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How to Layer for Fall Without Looking Like an Abominable Snowman

Outfit layering is kind of like Tetris: Not every item of clothing is destined to fit together, but when you find a particular combination that does, it looks seamless and feels satisfying. The real challenge doesn’t necessarily lie in determining a winning combination, however, but rather in determining a whole slew of them–enough to make the most of your wardrobe and prevent the often-inevitable turtleneck/pullover sweater/blazer rut. It takes some experimentation to achieve, especially when you’re striving for that perfect “not too sparse, not too reminiscent of an abominable snowman” middle ground.

I’ve given this a lot of thought, parsing through the mechanics of layering with a Confucian sensibility, and I’ve landed on eight specific combinations that seem to check all the boxes when it comes to fit, proportions, depth, warmth, and aesthetic appeal. Scroll down below for my full rundown–an eight-course autumnal mixology menu of layering ideas to use as fodder next time you’re approaching rut territory.

YOU HAVE ARRIVED! At the first licks of autumn, at the dinner party, at your first chance to layer it up after months of literally sweating it out. So. You get a bit impulsive. You layer a turtleneck (duh) under a blazer under a quilted jacket–the stylistic equivalent of something you might pluck from a proffered silver tray before the person holding it has a chance to tell you what it is, but no matter, it’s not about conventions, it’s about gut instinct, and your gut is telling you to pair two forms of fitted outerwear together.

Pretzel, olive, French, foccacia, whole wheat, or brioche? The inherent problem with bread baskets if that by the time they’re set down on the table, you’re getting hungry enough to want one of each even though you’re well-aware that might spoil your impending dinner. Fortunately, because the desire to “have it all” has no repercussions when it comes to layering (minus the occasional overheating incident), you have full permission to wear your favorite fall staples simultaneously, right on top of each other. Just don’t forget to un-tuck your ruffly collar so it can thrive in true pumpkin spice Shakespeare glory.

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The amuse bouche is where you, the chef (of outfits), are inclined to get wild. It’s just a bite, after all–a taste of something intended to amuse. To surprise! To delight. So why not execute on this mission by way of an extraneous zipper? The ideal, unexpected crunch that seemingly transforms the whole thing out of nowhere. Finish things off with a cardigan because there is no more celebratory frame for what’s going on south of your chin.

You’re probably getting a little full at this point, which is completely understandable when you load up on layers at the first sign of a crunchy leaf, so consider the light layer medley that is a T-shirt under a turtleneck sweater. There are no extraneous jackets or butters or coats involved in this delicate array of sartorial lettuces, so you can nibble at the thrill of layering without overdoing it.

Layering’s parallel to a spoonful of citrus-flavored sorbet is undoubtedly a turtleneck under a dress under a vest. Basic enough to execute on a whim, simple enough to sooth the soul, but with the zest that only an unexpected layer like a vest (!) can introduce to your outfit’s palette.

You really have to be in the zone to prepare yourself for this double whammy–the “cauliflower prepared two ways” of fall layering, if you will: double knitwear worn over a turtleneck, a.k.a. fashion’s mashed potato equivalent. The epitome of fireplace-sitting, apple-picking coziness, this combo will swaddle you emotionally and physically at the same time. A protein boost for the ages.

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By the time your dessert course rolls around, otherwise known as late autumn, you’re probably hankering for the true contrast in flavor that something sweet can bring to the table. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but to satisfy the craving, it does have to be different, so how about… a button-down instead of a turtleneck? And a boatneck instead of crew? That’s the stuff.

Would you look at that? It’s the end of the meal that is fall and approaching December and you’re looking for something to melt in your mouth and shake you out of your impending winter stupor. The answer is a trend that lies out of your typical comfort zone but could very well be the precise thing that gets you in the mood for all the layering yet to come: a DICKIE!!!!!!! Or, for the uninitiated, a bib for grownups. Not only do they look cool simply layered over a shirt or for that juicy knight-of-the-roundtable aesthetic, but they also function well under a coat when you want to cultivate the appearance of a turtleneck whilst still maintaining plenty of bicep breathing room.


Photographer: Sabrina Santiago
Stylist: Harling Ross
Market:  Elizabeth Tamkin
Models: Alvina Bokhari at Anti-Agency, Victoria Gomez at Jag, Eva Evans at Noni Agency, & Giannina Oteto at No Agency.
Hair: Sergio Estrada
Makeup Artist: Rachael Krutchkoff
Stylist Assistant: Share C Koech

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