For a long time I’ve simply taken for granted the fact that autumn is the best season for fashion because you can layer, but don’t have to wear cumbersome winter coats. Then, today, I walked outside and saw a guy wearing a terrible sweater and realized that like any season, fall is a blank slate.
That brings us to this month’s fashion tip: layer, but do it intelligently. As the word suggests, layering means you can wear lots of different things at once, creating a more complex look than might be possible (or, at least, appropriate) for summer. For example, you can combine common place items like sweaters, sport coats, jeans, slacks and scarves to achieve a young professional look, a bohemian hipster look, a libriarian chic look, or an infinite number of styles.
The point here is that fall is like the French Revolution of fashion: suddenly that tyrannical summer heat has gone to the guillotine and you’re free to start with a whole new set of values. Consequently, if you’re in the mood to reinvent your image or simply try something new, fall is the time to do it; you can mix old styles with new ones and the comfort of retaining something from the past will mitigate the intimidation of change.
While layering can be an effective way to spice up your image, it can also pose some dangers. The biggest of these is probably that wearing layers can easily begin to add bulk to your figure, making you look fat or frumpy—hardly the desired effect of anyone. If, for example, that sweater and sport coat I mentioned above are fairly thick, they could end up adding two inches to your girth. As the weather cools even more and you add a coat on top, you could end up looking bigger and bigger, subsequently turning the fall French Revolution into a grotesque fashion Reign of Terror. Don’t let that happen.
The most obvious way to avoid this problem is to layer with slim, lightweight garments. Even if the weather is quite cool, three or four thin layers should provide enough protection until winter. Obviously all of these layers need to fit well. Personally, I love sweaters but I’d say that at least half the sweaters I see out there are loose and poorly shaped, which in turn hides the more attractive form of their wearers’ bodies. (No matter what your body shape, wearing a poorly fitted sweater makes you look worse.) If you start out with a sweater like that, it’s going to be almost impossible to do anything for the rest of the ensemble. The same goes with ugly, passé pants.
Besides fit, another way to counter the “added bulk” problem is to make sure that most of your body is lightly but uniformly covered, thereby reducing the amount of skin coming in contact with those chilly autumn breezes. What I mean is that to stay warm you can either put on tons of coats and sweaters, or you can wear a coat, sweater, scarf, and hat. I was once told that 90% of a person’s body heat escapes through their head. While I doubt the number is actually that high, the point is that by wearing a hat and a scarf you will actually need to wear fewer layers on the rest of your body. You’ll look slimmer, and you’ll be wearing a fashionable hat and scarf (look for a future tip about choosing cool-weather accessories).
In the end shop around and use fall’s transitional weather to experiment. Last year, for example, I got an $80 sweater at Banana Republic for less than twenty dollars on sale. It wasn’t really my typical style, but I experimented and mixed it with things that were, and the result was something that I felt was flattering, fashionable, and new (which obviously made me feel good and gave me more confidence, which is one of the goals of good fashion). That it was cheap and easy also attests to the fact that fashion is not difficult or exceedingly esoteric. In the end, then, remember, you can look great and there is no fashion neutrality.