How To Dress For Changeable Weather
Five expert tips for piling on the layers – without looking like the Michelin man
Here we are at an uncertain moment. The seasons are changing and the outlook is unpredictable. Actually, in the UK at least, the weather has been doing all sorts of silly things for months now. What on Earth will happen next? The only way to deal with this sort of environmental fickleness is to dress in outfits consisting of many layers. This allows you to be prepared for a variety of temperatures and to move between a range of environments – from chilly streets to heated or air-conditioned buildings – in comfort.
How to do it properly? The cardinal rule is to ensure that your outfit still works whenever you add or remove a layer. Always pick pieces that work together, either colour-wise or thanks to complementary materials. This doesn’t mean, however, that you need to restrict yourself to a single style – you can experiment by mixing different pieces, such as more casual padded jackets with work-friendly suits and blazers, or by substituting knitwear for more formal pieces. But remember, each piece in the look should work independently, too, and the lower layers should be appropriate to where you are going and what you’ll be doing.
DON’T BULK UP
As a general rule of thumb, your layers of clothing should start thin and become progressively thicker as you move away from the body. So, start with something like a T-shirt, layer over a shirt and a denim jacket and then wear an overcoat over that. The outer layers should also be looser so you can actually move. This means that in colder weather it’s easy to remove the warmest layer to ensure you don’t boil when indoors. In order to ensure that you don’t look overly bulked up, look out for raglan sleeves for the top coat. This sleeve style starts at the collar, so there is no bulky shoulder seam to crumple up what you’re wearing beneath. Also, if a bit of air can circulate between the layers it will help to keep you warm.
An exception to this rule is if you want to start off with a chunky (or very warm, such as cashmere) sweater – a cable-knit rollneck, for example. In this case, you should think of the top layers as a single composite garment. You could add a bomber jacket for a bit of extra warmth and then a lighter raincoat over that to protect you from the weather, both of which can then be removed when indoors.
PLAY WITH LENGTH
Traditionally, the rule for layering is to start with the shortest piece next to the body and increase the length as you work out. That’s certainly a methodology that works, but there are other ways to do it these days. If you are wearing a suit and tie, you can layer a padded gilet on top as an alternative to a long coat so that the tails of the jacket are visible underneath. Or you can leave a shirt untucked under a crew-neck sweater so that the tails are visible. Followers of the Rick Owens school of dressing should particularly enjoy this effect – the brand designs its T-shirts extra-long so they hang down to the knees. Wearing your longest layer closest to your skin will give the loosest, and grungiest, effect.
BE CAREFUL WITH COLOUR
When wearing multiple layers it is best to play it safe, colour-wise (for more in-depth advice on this matter, see MR PORTER’s very own man’s guide to wearing colour. After all, you don’t want to end up looking like a traffic light. Instead, think tone-on-tone dressing so that all the layers work together. Grey is a particularly easy colour to work with – you can go from dove grey to charcoal layers in complete confidence. These tonal combinations tend to work best if you start with the lightest shade for the inner layer and then to go darker as you work outwards – complementary grey layers will work well, for example, with a black overcoat. The other trick is to play with well-established families of colours that you know work well together. So, start with a plain white T-shirt and then play with shades of blue on top. And if you do want a pop of colour, you could finish with a shade of red as the final touch.
When it comes to patterns, however, it is best to look for contrasts – a mix of stripes or polka dots risks looking too busy, and could trigger migraines. Instead, mix it up, but wear the busiest pattern as the outermost layer. Try starting with a Breton top worn under a block-colour overshirt in place of a blazer, and then top with a padded plaid jacket – it usually works best if you save the busiest pattern for the top and you stick to just one statement piece in the mix. One exception to this is the Fair Isle sleeveless tank top, which works well mixed with chambray shirts and Melton wool peacoats.
POP YOUR COLLAR
It pays to play around with the neckline when layering pieces. The simplest starting point for any look is a white round-neck T-shirt. If you then put a denim jacket or blazer over the top, turn up the collar. Then leave the collar down on the coat you add on afterwards. Conversely, if you are starting with a rollneck, leave the collar down on the second layer and up on the third. If you want to wear a scarf with this last look, go for a longer, chunky knitted style and wear it loose under the coat collar. A great piece for layering is the hoodie. Try wearing it hood-out under a leather biker jacket and then finish with a lighter-weight coat.
PAY ATTENTION TO DETAILS
As you move between seasons, judicious layering means that that you can play around with different pieces without having to worry too much about the weather. So, experiment with wearing overshirts rather than blazers and cardigans as jackets. Think about mixing appropriate materials together – knitwear works best with a knitted tie, rather than a very formal silk one. One word of warning, however: when throwing on a lot of clobber, don’t forget to give thought to your overall silhouette. While most of the action is happening on your top half, you should still consider your choice of trousers. If your top layers make you appear bulkier above the waist, avoid very skinny trousers as you don’t want to end up looking like a lollipop. Ditto shoes, as these have to work with every layer. Look for boots with chunkier soles, which have the added advantage of being perfect in less-clement weather. As an aside, if you are spending much of your time outdoors, avoid leather soles when the forecast is foul, as you don’t want to spend the day with wet feet.