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You Should Layer Like You Really Mean It

Your mind and clothes will still be in July while the rest of us are buried under January.

Two women wearing a bunch of layers Photo: Christian Vierig/Getty Images

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Though it took a while — a muggy day here, an 80-degree day there, didn’t wear a jacket for weeks, maybe months, who can remember anything anymore — we are finally, definitely, seriously in the throes of fall and moving with surprising haste into winter. In fact, winter is only one month away, which sounds crazy, but it is true, and if you haven’t ordered your SAD lamp yet, hurry.

The transition from fall to winter inevitably requires giving some thought to the subject of the dreaded winter coat. Do you have one? Is it dry-cleaned? Taken out of storage? Did it emerge from the back of your closet alongside a ghost, a ghost covered in soot and dust yelling, “GET READY FOR THE WORST PART OF THE YEAR — I’M A GHOST”? Do you look at your winter coat — puffy, an oil stain, pockets lined with ripped-up tissues — and feel your heart sink to your feet?

Unless you plan on going the silly route, I give you permission to free yourself from the burden of having to don your dreary winter coat day in and day out. This fall and winter, the real MVPs are learning how to layer, and layer with conviction.

When most people think of layering as a fashion choice, two things come to mind: a classic (ie. boring) button-down-shirt-under-sweater combo, or Steve Bannon in a dungeon with five polos beneath a poorly fitting blazer. This is not the kind of layering I mean. The quiet ecstasy in this specific kind of layering comes from embracing the unafraid and snappy parts of yourself, the parts that resent having to cover up your jazzy outfit choices with a neck-to-ankle length coat for six months. When employed correctly, your newfound lease on layering will result in your staying warm, saving yourself some coin, and looking cool. Move past the notion that layering is a mere means to an end; protect your delicate winter skin from an itchy sweater, sure, but do so while looking like a model who decided to wear all of her clothes at once rather than check luggage for a flight to Alaska.

So you’re on board? Great. On the days that you look at your winter coat and groan with despair, what can be done instead?

Imagine this: You’re going to a bar. You’re wearing your enormous winter puffer, a huge wool sweater, and a sweaty knit scarf. Because no bar is properly prepared to store a floor-length sleeping bag jacket when you inevitably strip down to a tank top, you are constrained to either carrying these items or stuffing them under a table. With this new-and-improved approach to layering, here’s the real move: Don a featherweight cotton turtleneck, a long chambray button-down, a jean jacket, and a crewneck sweatshirt over that. You’ll be just as warm, but less burdened by heavy, oppressive gear. At the bar, you can compress your button-down into a purse and tie the jean-jacket around your waist. Now you’re free.

I have even taken to wearing two different fall coats at the same time, a lighter quilted duster underneath a well-insulated leather jacket. A duster tucks much easier under the arm or under a bar booth. People will be intrigued by your two jackets. Let them be. And if they make fun of you — which has definitely never happened to me and I’m not mad about it, I swear — just ignore them.

Another built-in advantage to winter layering is that it’s an easy way to save yourself money. Come fall, it is tradition to look inside one’s closet and cringe, declaring that all of these clothes suck and a shopping trip is in order. Instead, don’t even put your summer clothes away. After all, a gauzy summer blouse over a long-sleeved crewneck T-shirt with a Patagonia shell is still an outfit to keep you warm — it’s just made up of different parts than you’re used to. An added bonus: These new looks will inevitably add brightness to your daily winter dressing. Your mind and clothes will still be in July while the rest of us are buried under January.

Better still: When you decide to throw a bunch of random items of clothing over each other, especially in what might be considered unconventional ways, it’s a little like walking out of your house wearing four different potential outfits. Let’s say you’ve got a leather bomber jacket over a cotton turtleneck that is under a v-neck sweater. You now have two outfit options instead of one: bomber over turtleneck, sweater under bomber. Are you wearing a skirt over jeans? Shimmy out of that skirt in the bathroom of your local YMCA and now you’re wearing just jeans, like a regular person. My favorite: a cotton turtleneck under a cotton crewneck shirt. Sometimes you need your neck to breathe — there’s nothing illegal about taking off one layered turtleneck to let the breeze in. Now I’m just a girl in a shirt.

Most importantly, though, when you’re a true layer freak, you’re going to stand out in a crowd. In the 1999 film Big Daddy, the adopted son of Adam Sandler, who is now a famous actor that people are boned up for, names himself Frankenstein and wears a spaghetti strainer over a bucket hat. In another scene, he wears several ties at once and a bowler hat. Rain boots and swimming goggles on a sunny day. Layering is one option you have for both drawing attention to your wacky fashion choices and for also getting mileage out of items that might crowd the back of your closet. Have you considered wearing two turtlenecks at once? A pair of skinny jeans under your summer culottes? A bucket hat under a spaghetti strainer? Winter is grim and dreary enough as it is. Dressing like a basketcase is one guaranteed way to lighten up.

This winter, give your big, bulky, practical coat a few days off a month. Layering is for people who were always intrigued by the term “day-to-night dressing” but who also yearn for practicality. Four pieces of clothing on top and two pieces of clothing on bottom: You’re warm, you’re cool, and your winter coat isn’t the boss of you anymore.