How to master layering with ease and finesse

You can’t just layer clothes willy nilly. Well, you can, but you’d end up looking like the thrift shop married a refugee camp and you’re wearing their offspring.

I've applied Nordic simplicity to the art of layering and will show you how to layer with laid-back sophistication.

At its most basic, putting together any outfit is layering, because more often than not, we pair even the simplest dress with a jacket or coat, right? 

Basically, we layer for two reasons: warmth and variation.


It’s simply the way we dress for cooler days. We all know that for warmth, putting on several thin layers is way better than wearing one thick layer.

Layering for warmth


Variation is an entirely different cup of tea. We're talking Lapsang Souchong, loose leaf, steeped in a cast iron Japanese teapot versus Lipton's Yellow Label tea bag in a promotional mug from a car dealer.

In other words, we factor in personal preferences.

Left unattended, I usually don't bother with non-functional layers. But after culling my wardrobe I’ve discovered the joys of layering, because it allows me to create more outfits without having more items of clothing.

How to layer with sophistication

Colours and patterns

The no-brainer is that solids can be mixed with solids (and many prefer this, especially Winters, and even more so if they're either an Urban or Quiet style type), but if you like pattern (and if you’re a Spring, you will die of boredom if you don’t use patterns), it truly gives the outfits a personal twist. Mixing solid items with patterns is a classic and no-fail route. 

Take this brown dress. Layer it with any cardigan or sweater in one of your solid colours. Or, add interest by combining it with patterns and prints. 

I especially like how the way the outfit changes impressively by wearing the striped top over or under the dress. 

Layering a brown dress with solids and pattern

Combining pattern with pattern is a landscape best navigated with caution. When you do, wear it with attitude and determination. Make it look like you planned it, not like they were the only two pieces of clothing that were clean when you dressed this morning.

Let's have a look at how do you do it:

Mixing patterns

Patterns are tricky, especially when they involve several colours. 

It's more polished to combine simple pattern with a more ornate one, and a small print with a large pattern. 

Layering patterns with patterns

The outfit on the left is a combination of floral trousers and a striped vest, calming the expressing by introducing a plain white T-shirt. The outfit in the middle is considerably more lively, since the long-sleeved T-shirt also has a pattern. The pattern on the top is of a slightly different scale and significantly different than the pants, so if a happy, casual look is your preference, you can wear this, since the colours are coordinated.

The same goes for the outfit on the right. The patterns are very different in theme and scale, and the colour palette is coordinated.


When mixing patterns in an outfit, it's more important than ever to keep footwear, handbag and jewelry simple and restrictive, preferably in a neutral colour and less lavish, creating a backdrop for your tastefully combined patterns, not competing with them.

Less ornate accessories enhances the prints and patterns in the clothes without wrestling for attention with them.

Busy outfit, calm bag

Do this

Busy outfit, busy bag

...not this

A general formula is to keep the accessories simple when you have patterns in the outfit. 

Busy outfit, calm bag

Do this

Busy outfit, busy bag

...not this

Silhouette and fit

Fitted and loose

These two sweaters will work perfectly over the dress, making it look like a top-and-skirt-ensemble. Wearing any of these sweaters under the dress would be hopelessly bulky.

Layer looser garments over fitted ones. 

Sweater on top of dress

Sleek and draped

Layer sleeker items under more draped garments. 

Here, I'll show you. Let's look at the bright and happy floral draped dress that I have used in other blog posts, see how it combines with two different yellow blouses:

Sleek blouse under draped dress

Sleek blouse under draped dress

Draped blouse under draped floral  dress

Draped blouse under draped dress

In this case, the dress gives an overall busy look when paired with a draped blouse, even though the blouse is a solid yellow matching the yellow in the dress.

Of course, this combination would have been much better if the dress were sleeveless. Which brings me to:

Picking the perfect dress for layering

If you want to buy a dress for a truly versatile small wardrobe or for bringing with you when packing for a vacation (I wrote THIS BLOGPOST about that) consider getting a sleeveless one.

A sleeveless, simple dress is your wardrobe's best friend when it comes to layering

Have a look at the dresses below. All three are lovely, high quality dresses in a captivating brown. 

Picking the perfect dress for layering

While all three are fabulous, I would pick the sleeveless one on the right as the ideal dress for layering, with the middle dress as a number two. The one on the left is stunning, but would offer limited layering and combination possibilities.

Soft and structured

For a chic look, do combine different textures in fabrics.

Combining fabrics of different textures creates a lively and interesting expression. A silk shirt under a suede vest. A mohair cardigan over a smooth cotton dress. Lace blouse over a tweed sleeveless dress.

Mixing textures creates interes

Combining textures:
Ultimate Sophistication has entered the chat.

The silhouette 

A full shape on top needs a fitted shape on the bottom. Imagine a fun dress with an interesting square silhouette. If you were to layer that on top of pants, you would choose some skinny jeans, not bell-bottom jeans.

Full top, fitted bottom

Layering loose items up top with fitted items on the bottom creates a chic silhouette, and generous volume on the bottom calls for more fitted tops.

For layering those bell-bottom jeans, pick a fitted long-sleeved T-shirt and a slim vest. Save that comfy loose flannel shirt for wearing with your skinny jeans.

Fitted top, full bottom

Long and short

Long and short sleeves – how to layer them? 

Layering a long-sleeved top under a short sleeve top gives a very casual vibe.

When layering a long sleeved top or shirt, try it under a sleeveless dress or vest. Or wear the long sleeved shirt unbuttoned as a light weight jacket, as the top layer.

Long and short shirts and dresses: Layering a long vest, jacket or shirt over a short dress is refined. Or a short bolero jacket or cropped sweater over a dress. A long shirt with a long dress might overwhelm you, unless your body is tall and large.

Combine long and short in the same outfit for a chic vibe.

Short dress, long jacket. Long dress, short jacket

Short dress, long jacket. Long dress, short jacket

How the Nordic Simplicity style types do layering

Some style preferences thrive more on layering than others.

The Relaxed style person will layer with enthusiasm and feel awesome doing it. So will the Quaint style and to some extent the Progressive, these two style types usually really enjoy using layering to channel creativity.

The Quiet and Urban types will be more conservative with the way they layer, doing it sparingly and with function in mind, not so much as a personal style expression.

To read more about the Nordic Simplicity style types click here.

About the author, Jorunn Hernes

Jorunn is a Certified Personal Colour Analyst, founder of Nordic Simplicity and Scandinavian Style Academy™, the fresh, simple, Scandinavian approach to getting dressed. Jorunn will avoid social settings with more than three people but can be lured out with snacks and the promise to talk about books.

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