Warm Layers Guide

“How do you wear layers and yet avoid looking like a patchwork blimp?” Thank you, Elizabeth B., for your question. I wore the look below for our Saturday drive to Abingdon, Va. It was a beautiful sunny day. However, it was cold (33ºF) and windy.

While in cold, windy weather for long periods, I wear base layers in black or winter white. I’m not wearing them in these photos, but I always do when spending more than a few minutes outdoors. The top is here. The pants are here. These very thin layers make a significant difference in keeping warm without adding bulk.

Silk (or any) scarf helps keep me warm since we lose a lot of heat from the throat and upper chest area. A beanie or a felt fedora hat will also help with heat loss from the top of the head. The scarf measures about thirty-five inches across, and it is square. I folded it on the bias, tied the ends in a tiny knot, and wrapped the resulting loop twice around my neck. I used the colors in the scarf to guide me in my clothing and accessories choices. My scarf is about five years old. A similar silk scarf is here.

The first layer is a white long sleeve tee (similar here). It fits close to the body the fabric has a smooth texture. Similar navy cardigans are here and here. My navy sweater is old by Tory Burch. It has some texture and enough bulk to lay smooth under and over other items. If a cardigan isn’t heavy enough, it won’t fall nicely over the layer underneath.

Another tip is to choose garments that don’t cling or drag on each other. Thin layers are, in my experience, warmer than bulky ones that aren’t tightly woven. I always tuck in the first layer to hold in body heat. If I add a sweater that isn’t open in the front, I skip the belt, which might damage the sweater and will show as a lump underneath.

The warmest coat I have is a classic tailored one I’ve had for a couple of years. I’ll have it for a few more since the classic lines, and the neutral color won’t date. However, since it hits below the knee, I wear at least two-inch tall block-heels in shoes or boots. A similar coat is here and here.

Similar jeans, boots, bag, and belt are linked. Shopping links may allow me to earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

I snapped the photos below during our lovely afternoon in Abgindon.

I appreciate your questions and comments very much. Thank you for taking the time to leave them. Please share your suggestions if you live in a much colder climate where my tips might not provide sufficient warmth.

  1. Good morning, lovely lady! Looking classic and comfortable.
    I am going to try your method for tying a square scarf. Love the look of a more petite-friendly infinity scarf!
    Silk or wool thermals, as a base layer, are the best. Both breathe well and “cling” nicely for under-clothing wear.
    I have tried synthetic fabric thermals and found myself stifling after a few minutes (with both active & sedentary activity). In addition, synthetics cause static problems!
    I also wear glove liners, insulated insoles and a hat is an outdoor must in our area.
    Where we live, we are still under 3+ feet of snow and below-freezing temperatures. Form beats out fashion when venturing out!!
    This, along with Covid, keep us close to home. So, outings are to the grocery store at 6:00 am (trying to avoid the un-masked) and back to our house (haven’t been to any restaurant since March 2020). Sorels & down coats are necessary for the shopping expeditions!
    But, at home, I do dress nicely for both myself and my husband. In fact, a winning compliment to my ensembles is “You look like Susan!”
    Your adventure/fashion/dining posts are a lovely escape in a world with too much bad news. Thank you, for lovely smiles and making things brighter!

  2. I live where the winters are usually 60/40 but this week we went down to 23 here on the coast on Thursday night so it happens some years. It took me awhile over the years to realize that thin tees can be warm underneath other things and are a lot easier to layer. I would never wear a tee without a third layer because I’m busty but they work so well for layering for warmth.
    As I get older I’m finding that scarves are wonderful for keeping the back of your neck warm.

  3. What a pleasing outfit. You look sophisticated and friendly. I have similar items in my closet. When I see you wearing everything together, I see how I could do it, so thanks for the example.

    I especially like the cognac belt, purse and shoes with navy. I always want to use red because I love the color, but I think the cognac is a really good choice.

    I have been looking at closet organization on Pinterest. It is astonishing how much stuff some of these folks are trying to organize. I am working on a better way to access my closet. I may end up taking out the sliding doors and using a curtain.

  4. A little more casual, but I have had good luck with layering Lands’ End fleece for warmth. They have 2 weights and the ones that I bought (admittedly a few years ago) are fitted with seams so they don’t look bulky. They also have plus size models on the website so it is easy to see how the fleece really looks.

