It’s incredible what you can get used to. After wind chills hit nearly -40 degrees (yes, negative forty) the second week in January, the 30-degree weather we’ve had in the past few days has felt like bikini weather. With Round 2 of Polar Vortex Fun heading for us sometime in the next two weeks, I’ve been desperately trying to figure out what to wear to a formal wedding in the DC area exactly during that time span. My California side suggests that an ankle-length down coat can be black-tie appropriate if need be.
As I look through my clothes, frantically trying to find *something* that can make a vintage pink satin sheath dress capable of handling below-freezing temperatures, It occurred to me that I’ve learned a lot in the two and a half years I’ve called Chicago home. For one, I’ve learned there are more kinds of pizza than any reasonable person needs. For two, I’ve learned how to cope with winter.
The idea of a winter with temperatures that dropped below freezing — like, WAY below freezing — terrified me when I moved here. A friend of mine in Phoenix (via New York, via Green Bay and a lot of places in between) had once told me that she missed wearing her winter coats.
“Coats, plural?” I asked.
It makes perfect sense now.
So, for those like me who may find themselves thrown from a place where winter means you wear a hoodie and Uggs with your shorts to a place where frostbite can happen in minutes, I present a guide to dressing oneself.
The single most confusing answer I got to, “How do I dress in the winter?” was, “Just layer!” In California, layering consists of wearing an open cardigan over a spaghetti strap tank.
You can perhaps see why I was skeptical of this warmth retention strategy.
There are several layers of clothing involved in the Midwestern version of layering:
This caused me the most confusion. As an avid hiker and skier, “base layer” means “tactical long underwear,” usually made mostly of spandex, fleece and silk. That can be what it means in Chicago, but most often it is far more flexible and varies by season. In the spring and fall, this might mean a tank top or T-shirt under a sweater. In the winter, a long-sleeved t-shirt or button-down might be a better choice. In negative-degree windchill, a tank under a long-sleeved t-shirt (or that tactical skiing underwear) is the way to go.
And don’t forget your bottom half! Ladies, tights or leggings under your jeans are amazing. Kneesocks over your tights? Even better! In fact, you’re probably only warm enough if you can’t bend your knees.
If you’re from a warm climate, this is probably what you’d wear alone. A sweater or fleece jacket and a pair of jeans? Done. Except you’re wearing a Catwoman suit under it (see, “Base layer”).
Spring and fall let you wear leather jackets, trench coats, short wool jackets, “puffer” jackets (short jackets made of down, not made of the fish), even hoodies if it’s warm enough. But winter is where the double-breasted, ankle-length wool coat comes in. You know, the kind you’ve only seen on It’s a Wonderful Life. (You’ll survive if you have a jacket that at least covers your butt, but you’ll be somewhat comfortable if your coat goes all the way to the floor, a la a little kid trying on Mom’s clothes.)
YOU WILL NEED GLOVES. Thick, double-lined, fleece, wind-resistant gloves. And a scarf, a tightly-woven one that the wind can’t get through. And a hat. Not a cute one, a warm one. (Did you know they make lined fleece? Neither did I. It’s a necessity.) Get yourself a pair of snow boots.
This is what you wear when it’s snowing and the windchill is ridiculous. I do not care what anyone says about fashion — winter in Chicago is not about fashion. Get yourself one of those jackets that makes you look like you’re walking around in a sleeping bag with a zipper at the bottom. You’ll look a hundred pounds heavier. If you can see out of the hood when it’s cinched, it’s too big.
Now waddle yourself to the bus stop and try not to let your eyeballs freeze. I think I’ll be working from home for a while…