The topic of this article is something we are probably all familiar with; it is an essential part of how we style ourselves, not just during the depths of winter but in both the run up to the colder months and in the weeks before the sun returns in full. The art of layering – for it is something of an art – is a technique in which many of you may already be well versed, looking forward with excitement to the day when you can open your wardrobe and combine all those items collected throughout the previous seasons into new and interesting looks.

But others might be less confident. If layering is an art then it must take time to master. It requires practice and careful thought, as well as a suitably stocked and season appropriate wardrobe. Whether you are part of the former or the latter group is unimportant however; in the fashion world there is always room for development. This guide is designed to help those who may be unsure, and ask questions of those who aren’t – all the while suggesting ways in which efficient, practical and sartorially elegant layering can be achieved. So without further ado, let us begin.

The Importance of Layering

Obviously, layering plays a big role in the creation of our autumn/winter outfits. Layering keeps us warm and develops our looks, but also helps make the most of our whole wardrobes – whichever season they are geared towards. Fine knit jumpers, lighter cotton T-shirts etc can all be used very effectively, saving you a lot of money and ensuring your wardrobe remains as transitional and versatile as possible. After all, very few of us have the disposable income to completely overhaul our wardrobes every season, so being able to use items we already own to create new, season appropriate stylish looks is always going to be a bonus.

However, the ability to effectively layer your clothes is not just a case of exercising practicality. If it was, then it wouldn’t hold such importance. Most tellingly it can actually define your outfit – it isn’t as easy as pulling on any old Tee or shirt under a jumper or blazer, each item should work as a group AND as an individual. No matter what outfit you create, there will undoubtedly come a time when it becomes too warm for all of your layers, and you could look very silly when you have to strip down to the vest you ‘just threw on’ under your shirt. This appraoch doesn’t constitute stylish, considered layering; wearing a henley top or coloured tee as a base layer is a great way to make even the simplest part of your outfit more dynamic and interesting.

You should also bear in mind just how much good layering will effect the overall aspect of your look. Wearing numerous layers of varying material and cut has the potential to completely alter some of your existing staple outfits – by adding depth through textures and modifying the whole shape/silhouette – as well as aiding in the development of new ones. Experimentation in this sense is a great way to inspire more confidence in the clothes you already own and even increase your enthusiasm for dressing each morning; ensuring stagnation of your personal style is avoided.

Finally, layering will also provide you with a brilliant medium for injecting or mixing colour. You are wearing more so you have a lot more choice when it comes to picking your statement piece, or you could inject flashes of colour through the inner layers – for a subtle suggestion of colour if you will. Layering also allows you to step a little further out of your comfort zone – if you want to integrate a bold new statement piece, such as a patterned shirt or bright coloured knitwear, you can be safe in the knowledge that there are multiple other pieces you can anchor it with. See Paul’s guide on neutralising colours for inspiration as to how you can draw attention away from items you are initially less confident about.

A Winter Layering Lookbook

Men's Winter Layering Lookbook

The Method

It really doesn’t take much to create a very warm, very practical and very stylish outfit. Simplicity, as with so many aspects of fashion, is the best way forward – simple textures, refined and appropriate cuts and the odd splash of individuality is all you really need – especially when you consider that nine times out of ten, everything will for the most part be covered up by your coat.

Picking your materials carefully is one of the fundamentals of layering. Natural fibres are more often than not much warmer than synthetics and they are the sign of a decent quality piece; investment is a good idea. If you look at the big trends this season you will notice that most make good use of wool and its variants, such as tweed and corduroy – all traditionally winter based fabrics and guaranteed to keep you toasty.

It’s worth mentioning though that you are better off wearing multiple thinner layers rather than relying on one thicker one, especially when the weather is susceptible to unexpected temperature changes. Whilst you may love your chunky roll neck jumper, it can get a little toasty if the mercury unexpectedly rises – inside or out.

After spying a few outfit examples featuring it, I have becoming quite intrigued by the roll neck under shirt look – not only is it surely very warm, but it also plays on the established ideas of sartorial style. Find a fairly slim fitting ribbed example and you have yourself a very fashion forward layering base; beware of colours however, as a bold roll neck under a white shirt could be a disaster. There is also a case for knitwear on knitwear, such as a roll neck under a jumper, thick knit or otherwise. Play with colour, pattern and texture for a truly individual look and for all those lovers of oversized items, the extra space will give you huge scope for layering with completely unique results.

Layering Men's Rollnecks underneath shirts & knitwear

Example Layering Looks
The Formal
  • Ralph Lauren Black Label Cotton Blend Formal ShirtRalph Lauren Black Label Cotton Blend Formal Shirt
  • John Smedley Belvoir Rollneck SweaterJohn Smedley Belvoir Rollneck Sweater
  • Nicole Farhi Navy Wool Flannel Peak Lapel BlazerNicole Farhi Navy Wool Flannel Peak Lapel Blazer
  • 247 Wool Trouser247 Wool Trouser
  • Charvet Silk Pocket SquareCharvet Silk Pocket Square
  • G.H. Bass Larson Beefroll Leather LoafersG.H. Bass Larson Beefroll Leather Loafers

In terms of simple and effective layering, wearing a roll neck under a shirt works brilliantly. Having a piece of fine knitwear as your base layer not only keeps you very warm but it also creates a very interesting visual aesthetic; think individual, minimal, clean, refined and modern. In a formal outfit it removes the need for excessive layers and avoids ruining your fitted silhouette with the unsightly bulk you might find with a chunky knit. With a structured blazer over the top you have a very fashion forward, formal look; why not try it at your Christmas party?

