We could easily give you a few Piece by Piece outfits that incorporate layering. That way, you could just go out and purchase the items we tell you look good together. But as they say, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” We hate cliches, too, and that’s not to degrade the essentiality of a good Piece by Piece — because, hell, we’ll probably give you a layering PbP later this week. But layering is an art. So now that summer’s out for the school year, and now that cold weather is coming in for a while, we’re serving you up something good. Something big. So here you go. Layering 101. Welcome to class.
Put simply, layering is just the use of multiple layers of clothing in the same outfit. Classic go-to example is overcoat over sport jacket over sweater over shirt.
Effective layering ultimately requires the harmonization of five aspects: color pattern, texture, type of garments, and fit. Effective harmonization of these aspects demands patience and humility: don’t try to be loud.
Stay within a simple color scheme. Don’t put bright purple with neon green. Keep it simple. In fact, one really cool technique is to use only shades of the same color. For example, a grey suit with a charcoal grey sweater with a light gray overcoat and black shoes can be knock out. A step removed from only shades of one color is only shades of one color plus an extremely bold accessory. So try your all-grey look and throw in a blood red cashmere scarf.
If you’re compelled to use some louder colors in your outfit (other than a scarf), more power to you. But keep other garments relatively simple. Try your bright blue sweater with other relatively muted colors in your suit and shirt.
Having established a simple formula of one bold colored item with the rest of your outfit’s items muted, we now contradict ourselves. Sort of. We won’t go so far as to say try a bold purple with a bold orange with a bold neon green. But a bright red sweater over a loud orange bengal stripe shirt might not be hideous. In other words, if you want to use multiple loud colors, make sure that these colors are relatively close to each other on the color wheel.
Thus, we arrive at the ultimate rule of layering with color, basically a reiteration of everything we’ve said: pair a couple or match all items in similar color schemes. If you don’t want to emphasize color much, having several layers of dull colored items to shift emphasis to texture, fit, and form is a great move. If you want bold stuff, have some dull colors in there to relax the eye. Bright blue and turquoise? Okay, but give us a navy blazer to let our rods and cones chill out (navy is especially good because it still fits within that color scheme…). Or just go for the one brilliantly colored item with the rest dull colors.
Harmonizing pattern is hard. That’s why we advise against trying to mix and match many patterns.
Plaids are tricky. Don’t go with two plaids in one outfit unless you’re at a country club prep fest. Keep it to one plaid. Or avoid pattern altogether like the guy directly above: part of what is so striking about his outfit is the very absence of pattern and strict utilization of monochromatism.
Try a black watch with navies and greys: this will show you that a dull pattern is really effective with other simple colored monochromatic items.
Eager to try out a bold plaid? Fine. Just keep everything else relatively simple, and make sure some of your other pieces draw on colors in that bold plaid.
If you’re not about the plaids, try anything else — stripes, gingham, etc. They’re simple, and if you keep your colors close together, your outfit will always work. See the captioned picture below for further explanation.
So to sum, the rule of pattern is ultimately the following: work within a simple color scheme and then feel free to explore pattern, but if you’re going with plaid, keep it simple elsewhere in the outfit.