What do I wear to keep warm at work?
January 10, 2010 9:08 AM   Subscribe

I work in a cold environment. Just a thermal under my shirt and knee-high socks under my jeans isn't keeping me warm enough. What do you wear, o MeFites who work in cold storage, skating rinks, are in boot camp in the middle of winter, or just live in colder climates than this Southern Californian? (Preferably clothing items that won't bulk me up under my uniform... so, no bulky pajamas under my jeans, please.)
posted by Xere to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (31 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Silk long underwear. Thin and warm.
posted by jeather at 9:10 AM on January 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Canucks survive nasty winters by layering. Layering is the key. So for upper body, you might go tank top, t-shirt, regular shirt. making the bottom layer a thin thermal shirt is good too, but it has to be the one nearest your body and under another layer or two.
For lower body you can get very thin thermal leggings at outdoorsy hiking-type shops.

This doesn't need to be bulky; the inner layers can be thinnish material, as what you're after is the effect of trapping your body heat with the inner layer of air and having a second layer of air to buffer the effect of cold getting through the outer layer of clothing. Kind of making a thermos of yourself.
posted by Billegible at 9:16 AM on January 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

As with camping, many thin layers are best. I wear wool long underwear bottoms under heavy cotton pants, plus smartwool hiking socks and the best insulated boots I could find. On top I wear a t-shirt (not thermal), a long-sleeve cotton shirt, a sweater or fleece sweatshirt, and some sort of winter jacket. This is for anything outdoors in this season - It was 4 degrees out when I woke this morning.
posted by jon1270 at 9:17 AM on January 10, 2010

Toasti toes. Put them on before your feet are numb and they will keep your feet warm for hours
posted by InkaLomax at 9:20 AM on January 10, 2010

The choice of material for your layers will make a big difference. Silk base layers (top and bottom) are a common thin but warm layer. In skating rinks, pantyhose have sometimes been enough to keep me warmer, too. If you can handle just a bit of bulk, my favorite cold weather layer is wool cycling tights. Jeans are cotton, so you aren't really getting any insulating value from them. But the wool will keep you warmer. Look for something like Merino wool that won't be so itchy. I can wear these all day without a problem. I'd go with wool socks or some wool blend for the same reasons.

For the top, you can go with silk or wool again or look for a thin fleece shirt. I have one from patagonia I can wear under most things, but it's been discontinued. I'm sure there are other versions of it out there, though. I know other people have had good luck with Under Armor's cold weather shirts, and they aren't bulky, so you might look into that option, too.

If you can get to a good outdoor store, they will be able to help you with ideas and options, but experiment with various layers you might already have at home (perhaps a thin wool sweater or the pantyhose?) to save money.
posted by BlooPen at 9:23 AM on January 10, 2010

Under Armour Cold Gear FTW. I wear one layer under my shell when skiing and I never get cold.
posted by gnutron at 9:25 AM on January 10, 2010

You're wearing a hat, right? A wool cap goes a long way towards keeping your whole body warm. It's not just a cliche - you really do lose a great deal of body heat through the top of your head.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:25 AM on January 10, 2010

I walk 30 minutes to work every day, and it's been a cold winter so far. But I also get hot easily, and I'd rather not have to change clothes when I get to work. So far, silk long underwear has proven to be the best solution. It keeps me warm enough during the walk, but it doesn't make me so hot at work that I need to take it off. I got mine at REI, but I don't know that they're anything special.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:27 AM on January 10, 2010

exactly: silk long underwear (tops and bottoms) and layers. Wool socks (can be layered with silk or other undersocks). If you get cold while working on the computer or sitting too long, make sure you get up and walk around every so often to get your blood/metabolism moving. At home I have down booties because my feet freeze while working on the computer. I only wear them at my desk. Drink hot coffee or tea while you work. It may not actually help, but it makes me think it's helping and just feels good.
posted by kch at 9:27 AM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

And, I buy my silk long underwear from Lands End.
posted by kch at 9:28 AM on January 10, 2010

+1 for layering... layering works because it traps warm pockets of air next to your body, keeping your own body heat from dissipating quickly in the cold environment.

