How to Layer Clothes for Travel

Layers Y’all! I love them, they are a light traveler’s best friend. Truly, they are and lemme tell you why.

Layers serve several purposes for the carry-on traveler:

  • Layers of lightweight knits help provide extra warmth
  • Layers help you deal with changing temperatures during your travel day
  • Layers give your travel outfits a more finished look
  • Layers expand your travel outfit options
  • Layers can add color, texture and pattern to your neutral travel wardrobe
  • Layers will help you pack light even even if you are traveling in multiple climates

Layers of lightweight knits help provide extra warmth
If you follow the packing light principles of carry-on travel then you will be packing lightweight knits. A light top or sweater alone may not be enough to keep you warm but when layered with another thin knit then you will have a little more warmth going for you. Read my Guide to Cold Weather Layering for a more detailed explanation of how to layer functionally for cold weather.

This is a better option than packing one big bulky knit because that will only have one use in really cold weather. Two lightweight knits still provide warmth but can be more versatile because they can be worn separately and combined with your other travel pieces to make more travel outfits. It’s just simple #traveloutfitmath.

Layers help you deal with changing temperatures during your travel day
Layers help you dress for weather changes during your travel day. When you leave your hotel or hostel in the morning with all day plans you want to be ready for whatever changes in temperatures that may come your way and layers help with that.

The temperatures may warm up during the day and if you are out until the evening you can simply stash your lightweight layer in your bag and bring it out again at night if necessary. Or if you are traveling in warm climates with cool nights you’ll want to keep a lightweight cardi handy to layer on top of your summer travel outfit.

Layers give your travel outfits a more finished look
Layers just look nice y,all! They give your outfits a more finished, put together look.
But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean you have to bulk up on the layers.

If you are layering for fashion, then the general rule is to layer with 3 pieces (your top, your bottom and a third piece). Third pieces can be non-clothing items like scarves or necklaces if you don’t want to overdo the layers.

Do you ever wonder why some stores have sales staff that just look fab and you can’t quite put your finger on why. Well, most likely it’s layering and some stores even require staff to abide by the 3 piece layering rule.

Layers expand your travel outfit options
Let’s do some travel outfit math real quick. One bulky sweater can only be worn with whatever bottoms you’ve packed and one piece of outerwear. Not many options there.

Two lightweight layer-able pieces can be interchanged with other tops and layering pieces in your travel wardrobe to significantly multiply your outfit options. Base layers can always be worn on their own as well.

Layers can add color, texture and pattern to your neutral travel wardrobe
If you want to add color to your neutral travel wardrobe you can add it with your layering pieces. Top neutral base layers with mid or outer layers that have color or pattern or both. Or you can have colorful base layers that are topped with neutral colored layers. The choice is really up to you and your style.

Either way layers let you change up your travel looks. You can also choose to keep your layers Monochromatic or in the same shades of one color, just vary the texture a little if you go this route.

Layers will help you pack light even even if you are traveling in multiple climates
Packing light for multiple climates is one of the hardest types of trips to prepare for. Layers will enable you to still pack light and travel comfortably through multiple climates. If you are traveling between cold and warm weather the key is a good lightweight wool base layer, this instantly winterizes any travel outfit.

You’ll also want to have a versatile core capsule of 8 pieces and a mini capsule for whatever differing climate you’re traveling to. For more about that read my Guide on How to Plan a Mix and Match Travel Capsule.

Grab my worksheets so you can plan your own layered travel outfits!


Layering myths

If you’re hesitant to try layering let’s address that.

Layering will make me look bulky:
Not so my friend. The key is to stick to lightweight knits and avoid chunky, thick materials. Also start with a slim base layer so your shape is still somewhat apparent but not totally revealed. Another bulk busting option is to belt your outfit to show off your waist.

Layering is hard:
Yes, I admit layering can get tricky when you try and do advanced fashion styling. But it truly can be as simple as wearing a sweater over a button down and adding a scarf. An easy and simple layering formula.

I’ll go over some style considerations to keep in mind when layering and then you can layer away, baby! Check out my Layered Travel Outfits-Fall/Winter and Layered Summer Travel Outfit Pinterest Boards to see some examples.

In short, layers are a traveler’s best friend.

