Ah, winter, the time when you can’t step out of bed without slippers nearby, and the only thing more visible than your breath in the cool, crisp air is the steam coming off your coffee. It’s also the time when cold weather fashion can fall the wayside in favor of the warmest coat in your closet. But that doesn’t have to be the case. With proper layering, anyone can be both warm and chic in their winter clothes. Learning how to layer clothes for winter isn’t complicated, but winter layering can require a bit of practice and a few particular layering system pieces of clothing. 

The key to winter layering is to always keep the setting in mind. If you are dressing a winter outfit for an office with weak insulation or an outdoor event, you’ll want to reach for maximum layers and your thickest winter clothes. If, on the other hand, you’re walking to an indoor mall or heading to dinner at a friend’s, you’ll need to have just the right amount of cold weather layers on to stay warm while you travel from place to place and to not overheat when you arrive at your destination. 

Also, depending on where you’re at in the country, winter outfit layering looks very different. While some climates require multiple layers and a space heater, others require just a light jacket at night. Regardless of where you are or what you’re doing, we’ll help you learn how to layer clothes for winter so you can look stylish all season long. 

Step One: Start with a Base Layer

Your base layer should be thin, somewhat fitted, and smooth. At Karen Kane, we offer a wide variety of cute tops for women that would be perfect for layering. Thickness, fit, and texture are critical when it comes to this first clothing layer because it is setting the foundation for all the layers to follow. If you are dressing for someplace cold and plan to wear something on top of this base layer all day or night, it should also be as minimalistic as possible. Think neutral in color and lightweight. Maybe think about how to style a turtleneck, such as this long sleeve turtleneck. If you tend to get warm, selecting a sleeveless option, such as this drape-neck top will keep you comfortable. 

If, however, the base layer will be the star of the show when you arrive at your destination and take off your coat, go for something that’s lightweight enough to wear under a jacket but that you’ll still feel comfortable and cute in. This long sleeve top with an asymmetric hem and this shirred-sleeve turtleneck are both great options that will look great underneath a jacket or on their own. You may even select a dress as your base layer this winter, which can be appropriate on many occasions, especially when worn with tall boots or tights. 

Step Two: Add Warmth and Style with a Second Layer

In many areas, it’s not enough to wear a turtleneck and a fleece jacket to keep warm. Adding a layer in between can do more than just turn up your body temperature, though; it can also help you achieve that coveted layered look that feels both fashionable and effortless at once. This second layer can be anything from a cute sweater or maybe think about how to style a cardigan to a blazer. Of course, which one you choose will depend on the setting you’re dressing for. 

If you’re going into the office or just want to look polished and put together, a blazer can be the perfect second clothing layer. If, on the other hand, you’re baking cookies with your kids or having cocktails after a day on the slopes, a cozy sweater may be a better choice. If layer number two is your final layer, you won’t need to worry about its thickness or silhouette. However, if you plan to put a coat on top of this insulation layer, don’t choose anything that will be too thick or get wrinkled underneath the weight of your coat. 

To help you visualize how your layered outfit will look at this point, consider these pairings: a fitted turtleneck with a plaid pullover on top, a soft v-neck sweater over a button-up blouse, an eye-catching printed blazer over a sleeveless turtleneck, a drape cardigan over a sparkly long-sleeve tee, or a crewneck sweater over a shirt dress. These are just a few ways you can layer a thinner top or learn how to wear a sweater dress with a thicker outer layer to create a stylish winter look. 

Woman in jeans and winter sweater

Step Three: Complete the Look with a Coat 

In winter, a great coat is essential wherever you live, even if you’re only wearing a tee-shirt underneath. It can help you not only seal in all the warmth you’ve created with your first two layers, but it can also help complete your look. A cute winter coat in a neutral color, such as this ivory quilted coat, is great to have when you care more about what you’re wearing underneath and plan to only wear the coat for a short time, but need it to weather the elements. 

A fun, statement-making coat, however, is also necessary as it can serve as the focal point of the outfit. And if you’ll be wearing a coat for the main event, you’ll want it to be the main attraction. This red boucle coat is one to remember. 

If your climate doesn’t warrant a thick coat, the same rules apply, but to jackets. Invest in a quality neutral jacket that you can throw on over anything as well as a statement jacket such as this plaid shirt jacket, which is ideal for relatively warmer winters. 

This final layering piece is what ties the entire outfit together, so don’t overlook it and simply reach for the same coat over and over again. Having a variety of options in your coat closet to choose from is key to creating a variety of outfits throughout the many long, cold months of winter. 

Step Four: Finish with Accessories

If you do only have a few coats to switch between during the winter season, you can still add variation to your outfits with accessories. Winter accessories are notoriously warm, fun to wear, and easy to take on and off and keep in your bag when you don’t need them. Think beanies, gloves, and scarves. A bright beanie or a printed scarf can add a pop of color to any outfit and keep your head or neck plenty warm. 

In addition to a printed scarf, it’s a good idea to have a classic, neutral option in your closet, such as this black cashmere-blend scarf, which will go with everything and never let your temperature drop. Another great basic to have on hand, quite literally, during the winter months is a warm pair of gloves. A leather pair will look sophisticated with any outfit and keep your hands warmer than a knit pair.   

Other fun accessories to consider this winter include felt hats, earmuffs, pashmina shawls, and cuffs. Any of these accessories can transform the look of your outfit, making it both chicer and warmer.   

Finally, don’t forget the power of a handbag to add style to any outfit. While it won’t actually add warmth, a great handbag can add variation to your winter look, especially if you reach for the same coat and weather-proof shoes over and over again. 

Woman wearing jeans, turtleneck and winter coat

How To Layer on the Bottom 

While these tips will keep your top half plenty warm, you can’t forget to layer when dressing your legs and feet as well. Tights can not only provide a layer of protection to your legs when wearing dresses or skirts but also add style. Today, they come in so many prints and patterns that can quickly add a unique touch to an outfit. 

Another way to protect your legs from the chilly winter air is with boots. Tall boot styles can provide ample leg coverage on their own or be a great additional layer over pants, leggings, or jeans.

Finally, don’t forget socks! Our feet can often be the first thing to turn cold, and this is easily preventable when you can wear your coziest socks and not even have to worry about them being seen. 

Embrace Layers this Season

With these tips, you can dress in layers this winter without feeling bulky, uncomfortable, or mismatched. Remember to keep the setting in mind, so you don’t end up too hot or too cold, and to accessorize to make the same base outfit look unique time and time again. Find petite clothing styles or plus size styles that make you feel most confident in your layers. Wherever you live, you can follow these steps to layer your looks for every occasion.