How common is it to wear thermals under dress clothes in cold climates?
October 25, 2013 8:30 AM   Subscribe

I live in Michigan, where ave winter temps range from 20 to 40F with wind chill or actually temps often ducking below 0 in the deep of winter. During the coldest months, I typically wear a base layer under my clothes -- not just when doing outdoor activities, but every day, i.e., in office, at home, running errands, etc. I thought this was common practice as well as common sense. One day last winter I had a doctor's appt., and when I rolled up my sleeve the physician's assistant mentioned that she thought it was really "neat" that I had thought to wear a "second" shirt. I related the story to my coworkers who then acted like I had grown a third head.

None of them had heard of wearing a thermal layer, top and/or bottom, under one's clothes. I'm talking silk, polypro, smart wool, etc. Now that we've had a little cold snap, one of my coworkers asked, in all seriousness, if I've started wearing my "pajamas" under my clothes again. WTF? I find this bizarre because even when I lived in Northern California, I knew a few people who owned a pair of silk long undies just for occasional use, including a guy from Calgary, where surely it was colder than San Francisco ever gets. Most of my friends in Chicago also routinely wear them when it's bitter cold and not just for sports. I know that not everyone wears them, but is it really so unheard of, or are my coworkers just unenlightened about ways to weather the weather? P.S. I work in a university setting with a lot of PhDs.

I know it's dumb to be bothered by this, but I need some validation here : )
posted by lolo341 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (89 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I live in Minnesota and everyone I know wears thermals. I don't think it's that weird.
posted by creativenothing at 8:33 AM on October 25, 2013 [10 favorites]

I do it when it is less than 30 degrees (F) and I have a clean set to wear. (in NY)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:33 AM on October 25, 2013

Where are you originally from? I'm Florida-born and kind of a GIANT WIMP about the cold (though I love living up north), so I frequently rock the thermal underwear, too. Occasionally I got teased about that in Chicago. So it goes.
posted by DingoMutt at 8:34 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well, I definitely do it - not daily during the winter, but if the high temp is 20 or below. If not thermals, then at least tights under slacks, etc. A) It's just common sense. B) My desk is situated in a north corner with windows on two sides. It gets COLD.

For reference, I'm in Syracuse, one of the snowiest cities in the US.
posted by Knicke at 8:35 AM on October 25, 2013

I live in Boston, and I and most of my friends wear smartwool, cuddleduds, or some form of thermal under our our clothes on really cold days - yes, even to work. Even to laze around in the house. I wouldn't say we do it 100% of the time, but it's a really normal practice, and I can't imagine anyone in MA would blink at it.
posted by kythuen at 8:36 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I live in Chicago and I do layer clothing, but my base layer usually doesn't look like thermals. For example, I'll wear a HeatTech shirt, which just looks like a slim-fitting t-shirt, and under my pants I'll wear tights (sometimes footless tights). No one has hassled me but I'm not sure anyone has realized that I'm wearing "pajamas"!
posted by payoto at 8:37 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I live in Chicago. All winter long I champion the Twopants movement. (Usually just leggings under pants.)

And then I always always layer my shirts (even when it's warm, though, more as a function of women's clothing being too sheer than for anything else).

You are not weird. Your friends are just idiots.
posted by phunniemee at 8:37 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I lived in Alaska it wasn't uncommon, but also we had a lot of clothing that was designed for the cold. So, thermals with regular jeans. Sure. Thermals with flannel lined jeans, nope.
posted by bswinburn at 8:37 AM on October 25, 2013

Best answer: I live in Minnesota and plenty of people do this. Other people double up on tights or wear leggings under jeans or pants.

But so much of this stuff is what you might call "invisible subculture" stuff. There are little social circles where something is totally common and then other not-that-different social circles where it's weird, and if you step from one to the other it can get confusing. If you knew a very slightly different set of people you'd probably find tons of folks who do this.
posted by Frowner at 8:37 AM on October 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

I would add to my above answer that it is mostly the bottoms I wear. On top I already have a t-shirt, a long sleeve dress shirt and a sweater if it is real cold. Under my suit pants or jeans on the weekend, I rock the thermals.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:38 AM on October 25, 2013

I'm in Maine, and it's not uncommon, esp. for women, to wear silk long underwear under work clothes. It's warm, light and doesn't bunch up. Like many Mainers, I keep my house cool, so I don't wear a thermal layer at work, because it's heated to 70, and I would be too warn in the office. Pretty much everybody layers up to go outside, whether it's flannel-lined jeans, tights, layers of sweaters, etc., cause it's cold out there, and heating oil is expensive. Good chance I won't turn the heat on until November, though I had a fire this morning.
posted by theora55 at 8:38 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I live in minnesota. I don't wear thermals regularly and don't know anybody who does -- barring a specific outdoor activity in the cold winter days, like ice fishing or snowshoeing.