Styling Considerations of Layers

Before we get to how to layer clothes for travel there’s a few styling considerations. Layering doesn’t have to be too difficult but you should pay attention to a few details to get it right.

  • Thin knits are key
  • Proportions
  • Necklines
  • Make sure if you have to remove a layer your outfit still works
  • Pay attention to the volume and weight of your layers
  • Sleeves matter
  • Textures
  • Layer for the weather
  • Top Layers should complement bottom layer

Thin knits are key
The one way to pull off a layered look without extra bulk is with thin knits. You can add a little bulk but save it for your outermost layer. Inner layers should be made of lightweight thin materials so you don’t end up looking like the Michelin Man.


Pay attention to the proportions and differing lengths of your layers. It’s ok, to have differing lengths and proportions. You can have short over long or long over short layers as long as it’s done in a purposeful way. Trust your mirror and your instincts. Look to Pinterest for ideas on advanced layering that play with proportions.


The necklines of your layering pieces should complement each other. Don’t mix different necklines like a high neckline base layer and a low neckline sweater or your layering will look a little off. Just try and get your necklines to play well together. A scoop neck base layer will give your the most versatility.

Make sure if you have to remove a layer your outfit still works
The beauty of layers means that you may have to peel off a layer (or two) if temperatures warm up. You’ll want to plan your outfits so that they can stand on their own even without the top layer.

Choose a base layer that complements your body and bottom layer. I’ve tried to layer around shirts that were too slim fitting (ie. hellooo, muffin top) and have been stuck wearing my warm layer to conceal an unflattering outfit. Not pretty. But I’ve learned that I can layer with slightly looser base layers that skim but aren’t skin tight. Choose what’s right for your body type and style.

Pay attention to the volume and weight of your layers
There’s nothing wrong with wearing layers that have volume. I mostly only wear voluminous tops and tunics (see muffin top note above). They key is to layer either a complementary voluminous mid-layer on top or add some structure to the volume by topping with a slightly structured jacket or coat.

So you can layer a drapey cardigan over a flowy tee. As long as the proportions and volumes complement each other – you are A-OK. Or let’s say you have a flowy tunic or Anthropologie type blouse, top that with a lightweight trench or parka. This will still complement the flowiness and add a little structure at the same time. The only thing is, that while your layer can have volume it should still be a thin, lightweight knit.


Sleeves Matter
Some tops work better for layering than others and that’s due to sleeves. Bulky sleeves will give you a lumpy look if you layer another lightweight knit on top.

Other sleeve issues to account for are embellished sleeves and button tabbed sleeves. You can still layer over these items but it would only work with a structured top layer where the sleeve details won’t bulge through.

Differing textures may add interest to your layering game. Just make sure the textures complement each other. For instance a linen blend tee and a lightweight cotton blend cardigan will complement each other. A sheer layer and a chambray layer don’t quite mix.

Top Layer should complement Bottom Layers
When planning your layered looks consider how they will pair with your travel bottom layers. For instance voluminous top layers work well with skinny jeans or leggings. Snug top layers complement skinny bottom silhouettes or skirts or wide legged pant styles.

Layer for the weather
Layers lend themselves to better to Fall, Spring and Winter Travel. But don’t neglect layers during your Summer or warm weather travels. Airports and airplanes are cold, you’ll want at least a cardigan and maybe a summerweight scarf to keep yourself comfortable.

In warm climates you may often find that once you step inside a restaurant or store the AC may be cranked up to keep customers cool and happy. A layer might prove itself handy so you don’t freeze. Lightweight summer scarves, ponchos, denim vests and kimonos are good summer travel layering options.

How to Layer for Travel

Step 1 – Start with your base layer
Step 2 – Add your Mid-Layer (if necessary)
Step 3 – Add your Top/Outer Layer (if necessary)
Step 4 – Coordinate with bottom layer
Step 5 – Accessorize

Grab my worksheets so you can plan your own layered travel outfits!

So, finally how to layer for travel. Here we go – in this post I’ll give you some general layering guidelines. If you are looking for purely functional layering tips for cold weather travel, check out my Guide to Cold Weather Layering.

Also for the examples in this post I’m only going to refer to layering your top half. There’s not too much layering you can do on the bottom part of your outfits other than skirts/dresses and leggings and maybe a sock and bootie combo.

