I grew up in Southern California, where the most severe winter weather I suffered was a bit of rain, or temperatures dipping to the frigid forties. Imagine the shock my system received when I moved to Northern New England. The first snow-storm I lived through as a resident Yankee was a terrifying experience; I had no idea how to dress, shovel, or drive in the snow. My first winter was plagued with freezing fingers and toes, and so many colds, I think I would have bled DayQuil.
Luckily, after four years of winter weather, I have figured out how to dress to handle the snow and below freezing temperatures. Over the past two years, I have spent considerable time building up a sufficient winter wardrobe. Not only does this call for the informal winter wear (ski jackets, snow-boots, etc), but also a collection of formal/semiformal winter gear as well. Wearing a suit and tie, or other formal/semiformal clothing, is not nearly enough to keep you warm in the winter; so, you’ll need some winter accessories to compliment that suit, or other semiformal wear. I’ll take a “top down” approach to this post, starting with hats…
(I realize, of course, that this post doesn’t apply to everyone: for my readers living in southern states or locations that don’t get snow and ice – well, I envy you. But read up, just in case. You never know when you might take a trip to places where winter is more than rain and above-freezing temperatures).
The winter is a great excuse to break out your hat collection. We all know that the human body loses a majority of its heat through the head: hats conserve this heat, keep your ears warm, and they look sharp, to boot. For semi-formal, business or formal purposes, a fedora is a classy choice. Of course, fedora’s aren’t cheap, and aren’t suitable for every situation. My go-to winter hat is a wool ascot (or “newsboy”) cap. It’s formal enough to compliment a suit, but easier on my budget.
For semi-formal or businesses events, I avoid the beanie or stocking cap. It will mess up your hair, and conveys a more informal appearance. If you need a hat, and only have a beanie, than go with it; but remove it before you go into an interview, event, or any other formal/semiformal gathering.
Moving down the body, to the scarf. In some places scarves are more than just an accessory, they are a necessity. Generally, for choices, I stick with dark or natural colors, to compliment whatever suit I may be wearing. My primary scarves are grey, black, camel, or combinations thereof. My wife knits (beautifully, I might add), so I also have an in-house scarf maker; she has made me several scarves in the past, if I needed something specific.
Contrary to popular belief, there is a right and a wrong way to wear a scarf. If you live in colder climates, you know that simply throwing a scarf around your neck doesn’t do much but act as an accessory: that won’t keep you warm. If you’re from a cold climate, this is probably “old hat” for you. However, I want to provide the most basic overview for everyone, regardless of experience. Here are a few examples, and thoughts on scarf tying:
The Parisian – this is the preferred method for my wife and me. It involves folding the scarf lengthwise, placing it around your neck, doubled, then pulling the loose ends through the looped end, around your neck. Personally, I like this knot because it works with long and short scarves, and keeps me the warmest. (See David Beckham to the right, sporting a Parisian)
Once-Around Knot – This is the basic overhand knot (think about the first knot you tie in your shoes), applied to a scarf. This is the most casual, and well known way to tie a scarf.
Loose Once-Around/Twice Around Knot – This is simply the process of wrapping the scarf around your neck once, or twice (depending on length). This knot is not all that warm, in my experience, but does look nice.
We’ll need something to tuck that scarf into, so let’s look at coats next. This will be the most pricey of your winter wear (followed closely by your boots). For formal/semiformal purposes, I avoid my ski/snowboard jackets or parkas, unless the weather is at its worst – and if the weather’s that bad, chances are someone will cancel. Your best choice, again for formal/semiformal or business purposes, specifically, is a topcoat or longer overcoat. You have a great deal of flexibility here, in length, style, color, weight and cut.
Topcoats and overcoats are tailored and made to wear over a suit. If you live in an area with wetter, rainier winters, rather than snow and ice, I would advise a light topcoat, or a raincoat, over the heavier top/over coats. A raincoat is made to withstand a good soaking, whereas the others are typically made of wool or other materials that don’t handle the wet as well. That’s not to say you can’t get the others wet, but they may loose their shape, and begin to get musty with too much regular soaking.
Cut, shape, and length are largely about your personal style. However, if you are shorter, I would keep your coat short as well: the longer coats may accentuate your height. I prefer a coat that hits below the hip, but above the knee. As for color, I keep things as simple as possible, with grays, browns or blacks.
