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How to layer clothes for the winter, according to experts

Keep cozy with the rules of threes.
Kara Birnbaum / TODAY

Cold weather can be challenging without the right attire. That's why layering clothes will be your best style system to keep you warm and insulated during colder months.

Knowing what to incorporate in your outfit before you step outdoors is an art, so we have created a guide for you to equip you for temperatures below 30°F. From winter essentials for cold destinations to fabrics that keep you protected, experts share the must-have pieces during an icy draft.

We also kept in mind which clothes offer the right aesthetics — of course, keeping functionality and quality as a top priority. Below we have included how-tos and favorite brands that will make your cold season more stylish and practical.

Shop TODAY Snapshot

How to layer clothes | Materials ideal for layering | Base layer pieces | Middle layer pieces | Outer layer pieces | How we chose | Meet the experts

How to layer clothes

Layering clothes will be your best solution to keep you insulated. According to fashion expert Lara Eurdolian King, she follows a three-layer rule to stay comfortable and dry in any weather condition.

"This three-layer rule covers your base layer (keeps you dry), middle layer (insulation/warmth) and outer layer (this one protects you from the elements whether it's wind, rain or snow)," says King.

This rule is crucial to help you navigate temperature fluctuations. "This styling approach helps solve the challenge of bundling up for chilly mornings and feeling too hot during sunny afternoons and allows for a comfortable transition throughout the day," shares Stitch Fix stylist Alicia Lloyd.

"As winter sets in, you can choose warmer layers, such as a soft and cozy knit base layer, paired with a mid-layer that adds insulation, like a cashmere sweater. Then, complete the ensemble with a weather-proof coat to protect against cold winds, snow or rain," adds Lloyd.

Materials ideal for layering

According to King, garments should be chosen based on your activity level, occasion and temperature. Here are some guidelines for choosing the right base, middle and outer layer.

Base layers

"Generally, a good base layer made from a cotton blend or synthetic blend like polyester and nylon, makes for a good base layer, especially if you're planning on sweating," says King. These fabrics will keep you dry. Also, she recommends looking at labels that say moisture-wicking or merino wool which helps regulate body temperature.

Another tip is to make sure that your base layer is tight to your skin. "You want it to be tied to your skin so your body’s not spending energy cooling the distance between you and your layer," says textile expert Tandy Avery.

Middle layers

Avery suggests wearing a polyester blend as a middle layer or another synthetic material like fleece. "There are many things you can use as a mid-layer including a knit sweater, an Arctic fleece or a sweatshirt."

Outer layers

For this layer, Avery recommends jackets made with nylon because they are water-resistant. "You can find knits woven and treated into your nylon outerwear, which are ideal for snow and rain."

A classic wool coat is also a great option since it provides good insulation. "Outer is based on the elements, so heavier warm fabrics like a down jacket, windbreaker/windproof jacket or waterproof/rain jacket is ideal," says King.

Base layer pieces

Aerie Fireside Long Sleeve Crew Neck T-Shirt

What we like
  • Has a longer fit
Something to note
  • Slightly see-through

Sizes: XS-XXL | Colors: 7 | Material: 55% cotton, 37% polyester, 8% elastane

This is a go-to winter basic for editorial assistant Sierra Hoeger. "While it’s thin, it can be worn under a sweatshirt or tee just to provide another layer. It’s soft, stretchy and has lasted me multiple years," she says.

It comes in multiple colors and is a cozy, breathable piece to keep you warm during colder days.

Gap Lightweight Turtleneck T-Shirt

What we like
  • Stretch-to-fit
  • Feels lightweight
Something to note
  • Fabric is a bit thin

Sizes: XXS-XL | Colors: 5 | Material: Cotton-modal blend

With a slim and stretchy silhouette, this piece makes it easy to layer outer garments on top. This shirt features a turtleneck for extra coverage and comes in different neutral hues to match with a variety of bottoms.

According to reviewers, this piece is lightweight and not too sheer, which adds a timeless aesthetic to your winter wardrobe.

Nike Therma-FIT One Long Sleeve Top

What we like
  • Soft fleece that feels warm
  • Sweat-wicking properties
Something to note
  • Can be short for longer torso

Sizes: XS-XXL | Colors: 5 | Material: 80% polyester, 20% spandex

What makes this a must-have is Nike's Therma-FIT technology that will keep you warm even when you're shoveling snow. According to Hoeger, this is what she wears when running outside in winter weather.

"I’ve also worn it to cold football games or under my cheer uniform in high school when it was cold!" adds Hoeger.

