Help me be the ant, not the grasshopper
September 21, 2011 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Lady moving to Boston from Virginia. What are your Work winter clothing essentials?

I work in a wear-suits-to-work field. In VA, winter dressing means adding a coat, hat and gloves to my indoor clothes, no special equipment. Snow is a novelty.
In Boston, I'll be walking/taking the T to work (hooray!).
Please give me advice on coats that are warm enough, but look classy (are there classy puffy coats, or does warmth win out?) and footware options (snowboots? Do folks change shoes at work a la working girl?). Is long underwear necessary?
What are your tips for looking polished after braving the weather?
Thanks for the wisdom, y'all.
posted by natasha_k to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm a gal in the Boston area and I've been taking the Red Line to work every day for years. I get cold really easily, so take all of this with a grain of salt:

1) My top piece of advice: Find a hat that's warm, covers your ears, doesn't look too goofy, and doesn't mess up your hair. It can be a bit tough to find one with all of these characteristics, but it's worth the shopping. (Mine is wool with a fleece-like lining to avoid itchiness.) It's okay if it's a little goofy looking -- you can just take it off outside before entering your office.

2) I wear long underwear under my work clothes a couple of times a year when it's really, really cold. Usually I don't. I have it anyway for hiking -- I don't know many people who purchase it for everyday wear.

3) For coats, I keep at least two for winter: one black wool one that is classic/classy and work-appropriate, and one attractive-ish puffy one that goes down beyond my knees and keeps me warm on the coldest days. (On the coldest days, you'll notice that people are more forgiving in their assessment of clothing attractiveness.)

4) Yes, people change shoes at work when there's snow. (Not just the ladies -- I've seen men do it, too.) Don't ruin your nice work shoes in the snow/salt, and make sure you wear boots with good traction when there's ice on the sidewalks.

5) I know several women who get watery eyes when it's cold -- keep this in mind when choosing cosmetics. You may wish to go so far as stepping into the restroom at work when you arrive to finish applying, depending on how strongly this affects you.
posted by cranberry_nut at 8:07 AM on September 21, 2011

Many women change from boots to dressier shoes when they get to the office in winter, particularly when there's any snow or slush on the ground. Some of the ladies (and gentlemen, actually) at my old office just kept a pair of work shoes in their desk and never brought them home.

Whether or not you need long underwear will depend on how long your walk to and from the T is, how much you're going out during the day and how well they heat your office. I will say that, having grown up in Boston, my idea of winter involves wind so cold that it makes my entire back seize up when I'm out in it for more than a few minutes.

The key to winter in the northeast is honestly lots and lots of layering, with articles added and removed as needed so that you're always comfortable. It sucks to freeze on your way to the train, but it's just as terrible to be sweating all day at your desk.

As for a specific coat to look for, I've always preferred long (as in, reaching mid-calf or lower) fitted wool coats that can button up to my chin. Having a coat that covers your legs lessens the need for long underwear.

Also, don't skimp on boots. It's worth the extra money to buy boots that are properly insulated, completely waterproof and comfortable to walk in.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 8:10 AM on September 21, 2011

Cashmere/smartwool socks and cashmere tights for warm but unbulky layering! Layers are the most important part of winter clothing, because otherwise you're too cold outside or too hot inside.

No one will think you are weird or dorky for changing your warm boots for shoes at the office. (I mean, they might, but they will be stupid people, so who cares.)

Also, on the days that are extremely bitter and cold, don't worry too much about looking like a stuffed sausage in a giant coat, because everyone else will either be similarly sausagey or be too cold to care.
posted by elizardbits at 8:12 AM on September 21, 2011

I sneered when my mom got me a squall parka, as it isn't exactly sophisticated winter wear. However, there are a couple of weeks each winter where I am Thrilled to wear it, especially if I know I'll have to wait for a bus or stand on an outside T platform. Even my most chic colleagues seem to have something similar for those days where fashion flies out the window in favor of staying warm.

