Does that help?)

Here are some concerns you’ve voiced (via Facebook):

“Too damn hot!”

Whoaaa. Take it easy there, Sparky. No need to yell.

You know your body best. If you tend to overheat easily, then wear one less layer. Maybe all your layers need to lighten up a little.

Maybe you can do without a heavy coat if you’re wearing a vest, sweater, and sport shirt. Maybe you need to lose the vest. Maybe that day, you just shouldn’t have layered too much because you’re super worked up and getting extra sweaty.

As with everything new, it’s all trial and error. Figure out what works best for you.

Lack of mobility

randy snowsuit

Are you wearing one too many layers?

Again, it comes down to trusting yourself. If you feel restricted, maybe the particular combo you chose shouldn’t be layered together.

Or maybe you’re simply not used to it.

Give it a chance and as long as you can carry on with your day, it will be something you eventually get used to.

It could be your sweater is too thick, or your shirt isn’t slim enough and is causing excess fabric to gather and feel uncomfortable.

Maybe your uppermost layers aren’t as flexible, large, or forgiving.

Hey, it happens. Try again, my friend.

I live in a place where it’s hot year-round. How can I layer effectively?

To be honest, layering may not always make total sense depending on where you live. If you live in a desert or a tropical country, for example, it’s not always easy to dress comfortably, much less dress stylishly.

But! It can be done. The trick is to use less layers, and to make those layers weather-appropriate.

Let’s say you live in Miami. Tropical climate, relatively hot and humid most of the year.

You’ll obviously use less wools and tweeds as, say, someone in New York in the winter. But you still have plenty of lightweight fabrics to layer with: lightweight cotton, cotton cashmere blends, linen, cotton linen blends, chambray.

You’ll also be using less pieces to layer.

Most people walk around with as little as a t-shirt and shorts in hot weather areas. Do you know how far you can set yourself apart simply by throwing on a linen sportcoat? Or a cotton suit? Or lightweight chinos and a polo shirt?

Assuming you’ve mastered the correct fit for your body, simple changes to your daily outfit will make a huge difference.

Also, if the weather changes at night or if it can be chilly in the early morning, there’s your opportunity to throw on a lightweight sweater as your uppermost layer. Simple, but effective.

In conclusion

I hope this helps in your quest to layer a bit more effectively. It can be done well, no matter where you live.

Thanks again to our friends at Onassis. Look forward to other collaborative pieces with these guys, and in the meantime, check out their goods.

Questions? High fives? Leave em below.

PUBLISHED February 7, 2013


Barron is the Founding Editor of Effortless Gent and the Cladright Association. He's from San Francisco but currently living in New York. Connect with him on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, or Tumblr.



  • Ruben

    Yes! More of this. I love this stuff and the visuals.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Thanks for reading Ruben

  • McG

    Living in Michigan, I’m all for layering, but some of the combinations of pieces here (and on some other style sites) I find too odd. For example, the rugby over a dress shirt and tie, multiple sweaters, a down vest under a suit jacket, or (on the linked article with the women) wearing a button-up over another button-up. Call me conservative, but I’m happy tossing on an undershirt, shirt, sweater, and coat.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Gotta find what works for you. I used to think all those things were odd too, but as you experiment and expand your definition of your own style, some may stick (while others might still remain odd).

      Like I always say, nothing I suggest ever has to be followed to a T. Every guy should read and adapt the message to their own life and tastes.

      Thanks for checking out the article!

  • Jaime

    Hey, in Layering Example #2, what is the layer beneath the wool sport coat? Thanks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jurgen.decleen Jurgen De Cleen

      Hello Jaime,

      I think it’s a body warmer when I look at the fabric and the type of buttons. Personally I tend to replace the body warmer by a sleeveless sweater with V-neck or a vest when you want it a little classier. I hope this was helpful!

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron
  • DH in Canada

    I have to share with you how I can look semi-formal in the deep freeze and still be warm. The problem with a wool top coat or a raincoat with an insulated zip-out liner is that they are only effective to about +5 degrees Celsius, and more if there’s a breeze.

