Dress Code: How to survive winter

In October 2008, my husband informed me that he had received a job offer for a position in Des Moines, Iowa. We had been living in Texas for three years, after being relocated there from the New York City area, where we had both grown up. The new job was too good to pass up, and after a few weeks of deliberation, we decided to pack up our three children and move.

Let me state, with absolute certainty, that the year and a half we spent as Iowans was the worst period of my life.

There are many wonderful things about living in Iowa. The people are absolutely lovely. They are down-to-earth, welcoming, and sincerely, genuinely nice. They are the types of people who will let you cut in front of them in line at the grocery store, bring you soup when you're sick, plant extravagant vegetable gardens, and make casseroles for their neighbors. They don't gossip or engage in other types of petty behavior. They are rock-solid, decent, salt-of-the-earth types of people.

However, the weather of Iowa leaves a bit more to be desired. After years spent living through snowy New York months, I felt ready to take on Midwestern winters. Boy, was I wrong. Epically wrong. Trust me when I say that you do not know what cold is until you've lived in Iowa in January. This is a cold that hits you in the face with the force of a thousand knives, a cold that gets deep in your bones and festers. This is a cold that cancels school, that freezes the doors of your car shut.This is a cold that forces you to sleep with a space heater next to your bed, even while snuggled under a pile of down blankets.

I learned a few things about dressing for winter while living with Iowa. Here are some of them:  
  • Layering is your friend. Tights under pants or jeans is mandatory if you're walking longer than a block. If you're wearing a dress (brave girl!) you can layer leggings over tights, or wool knee socks over tights with boots. If your office or classroom is warm,  just remove those leggings or socks when you get indoors.
  • You will need more than one coat. Start with a long down coat with a hood for time spent outdoors (I know they're fug, but trust me, you won't care when it's 15 degrees out. I also guarantee you won't be the only one sporting this kind of outerwear.) Also invest in a heavy wool coat, such as a peacoat, for when the temperature isn't quite so low. If you have the extra cash, and attend professional or dressy events, a sleek black coat is a good idea too.
  • Have many pairs of gloves. Somehow, no matter how close an eye I kept on mine, they'd inevidably get lost. Go to Old Navy or Wal-Mart and buy multiple pairs of their $2 stretchy gloves. Keep a pair in the car, in every coat pocket, and in your purse. Surprisingly, mittens will keep you warmer than gloves. You will look a bit childish, but no one will care. Layer your stretchy gloves under your mittens and you're set.
  • Sweaters: Big woolly ones are great, especially in cardigan form. Layer them over a thermal and a buttondown and you're set. However, if you don't have the space or money to invest in them, thinner sweaters can be practical too. Cashmere is super-warm, thin enough for the office and easy to layer. Also, it's not the investment it once was. Thin merino wool is a good alternative too.
  • Think your cute little ankle boots and oxfords will cut it? Wrong. You will think you can walk the couple of blocks to dinner in the snow, but then your feet will go completely numb and you will have to go to the bathroom and pour hot water all over them in order to reassure yourself that you don't have frostbite. Nope, you need some lined boots that are at least somewhat waterproof, because you will be walking through snow and if you are just wearing sneakers or leather boots, it's like your feet are IN THE SNOW.
  • Besides snowboots, you're probably going to want another pair of tall boots you can wear to class or the office, and on non-snowy days with your woolly tights and maybe a pair of heavy socks. The heel height is up to you (although a lower heel is much safer when it's icy), but a pair wide enough to fit over jeans makes a big difference. In a cold climate, you'll live in your boots. I've found mine on eBay, Marshall's, and on sale at shoes.com. Consider having them waterproofed (especially if they're Uggs, or Ugg-types...they look cozy but are less so with snow and slush soaking through. Ugg boots are NOT waterproof. NOT AT ALL. Seriously, don't even try. You will regret it. If there isn't rubber around the foot, not just the sole, it is probably not waterproof. They are really good slippers though)
  • Scarves are essential. You want thick, heavy ones for the cold when the wind is blowing so hard that your eyes tear up. Thinner fleece, merino and wool-blend scarves come in a huge variety of prints and colors. For a more polished look, coordinate your scarves to your gloves.
  • FLANNEL. Seriously. Flannel shirt unbuttoned enough to show your cleavage tucked into a nice skirt with tights, boots and a sparkly necklace. It's festive, chic and WARM.
  • Warm socks are necessary. American Apparel makes thigh-high socks that are the bomb. Department stores like Nordstrom sell cashmere blend socks that are extremely warm too, and you can often find them on sale. You'll also want at least a few pairs of heavy wool socks - long enough to pull up over tights and leave no room for cold to get in. 
Winter in most parts of the country sucks. You won't look cute. Get over it. But you know what? On those bitter days, there's a sense of community that you may not find during other seasons. Everyone feels your pain, everyone understands...we're all just trying to stay warm, and get where we need to go. It's funny, people are often nicer. Probably because they are too freezing to put up a fight :-)

Do you have any tips on dressing for winter? How to you stay fashionable and warm?

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