Late-breaking Layering Tip

Why tank tops are ideal for winter layering.

I moved to Minnesota after spending two years living in San Francisco. That was 13 years ago, and I am STILL re-learning how to layer. Although I’ve cooked up a post that contained my main layering tips, I’ve found myself dishing out this particular piece of advice to readers and clients recently and thought it was worth sharing.

Many layering issues arise from trying to fit sleeves inside of other sleeves. Even if your outer garment is lined in a slippery material – and that’s a big “if” – long-sleeved shirts shoved into long-sleeved blazers, jackets, and sweaters can feel tight and awkward. If it’s cold enough, you might not care. But in my experience, multiple layers over your arms don’t add all that much to your total body warmth. Warmth generally radiates outward from your core, so keeping your core warm will help keep your whole self warm.

I’ve started using my layering TANKS far more frequently than my layering long-sleeved tees for this very reason. I’ll layer a silk or nylon cami underneath the colorful cotton tank, then do my sweater or jacket over that. My arms are free to move without that “stuffed” feeling. Tanks also tend to have scoop necklines which makes them ideal for funky statement necklaces. However! The tradeoff for warmth, here, is covering my neck. A scarf that covers any exposed neckline and neck will do far more to conserve my body heat that doubling up on sleeves, so on truly cold days I skip necklaces in favor of scarves.

Does this fly in the face of my comment about needing my arms covered in order to be truly warm? Well, yes. Kinda. I’ve found that I need my arms covered from shoulder to wrist to keep comfortably warm, but also found that wedging two long-sleeved layers onto my arms is often more uncomfortable than it is warm. One long-sleeved layer over a tank with an added scarf keeps me both cozy and comfortable.

Image is of Bella Ladies’ 1×1 Rib Tank Top – of which I own many.

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details. Sustainable options are either used, handmade, made in the U.S., artisan made in non-sweatshop conditions, or made using sustainable/fair trade practices.

Originally posted 2013-03-15 06:25:39.

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21 Responses to “Late-breaking Layering Tip”

  1. Winding Ways

    It’s the back of the neck that needs to be covered to keep warm. So wearing a scarf that hangs in front rather than wrapping around the neck can be cozy, or wearing a shirt with a high back collar also helps.

  2. Leapold

    I’ve been Minnesotan my entire life and have evolved to use precisely the same layering technique. In my slimmer girlhood I layered turtlenecks and sweaters, but now I can’t stand the heat (or the stuffed feeling). So it’s tank–or short sleeved blouse or tee, sweater and cardigan on most days. I whip off most layers when making dinner and add and apron.

    For vigorous housework, though, just a light, long-sleeved tee will do. Then when I get chilly after my exertions, I throw on a shawl.

  3. NancyV908

    This makes great sense. My only issue is that I like to have my underarms covered, not for warmth, obviously, but to delay having to wash my outer layer. Cleaning a sweater is a bigger pain than cleaning my layering pieces. If I wear a tank under a sweater, the sweater will have to be dealt with a lot sooner than if I’ve had a long-or short-sleeved tee underneath. With the tees, I can get many more wears out of my outer layers before washing them.

  4. Artsy in Boulder

    The tank-as-cold-weather-layer is a great suggestion for combating winter hot flashes. Peeling multiple layers, especially those with long sleeves, conjures images of Houdini attempting to escape from straitjacket-and-chains in record time…

  5. malevolent andrea

    Not much to add other than I agree completely. I have a good friend who often wears long sleeved turtlenecks under sweaters and I literally feel physically uncomfortable just looking at her. (She also wears socks all summer long which is another thing I can’t comprehend, LOL.)

  6. LinB

    Frankly, the thought of donning multiple layers of clothing has just sent me into a hot flash. Still, in deepest winter, I do tend to wear a woolen cardigan or front-opening sweater vest over my cotton or silk long-sleeved blouses. Opening and shutting the front closure on the sweater to accommodate variances in personal and ambient temperature is entirely sufficient for comfort. I agree that guarding your core is most important for continued survival. You can live without fingers or toes; you can’t live without a liver or heart.