But who cares? Are you comfortable? Good!
posted by J. Wilson at 8:38 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your coworkers are weird. I live in Canada, and although I know lots of people who don't wear official longjohns or whatever, nobody would think it was weird (unless they were from another culture), and pretty much everybody layers their clothes. Like, seriously, it's not even something you think about, it's just how you get dressed.
posted by windykites at 8:38 AM on October 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I live in Pittsburgh. I commute by bus, which can mean a lot of time spent standing still outdoors waiting for a connection. So yeah, on particularly cold days I do bust out the base layer. Usually a fairly thin silk, but I do have a pair of hardcore warm pajama-looking thermals around somewhere.

I have no idea whether that's typcal, I've never discussed it with my coworkers.

I do remember that when my relatives moved from California to New York, they started wearing daily long underwear pretty much on September 1, and moaning bitterly about the cold. And I did laugh at them sort of a lot about that, poor wimpy Californians.

Which is to say there's probably a spectrum of this, like anything else, and whatever you do can qualify as 'normal' in my book.
posted by Stacey at 8:40 AM on October 25, 2013

As someone who grew up in Texas, I was a real baby about the cold when I lived in Chicago. I would usually wear silks under my jeans in the winter, but only because I had to walk everywhere. It would start to drive me crazy when I was all layered up indoors all day, because the buildings were heated well and I'd overheat. Maybe that's what they're feeling?
posted by marshmallow peep at 8:40 AM on October 25, 2013

Also, be proud of your common sense. Your coworkers may scoff, but you're comfortable.
posted by theora55 at 8:40 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

P.S. I work in a university setting with a lot of PhDs.

This is a demographic I'm familiar with. For what it's worth, I would not hold these people up as the gold standard common sense.
posted by phunniemee at 8:41 AM on October 25, 2013 [70 favorites]

I grew up in Minnesota. Seems kinda weird to me - but I run hot enough that 20-40s are still tshirt weather.

The main thing is though - if you're comfortable, then you're comfortable. I got frostbite on my ears as a teenager because it wasn't "cool" to wear a hat. Now, they hurt like hell whenever they get a little cold or sunburned.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:41 AM on October 25, 2013

I live in MN and I know lots of people (including myself) who wear thermals under their office clothes. I suspect that there is also a significant amount of under reporting in this region because, well, we're Minnesotans and are not prone to conversing about our underclothes.
posted by Think_Long at 8:41 AM on October 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

My mother-in-law, long time New Englander, spent the winter wearing things like wool tights under her trousers, flannel lined jeans (LL Bean has them and they are great), and other types of layers and warm stuff. She did this all the time, even if she was inside all day. This is pretty common in New England, and particularly with my relatives who don't have central heat (surprisingly common in New England), or who keep the heat low since heat is expensive. You are perfectly normal. (Actually, my apartment in the DC area gets pretty cold in the winter and I was thinking of getting one of these fleece lined flannel shirts from LL Bean; wear what makes you comfortable is my motto.)
posted by gudrun at 8:44 AM on October 25, 2013

Silk thermals can change your life.
posted by xingcat at 8:45 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I wear silk thermals in winter in Delaware. Not every day but on really cold days. I prefer to wear layers rather than one big heavy coat.
posted by interplanetjanet at 8:46 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

+1 for silk thermals from VT. Cozy.
posted by slateyness at 8:49 AM on October 25, 2013

The fact that thermal underwear exists is proof enough that people wear it. Maybe you need give your coworkers copies of the Winter Silks catalog.
posted by alms at 8:51 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm another one reporting from Minnesota that this is completely standard practice among most of my family and friends, myself included. God, I kind of to die at the mere thought of NOT wearing it regularly during winter.
posted by anderjen at 8:54 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I lived in Chicago, I would wear a long sleeve shirt, a short sleeve shirt, a long sleeve shirt again, a hoodie, and a coat in winter. This was normal for me for years.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 8:54 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I spent a lot of years in New York and Delaware and never knew there was anything beyond the standard long underwear which I thought was just worn on ski trips.

