Mastering the Art of Layering [+ Styling Tips & Outfit Examples]

In which I share everything I know about creating layered outfits.

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This post will give tons of layering tips to show you how to layer like a pro.

The end of the year is here. The holidays are approaching, the weather is finally colder, and we’re all taking our coziest ítems out of storage. And that only means one thing: layering.

Layering, while mostly used during Autumn and Winter, it can be a very useful styling tool year-round. If you read my “How to” posts, you know I always recommend layering to style an outfit. But I’ve never explained how to layer in depth. Until now.

This week, I’ll give you all the tips and tricks to layer items to create interesting, cute, and warm outfits. Read on for all of my favorite layering tips for your outfits!

What is layering & what is the purpose of layering?

Layering is *exactly* what it sounds like. For fashion purposes, it means adding layers of clothing or accessories to an outfit.

Layering originated from the need to keep oneself warm. Like a lot of utilitarian items and practices, fashionistas and stylists around the world have adopted it as a tool to create interesting, fun, and creative looks.

While it helps you be warm, layering is about so much more than that.

Firstly, adding layers to an otherwise simple outfit can quickly transform it into an effortless, put-together look.

Secondly, and most importantly if you ask me, layering is sustainable. It gives new life to the pieces in your closet and maximizes the use of what you already have. It helps reduce unnecessary spending and saves you valuable space in your closet.

How to Layer: Layering Tips, Tricks, & Hacks:

While layering is self-explanatory, it isn’t that easy to get a hang of it (at first). So, how do you layer like a pro?

Here are some of my favorite tips to help you learn how to layer your clothes:

1. Start with a simple base, then add two more items.

Start with a simple base for your outfit. Then, add two more items to your look to elevate it. Remember, accessories and smaller items count, too.

2. Fabrics matter.

They always do, but it is essential for layering that you pay attention to the fabrics you plan on layering. Consider how thick or thin they are, the composition, and the texture.

3. Make sure your layers are visible.

Think of this like the layers of a cake. Just like you can see the tiers of a cake, allow your layers to be seen working together. To do that, use different lengths and proportions.

4. Play with proportions.

Use proportions smartly and in your favor. For example, oversized coats or jackets are great to use with chunkier sweaters because the extra space allows the thicker knit to fit comfortably and balances the fit of the coat.

5. Different purposes = fashionable contrast.

Do not be afraid to mix colors, patterns, and styles. Layering is a great way to dip your toes into mixing patterns or to add a splash of color to a neutral look. For example, tailored pieces paired with casual items create great visual impact.

Layering Outfit Examples:

Below are some photos of me demonstrating a few stylish and modern layering outfit techniques.

Note that I live in a warm climate so these are not meant for extreme weather. However, you can apply these tips to temperate or cold climates with modifications.

1. Easy: T-Shirt, Jeans, Button-Down, Blazer

So, let’s start with an easy way to layer: adding two pieces to a simple base.

Your outfit base can be a combo you wear when you need something fast and comfy. For me, and probably you, that combo is a T-shirt or tank and jeans.

You have that, how do you layer it?

Layering 101: white tank top, black jeans, black glittery socks, black clogs, blue shirt, grey blazer

Take a look at this outfit I created. The base is as simple as it gets: a white cotton tank top and a pair of faded black mom jeans.

To choose my layering pieces, I first settled on what I wanted from them: street style vibes, effortless, and comfortable. First, I threw on a powder blue button-up shirt. Then, I chose a grey blazer with a very subtle pattern. Based on the layers and style of the look, I decided to wear black glittery socks and a pair of black clogs.

As you can see, this layered outfit isn’t that “out there.” It is comprised of classic items we all have. But, by layering, I created a specific look and vibe. The shirt and blazer are formal, but leaving them open and pairing them with casual items brings them down a bit.

Now, I chose the clogs and socks because the length of the shirt and blazer cut my legs off at a weird place. To create a leg-lengthening effect, I created a continued black vertical line with black shoes and socks. This is an example of choosing your clothes (and your layers) to balance your look.

2. Easy: Pants, Button-Down, Sweater, Accessories

Now that you’ve seen an example of layering with a base and two extra items, let’s discuss why fabrics and accessories matter.

When you’re choosing your items, be mindful of what they are made of and what your accessories are bringing in.  

