Layering essentials for a stylish (and warm) winter season

How to fashionably layer for cold weather

Follow these six tips to look your best in the Syracuse snow.
Published: February 3, 2022
Natalia M. Pérez-Gonzalez shows how she styles her winter wardrobe on the Syracuse University campus.
Natalia M. Pérez-Gonzalez shows how she styles her winter wardrobe on the Syracuse University campus.

When it comes to creative winter layering, I adore coming up with new ways to stay warm without compromising my style — in Syracuse, that’s especially been a challenge. Layering looks can either appear chic and effortless or bulky and awkward, and it’s actually impressive what a fine line it is to walk. Some pairings work wonders, with a lot of, “Wait, why didn’t I think of that?!” afterthoughts, while others just look like Joey in that one episode of Friends. Ultimately, it all comes down to what you’re working with.

While I’m too much of a maximalist for a capsule wardrobe, sections of my closet are now reserved for my layering essentials, the clothes versatile enough to be warm without being bulky: turtlenecks, thermals, fleece leggings and undershirts (the starter layer). These pieces are the closest to your skin and should hug you warmly, freeing the outer layer to work its magic. The middle layers are your pull-over dresses, oversized shirts, button-ups and any bottoms of your choosing. The outer layer items add the flair: cropped sweaters, shawls, scarves, vests, blazers and coats.

When layering, try to stray from wearing a starter or middle layer that’s dull, wrinkled or scuzzy, because at some point during your day, you may want to peel off a few layers, and we want to aim for each part of your outfit to be as on-point, true to you and polished as the next.

To make sure you’ve got the right layers, here are a few tips to aid your journey in mastering the art.

1. Coats are THAT girl.

One of my favorite fashion bloggers and inspos, Alanna Doherty (@alannanicolex on Instagram) is a testament to how coats can pull an outfit together. Wearing a sweatsuit and want to style it up? Pea/trench coat. Wearing a sweater dress but want to style it down? Black puffer jacket. There’s truly a coat out there for any outfit, and they’re the most versatile of our winter pieces. If you’re going for a chill, neutral fit, coats can often add a needed pop of color or contrast, dress things up or down or whatever you need because they are THAT girl.

Pérez-Gonzalez wears a statement coat and purse to amplify her look.
Pérez-Gonzalez wears a statement coat and purse to amplify her look.

2. Allow yourself one bulky item.

This is not to say that you should deny yourself layers that are practical for your warmth and comfort! The key is to combine light and heavy knits, so that you don’t swamp your body. Typically, your starter layers are setting the stage for the rest of your outfit to shine (while keeping you warm), so picking a bulky item in your middle to outer layer would be ideal.

3. Make the most of your entire wardrobe.

Your summer pieces don’t all need to be tucked away! Crop tops, strap dresses, short sleeve shirts and skirts are perfect for layering and mixing with warmer items. You could wear a turtleneck under your strap dress and pair it with a knitted or fur vest, wear a loose blouse over your turtleneck or wear a button-up under your crop top. If executed well, your favorite warm weather pieces can still make an appearance in the winter.

Pérez-Gonzalez uses cropped shirts and scarves as an outer layer.
Pérez-Gonzalez uses cropped shirts and scarves as an outer layer.

4. Be intentional about fabrics.

With all outfits, but especially when layering, texture is an important factor. My favorite layering essentials are usually cotton, wool or polyester, and varying them in my outfits adds depth and contrast to my look. Middle layers, specifically, are great for contrasting textures.

5. Add accessories.

If coats are guaranteed to complete the look, accessories are the garnish and are such a fun way to personalize your outfits. Depending on my mood and what I’m going for on a given day, I love wearing dainty, gold jewelry with my cropped sweaters, or a colorful headscarf and bright earrings. I also love playing around with scarves and hats, which are both practical and stylish, and allowing them to accentuate my outer layers.

Pérez-Gonzalez adds rings to bring the outfit together.
Pérez-Gonzalez adds rings to bring the outfit together.

6. Allow yourself to break the color rules. Have fun with it!

Most layering tips will advise you to stay within one or two color families. But as a lifelong advocate of “just wear whatever colors make you happy,” I won’t speak to this. If you do prefer to keep your fits to a couple of color families, I challenge you to break another layering rule. As with most art forms, breaking one (or more) rules can make for a more interesting, fun, and unique outfit. Still, be intentional about which rules you’re breaking.

Our styles are one of our most creative, unique and deepest expressions of self, so tailor these tips to what feels right for you and what best supports your lifestyle needs and priorities.