I only learned about everyday thermal layers (such as silk) in the past couple years (here on MetaFilter) and think it's a spendid idea.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:54 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am from the frozen plains of Saskatchewan. Long underwear is not a thing in my family, or in the community I grew up in, as far as I know. People either wear warmer winter clothing and heavy winter coats, but no underneath layer; or they just tough it out (seriously, high school me, what were you DOING wearing sneakers, jeans, and a corduroy coat in -15C weather?!). All public buildings and most if not all residences are very effectively heated throughout the winter. I think it's because our winters were really too cold to skimp on heat, so most people dress for central-heating-indoor temperatures (20-23Cish), and pile on the layers to go outside.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:54 AM on October 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

Former Minnesotan here; this is something I would do occasionally, but know others who did it often. Not weird.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:55 AM on October 25, 2013

In Montreal we do wear layers, but thermals for everyday would seem a bit odd - it's not Antarctica!
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 8:57 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I live in Michigan. Yesterday I thought, "Welp, just about time for the thermals!" I can't quite get them on yet because it's admitting that it's time for thermals until April. You're not weird.

I'd guess the PA and your PhD coworkers are from warmer climes who've not yet learned the wonderful ways of silky thermals.
posted by mibo at 8:58 AM on October 25, 2013

I never used to do this in the old days because the options back then were too-thick Duofolds, or irritating-to-my-skin silks. But since the advent of Smartwool and Heattech, I wear them probably five days out of seven in the winter.
posted by HotToddy at 8:58 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your coworkers are being rude and wearing long underwear is totally normal.
posted by Specklet at 8:58 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Admittedly, most of the Chicagoans I know prefer to just tough it out in sweaters and big coats and, more than that, stay inside a lot through the cold season (can't rightly call it "winter," as it runs from mid-October to INFINITY every damned year).

I personally can't stand underlayers, they make me feel like an itchily suffocating mummy. But I can't imagine thinking someone was odd for wearing long-johns or silk thermals or whatever. You do you!
posted by like_a_friend at 9:00 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

My wife and I do it here in Boston.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:01 AM on October 25, 2013

They're pretty great, especially for sedentary office work -- it doesn't make sense to heat buildings to what's comfortable for that in winter. Also, if your work clothes aren't particularly heavy it can make more sense to just layer up rather than to get expensive winter-weight professional clothing.

Alternatively, taking thirty seconds every hour or two to do some jumping jacks or squats or whatever goes a long way toward staying warm while working a desk job.
posted by asperity at 9:03 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rock'in the thermals in Bozeman, Montana!
posted by matty at 9:04 AM on October 25, 2013

I wear thermals to work if I have to take the bus to or from work; I remove them when I get to work (quick change in the bathroom). I live in Edmonton; my tolerance level is down to about -20°C before I need them.

People who scoff at the idea of thermals have, perhaps, never spent 10+ minutes standing outside in temperatures so cold your boogers are freezing to the inside of your nose. Extra layers are a gift from the Gods at that point.
posted by Nyx at 9:08 AM on October 25, 2013

I grew up in Michigan, and live there still, and it is, in my experience, totally not a thing in lower Michigan to normally wear thermals or otherwise dress as if weather is a serious thing. I'm always struck when I visit Vermont or Minnesota by how people there dress as if the weather is actually happening, and I'm not sure why we don't more commonly do that here, both with regards to things like undergarments and with regard to outerwear and serious boots.
posted by not that girl at 9:11 AM on October 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

DC government worker. I walk about 30 minutes each way to and from work, and I wear thermal leggings under my office khakis any day it's under 40. Start with silk, move on to warmer stuff as winter progresses.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:13 AM on October 25, 2013

Life-long Minnesotan here.
In my business-casual office, I've never worn or seen anyone wearing a base layer. Maybe because it gets ungodly warm in the office some days, and we all keep a sweater at our desk for the ungodly-cold days.
It's easier to put on more clothes (a sweater) than to take them off (thermals) so I dress for the office and freeze outside.
posted by Coffeemate at 9:13 AM on October 25, 2013

I lived in New York for years and routinely wore a base layer top during the winter. I tended not to wear thermal bottoms because I found them bulky and unecessary with jeans, wool socks, a long coat, etc. Though I did have leg warmers I would sometimes wear. In my understanding this is totally common practice, and I had many conversations with friends about the best kind of thermals, whether spending more on icebreaker marino wool is worth it, etc. I don't know that every single person in New York was also wearing base layers, but definitely not uncommon especially for people who work in casual environments and have to be outdoors sometimes during the day.

That said, I'd think it a little weird if a guy in a business suit rolled up his sleeves to reveal a sporty polypro base layer. But I never lived in Michigan.
posted by Sara C. at 9:16 AM on October 25, 2013

I lived in Michigan until I was in my early 30s, and I only did this when I expected to be outside for most of the day in sub-freezing weather, for hikes, day-long bike rides (a local organization held wintertime "ride the temperature" events), or a job unloading trucks. As someone else noted, wearing thermal underwear indoors is not a thing there. I think the general perception is that the people who are wearing long underwear are laborers or going hunting.

