In this comprehensive guide, we cover a topic that is essential to every aspiring dapper gentleman: how to layer clothes for men. We will cover all elements of layering, for both cooler months in the fall & winter seasons, and warmer months during the spring & summer seasons!
So you’ve decided to abandon your wardrobe preferences inspired by Old School, and have taken on a more sophisticated approach to style. Out go your inverted visers, your night time sunglasses, your father’s inspired jeans and your white sneakers (now there’s some combination!), and you’ve replaced them with fitted chinos, chukkas to boot (no pun intended), well fitted dress shirts, knitted ties, silk ties, a few stunning plaid sports coats and a couple of impeccably fitted suits. Congratulations – you’re officially an adult.
But there’s a glaring hole. You can wear each ensemble in isolation. A plaid sports coat with fitted chinos. A two or three piece grey suit, even. But what happens when you want to incorporate various elements from different ensembles, and embark on the daunting, rarely discussed art of layering?
Courtesy of www.thretrendspotter.net
Maybe you want to incorporate a sweater into your winter ensembles. You could potentially be looking at adding a scarf. Textural, color and pattern considerations come into play – and you appear utterly lost, confused and overwhelmed. Or it could be summer, and you could be experimenting with layering, without feeling like you’ve just run a marathon after a brisk two block walk in Midtown, Manhattan.
With that said, here is our comprehensive guide to men’s layering!
What is Layering?
Layering is the art of adding multiple pieces of clothing to your ensembles, so as to provide both a functional and aesthetic benefit. Your average Joe on the street is typically wearing pants and a dress shirt, and if he decides to ‘layer up’, he may have added a sports coat or blazer for some extra sophistication. That single, extra step will already differentiate him from the numerous gentlemen out there.
Now imagine what could be accomplished with say, a sweater / cardigan, a knitted tie, a scarf or a pocket square (you obviously wouldn’t want to incorporate all these elements – but you get the point!). You’d suddenly have a whole range of pieces to make your ensemble look more visually appealing, all while providing greater insulation properties – especially during colder months!
Courtesy of www.dmarge.com
The key point to remember is that layering should provide a functional and aesthetic benefit. Therefore, you want to be able to look stylish, even as you remove layers of clothing (no – we’re not talking about business time socks here). If layered in the right way, the removal or addition of clothes to detract from, retain heat shouldn’t take away from your aesthetic appeal.
Business time socks are not considered layering!
Therefore, lightweight, breathable garments should be worn closest to your skin, while more durable, heavyweight garments that protect you from the elements should be worn as your outer layers.
Winter & Fall
Winter can be tough; transitioning from indoor to outdoor temperature changes can really make you uncomfortable when wearing the wrong clothing. Layering seems to be the only solution. Layering can be a daunting task for those who are not quite masters of pattern matching or color mixing. Layering is an art.
I would suggest the first thing to start thinking about when you’re trying to decide what kind of layers you’re interested in wearing is to figure out what parts of your body are the most uncomfortable throughout the day, and when. There are some pieces that can be hidden, like wearing two pairs of socks or long underwear under your trousers, but what about the things that can be seen?
What if you are sitting in your office and realize that you are always too warm up top when you sit down? What if when you decide to take your jacket off you now look out of place and unprofessional? It may be time to start mastering the art of layering.
Layering, at its core, comes down to the right assortment of fabrics. No perfect combination of color and pattern can outdo erroneous fabric selection, especially when layering.
Before putting together an ensemble, it is imperative to consider each fabric from its origin source. Again, this is all linked to the rule of dressing from lightest to heaviest. Most garments will typically be made of wool, cotton or a blend with a tertiary fabric (linen, cashmere etc). Even if two of your successive layers are made from the same fabric (e.g cotton), it is important to discern the look and feel of the fabric based on its composition (how densely are the warp and weft interlocking in order to create said fabric?).
Courtesy of www.lookbook.nu
Rules of Layering
1. Each visible layer should be something you can wear on its own
A core tenet of layering! If you aren’t comfortable wearing that layer on its own (and I don’t mean breaking bad style!), then it won’t look appropriate while layering. Exceptions here can be made for undergarments, which generally can’t be seen. However, anything that is visible should be something your comfortable donning with just your jacket / coat, or on a standalone basis. If the article of clothing is flimsy, doesn’t fit well or is not in line with your intended color and pattern coordination, please discard it for the purposes of layering!
