The big freeze: A stylish guide to winter layering

Temperatures are on the slide and the nights are getting noticeably longer; whilst this prompts many of us to avoid adventurous outings in the elements and instead confine ourselves to the warmth of indoors, it’s also a great opportunity to start thinking about your cold-weather wardrobe and how you’ll be layering up for any unexpected temperature drops.


The good news is that with some judicious winter layering, there’s no need to sacrifice style for warmth; the trick to layering up for cold weather is choosing your outfit smartly, rather than just piling on lots of bulk.


Here, we’ll take a look at the best winter layering techniques and how to layer clothes the right way, so that you can stay looking sophisticated, whatever Mother Nature has to throw at you!

How to layer clothes – and still look good

 Layering may seem daunting at first, but it’s a great way to stay feeling warm and looking stylish.

It’s easy to throw on a mishmash of clothing in the bid to keep yourself warm when the big freeze hits – but, layering stylish outfits doesn’t have to be complicated. While practical, heat-retaining clothing pieces are of high priority, there are a few tips and tricks that you should follow to ensure your finished look is cohesive and carefully co-ordinated.


Think about how your items look together when you’re assembling your outfit, and try to choose colours, patterns and textures that complement one another. Opt for a neutral colour palette to allow your layering to speak for itself; if you want to add more depth to your ensemble, swap out one muted piece for a slightly bolder hue.


It’s also key to remember that when you layer clothes, items that previously seemed to fit fine are likely to feel a fair bit tighter – consider sizing up with certain pieces, such as lined pants or shirts.

Know your layers

 An insulating jacket makes for an ideal outer layer when wrapping up warm during the colder months.

When you’re layering clothes for winter, the cardinal rule is to work from the thinnest item of clothing through to the thickest. Layering on top of lightweight fabrics – rather than heavier pieces such as chunky jumpers – will help keep bulk to a minimum and ensure your overall look is as compact as possible.

Whether you’re an expedition professional or a layering amateur, the three-layer principle is a handy clothing system to have under your belt. As it states in the name, it consists of three garment layers made from varying materials, the bonus being that you can easily add or removed pieces based on activity levels and weather changes.


Base layer


One of the most integral pieces of clothing in the layering system, the base layer acts as the foundation of a winter outfit and is essential in keeping you warm and dry. This next-to-skin layer is key to wicking (the transporting of moisture away from the skin and regulating body temperature in the process.), which is important to keep you dry.


Whilst there are expertly engineered base layers made from the latest fabric technology, these aren’t essential for everyday wear. Common types include items such as leggings, long johns and long or short sleeve thermal tops – but can even be as simple as a cotton t-shirt or vest when the weather is less severe.

Mid layer

Also referred to as the ‘insulation layer’, the mid layer is designed to trap in body heat to provide ultimate warmth. If temperatures aren’t extreme, it could also work well in the place of an outer layer – as long as there aren’t gale-force winds or torrential rain!


When choosing a suitable garment, make sure you go for something that’s both breathable and effective at retaining heat. If you’re heading into the great outdoors, then fleece jackets, gilets, sweatshirts or hoodies are ideal, but for the office a jumper would be more suitable attire.

Outer layer

Your outer layer should provide you with sufficient protection against the rain, wind, snow and whatever else nature has to throw at you over the winter months. Usually waterproof, lightweight and breathable, they can be categorised into three categories:


  1. Soft shells – these tend to be more water-repellent than waterproof, but offer more comfort and enhanced breathability compared to hard shells.
  2. Hard shells – these completely waterproof (but still breathable) jackets are designed to keep you dry and protected in poor conditions.
  3. Insulated jackets – for extremely cold weather, a jacket made from an insulating, synthetic fabric is ideal to have on hand.

Choosing the right fabrics

 Cashmere is a natural fibre which is renowned for its efficient heat-retaining properties.

It’s important to consider the heat-retention characteristics of the fabrics you choose for your layers, as by choosing a one that’s good for insulation, you can ensure that your outfit is less bulky than it would be otherwise.


There is a wide range of material options available, including synthetics like polyester and nylon, or natural fibres such as merino wool and silk. Though there are subtle differences in wicking and drying, durability and odour retention of each, it’s important to pay attention to them, as well as their weight and weave.


Depending on what outdoor activities you’ll be getting up to, it’s best to stick to fabrics which are excellent at wicking moisture away from the skin if you’ll be undertaking a task which works up a sweat. Synthetic fabrics such as polyester or natural fibres such as wool are ideal for this purpose.


Cashmere, for instance, can be three times more insulating than other fabrics – so a cashmere jumper or cardigan isn’t just classy and stylish, but practical too.

Adding the finishing touches to your winter look

 Layering up doesn’t mean you have to skimp on accessories - hats, gloves and scarves are essential for winter wear.

To complete your outfit, make sure that your extremities (those parts of your body that would otherwise remain exposed) are also covered up and protected against the cold. Choosing the right accessories is essential when you’re layering up for cold weather – here are the ones you shouldn’t be without:


  • Hats – thick, woolly hats are a must-have for anyone braving the chilly weather – a cable-knit or trapper hat is a great choice, providing plenty of thickness for heat insulation while also keeping your head dry.
  • Gloves – you can lose a lot of body heat through your hands, and venturing outside into the cold without a pair of gloves can almost defeat the object of layering up in the first place, so make sure you keep them covered!
  • Scarves – quality woollen scarves, as well as protecting your neck from the chill, make for a sophisticated addition to any outfit. Complete your layered look with a real flourish (and stay warm to boot) by adding a classy cashmere scarf. For something a little more flamboyant, consider a cape or wrap.


Stock up on stylish and practical cold-weather essentials today from The Edinburgh Woollen Mill. Choose from the amazing range of men’s and women’s coats, plus quality knitwear, perfect for all of your winter layering needs!

The big freeze: A stylish guide to winter layering