How To Layer Clothing

How to Layer Clothing How To Layer Clothing

No matter what the season may be, the clothing you choose to wear – & how you wear it – can dramatically alter your comfort level. If you’re one of many who live in a temperamental seasonal climate, you’re used to transitioning your wardrobe to coincide with the rise & fall of the temperature. In most cases this means utilizing some form of layering so that you have the flexibility to either add or shed pieces as the weather dictates. As a general rule, layering is thought of in three stages: an inner layer, a mid layer and a shell(outer) layer; but combining form and functionality with style is no easy task. Below are a few foolproof ways to ensure you’re doing it in a way that will keep you comfortable and stylish in any season.

Inner Layer

The sole purpose of the inner (or base layer) is first & foremost to keep your skin dry. Seems pretty logical, right? Generally your first layer will be some form of lightweight shirting that will be either concealed beneath other layers, or as part of an outfit. The goal here is to choose something that will allow sweat & moisture to be drawn away from your body to help keep you dry and comfortable. There are many fabrics to choose from here varying in technical elements, but any tried & true base later is almost always based on cotton in some way.

If you choose to wear a cotton undershirt with a collared shirt, look for an undershirt that serves its purpose without being seen. For many men an undershirt is a necessity to help absorb sweat & grime, prolonging the life of a shirt. But should you require one, it should be invisible to the world around you.

Due to the constraints of cotton, if you are planning a large outdoor excursion or are wearing your base layer for activities that call for heavy physical exertion, you might want to consider a synthetic-cotton combination or a synthetic entirely. This will do a better job of wicking away sweat as opposed to absorbing it, though with increased technicality comes an increased price.

For those of you whose sweat glands produce minimal leakage throughout the day, you might be able to forgo the undershirt entirely. If this sounds like you, then your base layer is probably some other form of shirting. Whether your preference is button-down, spread, cutaway or point, the collared shirt should be fitted to your torso but not skintight, since you want space for moisture dispersal.


While a collared shirt fits easily under a sweater (thick or thin) it can also be paired over a t-shirt, a thin henley, thermal, or even with another collared shirt. Just make sure the thinner shirt is underneath the thicker one, natch.

Utilizing some form of layering gives you the flexibility to either add or shed pieces as the weather dictates, keeping you stylish & comfortable

Mid Layer

The central goal of the mid layer is to provide warmth & is often referred to as the insulating layer. While you could choose to opt for the thickest knit possible to provide maximum insulation, this is not the only way to achieve your desired level of comfort. By dressing in a few thinner layers, you can also achieve this effect. This might make more sense for someone who has to deal with the fluctuation of weather throughout the day.

When selecting a sweater or knit to wear, it is imperative to understand the function it will play throughout your day. If you’re planning on wearing a sport coat or a suit, you should be opting for lightweight, thin knits that won’t bulge or fold up under your jacket. Crew necks, v-necks, or cardigans are all great options, but much like your inner layer, the type of fabric plays a key part in its functionality.


Linen is a great option in the spring/summer months because it will wick away sweat from your body, thus keeping you cool. Cashmere, merino wool & lambswool are essential fall/winter fabrics that will keep you warm during the cooler months, & can also add great texture to an outfit.

Thick sweaters like heavy gauge shawl cardigans and hand-knit pullovers are best worn as a top layer or with a trim piece of outerwear. Due to their bulkiness, you’ll want to avoid pairing them with a lot of layering underneath or with a bulky coat on top. You don’t want to look like Randy from A Christmas Story.


A trim pea coat, topcoat or down vest can work over a thick sweater. Just make sure that your outerwear is cut slim enough that you’re not adding a significant amount of heft over an already thick knit, bulkiness will always become most apparent at the waist, exactly where you don’t want it.

The goal here is to choose something that will allow sweat & moisture to be drawn away from your body to help keep you dry and comfortable

Shell Layer

The key behind the shell layer is to protect your body against the elements, which is why this layer is also referred to as the outer layer. The shell layer should allow moisture to pass through the jacket from your body, & should ideally stop all wind and/or water from penetrating. The only exception where a shell layer will not provide its desired effect is during moderate to extreme physical activity.

If you are planning on going for a run or a lengthily jog, the properties in the coat that protect you from the elements will still do their job, but you’ll likely end up creating a one-man sauna inside. So while you might stay dry against Mother Nature, you’ll likely end up a hot, sweaty mess if you decide to physically exert yourself while wearing one.


Layering is something that will take time to master, and should be approached with caution. Combining functionality with style is something that should always be at the root of your clothing decisions. By following the above guidelines, this should help serve as a basis for your general layering qualms. Feel free to add your own layering suggestions in the comments section below.

  • The inner or base layer is designed to keep your skin dry
  • The mid layer is to provide warmth, and is often referred to as the insulating layer
  • The shell layer is to protect your body against the elements
  • If you require an undershirt under your collared shirt, avoid the standard white crew neck t-shirt since it will peek out unless you’re fully buttoned-up
  • Avoid buying skintight shirts, as they allow very little breathing room for your sweat glands
  • Thin mid layers are your best bet for comfort & versatility, especially if you’re in an area where the weather fluctuates dramatically throughout the day
  • Thick sweaters look best with trim outerwear
  • The thickest layer should almost always be the last piece of clothing on your body
  • Avoid shell layers if you’re planning on enduring any physical exertion


Have a great piece that sees you through the changing weather? Well, we want to hear about it. Feel free to let us know what it is in the comments section below!


Luke Hall

Luke Hall

Luke Hall is a Radio & Television Communications graduate. In addition to being a style connoisseur, he enjoys traveling, composing music, and debating the future of the Boston Celtics.
Luke Hall

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