A thin silk or synthetic wicking base layer is good if you are doing any physical activity while you're at work. The key here is to not let your skin get moist from sweat, because that will cool you down *really fast*. Avoid cotton as a base layer in this situation, because it will hold moisture close to your skin, making you colder. Synthetics really are the best at drawing moisture away from your skin to keep you from getting chilled.
posted by kaudio at 9:33 AM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing silks. I do a lot of outdoor reenactments, where I can layer modern silks under period costuming without it being obvious. Check out WinterSilks.com for good quality gear. (This goes along with layering, too... they go hand in hand. Silks make a good base layer, and you can add more layers as needed.)

Another good choice: http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/wool+clothing.html
posted by GJSchaller at 9:34 AM on January 10, 2010

Go to a sports-type store (REI, Academy, etc) and look at their snow-sports section. Get yourself some ski socks, long underwear, etc.
posted by radioamy at 9:40 AM on January 10, 2010

Patagonia capeline- used/known by everyone in the outdoor community. Silkweight or lightweight should do it. There are tops with zips and regular pullovers. They fit well, are well priced and really aren't noticeable.

Stay away from cotton as base layers as it doesn't hold heat very well and if it gets wet, will be completely useless.
posted by TheBones at 9:42 AM on January 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I work in a museum and spend a lot of time in low temperature storage and lab areas. I wear silk long underwear and I have some Patagonia Capilene long underwear that is lightweight and super warm. I wear wool socks and am a big fan of Smartwool brand. I then layer on the clothes, starting with long underwear, a t-shirt, a sweater and then a zip-up fleece jacket. I try to layer on the clothes so that when I go to a more heated part of the building, I can remove layers of clothing (the fleece) and look professional.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:45 AM on January 10, 2010

I've found that I feel much warmer when my neck is covered even if I don't add layers elsewhere. If turtlenecks or scarves suit your personal taste, give them a shot.
posted by katieinshoes at 10:06 AM on January 10, 2010

There is good, cheap silk underwear at campmor.com.

For outer layers, if you're a woman: I just bought this insulated skirt. It's like a winter coat for my legs! Wearing it, I can get away with just jeans even when walking by the (windy, windy) lake here in Chicago.
posted by wyzewoman at 10:07 AM on January 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Some ski/snowboard pants are designed to look like regular pants, either black or sort of tweedy looking, and are toasty warm. They have cuffs inside at the bottom that you can put over your boots to stop any trouser-bottom-draughts. Ski pants can be indistinguishable from a fairly smart pair of work-appropriate pants (obviously, ski instructors have to work in these things).

Nthing synthetic wicking base layers, as found in outdoor activity shops.

I also have a fluffy tube thing that goes round my neck, it's fleecy and because it's black it looks smart enough. Mine's a Buff but there are plenty of brands of those things. Mine is so fab it's become the first thing I put on when I'm pottering around the house and suddenly feel a bit chilly.
posted by emilyw at 10:14 AM on January 10, 2010

I'm partial to LL Bean's flannel lined jeans. Look just like jeans, but about 20 degrees warmer. For serious cold, they also do polartec lined jeans. I find these actually too hot to wear, so try the flannels first.
posted by musofire at 10:32 AM on January 10, 2010

Lined jeans are great! I have a men's pair of these. Very comfortable, warm, and water-resistant. The fleecies from that site are very warm too.

And hats! There's some really awesome winter hats out there.
posted by Wulfhere at 10:52 AM on January 10, 2010

LLBean has a good selection of thermal underlayers. I also recommend very warm socks/shoes; cold feet = misery. LL Bean has insulated shoes and boots, too. I wear pretty trashminas (wool, cheap pashmina-wannabees); they add a lot of warmth and look good. Wear 2 solid colors at once. Cashmere is light, warm, and looks appropriate for work. Those LLBean flannel-lined jeans are cozy, but thermals under jeans might be warmer. Jeans job? Can you wear a fleece vest? Fleece is light, warm, easy to wash. Just check your pockets - 1 tissue in the washer with will teach you a sad lesson.

disclaimer: I don't work for LLBean, but I live in Maine and shop the outlet stores.
posted by theora55 at 10:54 AM on January 10, 2010

In order of biggest bang for the buck: the wool knit cap. There's a reason why it's part of the sailor's uniform - it gets pretty cold out there topside on the water. Second, something on your neck (I like a fleece scarf wrapped around once to make a turtleneck kind of thing that can be pulled up over my mouth and nose if it gets really frigid. Lightweight fleece pullover over the uniform if allowed - kind of too bulky to go under a uniform unless you wear a jacket, then it wouldn't look too bad because the jacket would hide the ridiculous bulging. Long john bottoms.