In my case, indoor temperatures are too warm for this to be comfortable 100% of the time, unless the heating is malfunctioning--I'd be sweating in minutes. I think there may be a couple of things at work here (beyond individual preferences):

1. America keeps its indoor temperatures at historically unprecedented levels, and this suggests an explanation for the existence of (anachronistically) overwarm indoor clothing like long underwear, three-piece suits or suits with a sweater under the jacket, etc. According to this article, indoor temperatures in Britain have increased from 12°C/53.6°F (!) in 1970 to 17.5°C/63.5°F today. My current workplace never drops below 70°F, and if it does, someone calls Engineering and complains.

2. Women's clothing tends to be considerably less substantial than equivalent menswear: skirts tend to end at the knee (like shorts!), tops are sleeveless or have three-quarter length sleeves, sweaters are gauzy, etc. Even the jeans are thinner.
posted by pullayup at 9:18 AM on October 25, 2013

Now that we've had a little cold snap, one of my coworkers asked, in all seriousness, if I've started wearing my "pajamas" under my clothes again. WTF?

Possible response: 'you know that stuff you see through windows? It's called 'outside', and some of us enjoy spending time there, even in winter.'

Totally normal-- a mark of hardiness, in fact.
posted by jamjam at 9:18 AM on October 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm from Texas, was turned on to long underwear by my Mormon family in Colorado, and no one ever said anything about it when I lived in Chicago. I pity the fool who doesn't know about thermals.
posted by cmoj at 9:20 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The division between long-underwear wearers and abstainers is an old one. Here's a scene from J.F. Powers' 1963 novel, Morte d'Urban, which is set in a monastic retreat in northern Minnesota:

[Father Urban, who has caught a head cold staying in unheated quarters] came to the table sneezing.

"Oh, oh. I was afraid of that," Wilf said. "And I'll bet you're not wearing long underwear."

"No, as a matter of fact, I'm not."

"I knew it. I was the same way once." Wilf said he'd got over his pride, or whatever it was that kept people from wearing long underwear, and so had brother Harold. "I'll bet you wore it when you were a kid."

Father Urban granted that he had.

"Well, there you are. You'd be surprised how many people wear long underwear, and not just old people, and not just farmers around here. What would you say if I told you lots of people in Chicago and New York, quite young people, wear long underwear?"

"You may be right."

"That's what I mean. Who's to know?"

Father Urban had run across dedicated wearers of long underwear before. They were very sensitive people who were best humored in their cause, but this wasn't easy to do without seeming to give in to them and it.

posted by otio at 9:20 AM on October 25, 2013 [19 favorites]

Also, re working in an academic setting -- are most of your colleagues originally from cold climates? My step-sister is a medical resident in Michigan and is constantly whining about temperatures that don't phase Michiganders (we're from the south). My theory is that she hasn't figured out all the tricks to layering yet, especially base layers. In the south (and other warmer parts of the US?), people tend to just put a coat on over regular clothes rather than bundling up properly.

So it's possible that these people are not from Michigan and are secretly miserable and wondering how the hell the locals can possibly stand such cold weather.
posted by Sara C. at 9:23 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

L'Estrange Fruit: "In Montreal we do wear layers, but thermals for everyday would seem a bit odd - it's not Antarctica!"

Heh, I was coming in to say that in Montreal when I was at school there, I'd only ever go with the thermals when I woke up in the morning and the weatherperson would say "Good morning, today it's colder here in Montreal than it is at the North Pole!"

This happened entirely too often. With wind chill and it being -40 for two weeks in a row?! Yes please to the thermals!
posted by Grither at 9:23 AM on October 25, 2013

And fun fact: No, I don't need to specify C or F in my last post, that's the temp where they're the same!
posted by Grither at 9:25 AM on October 25, 2013 [13 favorites]

I often wear thermal/ silks under dress pants to work in Virginia. My winter chill sets in once the weather dips under 70 degrees.
posted by JennyJupiter at 9:27 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm from Chicago and live in Minnesota. It is too warm in my office for long underwear. I was wearing a sweater inside yesterday and am wearing a flannel shirt now. When it's below zero, I wear long underwear to the bus and then pull it up above my knees when I get to campus (granted, our climate control is bad--you sometimes have to roll your jeans up as far as possible too). If I had a car, I doubt I would ever wear it. I would think you weird for wearing long underwear every day in winter.

