The Key Set, Part III: Casual Layers

Rounding out the Key Set are the casual layers. These are some of my favorite casual business and casual Friday selections. Some have more layers than might be apparent at first glance.

Favorite Top
Favorite Top: a simple smocked cotton tank with an assertive sash
Sweater Dress
Ancient Eileen Fisher merino wool shell and skirt with an old denim jacket

You may be asking Why layering? Who really cares? Layers = depth; depth = visual interest. Certainly, some garments are so beautifully cut and fit so perfectly that they deserve to be presented alone — like a diamond solitaire. But most garments benefit from a little companionship.
Here is a simple suggestion to get you started: Don’t just wear a blouse and trousers. Wear something under or over the blouse. For extra credit, add a scarf before you walk out the door.

Further Advanced Topics
An inspired combination of two old things
The jacket that walked among the dinosaurs
The jacket that walked among the dinosaurs
For Casual Friday
Ruffled Neckline ISO Pleated Nest

Each layer needs to show; thus, each layer should cover less area than the preceding layer — e.g., a cropped top over a regular blouse. (Note: If you do this in reverse, all you get is bulk. There are exceptions to this rule: blouse under a dress, ultra-thin layers, boyfriend jacket.) Don’t confuse surface area with volume, however. Layers can become more voluminous as you work your way out. Consider the poofy bustier over a slim-fitting blouse. (Note: If you wear volume closest to the body, you also get bulk.)

If you are trying to add more layers to your outfits, ask yourself this every morning after you’ve dressed for the day: What else could I put on? Easy additions are: a striped tee-shirt or patterned camisole under your blouse; a silk tank over a white blouse worn with a jacket; a cardigan or sweater vest between your top and your jacket; a crew neck sweater worn knotted over your shoulders (or around your neck) on top of your jacket; a scarf on top of anything; a belt over your jacket.
Weirdy Green
Weirdy green loves navy blue
Margaret O'Leary
Margaret O’Leary is perfection
Four, arguably five, layers, if we count the belt and the floral camisole that isn’t visible in this photo

Layering essentials include: tissue-weight tee-shirts, patterned camisoles and tanks, sleeveless sweaters, cotton gauze or silk blouses, shrunken cardigans. One final thought. Anything that you’ve looked at and thought That’s too bare to wear to work is made for layering.
Note The Most Beautiful Creature in the World (walking behind me)
The most beautiful creature in the world is in this photo; she’s walking behind me

Necklace likes to get out
Striped tee goes with everything

What is really remarkable to me, looking back over these photos, is how old most of these clothes are. Three-quarters of these photos involve clothes that are 7-10 years old. That’s old, right? But what does it mean?
I have extracted three observations from this review. First, a universal lesson: If you buy nice things and take good care of them, they will last a long time. Second, a personal observation: I must get dressed up more days than not; thus, my casual clothes get less wear and last longer. Third, a personal validation: I am a little bit less acquisitive/greedy than I thought. Just a bit.
I planned to deliver the Key Set in three parts, but have realized we need one more: The Accessories. Stay tuned.
Have a fantastic weekend!

19 thoughts on “The Key Set, Part III: Casual Layers”

  1. I love this series, and this is definitely my favorite so far. I too love layering — both doing it but also seeing it. Your ideas here are great. When I was a first year associate eons ago, they brought in a “dress for success” consultant for all us newbies. One point they made was that you want at least two pieces, if not three, on top (e.g., blouse + blazer + necklace or shell + cardigan + scarf), never just one. They pitched it as more of a barrier between you and other people, or that it creates more formality or heft to whatever you are wearing. It was oddly stated, but the point has stuck with me and I find it to be a useful guideline.

  2. Your style really inspires me and I have taken a lot of cues from the way you wear some pieces. Thanks so much for putting all the work into this blog – it is my favourite!!

  3. This synthesis of your layering strategy is very helpful. I’m going to print it out and post in my closet. I particularly appreciate your list of essential layering garments as I’d realized that I may not have the right elements to work with. And finally, I’m with Linda: thank you for putting so much work, wit and wisdom into this blog. It may be a hobby for you and the Photographer but it’s mentoring for us readers!