For those of us on a budget, but still wanting to look put together, a peacoat it a good option, as well. That’s what I have right now (I’m waiting for the top and overcoats to go on sale in the spring). The peacoat can be both informal and semiformal, if put together correctly; whereas top/overcoats are more formal or business attire. If you’re in the business world, and have a budget to do so, I would suggest looking for a good top or overcoat. For those who are not yet at career levels, or don’t wear a suit regularly, than peacoats are a great option. Peacoats are double-breasted, and typically hit at my preferred lengths (between hip and knee). Again, stick to the basic colors of black, brown or grey. Toggle coats, are another option very similar to peacoats. Toggles, however, stand out a bit more, and make a bolder statement.
Leather is another option. The nice thing about a leather jacket is that, similar to a peacoat, it can be both formal and informal. This depends largely on style: personally, my leather jacket is mostly informal, and goes better with jeans than a suit. Be aware, leather jackets require a little extra care and maintenance. Water-repellent sprays, for instance, are important to keep your leather coat moisture free.
What to wear under that dapper coat? Here in the northeast, it’s all about layers. If I’m going semiformal (no suit) I regularly layer a crewneck, v-neck, quarter-zip, or vested sweater, over a collared shirt and tie. This provides enough layers to keep me warm, and keep me looking “put together.” As I said, I stick to crew, quarter-zip, v-neck, or vested sweaters: these are the most classic styles. Also, I try to keep patterns minimal in my sweaters. Maybe a little argyle (if you’ve read my past blogs, you know my love for argyle), or striping, but otherwise stick to solid colors.
Personally, although gloves are arguably the most important gear in winter wear (I’m thinking about frostbite here), it’s one place I choose to save a bit of cash, fashion wise. You could spend a great deal of money on gloves, with options like lambskin or leather. Instead, I choose a basic glove that is function over fashion. That being said, make sure your gloves match your coat in color. Wearing tan gloves with a black topcoat, for instance, is a no-go.
If you’re in the mid-west or northeast, you know the importance of salt and sand during an icy winter. Now, while these materials are important to our safety, they wreck havoc on our footwear. And, if you’re heading to an interview, formal event, or you just want to look nice, you’ll run into a conundrum, in the footwear department: function or fashion. Sure, you may have a great pair of sleek, leather business shoes, but will they keep you warm, comfortable and slip-free on the ice and snow? But do you want to sacrifice that sleek style for something like a clunky, but warm and sturdy snow boot? Here’s my take on the matter:
First, if warmth is the issue, look to your socks, not your shoes. A pair of warm, wool socks will keep your feet warm, and put you in whatever shoes you want: from casual to formal. Plus, socks are a whole lot less expensive than shoes.
Next, if you’re heading into the office, I would advice wearing the snow boots to and from the car, but keeping your business shoes with you, to change in the office. This is a common practice, and gives you the best of both worlds. This also works for events, by keeping your formal shoes in the car, and changing before heading in. It beats walking in with shoes scuffed by snow or salt.
For a classic, comfortable, and warm winter boot, here in the northeast, everyone raves about the L.L. Bean All-Weather boots. I haven’t had the opportunity to try these out yet (if you have, post! I’m still undecided on purchasing some), but from what I hear, they’re ideal for a cold winter, and don’t look too shabby either.
There are some great mens boots out there. However, they vary widely in price-range, style and purpose. Here’s a quick guide, that may help you narrow down your own style, or at least give you an idea of what’s out there.
Considerations for Transmen
For those of us still binding, a cold winter is one of the few times we can at least feel a little better: although uncomfortably painful, those binders do keep us warm. Additionally, if we’re layering with bulky sweaters, some of us may be able to get away without binding at all (depending on comfort level, size, etc.). If you are binding, however, keep in mind that you’re wearing an extra layer at all times. This may mean that layering with a sweater may be too much, especially when you get indoors. Some people keep buildings extra warm in the winter, and, while you may be comfortable outside in the cold, going inside may require you to shed more layers.
As I mentioned earlier, the length of your coat can accentuate your height. If your conscious of your height, or lack thereof, I wouldn’t go any longer than knee length with your coat.
Lastly, with layering, particularly sweaters: another reason to avoid patterns is because patterns can accentuate a larger chest area, or hips. If you are still binding, be aware of this, and consider sticking with muted patterns, or simple solids. This isn’t true of all patterns, or all body types, but it is something to watch out for.
As always, if you have any tips or thoughts you would like to add here, please post! I love to hear about your experiences, thoughts, or questions on these topics. Thanks!
Cheers – Mason