You can work from the outside in, by building your layered outfit with your outerlayer as a starting point. Or you can work from the inside out and begin with your visible base layer and add to that. For this example we’ll work from the inside out.

Step 1 – Start with your base layer

Your base layer can be as simple as a lightweight tee shirt or tank or as dressy as a blouse or button down. Your base layer can also be a dress. Choose a base layer that is free of any embellishments that might make it look awkwardly bulky if you layer a sweater on top. If you layer a jacket on top, embellishments are fine because they won’t bulge through the fabric of the jacket.

A structured base layer like a button down will make your layered outfit look a little more dressed up. The more structure your layers have the more “tailored” and structured the look.

Remember that working with lightweight knits and fabrications are what will keep the whole look from appearing too bulky. If you do have a bulky layer it should be the outermost layer.

Pay attention to the fit of your base layer. Your base layer should be fitted or slightly loose but not too voluminous unless you have a complementing voluminous outer layer.

Step 2 – Add your Mid-Layer

Add a mid-layer if necessary. Sometimes a base and outer layer is all you’re going to need. However, in colder weather or when you expect temperature fluctuations during your travel day you might want to consider wearing a mid-layer.

Your mid- layer could be a cardigan or pullover sweater in a complementary neutral, color or pattern. Cardigans come in all forms so choose a style that complements the neckline of your base layer.

Also choose a mid-layer that works best with your bottom layer. Remember loose and drapey cardigans will look best with slim pants or jeans. Form fitting cardigans work well with dresses, skirts and bootcut or wide legged pant/jean styles.

Pullover style sweaters are great for colder weather and when you don’t necessarily want to show off your base layer. Button down shirts pair well with pullover sweaters because the collar and maybe shirttail hem that peek through add a bit of interest to a plain pullover sweater look.

Step 3 – Add your Top/Outer Layer

After you’ve got your base and mid-layers set literally top off your look with your outerwear if necessary. In warmer weather an outer layer may not be needed.

If you wear an outer layer, choose a style that can fit easily and comfortably over your base and mid-layers. A neutral color is easier to match with your other base layers but if you want to go with a statement coat that would work as well.

A coat or jacket is going to be your go-to functional outer top layer. You can also consider a blazer as well. A vest is an interesting layer that you may want to experiment with as well. Vests can be the puffy variety, denim, or more tailored.

Step 4 – Accessorize

One of the easiest ways to layer is to accessorize with a scarf or necklace. A scarf can provide that pop of color or pattern to a neutral base travel capsule.

The accessory layer is a good option in warm weather travel. A light weight scarf can liven up a plaint tank top. I would also consider necklaces a fashion layer and they can take the place of scarves in warmer travel climates.

Are layers always necessary? No, not at all. This is just another method for getting the most out of your carry-on capsule. If you’d like some inspiration check out my Fall/Winter and Summer Layered Travel Outfits Boards on Pinterest.

Grab my worksheets to help you plan out your own layered travel outfits. I also included a travel outfit planner.


Travel on, Travelistas!

Infographic clothing sources:
Black Pocket Tee shirt, Patterned Blouse,Blue Button Down Oxford
Row 2
Marled Black Cardigan, Black Blazer, Black Crew Sweater
Row 3
Black Parka, Trenchcoat
Row 4
Five Pocket Trousers, Straight Cut Jeans, Black Trousers
Row 5
Fringe Scarf, Gold Black Scarf
Cream Sweater, Cream Tee
Long gray cardigan, light gray tee shirt
Airy Blouse, Short Trench

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  • Maybe I feel the cold more or maybe I travel in colder damper places and more variable weather but I find I often need more than 3 layers so for winter would pack thermal tights to wear with skirts and dresses and under jeans or trousers, thermal vest top, long sleeved thermal T shirts, blouse, longer thicker cardigan, thinner crew cardigan which can be worn under or over other items, gillet, coat, scarf, hat, gloves, waterproof footwear. I can wear 5-6 layers if necessary but peel them off and swop the combinations as appropriate.

  • This is such great advice. No matter where I go I always take a light Long sleeved T-shirt, jacket and tank top. I have had 40 degree weather In Italy In June and 80 degree weather in New York in November. One just never knows. Plus airplanes can be frigid. For days that are un seasonally cold I just layer all that I have.. tank with long sleeved tee ( or even two if necessary. Jacket, shawl.