Q&A: How to Layer for Cold Weather Days

January 13th, 2009

Q: I would love some advice on how to layer clothes.  I live in Boston so it is important to be able to dress for outside temperatures and be able to quickly adjust once inside.  I’m especially curious about layering with jackets and sweaters.

Feeling the love for this set?  Here’s more information about it.

by Traci Tsai

A: Boston living is particularly extreme.  Outside, the winter weather can be brutally frigid,  and inside, the buildings tend to be highly overheated – so we feel your pain!

How do you keep warm in super cold weather? The key is to keep your core (e.g. your torso) warm.  If your core, head and feet are warm, your body will keep your extremities (arms and legs) warm too.  So—to keep warm in cold weather, you need lots of layers over your core, but you don’t need as many layers over your arms and legs.  This insight helps you stay warm without looking like you

The key to layer your clothes without looking bulky is alternating the length of your sleeves through the layers. Wearing a long sleeved sweater over a long sleeved shirt, with another long sleeved jacket on top, for example, can really bulk you up.  Here’s how to put together a chic layered cold weather outfit:

1.  Start with a solid base: a turtleneck sweater and a pair of jeans.  To give your waist some extra definition, try a belt over the sweater.  This waist definition is key to not looking bulky– especially if you’re wearing underlayers for extra warmth.
2.  Next, add one of my favorite layering elements: a puffer vest (preferably stuffed with down feathers). Down keeps your core very warm, and it gives you more options for your overcoat.
3.  Over the down vest, bundle up in a long wool (or wool cashmere) coat.  The wool coat will give you a more urban look than a more outdoorsy looking down coat—and it traps the heat generated by the down layer. As for warmth, the wool coat without the down layer would generally be less warm than a down coat. But by layering the down vest under the wool coat, you get the best of both worlds: the warmth of down, but the sleeker, more stylish look of wool.
4.  Accessorize for the cold.  180s earmuffs are a part of any stylish woman’s cold weather wardrobe.  Note that the faux fur lined hood on the puffer vest will also act as a hat/wind-blocker, which gives you an additional layer for your ears and head.

Style tip? If it’s really cold—or if you’re particularly sensitive to cold, you can also add a sleeveless silk thermal as your base layer.  For maximum warmth, wear a long sleeve silk thermal on top and silk long underwear under your jean).  Silk liner layers are ideal because they don’t add as much bulk as other underclothing.  Plus, silk’s a natural fabric, so it also breathes better than other synthetic fabrics.

Have a great tip about how to layer for cold weather days? Share it with us in the comments!

Entry Filed under: How To,Q&A,Ready Made Outfits,Women,Women's,Women's

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. deka  |  January 13th, 2009 at 2:57 am

    i’m glad to know i’ve been doing it right; i always wear varying sleeve lengths
    san francisco is another good city for layering

    but i cant fit a coat over my puffer vest
    if i’m wearing a puffer, i have a tank, long sleeve shirt, and turtleneck sweater underneath

  • 2. Sal  |  January 13th, 2009 at 10:25 am

    What a fantastic and practical roundup of layering tips! Gotta chime in in favor of the silk longjohns – it’s -17 today in MN, and mine have saved me from getting a frostbitten hiney. Silk sock liners are great, too, if you’re prone to cold tootsies.

  • 3. neha  |  January 13th, 2009 at 10:50 am

    this is a great post, but i think if i put a puffer vests under a longer coat i’d look like a giant puffball. Most of my wool coats fit pretty snugly, with room for just a sweater underneath.

  • 4. lise  |  January 13th, 2009 at 11:33 am

    love my smartwool socks. they really help keep my feet dry and warm without the scratchiness and bulk.

  • 5. g  |  January 13th, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    I recommend a simple midweight, longsleeve fleece instead of the down vest. This way no puffball but definite warmth.

  • 6. Caitlin  |  January 13th, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    I like these ideas, but I have to agree that it’d be hard to wear a puffer vest under a sleek wool coat without looking somewhat silly. I need to get my hands on some of those silk thermals because right now I just wear a pair of thin yoga pants underneath my jeans every day. They’re a bit bulky, but they sure do keep me warm, which is important because here in Chicago.

    If I may add to the suggestions, though, I think this outfit also calls for a sleek pair of lined leather gloves.

  • 7. Trisha  |  January 13th, 2009 at 11:40 pm

    As for the puffer vest under the wool coat, it can work–but it’s all about finding the right vest-coat combo. I like a less-filled version of the puffer vest (so that it’s not super bulky) and a wool coat that has a bit more room. A-line wool coats tend to have enough room to fit a thick sweater or a thin puffer vest.

    The lined leather gloves, the silk sock liners, the fleece, and the smartwool socks – great suggestions!

  • 8. Traci  |  January 14th, 2009 at 5:07 am

    Just to add to Trisha’s note on the thinner, more compact puffer vests – Kenneth Cole Reaction and Nine West both make a very compacted version of a down vest that avoids bulk but is still 60% down and very warm. All the additions are great!

  • 9. Pampi!  |  January 16th, 2009 at 9:01 am

    Hey Omiru!

    I plan to write a master’s thesis on Boston Street Style. I need a catalogue of images and fashion commentary on Boston’s street styles in order to write this paper. I was wondering whether you’d be interested in being a subject and/or collaborating with me. You can do as little or as much as you want. I am still tweaking what exactly I’d like to study. This is essentially my first attempt at reserach and so I’m putting out feelers to local fashion bloggers.


  • 10. MizzJ  |  January 16th, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Great tips! A high-collared coat is also great to provide better insulation around your neck, especially when paired with a scarf wrapped around. Tights and gloves are also essentials. Like the others, I’m also not sure about the whole puffer vest and wool coat thing, wouldn’t you just end up looking like a puffed up robin?

  • 11. Vanessa  |  January 23rd, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    I’ve actually tried this outfit last week. I live around the DC metro area and during inauguration it was frigid here. I was skeptical at first to put my vest on and then my wool peacoat because IT didn’t want to look heavier than I am. But my forever21 vest, which i thought was thick enough did not have that affect on me. In fact it made my outfit look even cuter when I closed my peacoat and took the hood out of the coat because it made it look likei had a faux fur collar. :-)

  • 12. Daisy  |  January 29th, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    I’m glad that I am not the only one doing this in Boston now. I’ve been wearing my puffer vest inside my wool coat since last winter and it fits me perfectly. It’s true that you need a coat that is a bit roomy in order to fit the puffer vest (or a less puffy vest), but overall, it works and keeps me warm in this cold Boston weather.

    I also agree that gloves are a must in cold weather because my hands get really dry in cold and dry weather.

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