How to master the art of layering

WHAT EVERY WOMAN NEEDS: How to layer like a pro

LAYERING is a necessity in winter but many women are afraid to for fear of looking bigger than they actually are. While logic would suggest this is true, if you know how to layer like a pro, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Yves Saint Laurent once said that “dressing is a way of life”. But choosing what to wear can be confusing and mistakes can be expensive. However, it is generally expected that a woman should have a sense of style and know how to dress. Truth is, most of us don’t.

Style is an innate sense of what works together, an instinct, unfortunately, that doesn’t come naturally to all women. It’s the ability to mix and match different prints, patterns, textures and accessories to achieve an outfit that looks stylish.

However, it is not a secret available only to a few. It’s a matter of common sense and clever dressing. It’s the subtle art of layering, a concept that many women struggle with.

Winter is the time of year when layering is a necessity. And when done well, it is pure genius. (Well, I may be stretching the truth a little, but we are talking about fashion!)

  Style is very different to fashion. Once you find something that works, own it.”

Many women are afraid to layer their clothes for fear of looking bigger than they actually are.

While logic would suggest that this is true, if you’ve mastered the art of layering this couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s no right or wrong way. It’s about adding interest, about creating a sense of drama.

It’s also about confidence. Your success is measured by how creative you allow yourself to be. Remember that style is very different to fashion. Once you find something that works, own it. Yet, even the most creative need guidelines.

Before you get started there are six things to consider to help you gain perspective: know your body; understand proportion; be confident with colour; understand prints and patterns; know your textures, and be strategic with accessories.  

But, most importantly, you need confidence. If you feel good in what you’re wearing, you’ll exude confidence. An outfit, no matter how on-trend, will never be right if it isn’t comfortable and doesn’t feel like you. Therefore if you feel good in what you’re wearing, then you’ll exude confidence. And ultimately, that’s what we all want.

So there is no reason you can’t be a style queen. All it takes is a little imagination, some experimentation and the passion to bring it all together. So be bold, be brave and be confident. Knowledge is power, right?

Related: Should you bag match your shoes?

WHAT EVERY WOMAN NEEDS: How to layer like a pro


1: Know your body 

Before you head to your wardrobe, you need to know your body. A perfectly layered look will complement your curves and create the illusion of a more proportional silhouette.

  • First, what is your body shape? Are you bottom heavy or top heavy? Long body or short body? The list is endless and I’m not going to dwell too much on the whole body shape agenda here. But, most importantly, what you can’t eradicate you need to minimise or disguise.
  • Second, what is your best asset. Is it your legs? Maybe it’s your neck, your bust or your waist? Or your bottom?
  • And third, how to look taller and slimmer. Know how to create a slim silhouette or elongate your body by creating a continuous vertical line, forcing the eye to travel up and down your body, not across — this adds width.

Related: What every stylish woman knows

2: Proportion 

Balance and proportion are paramount when layering. To keep things simple and rather than getting into the whole body shape agenda, think of your body as a triangle: Narrow upper body + wide lower body. OR an inverted triangle: Wider upper body + narrow lower body. 

  • Don’t swamp your body. You don’t want to add bulk. Your ultimate goal is to achieve a slim silhouette.
  • If you are bigger in the upper body and want to wear a voluminous or loose-fitting top to disguise your girth, keep your lower body narrow. (Think inverted triangle).
  • Want to wear wide-leg pants or a maxi skirt? Keep your upper body narrow. Think fitted tops or jackets with a nipped-in waist. (Remember the triangle.)
  • But if you want to cover your big bottom, your top should sit just below your widest part  i.e. below your bottom. NOT above on the waist or halfway on your hips.
  • If you want to wear an unfitted cropped jacket, make sure your undergarments are more fitted so as to keep your shape looking slim.
  • Dress in halves if you are short and thirds if you are taller.

Related: How to age gracefully

WHAT EVERY WOMAN NEEDS: How to layer like a pro

WHAT EVERY WOMAN NEEDS: How to layer like a pro

3: Get creative with colour

The best way to create a slim silhouette is to:

  • Wear one colour head to toe. This is one of the most effective ways of elongating the body. It also provides a blank canvas of sorts to start layering. However, consider breaking the look by wearing accessories in complementary colours, prints and textures.
  • Or opt for tone-on-tone dressing. This means wearing a variety of tones or shades of the same colour. It has a similar lengthening effect as wearing one colour head to toe. Then get creative with pattern and texture
  • Alternatively, try complementary colours such as black and white, navy and cream, green and blue, brown and orange, or pink and orange. They are classics because they work. It’s best to work only with two colours.
  • If you want to be really brave, try three colours or mix several brights together. Why not try pink, orange and cobalt blue.
  • A light-coloured top with dark-coloured bottoms will always be more slimming than the reverse. This is because the eye is kept high with a pale or light-coloured top, reinforcing the vertical. So don’t feel the need to wear only dark-coloured tops if you’re heavier in this area.