People have covered most of the other basics: wool, a pair of nice shoes at your desk are the main ones. Having moved here from Michigan I feel like it usually isn't Too bad here in the winter, but ymmv.
posted by ldthomps at 8:18 AM on September 21, 2011

Smartwool isn't just for socks. Their underlayers can also be quite nice and come in various weights.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:20 AM on September 21, 2011

I'm a guy, but I also change shoes in the winter from a pair of boots to nice work shoes when I get to work. (I live in Chicago, which has a very similar climate to Boston.) If you're in a suit-wearing field, I'd imagine you have some fairly nice/expensive shoes to go with that outfit and walking through snow, salt and ice will *absolutely* ruin those shoes. No one is, or should be, surprised to see commuters with boots in the winter.

Also seconding the layering. Oftentimes, particularly in the older cities of the Northeast, you will ricochet between 20s outside and what feels like 80 degrees inside. It depends on how sensitive you are to heat, but I find that buildings are often way over-heated in the winter and I've had to take off my heavy wool sweaters because I'm too hot.

You may also find that your skin might flake or be very red or other weird things in the winter. It is probably not a skin condition but instead just a reaction of your skin to the very dry air both inside and outside. I freaked out for a while before I started using lotion regularly in the winter, which made a huge difference.
posted by andrewesque at 8:30 AM on September 21, 2011

Nthing the advice of a loooong wool coat, to the knees at least, that you can button/zip up to your chin. If you can't find one that will button that high (and even if you can) I think it's also helpful to own a small handful of lightweight and classy scarves to wrap around your neck under the collar of your coat. I see plenty of people with super heavy knitted stuff but I love a nice cashmere or silk scarf wrapped around my neck and tucked into the breast of my wool jacket because you don't feel like you're going to suffocate, and when you get to work you just fold it up nice and small and stick it in your bag.

As far as for the super cold weather, North Face makes a nice long one, similar to this but almost to mid-calf length and it's pretty lightweight for as roasty as you'll be in it. I don't have one of them but my best friend does and she swears by it. It has lasted her years so even though they're pricey, I think it has been worth it to her.
posted by takoukla at 8:45 AM on September 21, 2011

The biggest problem is boots, I think. They need to be salt, sand and slush resistant. Slush can look shallow on the surface but put your foot in and the icy water underneath can cover your foot. Everyone I know accumulates a pile of shoes under their desk. If you have a stash, you don't have to carry another bag while commuting. When the sidewalks are icy, buy crampons to slip over the boot. Note that streets are cleared faster than sidewalks.

I don't like wearing hats so to keep my ears warm, I wear either ear muffs (so attractive) or those stretchy headbands that skiers wear.

For coats, I'd have a long one that meets the tops of my boots for cold weather and a shorter one for days when it's not that cold, ie above 32 degrees.

Truly, the warmest coat I've ever owned was a big old fur coat. Not very pc but I could go out in my pajamas and boots wearing that in -20 weather and be warm as toast.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:59 AM on September 21, 2011

You will need scarves. takoukla said small ones, I'll add long ones that can be wrapped around a lot; thicker ones that can be folded over & tucked through or looped around to cover your whole neck and the bottom of your face*; large yet warm and thin ones that can be worn as a scarf outside (and cover your head too, for those places that your hat doesn't reach) and a shawl inside when your office or apartment isn't warm enough; and circle/loop type ones if your coat won't accomodate a regular scarf, e.g. if it has an attached hood. They can also add some style to an outfit when it's too cold to make the rest of it very interesting.

*If you have any sort of breathing problem, the first breath of New England winter air can practically make your lungs just up and stop working. A heavy scarf over your mouth and nose is essential. Even if you don't have breathing problems, I can't imagine it would be very pleasant to inhale the freezingness.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:04 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm definitely a watery-eyed girl as mentioned above, and big sunglasses help a lot (both with shielding eyes from cold wind and with hiding smeary makeup if needed). Sunlight reflecting off of snow is really bright, so they're good for that, too.

Seconding the two coats advice. You'll be able to get through most of the winter with a nice wool coat, but on the handful of REALLY cold days, no one will care what you look like when you're outside because they'll be too busy being cold.

If long underwear's too bulky under your work clothes, regular tights/nylons under pants work almost as well and are much sleeker.

