Non-scary winter face protection for a woman
January 8, 2015 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Help me find a "ski mask" type hat or scarf solution for freezing weather! Difficulty level: glasses.

I recently moved from a warm climate to New England, and winter has definitely arrived! I walk over a mile to work each way, so good winter gear has been a priority. I've obtained most of the winter clothing that I need, and most days it keeps me pretty warm. The big exception is my face. In 20 degrees + weather, I do fine, but with a windchill below zero the last few days, I have been suffering big time! I'm looking for some sort of face protection that doesn't make me look like I'm about to rob a convenience store. :) Any ideas? (For reference, I am a woman, but not opposed to uni-sex/gender neutral type options.)

Complication: I wear glasses (and cannot switch to contacts) so something that doesn't fog up my lenses or smash my glasses into my face would be awesome.

I am assuming that there are really no options that look even semi-professional, so I am planning to just take off whatever I find in the lobby of my building. But, if you do have a semi-professional option, do let me know!
posted by rainbowbrite to Shopping (24 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
There's been some discussion about this in this thread, and I agree with many of those responses that the best option is a good hat pulled down to your eyebrows plus a good long scarf wrapped around your lower face few times. Any ski mask or balaclava option just never worked as well (or only worked in one very specific temperature/wind combo, and didn't work the other 99% of the time).
posted by brainmouse at 9:27 AM on January 8, 2015

Is a balaclava to criminal looking? I find them much less terrifying than the ski masks with two separate eye holes. Most are designed so they can be worn under the chin, or pulled over the mouth, or mouth and nose.

Some snoods are more snug than others and can be pulled up over the lower part of your face.
posted by peep at 9:28 AM on January 8, 2015

Perhaps a gaiter?
posted by contraption at 9:30 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: New England glasses-wearing person here.

I wore my HeadSokz this morning. It kind of makes you look like a ninja but it's warm and very versitile. You can wear it as a hat, a neck gaiter, ear protection, a broach, a pterodactyl...
posted by bondcliff at 9:31 AM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

Search terms you should use are: neck gaiters, winter collars, cowls, and buffs. The most fancy/luxe/not-a-robber version I can think of is the Rapha Winter Collar, which also comes in a heavier version.

I own the original version for cycling and I like it a lot.
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:31 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Look for balaclavas or balaclava liners with room for glasses and neck gaiters large enough be pulled up to rest on the tip of your nose, so they cover the bottom half of your face. Usually when I'm layering, I look for one synthetic layer to cut the wind, and then I load wool layers on top of that to add warmth. Another tip would be to wear two or even three scarves instead of one; that way, the scarf-pile reaches further up your face and you can sort of burrow down in it to cut the cold.

A possible set of layers during a super-cold walk would be (1) balaclava liner, (2) neck gaiter, (3) thick wool hat with ear-flaps, (4) double scarves, ideally wool. That's pretty heavy-duty, and it can also be adjusted mid-walk to be a little cooler or warmer -- neck gaiter can be pushed down or up, scarves can be loosened, balaclava's bottom half can be pushed down.
posted by ourobouros at 9:34 AM on January 8, 2015

Don't know whether you're a knitter, but if so, check out this cowl. It's the only thing that's been keeping me warm in this insane weather because it's heavy and I can not only wrap it twice around my neck but also pull it up over my mouth and nose to keep out the wind. I won't leave home without it. It knits up quickly, too.
posted by holborne at 9:35 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Here's what you want:

1. A very warm toque-style winter hat. Not a beret or something cute. It should be something that you can easily pull down over your ears and forehead. Also, it should be made of wool, not acrylic and definitely not cotton for chrissakes. (Figuring out that different materials offered different levels of warmth was one of the big learning curves of dressing for cold weather when I lived in the Northeast.)

2. A scarf that is more like a shawl and less like a big chunky thing that sorta lies around your neck zone. I like a pashmina type of thing for this. You can go with a knit as opposed to a woven pashmina, but again you want a relatively thin fabric that can be draped in a lot of different ways and wound around you a lot of times.

Here's how to use this stuff: (Another learning curve for me was figuring out how to actually wear winter gear)

A. Before putting on your coat or any other winter outerwear, start with the scarf. Wrap your upper body in the scarf such that you get a lot of really good coverage from about your clavicles to just below your glasses. Shoulders, neck, and a lot of your face should be covered. This is why you picked the thin yet voluminous scarf: lots of really good coverage.

B. Do the rest of your bundling up. Gloves, coat, etc. as normal.

C. Now it's hat time. Jam that baby on your head, pulling it down so that it covers as much of your ears as possible and rests somewhere around either the top of your glasses frames or maybe your eyebrows.

