Give it your best shot, Frosty
August 27, 2014 8:10 AM   Subscribe

I've never had "winter clothes" before and this year I want to actually be warm and have at least a little sanity to how I deal with being outside. Given the circumstances below, does The Green have any advice?

This will be my third winter in Seattle after having lived in Texas my whole life. The most winter thing I've ever owned is a somewhat comfortable coat and a couple of cheap pairs of gloves. My problem is that I don't know what, if anything, I should buy beyond that. This is probably the most basic question ever yet I have to ask since 90% of my clothing is blue jeans and some form of t-shirt or polo. I also want to start looking now before everybody else thinks "hey, it's cold outside, let's go buy everything off the rack at REI!"

I'm tall and overweight so I usually buy things in XXXL, especially shirts. Baggy is OK and comfortable...

My commute to work is entirely by bus and I have a transfer in the middle so I stand outside for between 5 and 15 minutes. Difficulty: night shift, so I'm leaving for work well after the sun goes down in Seattle between October and February.

Should I buy winter boots or just stick with my sneakers and some thick socks?

Gloves? Insulated? Usable with a touch screen?

Is there a particular kind of coat or jacket people like? I don't have to look professional when I get to work and I do have an office of my own where I can stash stuff but I don't sit in my office during my shift. My goal is to be warm and mostly dry while having somewhat easy access to my phone (gotta be able to check those texts while on the bus). Bonus points if I can crumple it up into my backpack--even if it makes the pack a little overstuffed--while out and about on my weekend.

I carry a regular $30 backpack that I got from a discount place. It's not waterproof by any means and it's a bit of a tight fit over my usual coat but it has a million pockets. Usually my lunch, tablet, and a few random cords for electronics are in it. How important is a backpack in this "ensemble?" (I'm a bit round so messenger bags don't really work for me.)

What about pants? Like I said, I'm usually just in blue jeans which makes for cold legs. Is that a "just deal with it" since I can't really change wardrobes once I'm at work?

Cost is not a major factor, though it would be nice if all of this could come in under the price of an off-contract iPhone 5s...

Thanks a bunch, folks.
posted by fireoyster to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Get silk long johns for your commute to wear under your jeans. You can take them off when you get to work and they don't take up much space--you can roll them up in your backpack.

Yes, get boots. Sneakers let in a lot of cold air. Just get whatever is best-rated for men's winter boots on Under them, smartwool socks--they don't have to be very thick.
posted by chaiminda at 8:17 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Winter hats are really good, you should get one.
posted by steinwald at 8:17 AM on August 27, 2014

Get things made out of Merino wool. You don't need a lot of it - a handful of pairs of socks for the cold days, and a pair of rights and a longsleeve undershirt for the cold days.
posted by entropone at 8:20 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ditto on the long johns. I have switched to thin Under Armor and I don't even always remove it when I get to work.
posted by BibiRose at 8:21 AM on August 27, 2014

Darn Tough wool socks are great and come in lots of sizes and thicknesses. I wear them year round in fact and my feet are pretty happy even if they get wet. Bonus: made in the US if that matters.

Also, I know you are keeping your costs down, but I'm going to suggest Danner boots (who also have a number of made in the US boots). They have a store in Renton. They aren't cheap but they are the best boots I've ever worn. Buy once and buy right, you know? Well-made, no break-in time, v comfortable, will last forever.

And as far as other clothing, what about stashing additional clothing at work? If you get soaked, you can change there and not have to work in damp clothing all day? You can hang up your commute clothing to dry during the day. (I recognize this might be a hassle for a bus commute.)

Stay warm!
posted by Beti at 8:24 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is there a particular kind of coat or jacket people like?

So, I live in Chicago. It gets cold here. The coat that wins here (at least in my opinion, having moved here from the south a decade ago) is made out of wool, long enough to cover your butt and at least part of your thighs, and has a collar substantial enough you can turn it up against the wind. Like a pea coat.

However, several years ago a friend from Seattle visited (a person who has lived his entire life on the west coast) and laughed at us squares in our "formal" coats. He was wearing a parka like this one.

