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An Easy Outfit Formula for Layering in Unpredictable Weather

Getting dressed for temperature fluctuation and surprise precipitation often means wearing as many layers as possible—which can lead to a lot of bulk. Here’s a formula for building a smart and sleek outfit that won’t weigh you down.

By Caitlin Abber

Even though it was almost 15 years ago, I still can’t look at pictures of my first few months in San Francisco without cringing at my clothing choices. Your early 20s should be a time of experimentation and self-discovery, but I was doing all that while also navigating the Bay Area’s famously unpredictable, fast-changing weather. So, on top of my youthful, somewhat misguided style, I was always wearing nonsensical layers of hoodies, coats, scarves, and hats. Most of the time, I looked like a pretty ridiculous snowman (a cute snowman, for sure, but still ridiculous). 

Part of the problem was that I didn’t yet know how to layer properly. I would wear a favorite top, and then on my way out the door, I would just grab the closest and/or cleanest layer I could find. I’d forget that there was a good chance I’d actually be wearing that sweater or jacket all day, or that I’d have to carry it around if it got too warm. I wasn’t thinking about my outfit holistically or making sure each piece complemented the others no matter what iteration of layers I ended up in.

Thankfully, with age, experience, moving back to New York, and of course, working at M.M., I have learned a few things about style. I wish I could go back in time and give my younger self some tips: drink more water; wear sunscreen; and understand that that layering doesn’t have to be complicated, bulky, or an afterthought. In fact, using a simple 3-step formula, it’s easy to put together a layered outfit that’s sleek but also adaptable for whatever weather or adventure is on the horizon. 

Step 1: Choose Your Basecoat

Sometimes, it’s helpful to think about layering the same way you think of a manicure. Your base coat smooths out your nails while adding protection and shine. It makes your polish and top coat look more pristine, but if you wanted to, you could wear a base coat on its own. Your base layer should do the same thing—add protection (i.e. warmth), but stand alone if needed (because there’s nothing worse than not being able to take off your sweater because you hate what you’re wearing underneath). Avoid bunching by choosing base layers that fit close to your body in soft, breathable fabrics, like our pima cotton Cameron, Paige, and Soyoung T-shirts, or our Vicky tank in washable silk. On days that will most likely remain chilly, the Axam T-shirt is a great long-sleeved turtleneck that layers beautifully under sweaters and blazers.

Step 2: Choose Your Main Layer

Let’s stick with the manicure metaphor. The main layer is like your polish. The color and fit are an expression of your personal style, and it’s the piece of your outfit that you most want people to see. Breathable fabrics are essential here as well, but feel free to go a little larger in sizing and lean into coziness. If you live in a warmer climate, the Shae hoodie is a fun, semi-casual option (I love it layered over the Paige tank). Silk jersey is also a great choice for days hovering around or slightly above 60 degrees, and it doesn’t get much more elegant than the Leo pullover or Elizabeth sweater. On colder days (winter is coming, after all), throw on the delicious, cashmere McKenzie sweater (it’s especially eye-catching in jade) or the Athens Half-Zip in our best-selling jardigan knit (a great combo with the aforementioned Axam T-shirt). Want something a bit lighter? For those wacky fall days above 70, the Bridget top (buttoned or unbuttoned—wearer’s choice) over a fitted tank, like the Cameron or Paige, looks and feels effortlessly cool.

Step 3: Choose Your Top Coat

To complete the look, you’ll want a top layer that adds a little sparkle, protects you from the elements, and is strong enough to stand on its own. There were so many times I went out in San Francisco thinking I’d be hanging my coat in a closet, only to wear it the entire night. But you never really know, do you? That’s why it’s important to consider your top layer an essential part of your outfit. For me, that usually means the vegan leather Alphonso jacket, which looks as cool over a tank as it does over a sweater. Alternatively, the structure of the Anna jacket—another lighter, more casual option—beautifully balances out the softness of the McKenzie sweater. If you’d like to step your look up a bit, the McKenzie also looks great under the O’Hara blazer, as does the Bridget top (especially because there’s a little pattern mixing involved). And for November days when, for some unknown reason, the office air conditioner is set to Frozen Tundra, you could don the Athens Half-Zip for added warmth, or just have the ultra-lightweight, alpaca Frederick cardigan on the back of your chair at all times. 

Written By

Caitlin Abber

Caitlin Abber is the Brand Editor at M.M. LaFleur, and an award-winning writer and content creator. Over the last decade she has held senior editorial positions at MTV, Women's Health, Public Radio International, and Bustle, and has bylines at InStyle and OprahMag.com.

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