Hierarchy is a secret trick when creating layered outfits

Consider this when you are staring at your wardrobe.

Ah, the fresh air of a late spring morning. This is the perfect time to top up your favorite light foundation or two, enjoy a hot cup of coffee, and start the day. But have you ever stopped to think about why some layered outfits look so stylish, while others look messy together?

It’s all about the hierarchy. You read it right. When it comes to style, especially in layering, the concept of Hierarchy play an important role.

“Layering is one of the most important skills you can master for styling as the transition months come,” says Daniel Z. Baraka, a style contributor to Primer, whose personal style uses multiple layers. With the aim of embodying this vital principle, Daniel styled an outfit that is both simple and sophisticated, centered around classic wardrobe basics.

Casual spring outfit with a quilted jacket, turtleneck sweater, white t-shirt, blue jeans and sneakers
Jacket (similar) / Sweater (similar) / T-shirt with pockets, Abecombie / Stretch jeans, O My / Sport shoes (similar)

“For this particular outfit, I went very basic. White t-shirt, blue jeans, sneakers. These are staples that everyone has in their wardrobe,” says Daniel. But why does the outfit feel elevated if its components are so ordinary?

“The first thing I consider when thinking about layered clothing is hierarchy. Whether it’s from color perspective, texture perspective or pattern perspective,” explained Daniel. The outfit embodies this principle beautifully with a white t-shirt, brown wool turtleneck sweater, and a black watch plaid quilted jacket. The colors range from light to dark, thus providing a hierarchy of shade.

Hierarchy of colors and textures with white t-shirts, brown knit sweaters, and plaid quilted jackets

But, it doesn’t stop at color. Have you ever thought about textures in your clothes? Daniel also gives us something to mull over here: “The t-shirt has no texture at all. And then the cardigan has more texture thanks to the knitting. The quilting is then added to the intricate black stripe pattern making the jacket’s pattern the most intricate of all,” describes Daniel.

knitting texture close-up

Hierarchy is a hidden gem in the world of personal style. Up until now, we have mainly focused on color and texture. However, like the multitude of fabrics that hang in your closet, the concept of hierarchy in style is more diverse than you might think. In addition to the simple light-to-dark spectrum, or the complexity of textures, there are several other fascinating concepts: conformal hierarchy, formality hierarchy, and emphasis hierarchy.

You can also rent a hierarchical structure to match, creating balance with varying degrees of fit and looseness. For example, a tailored shirt, a jacket with a fuller but cropped cut, and wider pants:

an image from J.crew showing a fit hierarchy with a fitted shirt, a looser but cropped jacket, and cropped jeans
J. Crew

Daniel explains how this can extend the aesthetic, “Even if you approach layering backwards, from longest on the inside to the shortest, there’s an effective and stylish way to go. a little more street.”

Streetstyle outfits with short jackets, hoodies and long t-shirts
A class hierarchy has the longest item closest to the body and shorter with each class.

In addition to color, texture and fit, you can also create form Hierarchy. Imagine this: a simple cotton shirt paired with a classic denim jacket, over a wool coat. You might be thinking, “Wait a minute, isn’t that a bit formal for a t-shirt and jean jacket?” But therein lies the beauty of a formal hierarchy.

example of formal hierarchy with the most casual shirt on the inside and the formal jacket on the outside
An outfit that uses a formal hierarchy / The best pea coats, outerwear and outerwear

A formal hierarchy is all about creating a “simple intelligence” effect, where the innermost or outermost layer is the most casual, and as you move in the opposite direction, the outfit becomes more and more formal. Daniel points out, “This balance creates a style that is neither too comfortable nor too formal, but just the right combination to make a sophisticated statement.” With a formal hierarchy, you can elegantly move between casual outings and semi-formal engagements without changing your outfit.

daniel baraka wears a white t-shirt under a plaid jacket

On the other hand, emphasis hierarchy take a slightly different approach. It revolves around creating accents in your outfit. Imagine you’re wearing a mostly monochrome or neutral outfit. However, you decide to wear a dark orange sweater. This now becomes the “star” of the outfit – the focal point.

The emphasis hierarchy is to create contrast, drawing attention to a particular item of clothing or accessory. It could be an item with a bold color, an eye-catching pattern, or an interesting pattern that stands out from the rest of your outfit. This standout piece then becomes the centerpiece of your ensemble, while the others act as supporting actors, complimenting and elevating the “star”.

a bright orange sweater with neutrals
How to wear a long coat without looking like a 1930s detective

But remember, it’s all about balance. A boldly patterned cardigan finds structure and balance with the rest of the outfit when other items are more muted. After all, you wouldn’t want your clothes to compete for attention.

It’s important to clarify that rank is just a tool not a rule, you can use when assembling an outfit: It is certainly possible to create a fashion that is less structured and does not fit into the hierarchy.

Furthermore, Daniel’s clothes teach us that style doesn’t necessarily mean luxury. “The Polo Ralph Lauren jacket is ten years old that I bought on eBay, so it’s even a little older. And so the whole outfit was pretty cheap, but it looked really nice,” he shared. His combinations with brands like Magnani, American Eagle, Abercrombie and Fitch, and J.Crew further underscore the point that a well-coordinated outfit can outweigh its total value.

jeans and sneakers
Jeans, O My / Sport shoes (similar)

Style is an outward expression of our personality and personal aesthetic preferences. Understanding the principle of hierarchy in clothing not only enhances our dressing skills but also provides a template for making better use of the existing pieces in our wardrobe. And of course, in Daniel’s words, “Once you master this, there are lots of ways to break the rules and make it your own.”

What makes this discussion even more relevant is the time of year – late spring, just before summer. The time has come when layering can be both an aesthetic and practical option. You want to look good, but you also need to account for fluctuating temperatures and unpredictable weather. Again, Daniel’s layered outfit is a fitting example. His black striped watch cotton jacket Not only a fashion accessory but also a necessary shield in cold spring days or sudden rains.

Fit, formal and accent hierarchy, like color and texture hierarchy, adds another layer (pun intended) to your outfit, adding depth and dynamism to the page dress. Whether you’re going out for a casual coffee or attending a meeting, mastering these hierarchies can help you present yourself at your best. So why not try them on next time you get dressed? Go ahead, experiment with the concept of hierarchy, make it your own and let your outfit tell a story.


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