Related: How to look fabulous at 50 (and beyond)

4: Prints and patterns

Don’t be afraid to mix prints with patterns.  Mixing prints with patterns provides unlimited opportunities to really express your personality. 

  • Mix spots with stripes, stripes with florals, graphic patterns and spots or florals with graphic prints. You can wear them all – with great success – provided the base colour palette is the same. Consider it a form of tone-on-tone dressing.
  • The key is to identify the base or background colour in your print or pattern. But when it comes to accessories, choose one thing in that base colour (preferably a solid colour) – bag, shoes, coat, gloves, scarf  – thus grounding or anchoring your look.
  • If you’re really confident, throw caution to the wind and run wild with abandon. The sky’s the limit!

Related: The fashion habits that age you

5: Textures

It’s best to incorporate a mix of materials if you want to layer like a pro. Wearing the same fabric or texture, will make you look heavy and dowdy, plus the appearance of unwanted weight as well.

  • Add interest and surprise by mixing rough with smooth, matte with shine, sheer with solid, light with dark, soft with coarse.
  • Think boucle with fine gauge knits, silks and satins with heavy-based wool fabrics.
  • Pair a chunky knit with delicate silks and satins, or georgettes and chiffons.
  • Think about the weave or construction of fabric. So mix large open-weave with finer tight-weave fabrics or sheer with solid.
  • Sheer fabrics are an effective strategy to hide or minimise without adding bulk.
  • Always remember balance and proportion. Then think attitude.

Related: How to look rich when you’re not

WHAT EVERY WOMAN NEEDS: How to layer like a pro

6: Strategic use of accessories

The use of accessories continues the concept of creating a continuous vertical line, something you will want to consider if you plan on wearing lots of layers that add bulk. But think of accessories as essentials, not extra pieces.

  • Scarves. The two ends of a scarf that hang equally down the front of the body widens the body. Consider, instead, having one side longer than the other, or tie or wrap it so that one end is longer than the other.
  • Necklaces. The same above applies to necklaces. Long strands elongate the body. Short necklaces create a horizontal line, something you want to avoid. However choker-style necklaces that sit right around your collarbone look great if you’re wearing boat necks, or strapless bodice-style tops or dresses.
  • Belts. Wear a belt. Regardless of shape or size, it gives the illusion of shape. If you’re not sure, wear under a cardigan or jacket.
  • Handbags. If you’re wearing a shoulder bag, keep the strap shorter so your bag sits under your arm. Don’t let it hang on your hip, as the extra bulk of the handbag only adds width at your widest part — your hips. Choose a structured handbag, a tote or clutch instead.
  • Bracelets. I’m a big believer in statement jewellery. But keep it simple. Opt for one piece that makes a statement rather than lots of little pieces. Choose either a necklace, or earrings, or bracelets. AVOID wearing everything at once. Unless you’re Iris Apfel, and you have a personality to pull it off.

Related: How to dress — and play — the leading lady


Okay, so now you’ve got the basics sorted, it’s time to start styling.

  • Start with a basic lightweight neutral-coloured top. Think classic and plain. Let your top garments do the talking.
  • Add another layer such as a soft knit — cardigan or jumper — or a floaty overdress or top. This is also a great way to introduce colour to give your outfit personality or more interest and depth.
  • Next add outer layers such as a jacket or coat. Maybe try something in a base colour — look for classic neutrals such as black, navy or camel — or play with print or texture and colour.
  • Finally, top off your outfit with accessories — scarves, necklaces or bracelets. But NOT all of them.
  • And finally, do as Coco Chanel once said. Before you leave the house, look in the mirror (preferably a full-length mirror) and remove one thing.

Do you have a favourite way of layering certain garments? What’s your go-to look for layering? Not sure how to layer like a pro? Let me help solve your problems. Got a problem or a question, drop me a line. You never know, it could prompt another post!  Ever stylishly yours… 

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  1. June 10 / 10:43 pm

    Thanks for this post Anne-Maree,
    I agree most women in the design related industry, take pride in understanding and working with these fundamental principles.
    Whilst styling with our Canberra clients, in-store for David Lawrence, I reflect that only some women really do demonstrate the confidence to fully explore, experiment and communicate their feelings and ideas about their potential purchase.
    The notion and discussion of layering is so vital in the Capital's frosty morning climate. The DL silk and knitwear range are entirely; quixotic and certain, romantic and pragmatic, individual and commercial.
    I search only to bring forward the talented-discerning client and assist by styling the so oft times inhibited consumer.
    All the best, Fiona H

  2. June 16 / 5:52 pm

    Hey Fiona,
    Thank you for your comment and reading my blog post!
    Yes, I do know how challenging it can be trying to encourage some women to embrace new things.
    However, there is nothing more satisfying than finding someone who is willing to take that journey with you. Your success is measured by not just how creative you allow yourself to be, but also in the knowledge that you have given a woman new confidence.
    And working with a brand such as David Lawrence, half your work is done!
    Ever stylishly yours,