The many layers of layering for fall.

This past weekend, I saw 65 and sunny, sub-30 and frosty, rainy, windy, and foggy. In Maine in the fall, schizophrenic weather is par for the course. Layering is essential in order to cope with the ever changing meteorological moods of our state, but it’s also a delicate process. In order to avoid the dreaded Ralphie Syndrome (and any possibly urinary close calls said syndrome might create), but still be prepared for all possible weather permutations, it is important to remember that it isn’t just about having multiple choices, but about making smart choices.

There’s no fall garment I love more than the vest. It’s sort of the wardrobe equivalent of hanging one leg out of the blankets in the summertime for air conditioning.  Worn with a cozy sweater, the vest is a lightweight alternative to a bulky parka that will warm your core without smothering you completely from the crisp autumn air. My all time favorite is the classic puffer vest (this one comes in blaze orange and packs down into a small pocket for easy travel), but fleece, Gore-Tex, and canvas models also abound. If you’re willing to throw down the cash, I’m particularly enamored of this waxed cotton number at Orvis.  Or, if you’re sure you’ll need arm protection at least part of your journey, you can always pick up a convertible jacket that unzips into a vest.

Come winter time, we’ll all going to be laden down with mittens, hats, and scarves, so give yourself a break and ditch the extra pieces until it’s too cold to be avoidable. Hoods are your friends. If you’re at risk of being anywhere that might get chilly, throw on your favorite hoodie. You can easily layer a puffer or fleece vest over the top, or throw a lighter layer on underneath. With models ranging from super lightweight to fleece and thermal lined, you’d be surprised how far into the icy season a good solid hoodie will last you. plus, when the wind chill starts to pick up, just slap that hood on and pull the string. Your ears will thank you.

So now you have your warm but ventilated top vest layer, your lightweight but highly functional hoodie or sweater layer, but your layering scheme is only as good as its foundation. Obviously, any old cotton tank or t-shirt would probably work just fine, but if you’re serious about maximizing the functionality of your layers, you need to find a bottom layer designed for PERFORMANCE. Silk long johns have always been a layering staple for their ability to be surprisingly warm while being super  lightweight and not at all sweaty, but there are tons of other great layering fabrics out there like super soft and breathable modal, and of course CoolMax. Whatever fabric you choose, your undermost layer should feel like nothing under your clothes, but be covered up enough that you can strip down to it without risking indecent exposure.

Those 3 basic layers should see you through the majority of the wacky weather season, but there may come a time when you crave some additional layering accouterments.  For the ladies (and men sassy enough to pull off a shawl), I recommend a really huge scarf.  Obviously, you can wear it as a scarf, use it as a shoulder wrap, or even as a lap blanket at a chilly autumn picnic. Hell, you can even make it into a turban if your head gets cold.  Or if you’re looking for something a little more unisex, I can not say enough about those hybrid mitten gloves (glittens? mloves?). Multitaskers are the kings of the layering world, and these little babies give you both finger ventilation and protection in a single unit.

When it comes to tackling the fickle whims of the great outdoors, there’s layering, and then there’s layering smart. Keep an eye out for pieces that are flexible, portable, and lightweight, in order to assure maximum comfort in the greatest range of temperatures. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to make sure you’re wearing a really great pair of socks too.