The Art of Layering


Expand the realms of your wardrobe while letting your creative side run wild, urges Zinah Nur Sharif.

In my earlier days before I discovered the art of layering, I would walk into a store, see the most beautiful clothes, and walk out empty handed, hanging my head in disappointment. Why? The clothes, from unwearable mini skirts to sleeveless tops, weren’t modest!

At times, I would still purchase these beauties, only to wear them once or twice in an all-female environment. How frustrating! Turns out, I was not the only one going through this journey of frustration. I reached a point where I’d had enough and felt the urge to do something about it.

I started to experiment with layering clothes to create modest outfits. From combining sleeveless maxi dresses with long-sleeved tops, to wearing short dresses with jeans – the typical ways of layering familiar to most of us.

Oh, how disastrous the outcomes were – I can’t even begin to describe! Layering isn’t about just merging clothes to create modest outfits. It’s also about remaining comfortable and stylish, and knowing the skills of patterns, textures and fabrics, not to mention colours!

Lesson one: Imagine combining a long-sleeved wool jumper with a wool maxi skirt and a wool scarf. Sounds modest, right? Yes, but also very warm and bulky, and perhaps even heavy depending on the weight of the fabric. You wouldn’t want that, so it’s best to combine different fabrics (weight and texture) to create a well-balanced outfit that is proportioned to your body.

You don’t have to be a fabric guru to know what fabric combinations go well together. You simply need to understand the basics of lightweight, heavyweight, smooth and textured fabrics.

Lightweight fabrics such as silk, cotton or polyester can be layered two to three times without appearing bulky. They also go well combined with most fabrics. Heavyweight fabrics work best layered during colder seasons, and complement lightweight fabrics. Don’t even bother layering heavyweight fabrics such as wool, nylon, leather or cashmere together during warmer seasons. Stating the obvious, that’ll make you feel hot and uncomfortable.

Fabrics with plain weaving (smooth texture) are very common and you surely won’t struggle layering them. However, when it comes to textured fabrics such as jacquard, brocade, embossed or tweed, which tend to have less flow and drape, you’re best off layering them with smoother fabrics.

Then comes the question of colours and patterns. Now, there are no defined rules on what goes and what doesn’t go well together, but when it comes to layering, you don’t want to end up looking like a clothes rack by mixing the wrong patterns and colours.

The third principle of layering is using clothes of different lengths and cuts. Wasn’t my issue the mini skirt to begin with? Yes, because it’s far too short to even be considered modest! The simplest way is to wear a mini skirt over trousers, in a way that the top half doesn’t appear alien to the rest of the outfit. This can be achieved by balancing out the top and bottom half through the use of colours or prints, and fabrics.

The adventurous way would be to wear a mini skirt over maxi skirt! Simply make sure that the mini skirt and maxi skirt are of a similar colour, or harmonious colour tones that blend well together for them to appear as one piece.

You can make layering appear more obvious by combining colours or prints, fabrics and cuts that aren’t the same, or you can make layering subtler by blending fabrics of the same colour. Either way, don’t be afraid to play around with layering and find your own style!

Would a lesson be complete without visual aid? I don’t think so! Hence, I’ve put together six different outfits to share with you in the hopes of inspiring you to start your own adventures in the art of layering.

Styling by Zinah Nur Sharif
Photography by Zinah’s sister, Jihan Nur Sharif

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