Each successive layer is something you should be comfortable wearing on its own (and by that, we don’t mean just a vest with your body suit! – we mean that layer and the layers underneath it). Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
2. Outer Hems should be longer than inner hems
As a general rule of them, the hem of your other layers of clothing should conceal the hem of your inner layers. Nothing speaks to ‘badly dressed’ like your dress shirt sticking out from under your sweater!
When outer hems don’t cover inner hems, you look out of place! Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
3. Progressively scale your patterns
While you can scale your patterns in either direction, we think it is best to progressively scale your patterns from smaller to larger e.g solid or microcheckered shirt, to potentially a solid sweater and then a plaid (larger checkered) sports coat. The progressive scaling of patterns lends a congruency to your ensemble.
Pattern scaling is the best way to layer, especially if you start with smaller sized patterns and work your way up. It could also work if you want to dress like Liberace! Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
4. Limit your ensemble to one or two bold colors
Looking to make a statement? Avoid too many bold colors! Opt for one too many, and you will end up looking more clown-ish than dapper. The trick is to accentuate your neutral or subtle tones with one or two louder colors e.g a pink tie with a light blue shirt and a brown or navy sports jacket.
Too many strong colors is never a great idea! Courtesy of www.coolmenstyle.com
5. In addition to fashion, each piece should be worn for functional benefit:
- Inner layers of clothing, such as your undershirt’s primary function is to wick away moisture, and hence, need to be light and breathable. However, given that they are typically invisible, the fashion element is less of a concern.
- Shirt layers provide a great visual centerpiece for your ensemble (in addition to your tie), and can be worn without the excessive layers when you enter a room.
- Middle layers (especially so during the colder, winter months), such as a sweater, vest, cardigan or sports jacket, provide adequate insulation, in addition to a refined, dapper look.
- Outer layers, such as your top coats, should be long enough to cover your other articles in the ensemble, all while providing the most insulation during the coldest months of the year.
Where Do I Start?
Start with gathering your base layer options, this is going be to be things like long underwear and undershirts. Be mindful of indoor and outdoor temperatures of wherever you decide to go that day.
If you already feel that you are comfortable with just your under layers and an overcoat when being outside/transitioning inside – you’re all set. However, this is not the case for many, transitioning from windy/freezing outdoor weather into a warm office for the day can be hard. You are either too hot or too cold throughout the day and layering breathable, lighter layers is your best option.
Layering is an excellent way to add contrast and detail to your look, while keeping comfortable throughout the day. Keep in mind that in order for this to fully work, you will need to be sure that each layer will be able to hold up as its own outfit. For example, if you get too warm you may want to take off your jacket to expose a vest or sweater, be sure that layer is well fitted and appropriate with the rest of your outfit so that it can stand alone.
Wearing your clothing from lightest (closest to your body) to thickest is a great way to keep yourself from looking too bulky when removing layers.
Layering from thinner to thicker garments allows you to dress from both an aesthetic and functional standpoint! Courtesy of www.fashionbeans.com
With your next layer, dress shirts are the first option that come to mind. A men’s wear staple, the dress shirt will serve as a center point of your ensemble and allow you to coordinate up from there based on color, pattern and texture.
An alternative to the dress shirt, particularly in less formal settings, is the Henley. A seasoned cousin of the t-shirt, a Henley allows you to dress comfortable while looking smart. Henley’s are thin, light and typically plain colored, and have a couple of buttons up around your neck, without the formality of a dress shirt collar.
Shirts should be a center piece of your layering efforts, whether they be dress shirts or a Henley! Courtesy of www.ashleyweston.com
From black tie events to work, and even smart casual wear, the vest has seen a true resurgence in recent years.
If you don’t already own one, it might be time to start thinking about a wool vest. Vests come in all colors and fabrics and in the cold months, you can get a very nice tweed that works well with almost all of your plaid suits/coats to give your look an extra boost.
Few things add to a layered look like Men’s Vests!
Be sure to wear a fitted shirt, or have your shirt appropriately tucked in, so as to avoid your shirt bouncing up around your waist at the back. Just as with a suit, your vest should fit snugly around your shoulders.
A vest is the most appropriate when you are sweating through your shirts because your jacket is too warm but you do not want to compromise looking dapper.
Layering Sweaters and Cardigans
Not quite a vest guy, or just tired of wearing them? Maybe it is time to consider sweaters and cardigans. When paired with a blazer or suit, a sweater/cardigan can provide an extra layer of dapper that will have you standing out. When combined with a blazer, sweaters and cardigans can look fantastic as part of a three-piece ensemble and may be a bit more comfortable when sitting for long periods of time than a vest might be.