  7. Cynthia

    What is this “winter” of which you speak?

    Seriously tho, I layer with tanks in all seasons. It lets me get more use out of my foolishly large (for the South) collection of little jackets because I’m basically wearing them as shirts. And sleeves inside sleeves is one reason that I don’t wear traditional button-front shirts layered with, well, anything.

  8. Penelope

    I completely disagree.

    Like Nancy, I prefer to wash my sweaters far less often, so layering pieces should at least have short sleeves. It’s better for the sweaters, too. Now, depending on the sweater I may just layer with a wicking t-shirt and nothing longer, like with my warm cabled turtlenecks. I find on the days I only layer with a tank for those I’m actually LESS comfortable and more likely to feel too hot than if I have a layer of thin cotton in my ‘pits. Dunno, something about chunky sweater on pits makes me uncomfortable. Oh, also, having my shoulders covered (or w/multiple layers) seems to make a difference in how warm my entire arms are–the little cap sleeves on my wicking tees actually make a huge difference to me feeling warm.

    The other thing is that my more moderate-weight sweaters are often not enough to keep me warm without a long-sleeved layer underneath. My building, like most schools, has very inconsistent temperature control, but my classroom tends to be pretty cold. Now, my under layer tends to be either thin cotton blouses or thin cotton long-sleeve tees. I definitely don’t want to layer two bulky sets of sleeves.

    It’s interesting how different people have different parts they need covered to be warm. For me, I MUST have my lowest shirt layer tucked into the waist of my pants/leggings/tights or I will be cold all day no matter what I’m wearing. Something about the air gap on my lower back drives me nuts. For this reason I wear a lot of camis under tees under sweaters or camis under blouses under cardigans since my tees and blouses tend not to be long enough to tuck.

  9. Keisha

    My normal winter layering includes both tank tops and t-shirts. So it normally goes tank top+t-shirt+cardigan/jacket. If I’m wearing a dress, it would go tank top+dress+cardigan/jacket. I have so many tank tops and t-shirts, and they take up so little space in the wash, that I’ll wash them after each wear and the layering helps my cardigans and jackets stay fresh for multiple wears.

  10. Ruth

    When I am cold, about the first place to feel it (apart from my feet) are my upper arms. I own some sleeveless jumpers that I never wear because if I need that body warmth I definitely need it on my arms. Currently sitting and working in a long-sleeved T, a jumper and a cardigan. It’s a bit milder today! So I am afraid your layering tank seems mad to me. But I know we are all different.
    I bought some polo necked cotton underlayers for this winter, so I could wear with dresses – and a cardigan on top of course!

  11. SE

    I think the layering technique that works for one person totally depends on how hot/cold they run. I would freeze in your tanks and cami under a jacket, but then I run cold, always. I layer a cami under long sleeve tees or turtleneck, then sweater or jacket, and I usually still need a scarf if I’m going out and it’s cold. I agree with Ruth, above, my upper arms have to be warm. But, Sal, I’m glad you’ve found what works for you! I’ve been wondering how you managed with tanks listed in your outfit breakdowns, so it helps to know there’s a cami too. Still makes me feel cold for you!

  12. Plop

    I wear tops under dresses all the time in winter. If my belly’s warm, I feel warm and this is a super efficient way to do so =D

  13. Lisa

    I’ve never been a fan of one sleeve inside another either (so uncomfortable…how do other people stand it?!), but sometimes I sacrifice comfort because I want the prim, preppy look of a long-sleeved shirt with a buttoned-up collar under a sweater. Hmm maybe I should look into buying more sleeveless blouses with collars!

    • LinB

      Or dickies — take a scissors to a shirt whose collar you like, leaving the collar, a deep bib on front and a deep bib on back. You’ll get the neck coverage you want, and the preppy collar, without the bulk of the whole shirt. You can leave side seams connected if you want.