Alternatively try the knitwear on knitwear look; pair a fine knit roll neck with a ribbed or cable knit jumper/cardigan for a clever play on textures. Once again a blazer will bring it up a formal notch and you could just find yourself the Bell(MAN) of the ball.

The Smarter Casual
  • AllSaints Eastlake L/s ShirtAllSaints Eastlake L/s Shirt
  • AllSaints Shire CrewAllSaints Shire Crew
  • Marc by Marc Jacobs Classic Tweed JacketMarc by Marc Jacobs Classic Tweed Jacket
  • ASOS Dark Wash Slim Fit JeansASOS Dark Wash Slim Fit Jeans
  • Polo Ralph Lauren Red Lambswool Fringed ScarfPolo Ralph Lauren Red Lambswool Fringed Scarf
  • Grenson Oxblood Brogued Stanley ShoesGrenson Oxblood Brogued Stanley Shoes

This being the season of heritage fabrics, we obviously want to make the absolute most of them; a tweed jacket is one of the biggest players this autumn/winter and it is surprisingly versatile – dressed up or dressed down a well fitting blazer always looks good and is a great layering piece. NOTE – this is a good example of clever fabric choice, as tweed is designed to help deal with the colder weather, and so considered a superb winter investment.

Nothing outwardly special here; a nice chunky jumper over a button down Oxford shirt (my favourite colour being a light blue) and a pair of slim fit dark wash blue jeans. To make this look a little different you could always try experimenting with patterns and colours. Every layer has to look good on its own as well as with the outfit as a whole, so you could try to add a shot of individuality by incorporating one of the emerging patterns – think subtle floral or polka dot or a more daring Navajo design.

The Casual
  • Burgundy Classic Crew T-ShirtBurgundy Classic Crew T-Shirt
  • Black Heritage Rib Grandad T-ShirtBlack Heritage Rib Grandad T-Shirt
  • ASOS V Neck JumperASOS V Neck Jumper
  • Gloverall Made In London Melton Wool Duffle CoatGloverall Made In London Melton Wool Duffle Coat
  • ASOS Slim Fit JeansASOS Slim Fit Jeans
  • ASOS Lace Up Desert BootsASOS Lace Up Desert Boots

Despite the fact that layering does sometimes remove the need of a coat, we are a long way from suggesting that you don’t need one at all. The coat is still a big part of your outfits and the centrepiece of a winter wardrobe, so it is important that the layered looks we create actually work with these all important items. A duffle coat is a great addition to any wardrobe and works brilliantly in casual looks, whilst you also get the added benefit of it still being an outside choice; individuality comes as standard. Picking a more daring colour will really make it pop, so look at a timeless camel or a more out there burgundy or green.

For the rest of your outfit you have to take into account that the coat is a central part of your look; the weight and warmth it adds will have a big influence on the layers beneath. Stick to thinner layers and more of them so that they can be peeled off and added again if need.

Key Layering Product Suggestions
  • Burgundy Pattern JumperBurgundy Pattern Jumper
  • AllSaints Vargan CrewAllSaints Vargan Crew
  • Polo Ralph Lauren Merino Wool Rollneck SweaterPolo Ralph Lauren Merino Wool Rollneck Sweater
  • Joseph Navy Cashmere Crew Neck KnitJoseph Navy Cashmere Crew Neck Knit
  • Topman Red Elbow Patch Vee CardiganTopman Red Elbow Patch Vee Cardigan
  • AllSaints Lander CardiganAllSaints Lander Cardigan
  • AllSaints Harvard L/s ShirtAllSaints Harvard L/s Shirt
  • Topman Dark Green Oxford ShirtTopman Dark Green Oxford Shirt
  • Jaeger Merino roll neck jumperJaeger Merino roll neck jumper
  • American Apparel Henley TopAmerican Apparel Henley Top
  • ASOS Crew Long Sleeve Top With PocketASOS Crew Long Sleeve Top With Pocket
  • AllSaints Clark L/s HenleyAllSaints Clark L/s Henley

Layering is an important skill that all fashionably inclined gents should be keen to learn or even develop; it plays such a big role in the creation of winter looks that those who don’t and those that can’t are often left out in the cold, figuratively AND literally. It doesn’t have to be complicated or over worked – simple items worn in simple ways is best, so take a good hard look at the clothes you already have before you rush out and buy more because you might well have everything you need already. (Of course it doesn’t hurt to treat yourself to something new every so often.)

So let’s get some feedback, what do you think?

  • What are you favourite layering items?
  • How do you layer them?
  • Have you got any layering tips?
  • Do you make the most of the wardrobe you already have, or do you have to build it according to season?

Let me know in the comments below.