When wearing a sweater and cardigan be sure to layer a nice collared shirt underneath, this will add both flare and an extra level of comfort between you and the sweater. Plus, if you decide that you want to go out after work and you want to remove your stuffy sweater, you will have a nice, appropriate shirt underneath.
A Cardigan is defined as a knitted, full-sleeved, buttoned v-neck sweater. So how exactly should a cardigan fit? Like with all good fit, it is essential that the fit of your cardigan is comfortable and snug, without being baggy. Your cardigan shoulder seam should end at the top of your shoulder, while the bottom hem of your cardigan should cover your waistline, while still leaving your pockets exposed. Ideally, you should be looking for a cardigan with enough room to layer over a shirt, but fitted enough without becoming too bulky of a middle layer.
A well constructed cardigan will have a taper that flatters a man’s body, where it narrows at the waist and widens out at the hip to accentuate one’s own chest. A woolen cardigan will protect you more effectively from cold weather, given its insulating characteristics.
A cardigan should fit snugly, without being too tight! Courtesy of www.bonobos.com
A pullover sweater can either be dressed up or dressed down. These sweaters are typically worn over a collared man’s dress shirt, but can also be worn with a collar-less t-shirt or Henley for a more informal look.
A v-neck sweater provides you with the perfect opportunity to strut that tie! Courtesy of www.articlesofstyle.com
Pro tip: It is a good idea to keep it lint roller on hand when wearing sweaters. Wool sweaters and cardigans tend to leave behind tiny pieces of residue on contrasting colors, which may unintentionally take your professionalism down a notch.
Layering with Blazers & Sports Jackets
Blazers and Sports Jackets are essential components in Men’s Layering. So, what are the differences between the two?
The Sports Jacket is your least structured, more casual outer piece. In the past, sports jackets were actually worn for functional purposes – particularly horseriding! Sports Jackets have made the transition from having been primarily considered luxury items to now being more prevalently used across both more formal and less formal settings.
The key distinction to be made is discerning between conservative and fashionable sports jackets. A conservative sports jacket focuses on being another element in your ensemble, without being your statement piece. The conservative sports jacket can be worn at any time. The conservative sports jacket can be worn across a range of functions, be it a wedding or at the office.
A blue windowpane blazer with a striped tie provides for an incredibly dapper look! Courtesy of www.lyst.com
The fashionable sports jacket is a statement piece, where you have the ability to more freely express yourself. Because the fashionable sports jacket is worn less, feel free to go with a higher quality, finer grade of wool. A fashionable sports jacket made with a bespoke tailor can also be adjusted for details such as peak lapels or colored button holes to add further flair.
A fashionable sports jacket with detailed finishing! The envy of every men’s wear enthusiast!
A Blazer can be worn across a range of formal settings, with the exception of fully formal. The blazer is hence a middle ground piece that can stylistically elevate your attire, without being overtly formal.
So, what are the key distinctions between a sports jacket and a blazer?
- A blazer does not encompass a pattern. Texture within the weave of the fabric is suitable, but there should not be a definitive pattern.
- A key distinguishing characteristic are the presence of metal buttons. The metal buttons also help demonstrate that you are not wearing an off colored suit jacket with your pants!
- While blazers have less structure to them than suits, they are not as soft shouldered / unstructured as a sports jacket.
Your navy blazer can be your go to item when you are required to dress well, without having to dress overtly formal! Courtesy of www.artofmanliness.com
The Navy Blazer should be a core piece in your wardrobe, and can be paired with a variety of pants including grey, blue and brown!
Layering with Ties and Pocket Squares
Looking to add an extra layer of umph to your cold weather layering? Try ties and pocket squares. Ties look amazing when placed between your first and second layer (i.e. collared shirt and vest/sweater).
Adding a tie or pocket square is a great way to add extra color and flare to your outfit without adding bulk and draw more attention to your face. With a versatile tie and pocket square collection, you will be able to effortlessly enhance the look of your winter wardrobe mixing other fabrics, like silks, into your wool layers.
When wearing a tie, it is essential to scale up (or down, though we prefer up!) patterns, so as to create more visual interest. Examples would include a wider regimental striped tie against a narrowly striped shirt, or larger paisley pattern against a microcheckered or solid shirt.
