March at The Monthly Stitch was all about layering. Unfortunately missed out on that month’s challenge, I was rather caught up in all things from the seventies. But the notion of layering is something that I have been giving more thought to lately. Layering is important in the UK because most of the year, heading outdoors without layers is just not possible. Even when it is relatively warm, we can always expect a downpour or a cool breeze (actually more likely a gusty wind blowing off the coast here). But I can truthfully say that I do layering badly; I struggle to find cardigans and jumpers that “look right” with my chosen outfit and too frequently resort to the same old, tired combinations.
To start with I looked on the internet to see what advice there is available about layering and to find some inspiration. Would this elevate my layering skills and create “a look” above my usual thrown-together outfits?
Sadly, I found a fair number of the articles very irritating to read. They seem to follow the usual Sunday supplement template with a tone that appears to be closer to coercion than inspiration. Garments are labelled as “essential” and “should own” and the “advice” is clearly designed to encourage the reader to shop rather than galvanize them to open the wardrobe door and confidently select an outfit.
That said, I’ve tried to distill the ideas I’ve found into an easy to follow list. These aren’t rules, that’s far to “Sunday supplement”, I’m thinking of these as concepts to experiment with.
It’s recommended to keep under-layers as more fitted and the thinnest garment. In fact the general advice is to layer from thinnest garment nearest to your body and the thickest garment as the outermost layer.
“The key to not looking bulky is to make sure your bottom layer is made from a lightweight fabric and is a snug fit.”
This seems like sound advice to me, plus if it is particularly cold outside it makes it possible to easily discard layers when you go inside.
I do see some outfits where the inner layer is definitely thicker, like in the image below, but it is close fitting and the outer layer is looser and sheer.
Most of the websites seem to stop at three layers, for example, shirt, jumper and coat. I find that I often struggle with just three layers when it is cold. Adding more layers can make me look bulky, perhaps I need to evaluate the warmth of those layers and perhaps lean towards buying more wool fabric / knit more, to stick with three layers.
Another thought is to top off the look with a belt to allay concerns about looking bulky and give more definition to the waistline.
When you have to layer up, it’s difficult not to look swamped in too much fabric. The recommendation here is to pair a more voluminous blouse or a slouchy cardigan, with something fitted below like skinny jeans or a pencil skirt. Likewise, if you’re wearing a flared skirt or wide-legged trousers, pair it with a more tailored top.
I don’t normally have this problem. I’ve had a particular dislike of being drowned in fabric since childhood. As a child, I was on the small side, and therefore frequently dressed in things that I’d “grow into”. If anything, I have a tendency to wear too many fitted things.
Similar to the above consideration on silhouettes, the articles advocated longer-length jacket, coat, tunic, with shorter hemmed skirts and shorter tops with floor-grazing maxis as a more flattering combination. I’ve also been intrigued by the way that longer lengths in the under layers can work with shorter garments worn on top. For example, a shirt peeping out from under the hem of a sweater or a jacket with ¾ length sleeves worn deliberately with a t-shirt with sleeves to the wrist.
I see this style worn time and time again, but when I try this it always looks like something that “isn’t supposed to happen” on me. Am I getting this wrong somehow or is it that my scepticism about this look colouring my opinion here? Carolyn from Handmade by Carolyn is the queen of layering. She always seem to pull together beautiful outfits. Just thought I’d point out that in the photo above Carolyn is wearing a jacket which has shorter length sleeves that the t-shirt underneath and it looks right!
I was intrigued to see what advice there is about layering with garments of different colours. Obviously the more layers you wear, the risk of colour clashing is greater. Therefore wearing colours that match or complement each other is important. Perhaps the most interesting tip I picked up here is the idea of wearing colours of different hues or tones to create depth. For example, wearing a blue scheme, you could mix and match light blues and navy blues and wear the lightest blue close to the body and the darkest as outerwear.
Another colour scheme that seemed to be mentioned in these articles was Donna Karan’s classic palette of black and camel.
The advice with texture is all about using a mix of materials. The idea is to create interest and avoid the use of the same fabrics, which can look heavy and dowdy.
Creating outfits which include patterns has got to be one of the trickiest things to pull off, particularly if you’re going to include more than one pattern. Wearing too many patterns or clothes with clashing patterns can look overwhelming.
The articles recommend placing the most complex pattern on the top layer. This article that covers menswear advises that it you’re wearing a shirt with strips, then not to wear a tie with stripes; perhaps team a striped shirt with a checked pattern instead.
The simplest way to avoid these pattern dilemmas though is just to wear clothes in simple block colours. I admire the clean minimalist style as worn by Jen of Grainline Studio or Karen of Fringe Association.
I do have a reasonable collection of plain simple garments, but for me personally I would miss the excitement of wearing something patterned. And it is possible to be quite adventurous and combine patterns in an outfit. Just take a look at the outfits in the images below, where there are garments sporting floral designs paired quite successfully with stripes or checks.
Next month, I’ll be joining in Me Made May as usual and I thought instead of wearing as many of my me-mades as possible, as in previous years, I thought this year I would experiment with layering. So here’s my pledge:
“I, Steely, of steelyseamstress.wordpress.com, sign up as a participant of Me-Made ’18. I pledge to wear thoughtfully selected outfits each day of May and challenge myself to wear stylish layered looks that use my wardrobe to the max, especially my me-mades.
 Idle Man – Advice on layering for men
 Guardian website – How to do layering
 Gurl website – Winter layering style tips
 Glamour magazine – Winter layering fashion essentials