Gloves make a psychological difference even if they aren't really warm (although, if your fingers are going numb, it's not a warm enough glove). They let you use your hands without dreading grabbing a cold piece of metal or getting your hand wet with chilly water.
posted by ctmf at 10:54 AM on January 10, 2010

Multiple thin layers. One setup that works well for me is silk long underwear next to the skin (warm and wicks sweat), then a pair of Smartwool merino long underwear over that (because merino is the best thing ever, IMO). I also have a merino wool Buff, which I love and recommend highly — it's lightweight, warm, and versatile.

Also, a haramaki makes a huge difference. Keeping the core warm helps everything else stay warmer. I haven't actually gotten around to sewing one, but both my husband and I have been wearing a length of lightweight knit merino yardage from the fabric store wrapped around our middles this winter, and it's helping a lot.
posted by Lexica at 10:57 AM on January 10, 2010

Three layers - wicking layer, base layer, outer layer. Your outer layer is your uniform... and with modern fabrics, a wicking layer isn't as essential anymore.

So! The part next to your skin has two jobs, since we're only going with a base and outer layer - it needs to get moisture away from your body, and it has to retain heat. The best material out there is wool - the aforementioned cycling tights. These ain't no woolen longjohns, this is modern stuff: soft, comfortable, they don't stink even with a lot of activity, and they'll still keep you warm when damp. Cotton jeans won't keep you warm, but they will block some of the wind, which is enough.

Cotton in anything but the outer layer will kill you dead - or make you wish you were dead - as it's a great material for cooling when wet. Anything you wear against your skin, undies included, needs to be synthetic, silk or wool. Those big, fluffy, comfy cotton work socks? Might as well stuff some icepacks in your shoes while you're at it. Cotton long-johns? First you sweat, then you'll freeze.

Warm feet + Warm ears = warm you. Wool or microfleece socks. Once you switch to a decent pair of warm wool socks, you'll become a socks fanatic. Your friends will think you're nuts. You'll start writing sock reviews on the internet, and twittering updates hourly on how comfortable your feet are. (Update! We've gone from "pleasantly toasty" to "snuggley warm" since the last tweet!)

You will be shocked at how pleasant a cold day can be with a simple microfleece headband over your ears, or a set of the new-school wraparound earmuffs.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:58 AM on January 10, 2010

nthing those warming packets, a good friend of mine's a carpenter working outdoors all the time, and he has to put them in his boots when it gets really cold out.
posted by lizbunny at 11:14 AM on January 10, 2010

Flannel-lined jeans.
posted by Sassyfras at 11:16 AM on January 10, 2010

Like everyone else is saying, layering is critical. I use the warmest version of the ice breaker wool long sleeve shirt as a base layer when I'm hiking, climbing, or just standing around in the winter. It needs to be really cold or windy for me to need a jacket. A wool cap is incredibly warm too. I've got a pile of synthetic technical clothing but none is anywhere near as warm as wool.
posted by foodgeek at 12:16 PM on January 10, 2010

Sometimes I wear stretchy exercise pants (like thin cotton) between the long underwear and pants layer, and gloves with the fingers cut off. Have you actually tried pajamas? Sometimes I wear them as the "between" layer, too, and it hasn't added that much bulk.
posted by ramenopres at 5:33 PM on January 10, 2010

Silk underwear comes in a variety of weights. Some are so thin that they are pretty much like tights. My favorite is a midweight silk set I got from Cabela's. I am here to repeat this: Silk and wool. No cotton. Stick to animal created fibers (or poly if you must wash it). Wear a hat if you don't mind squashed hair. Have an outer layer that can cut the wind. Wear a scarf. Choose your socks and your footwear wisely because, like someone said above, if your feet are cold, you will be cold. My favorite combo is a pair of wool snowboarding socks that pull up to the knees and my Bogs.
posted by Foam Pants at 7:22 PM on January 10, 2010

Hat, hat, hat (if you're not already wearing one).
posted by primer_dimer at 2:40 AM on January 11, 2010

I wear merino wool tights and 2 cashmere wool sweaters at my job.
posted by herbaliser at 3:58 PM on January 11, 2010

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