  5. I’ve been more comfortable wearing layers this year than ever, mostly thanks to your expert advice! Do you have a tip for dealing with static electricity, other than spraying everything with Static Guard? It drives me nuts on those few cold dry days we have!

  6. Like Leslie I live in an area where down coats and snow boots are often a must when going out in the winter. I like long down coats to keep my legs warmer. I look for coats that are more fitted in the waist area so I at least look like Mrs. Michelin instead of the Michelin man. They are pricey but Patagonia coats have a feminine silhouette while being very warm. Beautiful pictures of your outing as usual. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Hi Susan! You look so beautiful and put together everyday. I am inspired to do the same thing because I feel so slouchy staying at home in leggings and a sweatshirt for two years now. Everytime I try to emulate your at home attire I end up asking myself what for? I spend my time at home cooking, cleaning, and working out. I run zero errands that require me to get out of my car these days. I have this fear or distaste of wearing my nicer casual clothes for these activities for fear of messing them up or staining or ruining them, even wearing them out. Any wisdom from you is always a God send.

    1. I get dressed for myself, Billie. I don’t see another human on most days, but it makes me feel better to put on something that pleases me. I use color to make a very casual outfit a bit more upscale. My pants, tee, socks, and shoes might be the same dark color, but I will add a richer colored cardigan for more interest. Taking the time to enjoy a bath or shower and then styling my hair, using my skincare, adding a little perfume always makes me feel like the best version of myself, even if I’m not going anywhere.

  8. Susan, I have been embarrassed about a specific issue I have with trying to put outfits together. It’s hard to duplicate a lot of the principles you’re teaching with my body, and I don’t know where to turn to to to solve the problem.

    I am 62 and have had four children. I’m 5′ 3″, 120 lbs. Weight or excess fat is not the problem. But my stomach has been stretched so many times with all the pregnancies in my younger years that no matter how much weight I take off I still have this embarrassing, disgusting lump of excess skin just above my pubic bone. It’s very unattractive if I don’t wear a relaxed fit top that covers the area. With my petite height and arm length, many of those top’s sizes are 24 1/2″ long. That’s the minimum length I can go. Then if I wear a longer girlfriend cardigan it looks unkempt, like with a button up shirt. And forget about a shorter length top of any kind. The long lump is visible. A smart outfit like this one on you with the shirt tucked in, a belt, and jeans makes me look pregnant or deformed. If you have any suggestions to get classic outfits put together without displaying a glob of stretched skin, I would be so grateful. It’s very noticeable and I am self conscious about it. Thank you for everything you’ve shared and teach me.

    1. Try horizontal layering. That means you wear a longer top with a shorter jacket or vest. When the outer layer defines the waistline, it creates a very flattering silhouette while the inner layer skims your body and hides the tummy.

  9. I can’t wear one in the hot summer, but my Shapeez bra is SO warm and comfortable for this time of year. It keeps me toasty and has such a slim silhouette. Thanks, Susan, for telling us about it. Thanks, also, for the safety pin tip. I’ll give that a try.
    I’m trying to be better about not slouching around all day in sweats and I’m making some progress. There is that tendency to just throw up my hands and say, “Why bother!?” Also, I’m worried that all the nice clothes I have will be out of fashion when we finally get out there again, so I may as well wear them to the supermarket. Hhmmmpphh

  10. I never tuck, as it’s uncomfortable for me for some reason and it doesn’t look good, ever, on my petite, short-waisted, apple body type. However, I finally ordered the Shapeez Silkee long styles and hemmed them on my machine with a zig-zag stitch! Those add warmth as my first layer. With a tank or tee followed by a thin cashmere sweater over that, I am generally warm enough with either a slim puffy or wool outer coat and LONG leather gloves. I too always wear a silk scarf around my neck and if it gets really cold +/- windy, I just tie the scarf around my head and there is still plenty for the neck; silk keeps your head and ears warm as well and you don’t have the problem of hat hair, which for my thin hair is not a good look! A pair of wool/cotton tights I purchased in Toronto a few months ago works wonders under pants as an extra layer without bulk!