    • So glad that you found this post helpful, Rhizophora — I was thinking of your last comment when I wrote it. For more examples of layering garments, check out this on-line store’s page on layering shirts. SO brilliant. I know nothing about the company or the products, but such a great idea.

  4. I thought I had posted on Part I, but not. That’s what I get for trying to post at work. Ah, firewalls. I’ve only been following your blog for about a year, so I’ve missed some of these outfits in the archives. Thank you for the Key Sets! For the past few days I’ve been scrolling through these posts, trying to spark some inspiration that I can use to add some interest to my own outfits. Layering may be your superpower, but it is my kryptonite.
    None of the other blogs I follow have such a unique style for business attire, but I love your style. I once posted (or tried to?) that I appreciate you making my khakis less boring.

    • Jeffiner — I remember your comment about khakis well! So glad you found the Key Set useful. When you encounter work firewalls (or frankly any other restriction on freedom in the workplace) you always have to wonder, “What caused management to put these in place?” Years ago, there was an associate at my firm who was running a bed-and-breakfast on the side that intruded into work time and resources . . .

      • Ah, yes. Years ago, one of my coworkers was running his real estate business from his desk. And we are not a real estate company…

  5. These are some of my favorite looks! I’m about to tackle the dreary “closet changeover” task, but will take a second look as I swap out — some of those summery shells may actually work under v-neck sweaters that I typically wear alone.

    • I put away my summer clothes the weekend before last and it was so tiresome. But I am sure you were so pleased when it was done, Cat!

  6. My favourite is the striped tee with black (navy?) sleeveless bustiere with peplum top, and long necklace. I would never wear sleeveless tops, except like this (just loved your cute but I think you wrote uncomfortable dress and sleeveless top ensemble too) and so will actually make an effort to try and find an article of clothing I never thought I could wear. Entertaining! Now this layering idea is super in isn’t it. I’ve seen it called maximalism. It is new to me as I grew up with the Chanel mantra of taking something off before leaving the house. But look at all those chains and layers sported by that deponent! Clearly she just meant something else really, and her comment was made from another era. I think your layers are entirely doable for me. I’ve been hugely inspired many thanks!

  7. I have thoroughly enjoyed the Key Sets, mainly because I haven’t followed your blog for long and it points me to important posts in the Archives (not that any of your posts aren’t worth reading, I thoroughly enjoy all of them!). Your layers always inspire me. In fact, as I’ve spent more time than I’d like trying to come up with a way to appropriately layer a sequinned dress for a wedding (it’s not a formal wedding so I’m trying to tone it down), I thought to myself “What would the Directrice do?” (Answer: probably not wear the damn sequinned dress. But the die has been cast, I’m going for it!) And I am loathe to admit that unlike you, a peek into my closet reveals that I am in fact more greedy/acquisitive than I thought.

    • I must tell you that seeing the words (and then hearing them in my head), “What would the Directrice do?” may be the high point of this blog and the justification for its entire existence. I have two thoughts about your dress, sight unseen. First, you could wear a fitted denim or leather jacket over it, depending on how casual/hip this wedding is. Or, you could do as Jacqueline Kennedy did with her inaugural gown and wear semi-transparent chiffon top over the dress to moderate the twinkling a little. I hope you have fun!

  8. Thanks for sharing these and your thoughts! I particularly like what I consider your ‘sunset’ sweater, with the reds and oranges.

    • Hello Gisele — I tend to rely on JCrew for tissue tees, but I don’t think they are in stock during the winter months. Even though they should be! Everlane has a variety of tees and Madewell has some. I would also try GAP. I don’t like to pay a lot for tees like this, so I would be unlikely to spend on James Perse or Michael Stars for a basic like this.

      • Thank you very much! The tatters I have are originally from Old Navy, I think… but I imagine any tissue tee will reveal its flimsy nature before too many decades have passed.

  9. Well, Directrice, that is just uncanny! I have in fact already decided to wear a fitted leather jacket over the sequined dress! As much as I generally tend toward Jackie O, leather will definitely be more in tune with the wedding of two outdoor adventurers than chiffon. It’s so funny you suggested it as it’s going to be a totally new look for me and not something I’d have chosen a year or two ago, but something that I got more enthusiastic about the more I considered it. As it’s a wedding no one is really going to be looking at me anyway, but I shall report back nonetheless.


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