Layering 101: white shirt, blue knit sweater, blue corduroy pants, pink and blue flamingo socks, pink crossbody bag

For this look, I started with an oversized, white cotton shirt and a pair of navy blue corduroy trousers. I half-tucked the white shirt and then added a navy blue sweater, which I also tucked a bit. Next, I added a pair of navy blue socks with a flamingo pattern in fuchsia. Taking that tiny detail into account, I grabbed a fuchsia crossbody bag to finish the look.

All the clothing items here are loose and oversized. There’s a lot of extra fabric in general. To give me a bit of a waist, I half tucked the sweater and shirt at the same angle. With this amount of fabric in the same color, the different textures of the items help me not look like a monolithic square of one single color.

This is why fabrics matter, not only for warmth or comfort purposes but because different fabrics have different textures.

Finally, the accessories exemplify how you can add a pop of color that suits your outfit’s palette. And the bag has an important layering purpose here. It helps continue the cinching illusion without adding a clothing item that doesn’t necessarily fit the look.

3. Easy: Midi Dress, Sweater, Accessories

Now, let’s take everything we’ve learned about layering and use it to transition a Spring/Summer item into Fall and Winter.

My favorite clothing items are midi or long dresses in a loose fit. I find them so comfortable and cute, but most are made of thin fabric.

Midi and long dresses are the best items to take from Spring/Summer to Autumn/Winter, because they allow for many hidden layers and have a ton of versatility.

Layering 101: Pink sweater, black and white floral dress, pink socks, white sneakers, black crossbody bag

For this look, I wore my favorite dress. It is a black and white floral dress. Since the dress is so neutral, I wanted to add a pop of color. I used a hot pink oversized sweater. Previously, I would’ve tried to tuck it in a bit with elastics, but I decided to leave it as is.

Then, I added a black crossbody bag to cinch my waist a little. Finally, I wore a pair of pink socks and white sneakers to tie all the items together.

Such a simple yet cute look, right? And it is so easy to recreate and add layers if you need to be warmer.

This outfit works solely because of the accessories and shoes I chose. The bag, the socks, and the sneakers are all different colors, BUT each one echoes the colors of either the sweater or the dress.

4. Medium: Mini Dress, Collared Shirt, Coat

Now, how do we handle mini dresses or skirts? Like a lot of you, I have some mini pieces that I love and want to wear, but if it is too cold, I will leave them in my closet for months.

You can still apply all the layering tips we’ve gone through above to wear a mini dress into the colder months.

Layering 101: Map pattern shirt, yellow dress, denim coat, yellow socks, off white loafers

To create this layered look, I just chose one item to focus on and built the rest of the outfit around it.

In this look, my focal point was this map pattern button-up shirt, featuring blue and a range of pastel tones. Then, I layered a cotton shift dress in a very subtle pastel yellow. To continue with the warm but muted shades of yellow, I put on a pair of mustard yellow socks and off-white loafers. Finally, to address the blue of the shirt, I threw on an oversized denim coat.

All my previous tips are present in this outfit. I added the dress and coat with the shirt’s color palette in mind. The fabrics are all organic and slightly thin, so you will not see the shirt scrunched under the dress or have space issues with a slimmer coat. Finally, the shoes and accessories tie all the colors by echoing the rest of the items.

Of course, had it been a lot colder, I would’ve added a pair of tights and a warmer coat. If you want to create a similar outfit, your tights can be neutral or colorful, depending on the palette you’re working with.

5. Medium: Mini Skirt, Shirt, Vest

Now that we’ve gone over the basics of layering in our outfits, let’s think of the layer cake example from above.

As mentioned, my favorite way to approach layers is to think of them as tiers on a cake. In the best layered outfits, each layer has a structural purpose, and you can clearly see where it stands in relation to the rest.

To achieve that, you must consider the proportions and the fit of all the items you’re styling.

Layering 101: white shirt, black knit vest, black faux leather mini skirt, black sheer tights, white socks, black paltform booties, black hairband

To exemplify my layer cake example, I wanted a black-and-white look that would clearly display each tier.

First, I wore the white cotton button-up shirt from the second outfit and paired it with a black faux leather mini skirt. Then, I threw on an oversized black knit vest. For coziness, I added a pair of black sheer polka dot tights and white socks. Finally, I accessorized with a black knitted headband and used a pair of black platform booties.

Look at the items in this look. The length of everything is perfectly placed so you can see all the other items. The vest is slightly shorter than the shirt, which is, in turn, slightly shorter than the skirt.

