Is it spring or summer? How are we supposed to dress for the weather right now?

Good luck dressing for rain, sun and everything in between (Getty Images)
Good luck dressing for rain, sun and everything in between (Getty Images)

Sunglasses. Leggings. Jumper. Suncream. Coat. Bikini. Woolly hat. Umbrella.

Every single one of these items was in my bag over the weekend. I was simply packing for a day out; I’d planned a wander along the coastal path, and mooted meeting friends at the harbour for a late lunch. But, like every other Briton at the moment, I had zero idea of how to dress for a day that might include any or all of the following: sun, rain, wind, fog, cold, heat, hail.

I don’t have any evidence to support this claim, but that won’t stop me telling anyone who’ll listen that this May feels more changeable than any in living memory. I’ve never agonised so much about choosing an outfit in the morning. Wear a pair of tights and boots, and you’ll find yourself sweating in mid-twenties heat. Opt for short sleeves and no jacket, and you’re asking to get caught in a freak monsoon. Leave the straw trilby at home, and prepare to feel the wrath of the sun, as the parting of your hair gets severely burnt in real-time when the clouds suddenly dissipate with no warning. Then enjoy explaining to everyone that “it’s not dandruff, it’s sunburn, honestly” for the next two weeks.

“I can’t live like this!” my friend shrieked suddenly and overdramatically as we recently sat shivering on a restaurant terrace, having been assured by the Met Office that spring had officially sprung – just one more untruth in the web of lies that have made up the weather “forecast” since time immemorial.

Even as I write this, within the course of four hours the sky has gone from pewter to dazzling blue, making my heavy faux-leather jacket totally superfluous. And yet I feel sure that, were I to carpe the diem and suggest al fresco drinks after work, doctor drizzle would show up to piss all over the parade. We just can’t win.

“You see a lot of people who just don’t know what to do at this time of year,” observes men’s personal stylist Nick Hems. “You head out in the morning and see some people wearing winter coats and jumpers, and some wearing shorts and T-shirts – it’s always strange when the season changes and you see everyone dressed for something completely different.”

The fickle weather has already impacted some of the UK’s shopping habits, according to market research agency Mintel. Their data suggests that 52 per cent of women agree that seasonal clothing has become less important in fashion.

A denim midi skirt is a cooler alternative to jeans (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
A denim midi skirt is a cooler alternative to jeans (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

“The changeable weather, as well as people being more cautious with their discretionary spending, has meant people are buying more versatile items that can be worn for different seasons and different occasions,” says Tamara Sender Ceron, Mintel’s associate director for fashion retail. As consumers prefer to buy clothing they can wear immediately, retailers could benefit from holding back on selling some summer items until later in the year, rather than in spring, the firm’s research suggests.

“We have seen retailers adding more transitional collections that can be worn for different types of weather and mixed and matched,” adds Sender Ceron. One example is Next, which launched a new womenswear brand online called Florere in September 2023, comprised of pieces that can be worn year-round.

When you’re putting together an outfit that can survive the swiftly changing climate, light layering is the key, according to experts. But, while it sounds simple, “get it wrong and you could end up resembling the pigeon lady from Home Alone 2”, warns stylist and consultant Krishan Parmar. Feel free to get creative with your layering, advises Susie Hasler, who runs award-winning personal shopping service Styled By Susie: “When it comes to layering, it doesn’t have to be with a cardigan, it could be a cotton shirt or a kimono. Nothing too thick or heavy.”

Hems agrees that fabric choice is everything here: “Be mindful of the materials – if it’s a scorcher, go for stuff like linen or a light cotton overshirt that’s looser fitting and allows air to circulate around the body.” For colder days, he recommends something like a cardigan in really light or merino wool to help regulate your body temperature. But he emphasises the need for a light base layer underneath that actually looks good in case the mercury rises. “Make sure it’s something you’d happily be seen in if you have to remove your other layers – not a horrible dirty vest.”

Just because you’re layering, there’s no need for style to go out the window

Starting with a thin layer and getting progressively thicker as required is Parmar’s advice, along with keeping it to a maximum of three items so that nothing’s too bulky and pieces can be swiftly removed and added to change with the weather. “For spring I would always choose a T-shirt as my base layer and team with knitwear and a thin waterproof jacket,” he says.

But just because you’re layering, there’s no need for style to go out the window: have some fun with it; play with colour and pattern. “When you’re mixing patterns, it’s quite nice to break them up with a block colour,” says Parmar, who also advocates tonal dressing if bold statements aren’t in your sartorial wheelhouse: “If in doubt, choose different shades of the same colour for the ultimate chic look.”

His final top tip is to up the “fancy” factor by 10 per cent, as layering can often look and feel less dressy. “Want to layer a jacket over a dress for a daytime look, but worried it’s too casual? Try a blazer instead. Swap the cardigan for a nice button-down shirt – either way, styling up a level makes sure you aren’t keeping all of your good clothes for best and instantly makes you feel like you’ve made an effort.”

Heading south, for women who are feeling too warm for jeans, “try the denim midi skirt that’s around at the moment because it’s warm enough for the changeable weather,” says Hasler. You can wear it with a T-shirt, a tied shirt or a cropped sweatshirt, and pair with a denim jacket. On the menswear side, Hems is team chino all the way.

Feeling bold? Throw some yellow socks into the mix (Getty Images)
Feeling bold? Throw some yellow socks into the mix (Getty Images)

When it comes to footwear, forget ballet pumps or flimsy plimsolls in the current climate – it’s all about “hard-wearing shoes that won’t get wrecked in a sudden downpour”, says Hasler. “Save any canvas shoes for the dry days. But also try not to go back into your winter boots; instead opt for leather trainers.” Hems plumps for loafers or minimalist white trainers at this time of year, or even blue or brown alternatives as they go with most outfits – with the caveat that you should treat them with protective spray when you buy them in case you get caught in the rain.

If you’re feeling the cold and aren’t quite ready to brave bare ankles with trainers and jeans, Hasler recommends embracing the bold and donning a pair of coloured socks, “particularly bright red”, which can be paired with a loafer and cigarette trousers. “Or you could wear bright yellow socks with colourful or white trainers,” she adds. Sock style should match your shoe choice for a cohesive look, according to Hems. “If you’re going to wear minimalist trainers, keep the socks plain and minimalist,” he says. “If you’re wearing branded trainers, try to match with the same brand of sports sock – that continuity makes you look a bit more polished.”

And finally, despite my exasperation with my overfilled backpack stuffed with accoutrements for every single weather type, it seems like I could actually be onto something.

“It’s always good to have a backpack or bag you can carry,” says Hems. “If you are going to take off an overshirt or put on a raincoat, buy a really nice backpack to carry your layers in.”

I’m not sure if we’d describe my waterproof, concrete-grey, depressingly practical rucksack from Decathlon as “nice”, but let’s go ahead and pretend I’m on-trend for once. It turns out picking substance over style could just be the most fashun choice of all this spring.