    Since nobody has invented a particularly dressy coat yet, most people have to settle for a top coat and be cold. The layering secret is this: the down or Primaloft sweater.

    The typical down sweater is usually about an inch thick, has a ripstop nylon outer fabric, a front zipper, sealed cuffs, and an insulated turtleneck collar. It’s good to about -10C if wearing a dress shirt underneath. But when you combine it with a wool top coat or insulated raincoat, it suddenly become a windproof garment good to below -30C (-22F)! Just add a trapper’s hat, and you’ll look great.

    This layering technique doesn’t work underneath an uninsulated top layer though, and a down vest is really only good to -20C even if it’s twice as thick. You still need a parka with a fur trimmed snorkel hood to cut the wind in extended conditions. And having the insulated collar is crucial to your feeling of warmth. I’ve relegated my less warm Land’s End down commuter coat (which was advertised as their warmest men’s winter coat) to when I need to wear a suit. Hope this helps.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      This is awesome advice. Thanks for sharing, as I haven’t experienced such cold extremes (and thus am lacking in practical advice for climates that are especially freezing).

  • Attire Club

    Layering is so important because it creates visual interest and can help you camouflage the parts you don’t want to show!
    It’s funny that layering done bad also creates visual interest, but not the kind you wish!

    It’s important to have someone help you if you need it! We often talk about it with our readers!

    http://www.attireclub.wordpress.com

    Fraquoh and Franchomme

  • Andrew

    Great post! I have been looking for a pair of mustard pants for a while now, and the ones in your post look like just the ticket. Would you please let me know where to get them?

  • GN

    The partially untucked shirt is an abomination–I find that it looks unreasonably slovenly. Also, your use of “less” is excruciating. Please, for the love of Grammar Nazis everywhere, start using the word “fewer.”

    Thanks, though. Overall, I’m pleased with the article.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Anyone that uses the word “abomination” followed by “unreasonably slovenly” *would* hate the partially untucked shirt :)

      It’s mostly a visual merchandising thing that I see a lot in men’s contemporary stores. Displays the layers well, looks interesting. You don’t have to wear it that way if you hate it.

      Noted on the use of less. My bad.

    • http://www.themodestman.com/ Brock

      This is the half tuck, or “Beckham tuck” and there’s nothing wrong with it in a casual setting (if you like it and feel good with it, go for it) – http://www.fashionbeans.com/2011/a-fashionbeans-guide-to-shirt-tucking/

  • victor newman

    excellent article, barron..

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Thanks for reading!

  • Jake Bloom

    Since i have a cream chinos, definitely will follow the above ensemble. And i have a renewed penchant for stripes this time.

    cheap chinos for men

  • Eric

    A few weeks ago the wind chill here in southern NY brought the temperature down to about -10, which is a lot colder than usual. I admit, I threw style to the wind and bundled up in all my warmest gear.
    (There’s probably somebody from North Dakota or Iceland or Siberia reading this,,, I know, I’m a pansy, but I’m a pansy that likes to keep warm.)

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      I’d do the same thing. And hey I’m over here in San Francisco complaining about when temps dip below 50 deg F, so maybe I’m the pansy.

  • kpk

    Dope, style guide, Barron. Love it.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Thanks for reading!

  • Thanik Bhongbhibhat

    Great idea! It is very creative that you use Kuler to get color scheme inspiration for style besides web design. Cheers!

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Hi Thanik, it’s a great resource, definitely for design but even for something as unconventional as getting ready in the morning :)

  • Chris Fields

    I would suggest not wearing a sportcoat in the hot desert. Clearly you have never tried this or you would not be alive to continue blogging useless advice..

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Clearly! I should just quit while I’m ahead.

  • http://www.themodestman.com/ Brock

    One problem I’m having here in DC right now is the “not quite fall” weather. It’s been like low 50s in the morning, then up to low 70s during the middle part of the day, and sometimes rainy (maybe like San Fran?). Really confusing for getting ready in the morning. I actually want the weather to just drop into the 40s and stay there, so I can wear a pull over or sweater and jacket without sweating on the way to the train.

    But then again, there are worse problems in life.

    -B