Carry around some heavy-duty moisturizer with you for your hands and lips, and also drink a lot of water, like you would on a long airplane trip. The combination of cold air and intense indoor heating will dry you out more than you know.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:33 AM on September 21, 2011

Also, a good pair of classic, heeled knee-high leather boots can go under work slacks and act as nice leather legwarmers. Just don't wear them when there's snow or February slush on the ground, or you'll ruin them.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:36 AM on September 21, 2011

I'll second oinopaponton's suggestion of the knee-high leather boots - in winter I frequently wear them with warm, thick tights and a longish wool skirt (under a long, warm wool coat of course). Liberal doses of leather protectant seem to keep everyday snow/slush/water spots from damaging the leather too much.

Beyond that, I wear leggings/tights under dress slacks as well (especially on days when it's windy), and layers (like silk long underwear tops underneath a blouse or sweater.) Honestly, I probably wear skirts more frequently in the winter than at other times, because I don't like wrangling dress slacks into and out of heavy winter boots (to keep them from getting wet/dirty). I'm also not above keeping a small supply of dressier shoes/pants in my office, and then changing into them once I arrive at work (and changing back out of them when I leave).

Your Boston colleagues will not think less of you for doing what it takes, style-wise, to keep yourself warm in the winter. Trust me.
posted by amy lecteur at 10:12 AM on September 21, 2011

I moved from Virginia to Chicago, and it took several years of misery before I capitulated to the weather and started really bundling up. I wish I had asked this question then!

My winter essentials sound a lot like everybody else's: a long wool coat, worn over several layers of clothing (has worked just as well as a puffy coat most of the time); real watertight, lined winter boots (it's fine to change shoes at the office); big scarves that can wrap around my head and neck and face several times; lined leather gloves (knit ones or whatever do nothing for me); and long underwear, which was a revelation when I finally started wearing it (I love my Cuddl Duds). Also lots of chapstick and moisturizing lotion.

Everybody's in the same boat! Be warm.
posted by treefort at 10:21 AM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have skiing gloves that I wear out and about, and nice leather ones lined in cashmere when I need to look good. My coat has a lining that zips out and functions as another, lighter coat. I nth the ankle length idea, and the idea of a dressier and a more casual coat for different levels of dressy. Invest in cashmere sweaters and other pieces for sleek, warm layering. I also have silk long underwear, and this has served me well in the coldest of Buffalo winters.
posted by oflinkey at 10:35 AM on September 21, 2011

Best answer: Thick tights - wear w/ skirts; on cold days wear under your pants

Big hat

Lined rainboots - I just keep all of my work shoes in my office and commute in flats or rainboots. When it's really cold and slushy, I commute in tights, knee-high wool socks, and the lined rainboots.

Fingerless gloves w/ mitten flap (I get the cashmere ones at Jcrew, but it looks like they aren't in stock yet)

Warm and classy coat

Parka for the super snowy days - knee length plus boots is fine, ankle length is a bit much

Pashminas - not sure about Boston, but in NYC they sell them on the street for $5 or less - so much better than traditional scarves - wrap around your face/neck when outside; drape around your shoulders if you get chilly inside.

Big, non-leather tote - you'll be wearing so many layers and going from cold, to warm, to hot, to cold, to warm constantly and need something to carry your hat, gloves, etc as you take them off.

Lip balm
posted by melissasaurus at 10:39 AM on September 21, 2011

All of the above suggestions are perfect. But let me chime in for silk scarves, which are warmer than wool, not at all itchy and provide a cheerful bright spot on a grey/black day.

You can use standard-weight twill silk scarves (big squares are my favorite, as they can also go over your head) on a moderately cold day but I really, really love heavy silk velvet scarves. These are from Venetia Studium, and are insanely expensive. But they are worth it: I have two and they are awe-inspiringly lovely and feel like you're wearing a teddy bear. Soft and snuggly.
posted by jrochest at 9:28 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers!
Any suggestions on boot brands?
posted by natasha_k at 6:57 AM on September 22, 2011

I really love my Sorels.
posted by treefort at 11:48 AM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

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