Columbia Women's Omni-heat Midweight Baselayer Half Zip

What we like
  • Features thumb holes
  • Fabric stays dry
Something to note
  • Body skimming fit

Sizes: XS-XXL | Colors: 2 | Material: 85% polyester, 15% elastane

I own two base layers from Columbia and these have saved me from frosty temperatures. This one in particular has a thermal reflective material that will keep you warm and comfortable all day.

The top has never disappointed me and I've worn it for hikes, casual mornings and runs. It's one of those tried-and-true pieces that I keep unpacking from my closet every winter. Also, you will feel fresh while wearing it thanks to Omni-Wick technology.

Jack Wolfskin Infinite L/S W

What we like
  • Will keep you dry all day
Something to note
  • Can run small

Sizes: XS-XXL | Colors: 3 | Material: 93% polyester, 7% elastane

I own a pair of Jack Wolfskin pants and they are so moisture-wicking that I can sweat in them and feel comfortable throughout the day. While this base layer is on the more luxurious side, the quality is superior. The fabric is very breathable and comes with a stretchy material that will snug your body.

Middle layer pieces

32 Degrees Women's Lightweight Poly-Fill Packable Vest

What we like
  • Feels ultra lightweight
Something to note
  • Tends to run big

Sizes: XS-XXL | Colors: 9 | Material: 100% nylon

This lightweight vest is ideal for runners and those who need extra warmth before adding their outer layer. Associate editor Kamari Stewart bought this one during Black Friday sales for her outdoor runs.

With more than 1,400 five-star ratings, this piece functions well during colder climates. Also, customers say it feels semi-fitted and very comfortable.

Old Navy Quilted Puffer Vest

What we like
  • Multiple colors available
  • Full-length zipper
Something to note
  • Runs a bit large

Sizes: XS-4X | Colors: 7 | Material: 100% recycled polyester

Explore the outdoors in this cozy puffer vest featuring a semi-fitted style. Available in bright and neutral colors, this piece is the perfect addition to cooler days when you want a cozy aesthetic.

You can pair it with anything in your wardrobe and leverage your layering system with a coat. Warm, chic and affordable — now that's a plus for our wallets.

Dokotoo Corduroy Button-Down Shirt

What we like
  • Fabric feels thick
  • Can be worn as a jacket
Something to note
  • Runs oversized

Sizes: S-XXL | Colors: 15 | Material: 100% polyester

I own this button-down shirt and it has become my favorite lightweight jacket when I wear T-shirts and bodysuits as a base layer. This one can be worn on its own or added on top of a thinner garment for extra warmth.

While this is a blouse that works as a jacket, you'll also find out that ironing is not necessary. It's the perfect mid-layer for a colder day.

Express Waffle Knit Cardigan

What we like
  • Feels super cozy
Something to note
  • Runs large

Sizes: XS-XL | Colors: 2 | Material: Waffle knit

For a more relaxed look, throw on this cozy cardigan and pair it with jeans or pants. It features an open front and knit fabric that pairs well with loungewear or more laidback pieces.

It can be worn as an extra warm layer under your coat, plus you won't have to worry about button closures.

BTFBM Women’s Casual Half Zip Pullover

What we like
  • Relaxed fit
  • Feels super soft
Something to note
  • Runs a bit large

Sizes: S-XL | Colors: 21 | Material: 50% viscose, 50% nylon

Made of a nylon blend, this sweater is perfect for not-so-cold days. It features a loose fit that can be worn with tank tops and T-shirts. Customers rave about the thickness and weight of this piece, especially how well it transitions into other seasons.

Abercrombie & Fitch Oversized Vegan Leather Shirt

What we like
  • Drapes nicely over body
Something to note
  • Runs a bit large

Sizes: XXS-XL | Colors: Five | Material: 100% Polyester

For a more polished look, choose this vegan leather shirt and pair it with denim or slacks. With a simple and classy silhouette, this shirt can be worn for multiple occasions - work, party and travel.

"The leather is really soft and even the material inside the shacket," said one reviewer. You can also wear it as a light jacket for mild temperatures.

Showpo Luella Jumper

What we like
  • Great for layering
  • Can be dressed up or down
Something to note
  • Oversized fit

Sizes: 0-16 | Colors: 3 | Material: 79% polyester, 15% nylon, 6% wool

The oversized fit and heavyweight material of this sweater is ideal for a chillier day. It features a ribbed turtle neck and side splits for an uncomplicated look — it might even feel like you're snuggling a blanket.

This can be dressed up or down with jeans, shorts or leggings. Also, it encompasses long sleeves to add extra inches of coverage.

Everlane The Cashmere Oversized Turtleneck

What we like
  • Very roomy to layer
Something to note
  • Runs a bit big

Sizes: XXS-XL | Colors: 6 | Material: 94% cashmere, 6% recycled wool

If you're looking for a sweater that works for several occasions, look no further. Production assistant Audrey Ekman says this is her favorite sweater.

