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Style Guide: How to Layer Clothes

how to layer clothes

Just like with anything else, there’s always room for mistakes when it comes to layering. The following list of main mistakes you’re likely to encounter in your career will help you identify practices to avoid, as well as their associated effects for your client. Following these guidelines will help you make smart choices with layering and create stand-out ensembles for your clients year round. Keep these “major mistakes” in mind when working with layers to ensure you’re looking put-together and not left uncomfortable or frumpy. Read on to learn the biggest mistakes to avoid when layering, and how to layer clothes properly.


Leggings are actually footless tights and are not a wearable garment on their own. It’s important to keep this in mind when getting dressed or advising others on their wardrobes. While there are times and places leggings make for a suitable layering piece, they’re often wrongly used. When working with leggings, ensure you’re using a high quality legging in a proper size.  A too-tight legging will lose its opacity, cling to all the wrong areas, and will actually be very uncomfortable.  A proper fitting legging can make for a good layering piece, particularly on cool summer nights or in the fall, but needs to be used as hosiery and not as a standalone garment.

When wearing leggings, ensure your top drapes down to at least your mid-thighs. You’ll want to be able to bend over, reach for something, and stretch without showing off too much. Also, keep in mind the footwear with which you’ll be wearing the leggings. Footless leggings are meant to be a casual item, and shouldn’t be worn to the office or worn with dainty footwear. Pairing leggings with a long sweater dress and casual flats, or calf high boots, is attractive. Wearing footless leggings with strappy heels and a too short blouse is not only inappropriate for the office, but also isn’t flattering.

Too Many or too Little

There is definitely such a thing as wearing too many layers. The moment you begin to feel too warm in a controlled climate setting, or start to lose your silhouette, you’ve done too much. Your best bet is to restrict the number of layers used to three in colder months and two in warmer months. This will still allow for outfit versatility and transition, but will avoid causing your client to overheat or making the ensemble become too complicated. You never want to look overdone!

Just as you can dress in too many layers, you can also dress in too few. Most people restrict themselves to wearing outfits composed of one or two items such as a tank and shorts or dress. When styled correctly, these outfits can be absolutely gorgeous! However, they aren’t very versatile and you’re likely to become cold when you step inside an air conditioned building, hit a patch of shade, or when the evening arrives and the temperature begins to drop.

Too Heavy

The same problems can ensue when you layer using too heavy fabrics as would occur with dressing in too many layers. You run the risk of becoming uncomfortable, you’ll likely lose your shape, and you will wind up looking larger and fuller than you actually are. This is why it’s best to layer using the lightest fabrics possible and keeping any heavy layers on the outside of the ensemble. Always use a belt to cinch in the extra fabric around your waist if an extra layer is needed but your silhouette starts to disappear. You should never pair a thick layer with another thick layer, as this will become too bulky and is less likely to flatter you than a thin layer paired with something thicker.

Out of Season Scarves

There are certain fabrics more suited to warmer months, and others more suited to colder months. The same rules apply when using scarves in a layered look. You don’t want to put on a light linen scarf in the dead of winter, and you certainly don’t want to dress in a thick knit scarf or faux fur snood in the heat of summer! Always think of the environment in which will be and choose garments with appropriate fabric types.

Loss of Silhouette

Your silhouette may become lost under layers in a variety of situations. You may be wearing too many layers. You may not be accessorizing appropriately with a layered ensemble. You may have forgotten to keep the bottom half of an outfit balanced when adding layers to the top half. The layers could be too thick or not fitted enough. Whatever the cause, allowing your silhouette to become lost under their clothes is a mistake you should try to avoid. Learn to accept that some outfits may look amazing on other people, but simply not work on you – and vice versa. Layered looks, while able to be chic and in-style, won’t work on everyone every single time.

Too Much Color or Not Enough Color

When building any outfit, color matters greatly. When building a layered outfit, you’ll need to pay extra attention to the colors you’re selecting. If the only pop of color in an outfit is on the outer layer, and it gets removed at some point during the day, you will be left with a much less interesting ensemble. At the same time, however, you don’t want to layer with too much color as the outfit will become overwhelming. Balance must be achieved with an outfit’s colors, something which can often be done through the use of prints and patterns. Just be sure not to use too many and to use prints, patterns, and colors in complimentary hues.

Competing Cuts

When layering, it’s important to keep in mind how each garment is cut. If your base layer has a collar, the layer you place over top of it should have a complimentary neckline. A turtle neck, for example, would sit awkwardly on top of a collared blouse and would cause the neck to appear bumpy or wider than it actually is. Layering a short sleeved shirt under a fitted long sleeve sweater may result in an awkward line where the base layer sleeve ends, which is likely to show through a fitted sweater. Try to layer using as similar cuts as possible, specifically keeping in mind the base layer’s neckline, sleeve length, and hem.


What’s your biggest obstacle when it comes to layering? Let us know and we’ll get back to you with our advice!