The art of layering all year round

Layering traps air between garments to keep you warm or cool

Layering traps air between garments to keep you warm or cool
Image source: Samuel Windsor

Wearing multiple layers of thin clothing minimises bulk and is an excellent way to insulate your body, helping to keep you cool when it’s warm, and warm when it’s cold. Layering works by trapping pockets of air within and between garments, so that neither the heat nor the cold penetrates. When the temperature rises, simply remove a layer of clothing; when it falls, put an extra layer on. Layering is a super simple way to stay comfortable and stylish whatever the weather. Here’s how to get it right…

Layering tips

Quilted jacket from Samuel Windsor

Several thin layers will help you stay comfortable as the temperature fluctuates
Image source: Quilted jacket from Samuel Windsor

When layering, you want your outermost layer to hang the lowest. Your shirt should cover the hem of your t-shirt and your jumper should hide the bottom of your shirt. When you put on your jacket, it’s the jacket we want to see.

Having said that, leaving a few shirt or jacket buttons undone gives you the opportunity to flaunt the sartorial elegance that lies beneath. Broadly speaking, complementary colours work best when you wear them in layers, but even when it’s just a collar or cuff lining, a single contrasting colour will lift your whole ensemble.

And don’t forget your accessories – gloves, scarves and hats make a huge difference during the winter.

How to layer for hot weather

Cashmere-mix jumper from Samuel Windsor

Add a thin cashmere-mix jumper as a mid-layer when the sun goes down
Image source: Cashmere-mix jumpers from Samuel Windsor

Layering for hot weather is about shielding your body from the sun’s rays while maintaining a flow of air close to the skin. There are two ways to achieve this:

  • Wear several layers – the air trapped between lightweight, loose-fitting garments stops the heat from penetrating.
  • Wear thick clothes – the Bedouin keep cool despite wearing black robes, because the fabric is so thick, the heat doesn’t get all the way through.

Anyone remember the 1965 film “The Flight of the Phoenix” starring James Stewart and Richard Attenborough? When a plane crashes in the desert, the race is on to build a new one from the wreckage before the water runs out. Who could forget the scene where the demented Cobb follows the doughty Captain Harris into the desert, only to die of exposure.

Why did Cobb die? Because he ripped off his clothes. Captain Harris, having remained covered up, made it back – his wool army jacket and peaked cap protected him from the heat.

Summer layering with shirts

A linen shirt from Samuel Windsor over a white t-shirt is a cool and stylish combination

A linen shirt over a white t-shirt is a cool and stylish combination
Image source: Linen shirts from Samuel Windsor

In warm weather, leave your slim-fit t-shirts in the wardrobe and opt for one with a bit of breathing space instead. Although cotton is quite absorbent, ideally, you want the minimum contact between textile and skin – loose is best.

Throw on a shirt over the top, and leave it unbuttoned to let the air pass through as you walk down the street. Treat yourself to a snazzy pair of classic mens sunglasses, some summer-weight chinos and you’re good to go.

Summer layering with lightweight jackets

A loose weave linen jacket and Panama hat from Samuel Windsor are great for keeping the sun off

A loose weave linen jacket and Panama hat are great for keeping the sun off
Image source: Linen blazer from Samuel Windsor

Need a little extra to keep you warm on a summer evening or want to smarten up on a hot day? Your best bet is a t-shirt and jacket combo. Choose your fabric to match the weather. If it’s very hot, try a seersucker jacket. A t-shirt and a linen blazer is another great combo because linen’s loose weave and super-absorbency means this fabric is always cool to the touch, no matter how high the mercury climbs.

When it’s cooler out – or a little on the breezy side, try wearing a t-shirt under a cotton twill jacket. Here, the jacket’s tight weave protects you from the chilling effect of the wind, while providing excellent protection from the sun.

Cooler still? Wear a cotton tee under a summer-weight tweed jacket, and if necessary, add a long sleeved shirt too.

Summer layering accessories 

A summer Ambassador hat from Samuel Windsor is lightweight and cool

A summer Ambassador hat is lightweight and cool
Image source: Hats and caps from Samuel Windsor

Your headgear plays a vital role in protecting you from the worst of the sun. A classic Panama hat is the ideal match for your linen jacket, but good too as a contrast against a darker tweed or twill.