"I had never owned anything cashmere until this sweater came into my life, but I finally feel like I understand the hype. It’s so luxurious and soft, and the fit is perfectly oversized, so I still have room to layer up underneath," she adds.

Outer layer pieces

Wrangler Memory Maker Jacket

What we like
  • Front chest pockets
Something to note
  • Feels a bit stiff

Sizes: XS-XXL | Colors: 5 | Material: 66% cotton, 34% polyester

With a classic fit and a durable construction, this denim jacket is meant to be worn every season of the year. It's a timeless piece that never goes out of style.

"Another no-brainer layering piece in my book is a classic denim jacket. You can wear this one during every season — with the right layers and accessories. In the colder months of the year, it pairs well with a thick turtleneck sweater, a chunky scarf and gloves, and in summer it’s great thrown over a lightweight dress!" says Ekman.

Amazon Essentials Women's Lightweight Water-Resistant Coat

What we like
  • Doesn't feel bulky
Something to note
  • Runs a bit small

Sizes: XS-6X | Colors: 17 | Material: 100% polyester

Looking for affordability and function? This coat packs everything you need for your morning walks. Commerce editor Amanda Fama is a fan of this puffer coat. "It’s super warm and so lightweight that I wear it on runs during the winter," she says.

It has over 12,200 positive five-star ratings with customers raving about how warm this coat is.

Double Breasted Wool Blend Longline Vest

What we like
  • Button front closure
  • Features a belted waist
Something to note
  • Dry clean only

Sizes: XS-XL | Color: Black | Material: Wool blend

Sometimes a heavy coat is too much for sunny days. Instead, opt for this long vest that will give you the same level of coziness sans the heat. This mid-weight piece features front pockets, button closures and a belted waist to wear it open or closed.

Plus, it offers a more tailored look thanks to the notch collar and structured fit.

Supesu Cubby Hoodie

What we like
  • Doesn't shrink
  • Ultra cozy
Something to note
  • Cropped fit

Sizes: 0-14 (see standard size conversion table) | Colors: 5 | Material: 64% cotton, 32% polyester, 4% spandex

Supesu offers an array of sweatsuits and comfortable clothing. This hoodie is no exception and comes in beautiful hues to match your gym and laidback look.

It comes with a fuzzy hoodie and a buttery fabric that feels soft to the touch. I own a dress from this brand and comfort is guaranteed the moment I put it on.

Quince Mongolian Cashmere Duster Cardigan Sweater

What we like
  • Material feels luxe
Something to note
  • No button closure

Sizes: XS-XL | Colors: 9 | Material: 100% Grade-A Mongolian cashmere

If you're looking for versatility and a go-to piece to wear every day, this one can complete your capsule wardrobe. According to reviews, this one is not too light or heavy, plus it feels cozy when worn with a cashmere sweater underneath.

"This is one of my favorite go-to sweaters for work, it goes great over everything and is so soft, comfortable, and breathable," shared a reviewer. However, it tends to run large, so sizing down is recommended.

Good American Cropped Hooded Puffer Jacket

What we like
  • Adjustable hood
Something to note
  • Dry clean only

Sizes: XS-2XL | Color: Black | Material: 100% nylon

Are you a fan of Good American jeans? This puffer jacket delivers similar quality and comfort. Make your denim stand out when you pair it with this cropped jacket featuring a ribbed hem, which helps if you wear high-waisted jeans.

Currently, the jacket is 25% off and is a great addition to your winter wardrobe when you need something casual yet protective.

Patagonia Women's Downdrift Parka

What we like
  • Feels super warm
  • Features big pockets
Something to note
  • Hood can be short

Sizes: XS-XL | Colors: 5 | Material: 600-fill-power 100% recycled down

While this coat is on the more luxe side, Hoeger swears by it. This one is worth the investment thanks to its durability and heavy construction. It comes with a zippered chest to store your valuables and made with a blend of goose and duck down for warmth.

"This one packs it all in and it’s not too heavy, provides ample amount of warmth and has an exterior that is easy to wash," shares Hoeger.

How we chose the best layering clothes

The items selected were based on experts' recommendations and editors' most-loved pieces. We also scoured through brands that offer insulation and functionality while keeping in mind customers' reviews.

Meet the experts

  • Lara Eurdolian King is a fashion expert, on-air host and founder of the beauty blog Pretty Connected. Also, she is the author of Charlie at the Pom Springs Hotel, a children's book based on a true story.
  • Alicia Lloyd is a stylist for Stitch Fix, a brand focused on curating personalized wardrobes for its clientele.
  • Tandy Avery is a textile expert and vice president of product development for the brand Luxome.