The idea of layering clothes can be pretty intimidating. It’s hard enough to make sure your shoes, shirt, and pants match, but when you add in more than one shirt and some outerwear, it can be rather scary. Following some key layering guidelines takes a plain and boring outfit and makes it something special.
A huge part of layering correctly comes from developing a strong eye for style, which will happen over an extended period of time. However, while you’re getting started there are several key guidelines you should follow that will help you layer your clothes properly. Once you understand there, it really just comes down to practice!
1. Don’t Show More Than Three Layers
This is the perfect rule for getting started with layering. You can wear more than three layers, of course, but no more than three layers should be visible.
For example, you could show a plain T-shirt, an unbuttoned shirt, and a sweater. Or swap the sweater for a coat. If you’re going super formal, a dress shirt, a vest, and a suit jacket are the perfect trifecta!
Less than three is okay, of course, but always limit yourself to no more than three. Why is three the sweet spot? It creates enough visual interest without adding too much material bulk as to restrict movement or make you look bloated.
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2. Each Item Should Stand on Its Own
When you’re throwing on layers, you should think about whether you’re layering for a dramatic, intentional, effective look or simply trying to hide an ugly shirt under something else. Ideally, you want each layer you’re wearing to be nice enough to function on its own.
Obviously, jackets are an exception because they should always be worn over something – you’d look pretty silly walking around in just a coat or jacket without a shirt – but everything else should be of a nice enough quality and stylish enough to stand on its own.
Think about it: what if it gets hot at the restaurant and you need to take off your sweater? Being able to take off layers is one of the main benefits of layering up in the first place! So you want to make sure you feel comfortable with each layer on its own. Always keep this in mind when you’re choosing which clothes you want to wear.
3. Outer Layers Should Be Bulkier
This one should be a bit of a no-brainer, but it’s worth mentioning that you should always wear the thickest and bulkiest clothing on the outside. You don’t want to wear a thick, baggy sweatshirt under a slim-fit button-down. You wouldn’t wear a jacket under a tee-shirt.
Basically, you’re going to want to use common sense and look in the mirror to see how your layers look. Undershirts should be thin, shirts and sweaters should be medium weight, and coats should be the heaviest. If you can see a baggier shirt rippling under an outer layer, you’re probably going to want to adjust the order of your layers.
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4. Don’t Match or Repeat Patterns
Layering is all about creating variety, and having two layers with patterns that repeat isn’t doing the job.
Let’s say, for example, you’re wearing a button-down with vertical stripes on the outside. You don’t want to wear vertical stripes on the tee-shirt under it or the sweater on top of it. Instead, you’ll want to go with a solid color to create a more interesting look that isn’t visually jarring.
If you’re wearing a nice solid-colored leather jacket, you may want to layer something with a pattern underneath. Again, it’s all about creating variety that’ll make your look stand out.
Of course, when it comes to layering guidelines, it’s fine to wear solid colors on each piece as well. It’s a safer and less adventurous option, although perhaps a bit boring if that’s all you wear.
5. Outer Layer Should Be Longer
When you’re rocking multiple layers, you want to the layers underneath to be visible at the top, but you don’t want them hanging out of the bottom. If you’re wearing a sweater with a button-down, having the tails of the shirt sticking out the back will look sloppy, which is the exact opposite of what we’re going for here. If your shirt is longer than your outside layer, you can simply tuck the shirt in.
Like most things in the world of fashion, this rule can be broken when you know what you’re doing, but when you’re just getting started in the world of layering, you’re going to want to keep it simple and follow the rule.
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6. Play Around With Fabrics and Weaves
One of the more simple, but often overlooked layering guidelines for stylish men, is to play around with your fabrics and weaves. In most cases, you don’t want all three layers to be the same fabric and weave unless it’s a more formal event. By mixing up the fabrics and weaves, you add a unique texture and personality to your outfit.
You might have a cotton tee under a shiner synthetic button-up shirt, then cover all that with a bulky knit sweater. It may take a little trial and error to find the right combinations for your style, but it’s well worth it to give your outfits more variety.
7. Avoid Being Too Colorful
If you want to stand out like a sore thumb, more color is better. But, for stylish men, the best layering tip is to limit yourself to one stand-out color. It really doesn’t matter which layer contains that pop of color, as long as it’s just one.
For your other layers, stick with muted or neutral colors. For instance, if your second layer is a vivid green shirt, you might opt for deep green, brown, or even gray for your other layers. The colors should complement each other without much contrast.
8. Use Accessories to Layer
So far, I’ve just talked about shirts. But, nowhere in the layering guidelines for stylish men does it say you’re limited to shirts. For instance, when you’re wearing a nice suit without a vest, your tie or pocket square works as a layer. If you’re feeling bold with a casual outfit, rock a scarf or add a hat. Yes, hats are considered layers. Watches will be a great addition too.
In most cases, you’ll still want to stick to the three-layer rule with the exception being suits. A three-piece suit still needs a tie to be complete.
9. Keep Darker Colors Outside
In most cases, you’ll want your darkest color to be the outer layer. The main exception to this layering rule is if you’re wearing a lighter color jacket with a dark shirt or sweater.
However, you’ll look far more stylish by saving your darkest layer for the outer layer. This also means you should try to avoid wearing white on the outside. Sometimes, it looks too formal and doesn’t add much depth to your outfit. Keep the white for your base or middle layer.
10. Consider Seasonal Palettes
If the thought of trying to match colors makes you cringe, you’re not alone. Stylish men try to keep things simple by using a basic trick – stick with a seasonal palette. For instance, for fall, look at the colors of changing leaves – shades of brown, red, orange, and yellow. If it’s summer, you might opt for green, orange, yellow, blue, and brown.
You don’t have to complicate things with complex patterns or intricate color combinations. Of course, once you become the ultimate stylish man, feel free to show off.
Layering guidelines for stylish men aren’t that complicated. Take a look at your favorite celebrities for inspiration. Or, ask for advice and show off your outfits on men’s style subreddits and forums.
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