How to Layer for a Versatile Closet, According to a Celebrity Stylist

Outfit-building is everything.

Gabriella Karefa-Johnson during NYFW in 2021

Christian Vierig / Getty Images

Shopping to build a wardrobe you love is fun, but it's only the beginning. Learning how to pair your favorite pieces for outfits you’re excited to wear? That’s where things get a little trickier. As the weather cools, it’s easy to want to throw on a puffer jacket and throw out the put-together visions of layered looks you aspired to earlier in the season. But the common thread among almost every successful outfit is at least some degree of well-executed layering. It gives an ensemble dimension and brings it to life off the hanger. Once you learn how to layer correctly, it elevates a pile of basics into a get-up worth repeating.

That’s why we called in an expert: No person is more fit for the job than celebrity stylist Micaela Erlanger. Her clients include Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep, Michelle Dockery, and Common, to name a few. Ahead, find her insider tips on the illusive art of outfit-building, so you'll know just how to layer when the breeze kicks in.

Meet the Expert

Micaela Erlanger is a celebrity stylist and bestselling author based in New York City. Her work has made it to a range of top publications and red carpets, and her clients include Lupita Nyong'o, Meryl Streep, Shailene Woodley, Common, and more.

Build from the Bottom Up

"Lingerie is your foundation," Erlanger explains. And as any person who has tried to pull off a body-skimming look without the proper undergarments knows, it can make or break a look. Slip dresses aside, keeping a wardrobe stocked with well-fitting lingerie is the first step to building a look that feels as good as it looks.

For regular pieces to go under your favorite T-shirt, Erlanger notes, "you wear it every day, so it needs to be practical and functional." There's a time and a place for delightful pieces in bright colors and daring cuts, but it's not your Monday-morning bra and underwear set. Set yourself up for success by investing in a nude shade that matches your skin tone, plus white and black. That way, you'll never let the wrong basics spoil a great outfit.

Stick to the Formula

Think back to one of your favorite outfits. To figure out how to layer other looks you'll love just as much, consider the elements of the ensemble and break them down into a formula. "I live in T-shirts and blazers," Erlanger tells Byrdie. "For me, it’s a T-shirt bra, a T-shirt or blouse, and then a blazer to complete the look." With a formula in mind, deciding what to wear or where to go from a single piece becomes simpler.

When you save an outfit you love on Instagram or see a friend for drinks and can't quite put a finger on why you love what they're wearing so much, try thinking about it as a formula. Is it a long coat plus short dress plus tall boots? Or is it long sleeves plus flared pants? Study the looks you covet for insight on how to create them yourself.

Just the Right Tee

An outfit is only as good as the sum of its parts. In other words, attention to detail pays off. While Erlanger prefers Splendid for their "so soft and comfortable and not too sheer, perfect for every day" T-shirts, take the time to figure out the ideal, go-to T-shirt for you.

Like things oversized? Try sizing up or opt for a menswear-inspired style. Feel better in something sturdy? Material matters, so go for 100% cotton. Whatever your take is, a T-shirt that makes you feel confident, as boring as it sounds, can inspire some of the best outfits imaginable.

Rule of Three

If layering still feels overwhelming, Erlanger encourages you to "start simple and keep it to three pieces max." Choose a piece you know you love to wear or one you've been struggling to incorporate. Find a jacket or slip it under a dress. The stylist also advises against mixing patterns until "you're more expert." Keeping solids in the mix, with maybe one simple pattern, is a surefire path to success.

Here, Erlanger showcases the simple sophistication she's known for in her own styling. The leather jacket pairs perfectly with the other timeless classic, denim. The whole look stays playful, thanks to the Breton stripes.

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