Having never been to Seattle myself, I don't know if there's a practical difference in how each coat style fares against the particulars of the local weather or if it's more just a fashion thing; you would probably be in a better position to judge this than I am.

Pants: wear longjohns for an extra layer. If you get hot at work you can always go into the bathroom and take them off.
Feet: get really good wool socks and something more substantial than a sneaker so it'll keep out the damp.
Hands: I have a pair of touch screen gloves that are actually pretty good, but a lot of brands can be hit or miss. Definitely try out a few pairs in the store to see what works for you.

Coats are super expensive but a high quality coat will last at least several years. I justify it thusly: you have about four months a year of winter coat weather, or about 120 days. Let's say your coat costs $300. Even if you only use it for two years, that comes to $1.25 a day. Is it worth a dollar and twenty-five cents to you to be super warm (and, if you get a coat you really like, maybe fashionable at the same time)? It is to me.
posted by phunniemee at 8:24 AM on August 27, 2014

Seattle? You need warm layers, and a waterproof outer layer. Long-sleeve t-shirt or flannel with a sweater over it, and a hooded waterproof jacket with Thinsulate or some other thin, warm, water-repellent type thing. Boots are good, you can Scotchguard them for an extra layer of water-resistance. Buy them a half-size big to wear decently thick socks with them. And yes, silk long underwear on particularly cold days.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:25 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of touchscreen gloves. The Wirecutter recommends these. They won't keep your hands super warm, but they'll keep your fingers from freezing. Personally, I don't bother with insulated gloves unless I'm biking or I know I'm not going to be able to put my hands in my pockets (like if I'm carrying a bunch of stuff).

I also like silk long underwear under my jeans, though sometimes it's not quite cold enough for it. In those situations, I wear knee-high socks. They're easy to push down if you start to get too warm.

Hats help a lot, and they don't have to be expensive! You can get nice ones at places like REI, but even H&M sells simple cotton beanies for men (nice for non-freezing days). I'd get two or three, so they have time to dry out if you get caught in the rain or snow.
posted by neushoorn at 8:28 AM on August 27, 2014

I lived in Vancouver for years, and now live in even colder Ottawa.

In Seattle, you're dealing with moderate cold, near freezing and wet in the winter months. You want a mid-thigh or longer waterproof coat to start. This can cost a lot of money, but will last you a decade with care.

You can buy insulated ones, but, in a place as changeable as Seattle, I'd buy sweaters or fleeces to go underneath, over your work clothes.

Get a good hat and a pair of gloves. These will make you feel much warmer than you might expect.

Jeans are fine for most of the conditions you'll be in. I wear jeans alone at much lower temps for 5-10 minute periods. I only need long underwear for long periods (1hr+) outside.

For boots you have options. The sneakers will work ok for short periods, if you're careful, but it snow and slush they won't be fun. Leather boots should be treated with beeswax or snowgoo or something---they'll last much longer. GoreTex boots work, but are expensive. Insulated rubber boots are extremely long lasting, but a bit less stylish. You probably won't need Sorrels unless you go into the mountains.
posted by bonehead at 8:32 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

A note on fabrics too: wool and polypro (including fleeces) are still warm when wet. Cotton (t-shirts and jeans and underwear) is absolutely the worst thing ever for making people wet and cold.

One of the worst things in the winter is dressing too warmly, then starting to sweat underneath. Now you're stuck in clammy underthings on a cold day. Can make for a miserable afternoon. Silk (and polypro) wick the moisture off your skin---that's why it's so common for longjohns and undershirts. Silk is expensive, but easy to clean. Polypro is cheap, but will smell horrible after a day outside.
posted by bonehead at 8:40 AM on August 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hi. I went to college in the Finger Lakes region of central New York State, and I lived for several years in New England, so I've got quite a bit of experience with cold, snowy winters.

Layers, layers, layers. Flannel shirts (this can be a layer you take off). Warm socks. A good pair of boots. Gloves with Thinsulate or Gore-Tex. Using your phone while you're standing out in the cold isn't as important as staying warm. A hat.

Optionally, a backpack. You can pack regular shoes in it so you can change out of your boots when you get to the office instead of clunking around in them for your entire shift.

I find scarves to be pretty much useless, so I don't wear them.