  14. Molly

    I’m always cold, I tend to sweat from my armpits, and I live in moderate but ever-autumn Seattle, and I layer the same way you do, with tweaks: My base layer is always a tank, over a camisole if it’s cold. On top of that is a sweater that doesn’t constrict in the armpits–dolman sleeves, slouchy fits, large armholes–with a low neckline and often a mesh or other sheer texture to make up for the bulk and because high necklines don’t flatter me anyway. My outer layer is a fitted coat (wintery or thinner, depending on the weather). I wear a scarf almost every day, which keeps my neck warm and adds interest, and that’s one reason I usually wear earrings rather than necklaces.

    Again to make up for bulk, I wear slim-fitting bottoms: skinny jeans (often with tights beneath them for warmth) or a short skirt and tights. Most of the year I wear knee-high boots, which provide another opportunity for functional layering: snug leg warmers under my jeans or tights, or wooly knee-high socks peeking above my boots, or SmartWool socks over my cotton socks.

    Before I moved to Seattle I was pretty clueless about layering, and now I’m a master. Though Minnesota might be another story, here I can find many opportunities to keep warm under a slimmer silhouette–and remove or add throughout the day as the weather and circumstances change.

  15. Andrea

    One more factor to consider: Air is a good insulator, so layers that trap some air between them are often warmer than tightly fitted layers. When your long sleeve shirt and long sleeve sweater or jacket are wedged together like a single unit, then there’s no room for air, and you might actually feel colder than you would if you just had the outer layer. Add to that the possibility of restricted blood circulation—which could make you feel colder—and the short-sleeve T or tank as an underlayer starts to sound like a better plan.

  16. T.

    Not only do I wear a long-sleeved shirt under a sweater, sometimes I wear two! Long-sleeved silk undershirt, long-sleeved cotton t-shirt (or turtle neck), sweater. I also wear silk long underwear under my jeans, and wool socks. I hate being cold. I haven’t quite hit menopause yet, so my layering technique may change in a few years. The thought of wearing just a tank under a jacket or sweater–brrr!

  17. Dr Skylaser

    The best layering item I’ve ever found are the solid-color, long-sleeve shirts from AMB Designs. I’m not sure if shirts is the right word–they’re very sheer and form-fitting, more like hose for your upper body than anything else. They raise necklines, make summer dresses wearable in the winter, add color, and are nearly bulkless. They are SO FANTASTIC. (I have nothing to do with the company, these things just make New England winter more bearable!!)

  18. Liz

    I own a few of those ribbed tanks and I like to wear them for layering with cardigans but not generally anything else, unless it’s SUPER cold outside.

    I prefer to wear a simple spaghetti strap tank that is long so I can tuck it into my pants, skirt, or even tights. I don’t know if anyone else wears this particular brand of longjohns but my ex-mil bought them for me during my first winter in the north and I haven’t bought anything else. They keep me warm but they go all the way up to my boobs! I’ve tried folding them in half so they sit at the waist but then they just get all bunched up. It’s just easier for me to have my long johns as the base layer, then a cami-style tank over it, to tuck in my bottoms to keep this layer as smooth as possible. THEN I layer as normal. Regular tee or blouse or sweater with my peacoat. If it’s still super cold, then I’ll put on another coat or jacket before the peacoat. Then of course, a scarf and gloves and ear muffs. And two layers of socks.

    I can’t wait for Spring. lol.

  19. Aging fashionista

    No one has commented about wool sweaters in this tank vs long-sleeved debate. Aside from the cold , my body cant stand any wool next to the skin. I experience ITCHINESS and even breakout no matter whether arms or core. Also if you takeoff your outer layer in a warm room, you are exposing bare arms which just seems TOO bare in Mn in the dead of winter! I Iike more your previous idea of very snug long sleeved shirt under a jacket or sweater. I also tend to save my silky or sleeveless knit tops for those in between times, like our 2 weeks pf winter that we often get here in Minnesota:)

  20. Aging fashionista

    Oops that last sentence should have said 2 weeks of spring! Dont I wish it were 2 weeks of winter!