Again, the pattern itself matters less than the scaling. A Paisley pattern against a microcheckered or striped shirt is going to create a more pronounced look than a small foulard (repeating pattern) against a microcheckered shirt. The goal is to create pop with the scaling up of patterns!
Please feel free to view The Dark Knot's extensive range of Silk Ties!
The Dark Knot’s Canterbury Regimental Stripes Silk Tie pops off perfectly against this narrowly striped shirt!
Having the ability to match ties to your attire based on color is an essential component of layering! You could opt for a monochromatic (darker shade tie against a lighter shirt e.g navy tie against a light blue shirt), triadic look (balancing of warm and cool colors, such as a burgundy tie against a blue shirt) or a similar color scheme (purple tie with a blue shirt).
A monochromatic color scheme can provide for a great look when considering layering options! Featuring The Dark Knot’s Millbury Foulard Navy / Turquoise Silk Tie.
Now, this is where things get interesting! While pattern and color variation enhances your look from a two dimensional perspective, the consideration of textural variation will enhance your look in a three dimensional capacity. While silk ties have been the go to since the inception of the tie, the addition of thicker, textured weaves can significantly add to your look!
Knitted Ties, as the name implies, are ties that have been knitted rather than woven. Knitted Ties are characterized by an open weave, a narrower blade (typically between 2.0 and 2.5 inches) and square ends (versus triangular ends for traditional, silk ties).
Please feel free to view The Dark Knot's range of Knit Ties.
Knit Ties are a great way to add textural depth to your ensembles! Courtesy of www.tie-a-tie.net
The Grenadine Tie has long been associated with powerful men across film history, most notably with Sean Connery’s James Bond. A Grenadine Tie is a textured, woven silk tie that looks incredibly suave. While a grenadine tie at first glance may resemble a knitted tie, knitted ties are reserved for less formal occasions.
A grenadine tie is one that has been made from Italian Silk, having been woven as opposed to knitted. The grenadine tie features an open weave, involving two warp yarns twisted around the weft, in order to provide a strong, dramatic look!
Grenadine Ties add a sense of refined elegance to your attire! Courtesy of www.stylegirlfriend.com
Pocket Squares provide the perfect finishing touch with a layered ensemble. In addition to providing both pattern and color variation, pocket square fabrics can be a great way to introduce textural depth to your attire.
Pocket Squares are a great way to inject additional flair into an already layered look! Courtesy of www.thenordicfit.com
In addition to textural depth, various pocket square fabrics can also serve the functional benefit of being more appropriate for certain folds. While silk pocket squares are typically reserved for puff folds, a linen or cotton pocket square is ideal for folds involving edges or corners, such as the presidential pocket square fold or four peak pocket square fold. Linen, for example, provides a more crisp finish to one of the above folds, with accentuated peaks and edges providing for a cleaner look.
Please feel free to view The Dark Knot’s extensive range of Silk & Linen Pocket Squares.
The ultimate neck piece, scarves are an essential component of layering. Men’s Scarves, which have made a resurgence in recent years, have proven to be the ultimate accessory in providing both an aesthetic and functional benefit.
Courtesy of www.etonshirts.com
From a functional standpoint, scarves do an excellent job of protecting a man’s neck. A thicker wool or cashmere scarf can help insulate your neck during the Fall / Winter Seasons.
From a fashionable standpoint, a scarf can immediately enhance a neutral look, or similarly can be used to balance out a bolder outfit.
Please feel free to view The Dark Knot's range of Men's Scarves!
Scarf With A Suit
Ready to add some flair to your suit during cooler seasons? A scarf makes for the perfect addition. With minimal effort, you can layer up a step further with one simple step. Simply drape your scarf around your suit, so as to avoid clashing with your necktie. If the scarf is long, fold it in half and drape accordingly.
A draped scarf with a suit always provides for a suave look! Courtesy of www.fashionbeans.com
Feel free to opt for a bolder scarf for extra effect, or go for a more subtle color / pattern to neutralize your look.
Scarf With A Sports Jacket
Jackets with scarves provide an incredibly dapper look. If your sports jackets are not worn with a tie, now is an opportune time to pull off one of those fancier scarf knots! Enhancing your outer layer with a more colorful sock is a great way to add visual interest to your attire. Alternatively, you can neutralize a bolder colored sports jacket with a solid colored scarf in taupe, beige or grey.
Courtesy of www.effortlessstyle.com
Scarf with Jeans
Looking to dress up a more casual look? Scarf with jeans are the way to go (and no, you wont look French unless those jeans are skinny!). Given the relatively non layered look associated with jeans you can add a scarf with more thickness, and take it a step further with a scarf knot.