  11. Live in NYC where the average Jan temp is in the 30s. My daily style uniform is pants/jeans, turtleneck, a cashmere sweater, scarf/necklace & a down coat. Walk many blocks for exercise so no boots just black sneakers, ugh. Long to wear a skirt or a dress with pretty flats.

    Susan, do you wear black pants? How would you style them?

    1. I wear black pants or jeans several times a month. Sweaters, blazers, denim jackets, vests, turtlenecks, and blouses are all styled with black jeans. I often wear black pants if we go out for dinner.

  12. Good morning Susan 🙂 Beautiful pictures you shared! You are always so lovely!
    I love how you wear your scarf around your neck and would love to do that. My problem is I have a very SHORT neck. Do you have scarf wearing recommendations for us with short or very short necks? Thanks!

    1. I try to wear my scarves soft and loose, pulled away from my face so that I don’t appear to be drowning. When they form a V or long vertical lines, they are much for flattering.

  13. I love your style and outfit ideas. You have really led me to be much more discerning in basics I choose. I love how the cardigan looks with the scarf. Thanks for continued inspiration!

  14. I love your layers, Susan, which don’t make you look “like a patchwork blimp”…! You made me laugh so I thought I’d return the favour. It’s going to be -24F here in Ottawa, Canada, tomorrow. I think I’m going to have to look like a blimp… The outfit will be just wonderful: heavy layers, heavy coat, long woollen scarf, heavy boots, mitts, tuque. Oh, and don’t forget the mask. Just dandy…


  15. Thanks for the pictures of Abingdon. I used to live there and enjoyed your pictures.
    Your layering tips are very helpful especially as I now live in an area that has really cold weather. It’s important to stay warm yet stylish.
    I’ve always liked your style and have used many of your suggestions.

  16. I really like your put together looks. I try every day but end up adding layers because it has been really cold here. I really don’t go anywhere except to the market. I like to wear my brown ropers with pink stitching, cow boy boots, and my pink jeans if I have to go out for errands. On top I have may layers by the end of the day nothing matches! I am a mess. I am also trying to grow out my hair from colored brown to silver gray. I am really a mess. I live through your blog. Thanks so much.

  17. I have a navy open front cardigan that is very similar to yours in shape, however, I look round-shouldered wearing it. I am thinking about trying small shoulder pads. The garment looks better without anything under it, but sometimes want to wear something with sleeves so I can remove the sweater. Has anyone else had this problem?

  18. Hi! I know it’s not popular, but some older women have long hair and want to keep it long. What are some good ways to wear it successfully? Any tips? Thank you.

  19. I love this outfit so much. I can see myself putting it together. And with the temperature here in Florida this week it’s a good combination. We’re freezing in Daytona and every inch of my body hurts! I love seeing the old buildings in Abingdon. Thanks for braving the cold to take us there!!

  20. I love your coat and wondered if you’ve ever purchased a coat at that length and had it shortened to mid thigh length? Or would I do better by waiting til I find one the length I want/need?

    1. I’m sure a good tailor could make the adjustments for you. However, it might ruin the lines of the coat to shorten it that much. Have you searched for a walker or car coat? I found one here, but it has a hood.

  21. Another great classic look! During the early days of the pandemic, I ordered a slightly oversized sweater vest…..and I fell in love with the ease and comfort of it and how it helps me use more of my wardrobe. It is tunic length so it covers my bum and is V-neck style. It is now one of my favorite completer pieces. I have these in black, gray, tan, and white – I found them on Amazon, at H&M, and at Macy’s. I have a lot of cotton shirts and silk blouses, which were not getting lots of wear until I purchased these vests. Like some of you, I don’t always like to tuck shirts and blouses in. Now, I can layer one of these vests over shirts and blouses and pair with leggings or jeans or slacks and feel dressed, warm, and comfortable. I don’t have to tuck in the shirt and it covers my waist and hips and creates a nice line. It can be casual with a cotton shirt and jeans or I can go dressier with a fabulous silk blouse, nice slacks, and heels. The vests also work over thin turtlenecks. I live in Southern California, so I don’t have super cold weather, but the two layers keep me warm. If it is colder, I can put a thin cotton turtleneck or tee shirt or tank under the shirt or blouse then add the vest. They also work over skirts. I wear this outfit in some version 2 or 3 times a week now. I know that this will be something I will also wear in retirement because it is chic as well as comfortable.