My mother lives in Vermont and primarily heats her house with a wood stove. I wear long underwear there because those whole house is freezing aside from the room with the stove and the kitchen.
posted by hoyland at 9:28 AM on October 25, 2013

NYC, pretty much everyone I know here will do this in the bitter cold of January. This is a super common thing everywhere I have ever been that has an actual cold winter. Not necessarily thermals, but tights/extra socks/long sleeves under sweaters/etc. Your PhD coworkers are perhaps not very clever or practical, or possibly they are grasping randomly in desperation to find something silly about which to tease you.
posted by elizardbits at 9:29 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

On reflection, my answer might change a little if I wore dress pants. Nice trousers are not exactly remotely warm. Removable layers on the top half, though.
posted by hoyland at 9:29 AM on October 25, 2013

I moved to Northern Indiana from Australia, my husband and his family all run around half dressed all winter in some weird display of "Im so tough macho BS" but I need and love my thermals, I thank Cuddle Duds for existing every chilly winter day. I usually wear the leggings and a top under whatever I'm wearing. If anyone says anything they are rude it is none of their business, and hey if they want to play masochist and insist they are plenty warm while shivering like idiots let them. I'll wear my thermals and wool jumpers and thik parkas and wool socks and be cosy thank you very much (and save on my heating bill).

Next time any of them comment, look at them askance and ask them why they are so interested in what you wear under your clothes. That'll shut them up.
posted by wwax at 9:30 AM on October 25, 2013

I'm up at the 59th parallel in Northern Alberta (8 hours north of Edmonton). I'm from the West Coast originally so while I'm entering my fifth winter up here, I'm still a total baby about (and hate hate hate) the cold. Winter temps often hover at the -25C (-13F) mark and we usually get 3 weeks or so at -40C (-40F, as Grither points out).

That said, I don't know anyone up here who layers under dress clothes. Tradesmen working outdoors, absolutely, but not office employees.

I'm guessing the difference, though, is that it's a tiny town and there's no public transportation. You park your vehicle, get into a building fast (whether it's work or the grocery store) and get back to the vehicle just as quickly. Couple of minutes outdoors at the most, and everyone leaves their vehicles running (or warms them up before leaving the house/work), so most times you're getting into a toasty warm car or truck. The only time I personally layer is when I take my dogs to the park. If I had to spend more than those couple of minutes outdoors on my commute to work, I'd likely layer too.
posted by mireille at 9:42 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I grew up in Central/Northern NY State (Oswego County). So yeah, pretty cold and snowy for a good chunk of the year. Thermal underwear are pretty common, and I can't imagine anyone scoffing at it in that part of the world. In fact they'd probably not remark on it at all, it being such an obvious adaptation to Upstate NY weather. On the other hand, a lot of people I knew, and I myself, chose to forego thermal underwear for either dressing in layers (eg. thin shirt or blouse, sweater, coat) or no extra clothing at all because when it's that cold outside, you're going to be indoors most of the time anyways, and if you get overheated indoors it's easier to remove a sweater and hang out in a presentable t-shirt or blouse than to have to I don't know, find a bathroom to remove thermal unmentionables.
posted by katyggls at 9:44 AM on October 25, 2013

Midwesterner here: I only have a few officially-thermal-undewear pieces; I mostly wear sweater tights, long sleeve t-shirts under short sleeve tops, and the like during the winter.

You're totally normal.

Your coworkers don't seem to understand layering for warmth.
posted by RainyJay at 9:44 AM on October 25, 2013

On the one hand, I live in Buffalo and don't own thermals. In winter I wear pretty much the same jeans-tshirt-sweater as in October, but with a jacket + toque + gloves.

On the other hand, I am naturally well insulated.

On the gripping hand, I can't quite imagine being enough of a dick to remark about thermals being weird, especially given the display of sartorial majesty that universities commonly provide. I can, however, imagine calling a friend(ly acquaintance) who wore thermals in 40F a candyass.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:44 AM on October 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

Silk thermals in NYC here.

Once I did wear silk PJs under my work pants.
posted by bunderful at 9:50 AM on October 25, 2013

Currently live in New York, grew up in New England, only wear thermal underclothing on occasion.

But I think that the whether-you-do-or-don't issue for a given individual is highly dependent on a few things:

a) Whether they grew up in a cold climate, and are therefore accustomed to the cold and end up not needing an extra layer;

b) Whether or not they're in the habit of just turning the heat up;

c) Whether they may spend most of the day in a warm room, and would thus only need the warmer layers when they're outside;

d) Personal comfort with the extra bulk a thermal underwear layer would often give; and

e) The perceived attractiveness of the thermal shirt itself.