Coats are expensive, but a nice, warm coat that will last many years is your most important piece of winter clothing. I'm not exactly sure as to your budget. I had an LL Bean Maine Warden's Parka that I loved, and it lasted at least 10 years, but I see they don't have them larger than size XXL. (Does "I usually buy things in XXXL" mean you can get away with XXL?)

I ski, so I have a North Face Prodigy coat "system" which I bought at REI about six years ago. I use this as my everyday coat. It's great because it has two layers. If it's really cold I'll wear both layers, but if it's not that cold out, I'll only wear the inner layer. I can't find a link to it, so maybe they don't sell it anymore, and I'm not sure if it comes in your size. There are also some bells and whistles you don't need (like an RFID chip that allows ski patrol personnel to locate you in the event of an avalanche), so that may not be appropriate for you.
posted by tckma at 8:41 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Get one pair of overkill mittens. Not crazy hiking mittens or anything, just something large, somewhat waterproof (i.e. not ragg wool) and heavily insulated. Expect to spend $20-30. Like this. It's easy to feel cold when your fingers get stiff, so put these on, and you will be magically warmer all over. You should also have a pair of thin touchscreen gloves, which you can use when it's not so cold, or while sitting on the bus, etc.

Snow pants (pants with an insulation layer and a waterproof outer layer, designed to be worn on their own or over long johns or office slacks) are overkill for your situation - too bulky and hard to store in your backpack, and probably too warm for everything except a few days of a Seattle winter. Consider unlined wind pants - like a windbreaker layer you put on over your jeans, keeps them from getting damp, keeps the icy breeze out, wads up into a small ball in your backpack.

Alternately consider buying a long coat that covers down almost to your knee. Keeps the chill off your seat and upper thigh, and you've got boots keeping your ankles warm up to mid-calf, so it's really just your knees. The cut's not for everybody, though - try one on in the store and see if you can stand the look.
posted by aimedwander at 9:05 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Layers! I don't bother with long underwear and just wear a pair of leggings under pants when it is very cold outside. When it got very cold last year, I wore two pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, a t-shirt, long sleeve t-shirt, sweater, fleece jacket, coat, two pairs of gloves, hat and a scarf. I usually buy cheap hats and gloves so I'm not too bothered if I lose one. I don't have winter boots but I wear leather riding boots frequently once there's a chill in the air.

As for fabrics, honestly, I mostly stick with cotton because I'm cheap and lazy. When I get to my office, I shed my coat, hat, gloves and sometimes boots and sweater so I'm cool enough inside and I limit my time outside because it's cold. Also, at one point, I bought a ton of hand warmers and they made me happy when it was chilly.

I'd invest in a coat because you'll wear it every day when it's cold. I'd also maybe get a few hats, scarves, and pairs of gloves that you like enough to wear. My husband just gets cheap knit hats that cover his ears. A scarf can earn you some style points without much effort. And I might invest in a sweater or two but see if you actually wear them. Another reason I wear a lot of cotton is because my office gets too warm in the winter so wool and cashmere make me sweat. Maybe get some wool socks and if your feet are still cold, upgrade to a pair of boots. You don't have to do this all at once - see how it goes.
posted by kat518 at 9:10 AM on August 27, 2014

Seattle winter temperatures range from high 30s to low 50s (I don't know what the windchill rate is there). For me that means cords or moleskin pants, long sleeved shirts, wool socks, a field coat with a wool lining, gloves, scarf and a hat for the lower ranges. I've been told that it rarely snows there, so most of the time you'll be ok with walking shoes.
posted by brujita at 9:22 AM on August 27, 2014

Layers - leggins/thermals under your jeans will result in warm legs.

Shoes - boots normally have a more insulating sole to reduce the effect of standing on cold ground waiting for the bus for example. You could consider getting insulating insoles instead, assuming your trainers are water proof enough for winter.

Coat - should go well below your bum. Perhaps something that has an insulating layer you can unzip so you are left with a lighter top layer? Should have a hood. Should be wind and water proof. I'd go with a lighter coat and some additional layers underneath. That allows you more flexibility at work.