  22. As an ex-skier, for pretty much my entire life, I’m very familiar with what to wear to keep you warm and without looking like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow guy-it’s called Smartwool. It’s 100% wool, with none of the itch! It’s thin, insulates like you wouldn’t believe and comes in all kinds of colors and styles. While my friends would be shivering in Cuddleduds I’d be warm as toast in my Smartwool. I still wear it to this day after giving up skiing 5 years ago due to a very unfortunate accident on the slopes. It’s not inexpensive but it’s worth every penny and every piece I’ve ever bought I still have to this day. As long as you keep it safe from moths and silverfish it will last you a lifetime.

    Loved your pic so much Susan I just snapped it w/ my phone and plan to recreate it tomorrow am for a casual day at work. Thanks for all your wonderful tips to keep us fashionable, not frumpy!

  23. Happy to see pictures in Abingdon. We moved here in 2021 and absolutely love this area.
    Love your idea of using the colors in your scarf to pull your outfit together. You always provide such good information.

  24. Great suggestions for layering and I really enjoy your posts. I live in Chicago where it is much colder than Tennessee and fashion often goes out the window when it’s 0 degrees with a 20 below windchill. I layer too but with much thicker items such as heavy sweaters with turtlenecks under them. I love wool coats but when it’s below 20, they are not warm even with layers. That’s when you pull out a heavy down jacket. I add cute scarves and hats when it’s that cold as well. And I try to remember that this won’t last forever.

  25. Your comment that “Every day is a fashion show and the supermarket is our runway” made me laugh so hard! It is so true how even a simple trip out to the grocery store or drug store is now an opportunity to get dressed up. Although where I live in Alberta Canada by the time you have to put on your heavy down fill coats and boots no one can see what you are wearing underneath anyway. Thanks for the laugh!

  26. I love today’s look! I think the length of your cardigan is just perfect. I have found it hard to find a V neck, button up cardigan that’s not a slouchy look.
    Several years ago, I was at a large outdoor antique show and the temps were much colder than expected. I purchased a lovely, feather-weight, silk square scarf (30” x 30”) from a vendor to help keep me warm. It is still my favorite scarf when temps are cold here in South Carolina…the rich jewel tones go with so much!

  27. Here’s an idea for Billie B. There are undergarments for “apron belly”. They’re called POSTPARTUM PANTY WITH BELLY WRAP and are carried by HourGlass Girl. I haven’t used this panty but it does look like it might be comfortable and help disguise the tummy area.

    On another note, I put together a similar outfit like you wore today- one of the scarves I purchased from your store, a long sleeve top, heavy grey Talbots cardigan, jeans and suede boots. All this for a visit to the dentist. When I went in, a young receptionist said, “Oh, look at you, all stylish with your scarf! I love your whole outfit.so put together! How did you tie that scarf?” This was accompanied by a a head bob and hand motions! It just made my day! So thanks for all the easy to put together style tips, Susan.

  28. As always, Susan, I enjoy your blog. Right now, here in Michigan at almost 8:00 PM, it is 14 degrees, with what we know as “Lake Effect” snow steadily falling. By tomorrow morning, our snow depth will be 14-16 inches on the ground. Most likely, here in Michigan, we will not see the bare ground until the beginning of April! Realistically, the layers and top coat that you describe would not work for Michigan’s cold climate. My usual “look” will be straight leg or maybe barely boot jeans, a long sleeved, button front, cotton shirt, and over that, my warmest pullover. Then, I top it off with my favorite insulated coat . . . and this coat is very warm but it’s not really a “puffer” coat. The secret to a puffer coat is to choose one with vertical quilted lines. The horizontal quilted lines or the block quilted lines tend to resemble the Michelin Man!

    Other times, I wear a long-sleeved, button front blouse underneath a wool blazer, and I coordinate the colors. Sometimes, rather than the button front shirt, I like to wear a cashmere sweater under the blazer. Over the blazer is the top coat that I just mentioned. If it’s not so bitterly cold, I wear the pants, the button front shirt and the super warm sweater UNDER a Chesterfield-styled walker coat. I could wear this Chesterfield-styled coat in temps in the 30’s and 40’s, but such a coat is NOT warm enough when temps are below freezing! Additionally, we always need some sort of boots for the snow and ice. I usually wear lace-up ankle boots. An additional consideration for me with my shoes and boots is that I must have a narrow width: an AA width. For reference, I am 5 ft. 5 inches tall, 138 pounds, and I wear a size 8. I have several knit hats with pom-poms, and different pairs of gloves. All of my gloves have leather palms for gripping the steering wheel when I’m driving — mittens just wouldn’t work. I tuck a woolen scarf under the collar of my coat.