I grew up in New England, but we also used a woodstove to heat the house; so I got used to a fairly chilly climate growing up. Compare that to New York, which is a bit warmer - but it's often really warm inside, because most apartment buildings use steam heat where the heat is always either "on" or "off", and when it's "on" it is turned up to "the fires of Mount Doom" level heat. So most people in the city only need the extra layers for outside, and so you're more likely to see two or three extra sweaters than you are a thermal base layer. If I wore a thermal layer I'd be stripping down to that inside, and those things ain't quite fit for public viewing.

However, more than a few people may be using some kind of clandestine heat-retaining garment as their main garment, so it does double duty as their regular shirt. A lot of people may have just switched to that because it's easier.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:59 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I moved to NYC from the South and have occasionally gotten teased about wearing long underwear ("where do you think we are, Alaska?"). My general response is to be smug as hell about how warm i am while they walk around in 10 degree weather with their legs covered only by a single layer of denim, the fools!
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:06 AM on October 25, 2013

Oh man, I'm from MN and I always wear long underwear in the winter...and until now, I always thought I was just a (totally smart and warm) dork...I had no idea all you other thermal-wearin' folks existed! It's a beautiful thing to feel all warm and toasty while breathing in that crisp air!
posted by hannahelastic at 10:11 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

My experience living in Michigan was a lot like not that girl's. I (and other people, as far as I know) never wore base layers unless we were doing a specifically outside-all-day activity (skiing, sledding, shoveling snow all day). Most of my time in the suburban Detroit winters were spent going from house to car to school/work. I've definitely seen (and committed) the sneering denial of the weather that she describes.

Now in NYC I'll sometimes wear tights under jeans when it's really cold out, but generally stick with layering on the outerwear instead of underwear.

I would much rather be cold than even a little bit over-warm, so take my experience with a grain of salt
posted by twoporedomain at 10:11 AM on October 25, 2013

I wear thermals in Minnesota and no one thinks I'm weird. I wore them in New York and people were always startled (and complaining about being cold).
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:22 AM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would just like to thank everyone for all the new sources I now have to surrepticiously & slimly stay warm now.

And if your coworkers think you have 3 heads, then you can borrow all their hats since they don't seem to need them.
posted by yoga at 10:30 AM on October 25, 2013

When I lived in Chicago, it was silk thermals on top and tights or pantyhose on my legs. Both were comfy and kept me warm outside and didn't make me a sweaty mess indoors. Why endure painful bone-chill when you don't have to? Your colleagues may have PhD's, but their winter comfort skills seem suspect.
posted by quince at 10:33 AM on October 25, 2013

I don't do this, because I think that northern places in the US vastly overheat the indoors in the winter, but it's totally logical if you run cold. I would do it if that were the case (instead I basically have to strip down every time I enter a building.)
posted by andrewesque at 10:43 AM on October 25, 2013

I grew up in Minnesota. Now I live in Rhode Island. I work at a .edu.

Sometimes I wear a long-sleeve silk shirt under my work clothes, but my office is pretty warm so I usually only do that on the weekends. I have flannel-lined khaki pants for the workweek from back a couple years when my desk was in a really cold area; I also have flannel-lined jeans for the weekend.

None of this is visible, but no one would care if they knew I was dressed warmly.

(Yes, it gets cold in Rhodey, though I admit my tolerance has slipped since my childhood. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:47 AM on October 25, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks folks! Such a plethora of brilliant responses. I feel less addled about the whole thing. To clarify, I was confounded by the fact that they were confounded. I can take a good joke, but this wasn't joking. The reaction I got was as if I'd said I pour milk on my cereal, and people were behaving as if it was the craziest thing they'd ever heard, when I was under the impression that it's the norm. (Actually I eat my cereal dry and people do find it odd, but I can understand that. They also don't make such a big deal of it). While it's likely true, as pullayup noted, that "the general perception [in MI] is that the people who are wearing long underwear are laborers or going hunting," my coworkers didn't even broach that. They were simply floored, and under such circumstances, I kind of lost my bearings and needed a reality check, which has been entertainingly and cathartically provided.

To further throw me off guard, most of this group of people are all from Michigan. I grew up in Michigan as well, and I grew up wearing this stuff but back when it was all 100% cotton, waffle print and not very effective and uncomfortable to boot. I thought maybe they didn't realize that the world of base layers has become oh-so-much-more sophisticated, but no. A couple people in this thread did explain something to me that I guess I wasn't really aware of but upon thinking about seems, at least anecdotally, to be true: not that girl wrote, "I grew up in Michigan, and live there still, and it is, in my experience, totally not a thing in lower Michigan to normally wear thermals or otherwise dress as if weather is a serious thing." Yes, I've noticed -- like people wearing Chuck Taylors in 4 inches of snow.

