Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Texan's Guide to Dressing for Cold Weather

I grew up in Texas. For years, my winter wardrobe consisted of a couple of sweaters and an assortment of fairly lightweight jackets. I wasn't prepared for the occasional below-freezing day, but luckily those were few and far between.

I moved to the northeast in 2007. I knew I was unprepared for winter, and frankly I don't remember how I made it through. I do know that I quickly realized that "snow clothes" (waterproof boots and a water repellant coat) were necessities, as was the need for many layers. Too bad winter clothes are expensive and my grad school budget didn't really allow for many new purchases.  I also remember feeling especially bulky when I dressed for cold weather - like the spawn of Stay-Puft.

After six years of gradually stockpiling base layers, coats, gloves, and hats, I think I have finally reached the point of having an adequate winter wardrobe.  By adequate I mean that I have at least a couple of each item so I don't get sick of wearing the exact same thing every day.

Are you a Texan moving to a cold climate?  I will show you what I put on for a typical below-freezing day in New York. I walk about two miles a day just going to and from work, so I need to ensure sustained warmth.
Before I start, I will tell you that you will need to spend some money here. I buy most of my stuff on 6pm during the spring when winter merchandise is on closeout. Maybe you have a good thrift store near you or a well-stocked Nordstrom Rack.  Buy quality brands, even if it means buying only a couple of things each year.  I have a few preferred brands but overall look for items that are at least one of the following: wool/mohair/cashmere/angora, insulated, or windproof.
Now, here is what I would wear on a typical cold day.

Base layers
1.  Form fitting top and bottom base layer.  I like the bottoms by Patagonia but I'm sure there are other good options. I have the Capilene 1, 3, and 4.  These are the 3.  (P.S. I cannot believe I am putting this picture on the internet.  Holy pear shape!)  Form fitting is key because it lays nicely under your other clothes.

1a. Tights.  I have a love-hate relationship with tights.  They are cute, but I always buy them at Century 21 or another discount store because they are usually $5-$10 a pair.  Tights get scuzzy too fast to spend any more on them.  I tend to size up to avoid too much muffin top action.

2. Wool socks. These are Icebreakers but I have a few Smartwool pairs.  Smile!  The heavier socks provide lots of cushion for your feet!

3. Wool skirt or pants. Yes, a skirt!  This particular one is the double serge wool skirt from JCrew. It is heavy and lined.  I stalk for a sale on this item.  Pants should be lined.  Jeans are ok, but see #1.  Jeans are NOT warm on their own.

Sweater and skirt.  Not crazy about the combo.
4.  Sweater. Again, preferably wool. Optional blouse underneath.  (P.S. One of the things I'm already realizing about this blog is that it is helping me rethink some outfits that seemed to work before.  This sweater and skirt combo?  Not loving it.)

5. Glove liner. I discovered these this year. I have already lost one of them but am planning to get another pair. The ones I have are Smartwool. 100% wool and not at all itchy.

6. Gloves. These are actually "under gloves" for snowboarding. I don't even know what that means, but they are great. Not the most professional look, but warm and windproof. Fleece lined. Don't go cheap with your gloves!!  These gloves do make it impossible to do anything.  I have to take them off to take out my PATH card.

7. Ear warmers. A must have for me. If my ears are cold, all of me is cold.  Mine are 180s

8.  Scarf. One you can wrap around your neck a few times.  No flimsy silk scarves and no cotton.

8. A quality coat. Your pea coat?  Not cutting it.  This one is from North Face. I like that it is cut with a waistline so I don't look too boxy. (I also like that it is dark colored and the North Face logo is black and not too obvious).  This is a triclimate coat: it has a liner that can be worn alone or zipped into the outer layer. The outer layer can also be worn by itself. I have two of this type of coat and I cannot live without them.  A hood is necessity even on sunny days. My next winter purchase will probably be a coat that is wool and a little more work appropriate than this one. I can wear this to work but some women probably can't.

Ready for schlepping around NYC
10.  Boots.  What woman doesn't love boots?   I prefer flat boots since I walk so much, but will happily wear heeled ones too.  These are from La Canadienne.  They are leather but weatherproof at the same time.

There you have it - ten items to help you dress for cold weather.  This particular outfit is so warm and helped me endure the recent days with highs in the teens.  AND this outfit is all black (and charcoal) so you will easily fit in anywhere in Manhattan. Just kidding.  Kindof.

Coat - North Face Kalispel Triclimate -
Skirt - JCrew Number 2 pencil skirt in heather carbon -
Boots - La Canadienne Paulina -
Legs - Patagonia Capilene 3 - REI
Gloves - Burton - Zappos
Glove liner - Smartwool
Socks - Icebreaker -
Scarf - Nordstrom
Sweater - Ann Taylor Loft Cable Knit
Blouse - Banana Republic Factory
Ear warmers - 180s


  1. After going to my sister's wedding in Colorado this month, I had to learn most of what you just said crash-course style. Clearly I learned nothing living in Alaska. Or maybe the heat in Texas just erased all that from my mind.

    Good tips, especially the one about wool socks. I ended up buying a pair for (gasp!) $22 at the ski resort because I didn't plan ahead.

    1. You know what another one of my secrets is? Buying wool socks in San Angelo. Every time I'm in town I have to swing by Marshall's. They always have at least a pair or two of a good brand.