Here’s Exactly How to Layer Clothes to Stay Warm This Winter

Just in time for this year's polar vortex, these layering tips will help keep out the winter chill without sabotaging your style.


Dressing for winter is always tricky because you want to be warm enough to beat the cold, but not so warm that a 10-minute walk to the bus leaves you drenched in sweat. This is where layering comes into play.

The most important rule of layering for cold weather is to start with the thinnest layer and work your way to the thickest. Think of the first layer as your base, and it should always be fitted to the body, like a snug-fitting, long-sleeved top, and, depending on how cold it is, maybe even leggings. A stretchy, sweat-wicking fabric is ideal, but silk works too. “The best way to stay warm is to wear something close to the body and for it be thin and comfortable, so you can layer and not feel like a stuffed sausage with your other layers on top,” says Susie Carlson, a Los Angeles-based stylist. “The layer touching your body is going to keep you the warmest and allow the rest of your outfit to fit better.”

Once you have the foundation, build the rest of your outfit for the day: If you’re looking for something casual, try a chunky sweater with jeans. If you’re headed to work and need something more professional, Carlson recommends a silk blouse with a wool blazer that you can take off if you get warm. You can skip the leggings and opt for tights instead, which can be worn under a dress, skirt, and even pants.

The right fabrics make all the difference. Janis Shaffer, senior lecturer in the department of apparel merchandising and interior design at Indiana University, recommends wool, polyester synthetic polar fleece, down goose, cashmere, micro-fiber, and Gore-tex, because these fabrics trap heat, but are also sweat-absorbent and breathable. “A knit polyester microfiber (with Lycra) shirt to fit under your fashion piece is like a second skin to start, then a cotton flannel shirt or wool sweater, topped by a Polyester fleece is good insulation under an outer shell jacket made of polyester or nylon, which helps with wind-stopping, or Gore-tex if you’ll be in snow or wet weather,” says Shaffer. Fabrics to avoid in the winter include cotton, linen, and rayon, as they allow body heat to escape.

Thicker winter fabrics don’t tend to need to be washed as frequently as thinner summer fabrics, but if your clothes start to smell, follow these tips to de-stink them, no washing required.

When it comes to accessories, both Carlson and Shaffer say a big wrap scarf is a must because it prevents heat from escaping from around your neck, it can be worn a million different ways, and it’s a great fashion piece. And be wary of weird accessories that may seem useful at first, like sleeves that hook over the thumbs, which could get in the way if you work with your hands. Jazz up your winter wardrobe with these accessorizing tricks.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest