How to dress in layers

Those of us who live in cold climates know the importance of dressing in layers, but how do we do it without looking like the Michelin man?


Today I’m going to take a quick look at layering for winter sports and outdoor activities and then I’ll talk about fashion.

Layering for the great outdoors:

A three layer system is key to staying warm and comfortable while protecting yourself from wind, water, and moisture. 

  1. Base layer (underwear) – This is the layer that is in direct contact with your body and that wicks moisture away from your skin toward the outer layer where it can evaporate. Choose seamless or flat seamed garments that won’t chafe and aim for a snug fit, but one that isn’t too constricting.  
  2. Mid layer (insulation) – This layer retains body heat to keep you warm and continues moving moisture outward. Fleece or ultra light down work very well for this.  
  3. Outer layer (protective shell) – This layer shields you from wind and rain, but needs to be breathable so that moisture from the inner layers can escape. It should fit easily over the other layers and should allow you to move freely, but it shouldn’t be so loose that it allows body heat to escape. 

Layering for everyday fashion:

LogoUnless you’re spending all day at home (which many of us are these days) where you can change your clothes multiple times, layering provides versatility and allows you to deal with changing temperatures throughout your day. 

I started today’s post with layering for winter sports and outdoor activities because we can actually use a similar three layer approach to everyday wear. Rather than wearing a single bulky knit on a chilly day, being able to add or take off layers as needed adds adaptability and comfort. 

Again, our goal is layers without bulk. I’m assuming that we women are all starting with a good supportive bra. (Men, you can skip that layer!🤣) After that, your base layer can be a simple t-shirt or a dressier blouse. Since I get cold easily, I often start with a cotton or bamboo camisole under that. Sometimes a base layer and an outer layer might be all you need, but when the weather is especially cold or when you expect fluctuations in temperature, a mid layer might be a good idea. That could be a lightweight cardigan, a pullover, or even a blazer. If you’re going to be outdoors at all, a coat or jacket will likely be your outer layer. Add a scarf and you’re ready to go.   

You’ve probably noticed that I’ve only mentioned your top half. There’s not a lot of layering that you can do with the bottom half of an outfit other than wearing pants, a skirt, or a dress over leggings or tights. 

Before we look at an example of layering, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • lightweight knits add warmth without bulk
  • it’s okay to wear short layers over long or vice versa
  • necklines should compliment one another
  • remember that you might want to remove a layer, so make sure the outfit still works if you do
  • consider sleeves; bulky or embellished sleeves work best under a structured layer where they don’t create bulges
  • some textures and patterns mix better than others

Now let’s build a layered outfit using a few items that I’ve pulled from my closet. If you notice some white bits and streaks in the pictures, they aren’t flaws in the photos. I didn’t realize that it had started snowing until we stepped outside! 


As the base layer, I used the animal print t-shirt that you last saw in my recent post about clothing that endures and added a lightweight hoodie as the mid layer. Purchased second-hand for $3.00 almost two years ago, the hoodie has been one of the most useful items in my wardrobe. It was -5ºC (23ºF) when we took these pictures though, so I definitely needed another layer! 

I added a grey blazer, one of the few classic pieces left over from my teaching days. This outfit fits my classy, casual style. If we were doing any shopping other than groceries, this is something I might wear to the mall. If I was going to spend more than a few minutes outdoors, I’d need to add an overcoat, but I like to leave that layer in the car when I’m in the mall. Even mid winter, these three layers would be enough for the quick dash from vehicle to mall entrance. If I wanted a bit more warmth, I’d add a scarf which could easily be tucked into my purse later on. 


So there you have it, layers that will take me through a Canadian winter without looking like the Michelin man!

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