    Many thanks for your down-to-earth, realistic comments and suggestions. Please continue your interesting blog! Although I’ve lived in Michigan for many years, Tennessee is my home state.

  29. Hi Susan, as I remember you posted recommendations for camisoles but I can no longer find the post. When you wear a camisole what brands have worked for you?
    Thank you,
    Betty R

  30. Thank you, Susan, for giving me the direction of layering a shorter top over a longer one. I need to play around with that look to see how long that first layer can be on me. You are so smart and amazing. I’m not sure my clothes have these longer, body skimming tops or that I’ve even aware they exist. Will have to study this concept to see what works for me. But I love the idea. I have a lot of the girlfriend cardigans that are longer and will see what I can come up with. Thank you for the ideas.

  31. You look smashing! I love your long-legged look – that the shirt is tucked in and the pants cuffs come down over your boots a bit. Here in So Cal my day can start out cool and then warm up so layering is the answer. I also find that a tucked in shirt is warmer than one left out. Thanks for the tip on wearing the scarf.

    1. Loose tops that softly drape and skim the body will likely be your best style. Avoid clinging knits, anything oversized or too long. Instead, wear tops and jackets that show the entire length of your legs. Never tuck in your tops. Empire waist (line at the most slender part of your torso) dresses and tops will most flatter you.

  32. Thank you Susan, this post was perfect for this day. I live in So.Calif. and I needed this help today with the temp @ 33 degrees. I will be traveling to Palm Springs today and it is slightly cool there so I can take the heavier jacket off and still look good and warm.

  33. I live in Florida so layering can be too warm. Usually I wear a sleeveless top and a cardigan either over the shoulders or over the back with arm tied in front. Belts can be very warm too, but I have found material ones instead of leather. Thanks for all your tips. I use them when I head north to visit family.

  34. Hi Susan! I live in Canada where the winters can be quite frigid at times. Like you I layer…for example a bra, camisole on top of that, slim long sleeved tee tops that and if I’m inside a heavy cardigan or sweater on top. I have a wonderful warm knee length down coat by Eddie Bauer and very warm boots.
    It’s s worth spending the money to get very good winter clothing which will last me for years. I also wear tights or pantyhose under my jeans for extra warmth on the really cold days. It really is all about layering.
    ps love your blog!

  35. Your layering comments for staying warm in winter are, as many of your other remarks, spot on. And, important for those where 33 degrees might be a high at this time of year, doable with a few additions And fabric choices: my camies and undershirt are Cuddle duds heavier weight; tights might be heavier; leggings probably Smartwear or fleece; tops a lighter weight flannel topped with a wool sweater. Cashmere is a good extra layer and I like that under a longer cardigan or blazer. Outerwear is more often than not, a heavy but shaped Land’s End parka I bought 10 years ago. It’s good to 30 below. The secret to down is to watch the stitching direction and color along with weight. Wool scares, lined gloves and warm hats are a must for me, and of course warm boots.

  36. I’m tall and big-busted. What pieces of clothing and styles don’t accentuate the bust line? It seems everything I wear makes me look frumpy.

    1. Look for jackets with small or no collars or lapels—clean straight lines with no ruffles, prints, or details in the front. Avoid light and bright colors on the top half.

  37. Susan,
    You look lovely as always.

    I agree that getting prepared for the day and feeling good about yourself is important plans or not. It promotes a level of self-esteem even on a rainy/snow day! It’s 17 degrees here in Michigan real feel is 10 degrees. The sun is out so it’s ok.

    The vests you showed (Macy’s sale) are perfect for another layer under a coat and can be removed with your coat. It’s odd I know but the idea is warmth. Your layers can still be worn as is. I have a wool-blend coat that looks like yours but not as long. I hesitate to wear good leather boots since the salt and slush are damaging no matter how much I treat them.