I have to admit that, that after reading her comment I realized that most of what I learned about base layers, I learned in San Francisco with its crazy micro-climates and notorious fog. Interestingly, I had a much harder time dealing with the low 60s cold damp there than I do with the 25F dry bitter chill where I am now. Three cheers for HeatTech, Icebreaker merino wool, LL Bean fleece-lined flannel shirts, Cuddl Duds, and all the like. Now I no longer sit with space heater on my lap when I'm at desk.

Another good thing I pulled out of all this is that in some places, like Alaska, according to bswinburn, people tend to wear "clothing that was designed for the cold," like flannel-lined jeans, hence no need for base layering. Saskatchewan's snorkmaiden mirrored that with her response that it's typically well-heated indoors. My office is cold and home heating costs force me to keep the thermostat at a pretty brisk 62F for as long as I can humanly stand it and then push it up a few degrees when the coldest part of winter comes along. It was also pointed out that women's clothing does tend to be less substantial than men's.

I chuckled at the "we're Minnesotans and are not prone to conversing about our underclothes," comment and the multitude of favorites for phunniemee's advice not to hold PhDs up as the gold standard of common sense. Yup, that's why I mentioned it in my question. I read the gold standard comment to a coworker who defended her dissertation yesterday. I couldn't tell if her response was a smile or a grimace. It's probably the same expression I have on my face when I'm too cold.

Thanks everybody!
posted by lolo341 at 11:16 AM on October 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

It depends on the indoor temperature. I live in Sweden where it is always toasty warm inside and a base layer would be too warm. When I lived in London I wore a base layer inside my flat - and sometimes even a hat and scarf.
posted by three blind mice at 11:48 AM on October 25, 2013

I live in Florida and I would wear silk thermal underclothes if I had a set in our winters.

We're talking about a season that sees a low in the mid thirties, which happens a few times a year. So while this is anecdotal, I do not think that you are the least bit crazy.
posted by bilabial at 11:56 AM on October 25, 2013

I'm currently living in Montana and have worn thermals and know that others do as well!
posted by at 12:34 PM on October 25, 2013

I live in Michigan and I have a PhD, but I wear long underwear bottoms if it's under 30F. However, I grew up in a warm climate, so I'm probably weird. Also I walk and take the bus. If I'm pregnant I'll take them off indoors. There's just very little else you can do too keep legs warm, unlike torsos that have turtle necks and sweaters and coats.
posted by SandiBeech at 12:58 PM on October 25, 2013

Michigander. Don't wear them unless I'm going to be spending some non-trivial amount of time outdoors. Like others, both my house and workplace are kept too warm to have that layer under pants at all times.
posted by pardonyou? at 1:06 PM on October 25, 2013

I live in Michigan and I think this is likely to be a division between people who rely on cars to go pretty much everywhere, and people who walk, cycle, use transit, or otherwise actually have to encounter the cold for long. What with the industry making cars here and our largest metro area having a transit system that isn't as robust as other cities its geographic size and isn't as compact as other cities its demographic size, the only reason I would even hesitate to assume that you're encountering very few people spending more than 5 minutes outside on a regular basis is that you mention a university, where people tend to get forced out of their cars more often.

I grew up here my whole life and remember crappy longjohns as a kid, but I somehow froze to death walking around college dressed not at all for the weather in just regular shoes and jeans and a coat, as people are mentioning here, so maybe that is a weird Michigan quirk, too, I don't know. I know a whole lot of people who basically wear a coat, and maybe gloves, and that's it. Anyway, I got some nice thermal stuff after college because I had a field job and I found it in the sporting goods stores, not in the regular apparel section, and was surprised by how much better it was than the stuff I had as a kid.
posted by zizania at 1:14 PM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I live in Michigan - and live/work in a leaky old house built in 1900 - I rely on my long johns and wool socks once it gets cold. And yes - I spend a lot of time outdoors.
posted by leslies at 1:41 PM on October 25, 2013

I live in Vermont and am a big fan of silk long underwear and so are most of my friends and neighbors. We're also not that dressy here, so that may help. We also keep our heat really low because we are Yankees and so the standard is to dress as if things might be a little chilly, even indoors.
posted by jessamyn at 1:44 PM on October 25, 2013

I live and grew up in Alaska and haven't worn thermals since I was living in Fairbanks with its -40 and colder for weeks and weeks at a time. Even in Anchorage when it is below zero for a few weeks during the winter I still don't wear thermals.
posted by rhapsodie at 2:03 PM on October 25, 2013

P.S. I work in a university setting with a lot of PhDs.