The three main items have different textures, giving the outfit movement and interest. The knit of the vest is present in the texture of the headband, both the skirt and boots are faux leather, and the socks and shirt are white cotton. Subtle, visible details construct a cohesive, put-together outfit.

Also, quick FYI. Thanks to layering, the same white cotton shirt worked perfectly for two very different outfits. This is an example of how one item can have its use multiplied when you know how to layer. This will save you so much money!

6. Difficult: Cropped Sweater, Button-Down Shirt, Jeans, Coat

Another way of showing the layers of an outfit is to add them vertically.

In the previous look, all the lines of the outfit were horizontal. But what if you don’t have items of the perfect length available?

Also, what do we do with our statement pieces? Or our metallics and sequins? This outfit will explain:

Layering 101: silver metallic top, blue shirt, blue coat, wide leg jeans, silver boots, silver crossbody bag

For this look, I knew I wanted one statement piece as the base. It is this silver chainmail top. Then, I added tailored, wide-leg jeans. They’re very high-waisted, so they hit right where the top ends. My first layer is an oversized royal blue shirt with silver buttons. Next comes a navy blue coat that is slightly longer than the shirt. Finally, the accessories are a silver bag and silver cowboy boots.

When I’m layering in a more advanced outfit like this one, I like to follow the rule of three to create balance.

In this outfit, there are three blue items: One on the bottom and two on the top of the outfit (above my waist). And there are three silver items: One on the top and two on the bottom of the outfit (below my waist). These items balance the material and shininess of the top and the amount of denim present.  

7. Difficult: Colorblock Layered Outfit

When styling the previous looks, I didn’t delve too much into color. Let’s do that now.

There are two ways to approach color when layering. The easiest way is to take cues from patterned items you own, as I did with the blue and pink look (outfit #1, above). Or, you can use color theory to create a layered look. [Read my full article on Color Block Outfits for details.]

Since we already did the first option, let’s go with color blocking and color theory for our next layered outfit.

Layering 101: blue shirt, red knit dress, red leather coat, burgundy socks, burgundy loafers, blue bag

To create my colorblock layered outfit, I used the same powder blue button-up shirt from the first outfit. Then, I wore a tomato-red knit dress. To layer more, I threw on a wine-red leather coat. Finally, I added navy blue and burgundy socks, patent leather loafers, and a navy blue purse to tie everything.

What makes this outfit work are the proportions of the items and the attention paid to color balance. Blue and red are primary colors, so they look amazing together, but be mindful of how bright or muted your palette is so you can create a sense of cohesion.

Finally, again, the blue shirt is present in two of my outfits, and it looks completely different in each thanks to layering. Versatility at its best.

8. Difficult: All-Denim Layered Outfit

For my final outfit, I wanted to show how fabrics, fit, and color give purpose and intent to a layered look.

When you’re confident in yourself and your styling knowledge, but most importantly, in how everything in your closet works together, you can find incredibly fashionable looks without buying a single thing.

Layering 101: Denim shirt, denim vest, jeans, denim blazer, off white tie, off white belt, off white sneakers

Let’s break down this look I recently wore to the office. (Yes, it’s a casual office.)

First, I paired these medium-wash mom jeans with a matching medium-wash denim shirt. I tucked in the shirt and buttoned it up. For my first layer, I added this medium-wash denim vest that I recently sewed. Then, I added a medium-wash (are you seeing a pattern now?) denim blazer.

Now, to really take this Canadian tuxedo to another level, I added an off-white and navy-blue polka dot tie. To tie everything together, I accessorized with an off-white belt and wore off-white and navy-blue sneakers.

For me, this outfit is what layering is all about. It’s a fun, creative, cool outfit, and I didn’t buy anything to achieve it. Everything I’m wearing I’ve had in my closet for years, but had never thought to pair together.

One day, I had an idea and took the items out to see if they matched. All the denim items matched perfectly (fashion miracle!). The fit of the vest and blazer hit just at the right spot to allow all the other items to play a part in the look.

I encourage you to do some similar experimentation in your closet! Layering can be a lot of trial and error but the results are well worth it; you can create some incredibly cool outfits if you try.

What do you think of these layering tips & outfits?

Do you like layering? Would you wear any of the outfits? What’s your favorite way of layering? Do you have any styling questions? Let us know in the comments below!

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