Gloves - When I lived in the UK (wet, cold but not normally below freezing) I often just pulled my sleeves down low over my hands so my hands didn't get too cold outside and didn't bother with gloves. If your hands get really cold consider fingerless gloves that leave the tips of your fingers uncovered or gloves that have a little flap you can use to cover the uncovered fingers when you don't need your finger tips.

Hat/Scarf - it's amazing how much warmer you feel if the cold wind doesn't go in through your coat collar and if your head is covered. Depending on how much you feel cold wind invest in a hat and scarf.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:26 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

For sweaters, those North Face fleeces are amazing. I stole one from my dad last year and will never go back. You can wear it as a jacket if it's not all that cold, but it also works well as a layer under a coat.

Also for a jacket in coldish, wet weather -- leather is fantastic. It's incredibly waterproof, and it's good for keeping you warm when it's cold out and cool when it's warm out. Plus, it lasts forever and only looks better with age. I've spent a lot of winters (in the Mid-Atlantic) with just a leather jacket and a good scarf.

For a coat, I personally prefer something that traps some air (so, anything vaguely quilted or puffy) and that's more waterproof than wool (so, pretty much some kind of nylon or polyester). I've got a big puffy winter coat that looks pretty flattering because of its cut, but that I can throw in the washing machine. Coats last for a long time and you wear them every day, so if you can, I would say go all out. Oh, and definitely get something that's long enough to cover you behind -- there's a huge difference in warmth, for some reason.

Hats matter more than gloves, I think. Beanies are nice, and ubiquitous -- you can get them in fleece also, if you're worried about the wet. They aren't expensive, and there's not really any use in going all out on a beanie, because you're liable to lose it eventually. You do want it to be big enough to comfortably cover at least some/most of your ears.

I love scarves, because they help keep your body warm and if it gets really cold/wet/horrible out you can also pull them over your mouth and nose. Personally, I like knitted scarves in acrylic because they're easy to wash and they look nice. Also, as long and as wide as possible, because you need it to be wide enough to pull over your mouth/nose if it's bad out and you need it to be long enough that even after you wrap it around your neck you've got it hanging down the front of your body to keep you all the way down and not just at your collar.

For boots, I actually like the ones made from PVC. They last a long time, is super warm, completely waterproof, and lightweight. I've even worn mine as snowboots during a blizzard with no problem.
posted by rue72 at 9:28 AM on August 27, 2014

Good grief, AskMe, where were you when I needed this question answered 18 years ago?

I went to college in the Finger Lakes region of central New York State

- me too (grad school), and what I learned after struggling through most of my first, brutal introduction to winter and snow and ice is what everyone else in this thread has already said: layers.

You want lots of layers, especially non-cotton ones. Modern fabrics are miraculous, but classic wool and silk are wonderful too. Also, from bitter experience, there's nothing as misery-inducing as cold, wet feet. Spend a bit extra on Gore-Tex lined (or similar) waterproof boots, pair with double socks - warm wool outers and sheer synthetic inners, for example, and that takes care of the worst of it.

Oh, and Seattle - get a real waterproof shell and possibly rain pants, depending on how much time you're outside. Sierra Trading Post used to be good for this sort of thing, but LLBean will work fine too.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:37 AM on August 27, 2014

It seems like most people in Seattle go the Gore-tex or Columbia-style raincoat w/hood, but I prefer a wool mid-thigh-length peacoat and an umbrella. Nobody's mocked me for it yet.

And yeah, Smartwool/Ibex/other merino (or silk, but I've never tried it) longjohns are the answer to the cold legs question. You can remove it once you get to work or not.
posted by librarina at 11:25 AM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

It doesn't get that cold in Seattle. The wind is also not a big factor. The element to really protect against is moisture from rain, wet snow, and sweat.

Nothing will make you feel colder than being wet in the winter with a bit of wind blowing over you.

Get water-proof boots. They don't have to be winter boots, but they should be thermal. I'd suggest wool socks, so when your feet get (inevitably!) wet or maybe clammy, they'll still be warm. But regardless: a spare pair of socks is nice to have on hand.