Because I married an academic I have now lived in 3 countries and something like 7 different cities (I've lost count). We've repeatedly been the ignorami (uses?) who asked questions like these about local customs and habits. When people don't know things it is not because you or they are weird. It is just that they don't know something for some reason.

I also wear a thermal layer in the winter now. I didn't used to though as before I had a nice insulating layer of fat.
posted by srboisvert at 3:02 PM on October 25, 2013

I live in Edmonton where the winters are long and cold, and I'm also in an academic environment. My experience is that most people don't wear thermals, unless the temperature dips below -30 C (-20 F). Mind you, I have also seen people wearing mini-skirts (with no leggings) at -20 C and some people walk between campus buildings in tshirts ... Sorry, the only validation I can provide for you is that I think these people are crazy (or actually Canadian). If the temperature is about -20C or below I wear thermals to work but take them off when I get there (most buildings are heated to 20-25C, no matter what the temperature is outside).
posted by piyushnz at 4:03 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I lived in western Michigan until my early 20's (didn't have a car for most of the time). In a house that had been something of a music scene hub (for "emo" music back when that was a genre of punk), my housemates and guests coveted my silk thermals even more than my white motorcycle boots. I'd been receiving them since I was in kindergarten and most of my gifts from Michigan continue to come from Land's End. Everybody else (probably close to 100%?) wore waffle weave "long johns." (Almost nobody had cars and also walked everywhere) In the not-so-sunny but milder northwest, it's actually been a challenge not to layer so much. Here, it is weird and not needed! I asked for a halt to the thermals awhile ago.

Your coworkers are nuts.
posted by sweltering at 4:35 PM on October 25, 2013

I live in Melbourne, Australia, where it doesn't even snow in the city. When it's cold I often wear thermal gear under my work clothes so I don't have to deal with super bulky winter clothes. Having a snug thermal top means I can wear a dress and jacket all year without freezing yay.
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet at 8:03 PM on October 25, 2013

I live in Michigan, and the people that I know that are sensitive to cold don't wear thermal layers under their clothes, they wear thermal layers over their clothes (sweaters and fleeces) in the winter.

(If we're talking about the wisdom of the base layer, I would say that it is a lot easier to wear your normal clothes + a sweater or fleece because you can always off the sweater to be cooler and still look normal. If you wear a thermal under-layer and become too hot, you're kind of stuck, as you cannot go walking around in your long underwear. As far as I am concerned, thermal underwear is for outdoor activities and is impractical for being indoors in the winter)
posted by 517 at 8:19 PM on October 25, 2013

Well, some of us do both, 517. I keep a fleece at work plus wear long underwear bottoms for a good portion of the winter here in eastern WA. What I find is that with women's clothing, you often have multiple layers on top and only one--pants--on the bottom, so I need the long underwear to keep my legs from getting cold and my skin irritated from being cold. On the rare occasions that I get too warm, I can take the long underwear off in the bathroom and stick it in my purse.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 8:53 PM on October 25, 2013

Here in NYC, my fiancee and I wear Underarmour under our clothes - both dressy and casual - during the winter. Pretty much anytime it's under 35-40 F for me.
posted by gchucky at 9:28 PM on October 25, 2013

I live in Moscow, Russia and as someone from Alaska mentioned above, most of the winter clothes here have a built-in layer for the cold. Jeans lined with flannel, coats with fleece linings (not going to get into furs here), and ALL of the boots are lined with a faux-fur sort completely on the inside. In offices, the metro stations, and common areas, the heating is on full blast so if you're wearing some sort of a base layer you would just melt to death.

When I lived in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and the general New England area, I was constantly cold so would also wear what you call a base-layer underneath. So I don't think it's unusual.
posted by peachtree at 11:17 PM on October 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm from Michigan. This is what I wore to walk to class in the winter:
Silk sock liners
Wool socks
Tights or silk long johns
Heavy coat
Glove liners and waterproof gloves
Earmuffs or hat
....and then you get outside and the wind would still cut right through you. And then you get to class and shed layers as you start sweating.
posted by 41swans at 5:47 PM on October 26, 2013

I live in southern Mississippi and I do this on occasion now that the materials are so light and comfortable. I dress for how cold I actually feel, not for how cold "they" tell me it should feel like.
posted by thebrokedown at 9:40 PM on October 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Late to the party, but...I live in New York and I do not wear thermals under my clothes unless a) it is very cold and b) I will be outside for an extended period. This is because I find the idea of thermal sticking to my skin in my oft-overheated office to be more uncomfortable than being cold on my 5-minute walk to the subway. But I dislike heat more than most people and I wouldn't judge you for your long underwear.
posted by breakin' the law at 12:03 PM on October 29, 2013

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