Every year when fall fashion is brought up a certain word gets highlighted, underlined, bolded, and italicized ad nauseam: layers. Most style-guides treat the term like it’s some magic cure-all for the entirety of your autumn clothing needs. One gets the impression that all you have to do is go to your closet, pick out any four tops at random, throw one on top of the other, then head out your door and straight onto the pages of GQ. The reality is that layering requires some stylish strategy to ensure you don’t go out looking like your overbearing mother bundled you up to keep you from catching a cold. Layering is architecture. Equal parts engineering and artistry. With layers you can’t sacrifice the practical for pretty or vice versa.
To better navigate this oft-traversed subject, let’s explore the topic by imagining hiking up a mountain. During the climb we’ll pass through altitude zones that will lend insight to layering. We will start at a Base Camp then work our way up to the Montane, go past Timberline as we head upwards to Alpine until we finally arrive at the snowy reaches of the Nival, bundling up accordingly along the way.
Base camp: While the options of your base layer are generally limited (v-neck t, crewneck t, henley, tank top), its impact on the look is not. In layering v-necks are mostly relegated to behind-the-scenes roles like warmth booster or sweat net, but if not totally buried they can provide a useful wink of fabric. Crewneck t’s, unless featuring texture, stripes or color, usually tilt most outfits too much towards the “Dad’ end of the aesthetic spectrum. Your best and most versatile bet for the foundation of your layers is a henley. Waffle or no waffle henleys subtly add another dimension to your clothing tiers. They increase your look’s marks in the functional, seasonal and stylish categories; the three biggest aims of layers.
Montane: On this forested level, you have to first choose your own adventure by deciding whether to go with a shirt or sweater. If you go shirt first, think plaid, chambray, flannel, gingham and checks; in that order too. In particular keep your eyes peeled for shirts that look inspired by the wallpaper of pre-1960 Midwestern hunting lodges. Opting for a sweater here in the Montane instead of an upper plane of the peak, offers a rather scenic route as well. Wool crewnecks and shawl collar cardigans are the choicest options this early in the layering game as both drip with dapperness when staged over a henley.
Timberline: Timberline is less a level and more a threshold. This is the border at which you can put on outwear and accessories. It’s important with outwear and add-ons to keep up the team player creed of layering with no one piece dominating the entire look. Don’t go with any coat, vest or jacket that single-handedly hogs the spotlight or hides its cast mates backstage. Additionally, be wary of arrestingly unique scarves and ties. Scarfing your look is a great autumn move, but keep scarves reined in with an understated solid, fair isle or tartan that will bleed easily into the background of your outfit. Neckties are particularly effective at adding charming nooks and crannies to a layered look. This fall strap a wool or knit tie around your neck as those are the most fabric and zeitgeist compatible options in 2012. Also, remember that you don’t have to be a bowtie guy to rock a bowtie these days. They make both grandmas and girlfriends happy and can level-up your layers.
Guest post by J.T. Hill