Rain-proof coat that allows layers underneath. Personally I think a long-sleeve shirt and some water-proof, wind-resistent hoodie coat of some kind. A big flannel shirt than you can wear under your coat is nice too. Just make sure your layers aren't too tight or they won't work so well together. I don't think it needs to be 3/4 length.. but couldn't hurt I suppose.

A toque. I like wool ones, but they are hard to find. If its raining or windy, you pull the hoodie over top.

No idea about texting gloveware.. if you're thinking about texting.. its not that cold.
posted by herox at 11:48 AM on August 27, 2014

I live in an area with depressingly long, wet winters, and the best investment I ever made was a pair of Mickey boots from an Army surplus catalog.

Before them, I was blowing through at least a pair of boots every winter, and wearing plastic bags inside them by March in the hopes that they would last until The Big Melt. In my Mickey boots, I can stomp through six inches of dirty gray snow slush all the way home and still have bone-dry socks and human-temperature feet at the end of the trip. I've owned other boots that CLAIMED to be waterproof, but these are the only ones that have lived up to it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:56 AM on August 27, 2014

Oh, with the boots/sneakers thing -- if your shoes do end up soaked through, when you get to work, take them off and stuff them with newspaper. Also, don't keep wet socks on if you can help it, because that's how you get a fungal infection. For winter socks, all else being equal, I again prefer acrylic over wool, because it washes better and isn't itchy, but YMMV. I'd prefer either over cotton, because they're warmer and thicker/cushier.

If possible, and if you run into the soaked shoes/socks issue a lot, it might also a good idea to keep a spare pair of socks and some lightweight shoes at your office or in your bag, just in case you do end up going through a puddle and needing to take off your commuting socks/shoes at work to let them dry all day.
posted by rue72 at 12:33 PM on August 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've mainly lived in Wisconsin, but I'm also bus rider and I feel your needs.

I've had great luck with "mucking out boots" -- thick rubber with a nice insole and steel arch. 100% waterproof! no seams to leak. They do get hot, so I wear a silky under sock plus a fluffy wool over sock. (I do switch to super insulated boots when it's below 5 degrees F, but slush isn't an issue then.)

You may wonder, do I wear these all day? No, you create an emergency clothing stash in your office. Keep a dry version of longjohns, shirt, two pair of socks, and comfy leather shoes (waterproofed). If you're in a car for lunch, no need to do the boots again.

There are sadly many chances where the clothing stash comes in handy:
- when the truck swerves the corner, plowing 200 feet of filthy water into you?
- the bus stops a foot further out and you land in between?
- during a flash flood, when a car gets stalled, and you help push them out of the intersection?

If you wear glasses, get a hat with a healthy brim. Tilley hats have always kept my spec dry, through rain, sleet and snow.
posted by Jesse the K at 12:38 PM on August 27, 2014

If (like me) you don't like the feeling of long johns under your jeans LLBean (and Dickies, from the look of it) make flannel lined jeans that are genius.

Yes, good shoes make a huge difference. I keep "work slippers" (ballet flats) at my desk to swap out.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:17 PM on August 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've lived in Vancouver (like Seattle: very wet, sometimes cold winters) and Montreal (God forsakingly cold).

I find my Acteryx hardshell jacket is useful year-round and I wear a fleece (I have a thin one and a thicker one) inside it when it's cold and just by itself when it's cool. The hardshell is thin and light, and I pack it around on days when rain is a possibility. Arcteryx can be very expensive but they have a lifetime guarantee. The zipper handle on my first hardshell broke and they replaced the entire jacket for free; they normally offer free repair but they felt that replacing the zipper assembly would compromise the water/windproofing of the jacket so they chose to give me a brand new jacket.

I have a pair of Columbia gore-tex lined winter boots but I rarely wear them in Vancouver. In the winter I usually wear Salomon gore-tex trail running shoes that are as comfortable as sneakers and waterproof.

Like others here, I highly recommend merino wool clothing. Light, warm, and it doesn't need to be washed frequently because bacteria doesn't grow on it.

On cold days, I make sure to tuck my tshirt into my pants. I find this makes a big difference in staying warm compared to just wearing it untucked, even if I have a sweater, fleece, and jacket on.
posted by praiseb at 9:34 PM on August 27, 2014

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