Given the relatively casual nature of jeans, a scarf knot is a great way to balance out your layered look during the Fall or Winter Seasons! Courtesy of blog.trashness.com
Contrary to our earlier statement, if you are looking for something more elegant, opt for the Parisian Knot. How do you tie a Parisian Knot? Fold your scarf in half, place it over your neck, and pull the loose ends through the looped end. The benefit of this knot is that it is easily adjustable.
Choosing an Appropriate Coat
Looking for the perfect coat to layer your formal wear? Every aspiring dapper gentleman should have a go to overcoat. Traditional overcoats, made from fine wool, will not only keep you insulated during the colder months, they will also keep you dry in persistent rain.
Men’s overcoats complete the layered look! Courtesy of www.thetrendspotter.net
Looking for an alternative to the winter coat, that can be worn during both formal and informal settings? Cue the Pea Coat. These coats are versatile enough to be worn to a formal occasion, or over a pair of jeans / chinos and a sweater in a more casual setting. Every gentleman should have a pea coat from heavy duty wool as a closet staple!
Belts are quite literally the only visible layering you’ll need on your lower body. A wider or brightly colored belt can make a pronounced statement, helping provide a dividing line, particularly if you have bolder pattern and color combinations throughout your ensemble.
A Lapel Flower can significantly enhance an already layered look! Courtesy of www.stylemotivation.com
Other articles that can add variety to your ensembles include hats, gloves, jewelry, bracelets and even lapel flowers. Going too heavy on these can increase your layering quotient and make you look out of place – so it is best to be discerning in choosing which elements to incorporate into a layered ensemble.
Layering During Summer Months
Looking to layer during the spring / summer seasons? While this may sound like an oxymoron, given the enervating summer heat, there are ways to dapper up with layers without looking like you’ve run a marathon after walking a full Midtown Manhattan block! Here are a few guidelines that should help you to dress pompous while sprinting through the summer heat, while still managing to (barely) keep it together:
1. Successive layers of clothing should be heavier in weight
Hold on, before you switch over to another article! We can opt to wear successive layers of clothing that are heavier in weight by incorporating a finer woolen suit on top of say, a cotton, or linen shirt. Three layers of cotton, or linen, for example, will definitely leave you looking out of place!
A tropical woolen suit is ideal for spring & summer seasons, as it allows you to layer up without being impacted by that searing summer heat! Courtesy of www.articlesofstyle.com
2. Mix Darker Colors with lighter colors
While the temptation to go all in on lighter colors during warmer months may be hard to resist, incorporating darker elements will provide your attire with a more balanced, elegant look.
A darker blue jacket and brown tie can contrast perfectly with lighter items during the summer months! Courtesy of www.thenordicfit.com
3. Consider the lining of your jackets
While a linen, cotton or finer wool jacket may initially appear as being ideal for the spring / summer seasons, the presence of a jacket lining will certainly make these items appear heavier than they actually are. Be sure not to overlook this important consideration!
Unstructured summer jackets will do a much better job of protecting you from those incredibly strong heat rays.
4. Pay attention to the construction of your articles of clothing
Spring & Summer shirts, such as linen shirts, should be paired with unstructured jackets. This will provide congruency from both an aesthetic and functional perspective. For example, a starched formal shirt with an unstructured jacket would not only look out of place, it will also do little to help you cool down during the summer months.
Unstructured Suits & Shirts will make your clothing work together during the summer months! Courtesy of www.articlesofstyle.com
Alright, so that was a ton of material that we have covered! In summary, we would pay attention to the following:
1. Start with thinner layers closer to your body, and work your way outwards with heavier fabrics.
2 Each layer with the layers underneath should look good as an ensemble on its own. Therefore, try to ensure that the incorporation of each article of clothing adds to the overall aesthetic.
3. When adding patterns, work your way up from smallest scaled patterns (e.g solid or microcheckered shirts) to larger scaled patterns (e.g polka dot ties, plaid sports jackets etc). While patterns can also work in reverse scale, the effect is usually less pronounced and hence makes less of a statement.
4.Try to limit items with louder colors to a couple pieces at most. While a louder item can bring more attention to your attire, too many loud colors will create color conflict and will leave your attire looking overwhelming.
And that’s a wrap for this one! Hope that you have enjoyed reading this article as much as we did writing it.