Layer different lengths or pile on the contrasting knits to keep your look individual this season. Harriet Walker explores the long and the short of it

As the nights draw in and the weather tends to chill, you'd be forgiven for simply curling up in one of this season's chunky knits and attempting to hibernate.

But don't let the cold turn you into a droopy-drawers – or rather, do! One of the biggest trends around for autumn is layering, playing with proportions, and looking a bit, well, baggy.

"Layering is a stylish way to stay warm during colder months, and is a key part of all the autumn/winter 2010 trends," explains Amy Zgraja, personal shopper for Topshop's Oxford Circus flagship. "Don't be afraid to mix textures and prints."

It's a bit of an anti-fashion trend this season, given the array of ladylike tailoring and minimal pieces on the catwalk, but designers such as Ann Demeulemeester and Dries van Noten showed collections that mixed classic colours and formal effects with darker, more grungy pieces.

Alexander Wang, meanwhile, layered deconstructed tailoring with sloppy knits and jersey casuals. And at the London shows last month, much of the audience could be seen in floaty, baggy pieces – not yet ready to let go of the off-duty-model style that has lapped around the periphery of fashion for the past few years.

Wearing all your clothes at once requires a certain nonchalance, so be sure to look like you've just thrown everything together and it miraculously worked out. Try starting with leggings as a base, then add long, baggy vests and T-shirts, before topping everything off with an oversized cardigan or a short sweater. Alternatively, try dresses with cardigans or jumpers on top, cinched in with a skinny belt (one of this season's absolute must-haves) to give a little definition to your figure.

This is no body-con trend, mind you, and those glamour pusses used to flashing the flesh will probably shy away from it. For the rest of us, it's time to embrace our inner librarian, pile on the knitwear and experiment with shape, proportion and a palette of chic-but-modern neutrals. Grey, navy, stone and blush are perfect for blending, and try complementing jersey, cotton and fine-gauge wool with leather, silk and chunky knitwear.

When it comes to footwear, the low-heeled Victoriana lace-up boots around right now are perfectly bluestocking, but if you want to keep things slightly more urban (and a little less Brontë), then opt for wedge ankle boots – either chic, smart and feminine styles at Gap or sci-fi, block heel, cut-outs at All Saints and Office – or update your wooden-soled summer sandals by pairing them with some enormous woollen socks.

Try some of the trickier lengths that are strewn across the high street stores right now: full-length skirts (some trailing the floor, others brushing the tops of your shoes); mid-length skirts (which fall to the middle of the shins); cropped blazers and knits; and sweater dresses that reach the knees. It might sound a little fusty on paper, but it's far from academic in the flesh.

All in all, proportion and layering is a trend you can adapt to any sartorial preference. If you don't like skirts, try a long-line waistcoat over a T-shirt with some cigarette crops or harem pants; if you're looking for something more formal, a fitted knit dress of any length works well with cropped blazers, knits or leather jackets; and if you're ready to go all-out Scandinavian boho-grunge, then opt for the most directional pieces: a full-length skirt under a mid-length knit, topped off with a micro-crop jacket or jumper.

And if it all sounds a little much, experiment with shorts and knee-socks – that's a whole new dimension to autumn dressing.