Need something a little more casual? A microfibre flat cap is an excellent alternative to its winter tweed cousin. And don’t forget traditional straw trilbys – an excellent summer option.

How to layer for cold weather

Quilted coats from Samuel Windsor trap even more air to insulate you against the cold

Quilted coats trap even more air to insulate you against the cold
Image source: Outerwear from Samuel Windsor

Layering in colder weather keeps you warm because multiple layers trap air between them, insulating your body from the cold, and holding your body heat close to your skin. You should choose a base layer which wicks moisture away from your body, and an outer layer that resists the elements, with a combination of cotton and woollens in between.

Why wear a thick, bulky winter coat, when layers offer a lightweight alternative that’s way more versatile? If the sun comes out, just remove your top layer. If it begins to rain, shrug on your waterproof.

Winter layering with cardigans

Cardigans from Samuel Windsor

Like your suit jacket, leave the bottom button of your cardigan undone
Image source: Cardigans from Samuel Windsor

Too warm for a jumper but too cool to go without? You’re in cardigan territory, an item of clothing that’s seen a resurgence in recent years. Go for lightweight Italian wool under your suit jacket to create a look that’s laid back but super-smart.

The guys at GQ say that cardigans are an elegant way to jazz up your work or casual wear:

Layer the cardigan over a paper-thin T-shirt, push the sleeves up, and wear it with your nicest work trousers.

For a more rustic ensemble, try pairing a cable knit cardigan with dark jeans and t-shirt. To really ramp up the autumn theme, wear seasonally appropriate colours like rich browns, moss and heather.

Winter layering with tank tops

Tank tops from Samuel Windsor

A plain tank top works well over autumnal checks
Image source: Tank tops from Samuel Windsor

The perfect combination of style and practicality, a tank top keeps you warm without baking you alive. Keep to block colours and wear over your plain or pinstripe business shirt, or for smart casual, twin with autumn checks.

A tank top is also an easy alternative to a waistcoat under a blazer or tweed jacket. As the guys at Dappered say:

Fitted sweater vests are a super light layer that’ll slide well between you and a jacket.”

To look the perfect country gentleman, go for contrasting colours.

Winter layering with gilets

Worn as an outer layer over a shirt or sweater, gilets add warmth without bulk
Image source: Gilets from Samuel Windsor

Forget associations with horses or farms, a gilet makes a fine addition to every gent’s wardrobe. Wear yours as a layer under your jacket, or as an outer layer in its own right.

The guys at Fashionbeans say:

Subdued tones like black, grey, navy and stone are visually less punchy and have the added advantage of mixing well with the rest of your wardrobe.

Go for a fitted, non-bulky gilet in a neutral tone, and wear your coat open. Alternatively, a thick gilet makes a great alternative to a coat when the weather turns nippy. When it’s too cold for just a shirt and a coat’s too stuffy, a gilet perfectly fills the gap. For a quick fix if you’re out after sundown or early in the morning, bung one on over a jumper or lumberjack shirt.

Winter layering accessories

Aran jumper from Samuel Windsor

Hats and scarves help to prevent the need for full winter wear
Image source: Aran jumper from Samuel Windsor

Thinking of accessories for the season of mellow fruitfulness? Grab yourself a flat cap which looks wonderful with anything from a wax jacket, tweed sports coat, gilet or thick jumper. Heading to the office? Try a cap with a cardigan and mack for a style that harks back to a bygone era when we dressed a little sharper.

And don’t wait until there’s ice on the roads to start wearing a snappy scarf; it’s surprising how much warmer you’ll be in your gilet or cardigan, putting off the moment when you have to switch to full winter-wear. Make yours a real statement by opting for a bright plaid number, or going for a bold autumnal red, green or yellow to contrast with the rest of your attire.

Layering is by far the best way to dress elegantly for weather of any kind. Get it right and you’ll sail through winter without looking like the Michelin man, and look stylish in summer without losing your cool. 

Posted in Men's style guides.