    Thanks so much for sharing your advice. It’s such a valuable time (and money) saver to me.

  38. I live in Shorewood, IL. It is very cold, so we dress in layers also. One comment from one friend that i thought was cute and brought a laugh–“I look like a burrito!”

  39. Great outfit! I live in Wisconsin so I’m very familiar with layering! Like you Susan, I also wear a thin, tight layer next to my body. Usually Cuddle Duds or something similar to what you’re wearing. Next layer would be thicker and heavier. Sometimes I’ll even do a third layer if necessary. It’s minus 15 degrees today so it might be a three layer day!
    I recently bought a Body Contour long-sleeve body suit from Express. It is fantastic for layering! The scoop neck keeps it from showing under a V-neck or low cut shirt or sweater. And it’s very warm. It also comes in short sleeve, tank and a few other styles.
    Thanks for sharing. I love all your posts.

  40. Always classic. Love the look and thank you so much for the photos and explanation. I’m learning so much from you
    Rebecca M

  41. It doesn’t get that cold where I live (NZ) but I have travelled to many cold places over the years. My favourite items for increasing warmth are fine merino camisoles, leggings and long sleeved tops. I can then add whatever layers might be appropriate for the temperature. I am a firm believer in wearing wool as it stays warm even if it gets wet and it traps in body heat plus it doesn’t get smelly. Synthetic fabrics make me feel cold and clammy.

  42. Susan,

    I am 5’11 and my long pants inseam from 33-34”. I have trouble deciding to front tuck or not. Trying to figure out the 1/3 – 2/3 rule. Also when you add a cardigan , how is the rule applied?

    Thank you for the help!

    1. You lucky gal! You don’t need to worry about fooling the eyes to make your legs look longer. You can half tuck, full tuck, or not tuck. If I add a short cardigan, I may wear it over a long top, but my inseam is a mere 29″, so I don’t wear long tops with long cardigans because it results in a frumpy silhouette.

  43. Your outfit is first class, Susan!
    Living in Canada with freezing cold temperatures and about one yard of snow, warmth is my prime consideration. My first layer is Shapeez Silkee long which provides such extra warmth, followed by one of my 32 turtlenecks. No kidding! I can’t survive cold weather without my daily turtle. Next is a fine lambs wool or thick cashmere sweater. Thick knit pants and fine knit wool knee socks & I’m out the door, oops! Of course an above the knee down coat and always a warm hat. I prefer my shearing lined leather mitts & boots for guaranteed warm hands & feet.

  44. PS – always a winter coat with a 2 way zipper. It makes sitting in and driving a car more comfortable.

  45. Really like following you on Facebook. Wonder if you could keep an eye out for clothes that are wrinkle resistant. In the summer, especially, shorts and slacks that resist wrinkles would be helpful. Thank you!

  46. Thank you for the scarf tying idea. I have some of your scarves and like to switch them up a bit and tie differently.

    Stay warm.

  47. Susan, my “Scarf Lady” friend, I too love scarves and have too many to count. I have a question. I’ve always left the tags on inside the scarf. Some tell who the maker is while others give cleaning instructions. My question is- do you keep the maker/cleaning suggestions tags and try to hide it or do you cut them off? I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on my dilemma.

    1. I always remove tags from everything. You may see people walking down the street wearing coats that still have maker tags on the cuffs and the kick pleat still stitched up. When you purchase the garment, tags, and stitching from kick pleats and pockets should be removed.

  48. Good morning Susan! I was just rereading this post and thanking my lucky stars I live in California, as far as cold winters go. Some how I missed your answer to my question about shoulder pads. Thank you. I am so happy that they come in petite size. I ordered two pairs-one petite and one slim. I’m excited!

  49. I am late in this post because I have just found it within the past week. But I must say thank you for such a great line that made me laugh! A patchwork blimp is priceless. I have to use that. And Susan, you look beautiful and so well put together in this! I love fall, my favorite time of year for fashion. I very much enjoy this blog!

  50. I live in Colorado and am going on a trip to New England. What should I take with me?
    Love your style and appreciate your guidance. You are BEAUTIFUL!

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I share tips and inspiration for using what you already have in contemporary ways. Defining words include effortless, classic, refined, discreet, and elegant. My style is chic, minimal, and timeless with a bit of edge.