Another thing that might work, if the above is still leaving you really cold, is to layer neckwear. On the coldest days, try a neck gaiter layered under the scarf.

This will accomplish the same thing a balaclava will, but without the ominous look or glasses smooshing. It's also a bit more flexible, so you can still use these items even when it's not really balaclava level cold outside.
posted by Sara C. at 9:36 AM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

Best answer: A large pashmina or similar big shawl works pretty well for semi-professional, adjustable face protection, even if it seems thin. I have a couple of giant shawls, and I'll put one on over an earflap hat and a cowl around my neck, and I can kind of fluff it around my nose and glasses.

Also, in re: this: I am planning to just take off whatever I find in the lobby of my building

A thing about cold climate culture is that everyone understands that your outer layer is whatever it needs to be, and no one is going to think twice about you walking into your office in a giant parka and snow pants as long as the base layers are professional.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:36 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

A stretchy band of fleece or knit that covers your ears and forehead and goes under your hairline in the back plus another band of fabric that goes around your neck and can be pulled up to cover your mouth and nose. Names for them vary, but if they are the same color, they look professional enough in the winter. You can get similar coverage with one long scarf, but one end often comes undone and then I have to hold it in the wind.
posted by soelo at 9:39 AM on January 8, 2015

I always wore a knitted toque, and a knitted scarf wrapped around my face. YMMV.

Sara C. explains the procedure well.

My breath would freeze and chafe a bit, but that's life.
posted by tel3path at 9:45 AM on January 8, 2015

+1 to hat with earflaps (or hooded coat) + large scarf. I don't know what the obsession with neck gaiters is; they're a good option when you're doing sports activities but IMHO inferior when you're just walking around. The trick with scarves is to get ones that are long and wide, and not just stupid short narrow fashion scarves.

I don't like wet scarf on my face so I usually wear my scarf on the outside of my jacket (with storm collar zipped all the way up)/hood/hat; this allows me to cover my up to my eyeballs with without touching my face too much.
posted by drlith at 9:52 AM on January 8, 2015

I will suggest the lululemon vinyasa scarf. Sport-chic, soft, warm, versatile. Watch the video for all the ways you can wear it (shawl, hoodie...).

What I like most about it compared to a regular scarf is fact that it snaps together, because it's really easy to tug tight in that configuration. There's also plenty of material to work with to double up protection or cover different areas, but it's still lightweight.

Bonus: easy to wash.
Gets me through my NE winters.
posted by xiaolongbao at 10:08 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Re: the fogging-up glasses.....

I spent a stretch of time in northern Greenland (Thule AB, represent!), and the best solution I found for fogging glasses was a coating of Rain-X on both sides of the lenses; reapply as needed. Yep, Rain-X: the stuff that makes water bead up and roll off your car's windshield. It's not a perfect solution, but nothing really is, and the Rain-X is way better than nothing.
posted by easily confused at 10:10 AM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hey, some weather we're having this week! Today I wore a hat and a giant wool scarf, more in the "stole" or shawl category, but lacy and knitted, wound several times around my lower face - I made it myself and am not sure where you could buy such a thing ready-made, but a pashmina might work too. These were both over a lightweight hoodie (and all my other clothes...). My glasses fogged up a bit but not too bad - I kind of have to focus on breathing through my nose and move my face around inside the scarf a lot to minimize the fogging. I just got a windproof hat that I couldn't find this morning but it's pretty great. I never had one before and I only bought it because it was on sale and I had an expiring merchandise credit.
posted by mskyle at 10:16 AM on January 8, 2015

As a answer to your question specifically, I bought myself a few of these (super-inexpensive!!) fleece & neoprene bottom-half 'face masks' THAT VELCRO IN THE BACK!!! via Ebay and amazon. the Velcro in the back means that they don't mess up my hair before work, and I'll actually use them! I went with plain black. GLASSES FRIENDLY!!

Seconding Soelo that the fleece or wool ear-covering headband has a lot more warmy-toasty power than most people expect, also with the advantage of less hair-mussing. headband + hooded coat means toasty warmth while maintaining a professional look! you can also layer a scarf on top, of course.

I just put together a little fb photo album of similar pointers.
posted by leemleem at 10:48 AM on January 8, 2015

Oh! and many of the fleece headbands have Velcro in the back as well, which is, again, super helpful for cutting down on static and maintaining hairstyles neatly. I'm going to alter some of mine to have a snap in the back. I have about 7 different headbands and 2 bottom-half face masks so I don't cry if they get lost. I got the headbands for super cheap at the thrift store. They didn't stink, but I still washed them, just in case.
posted by leemleem at 10:52 AM on January 8, 2015

I wear glasses and walk around in Wisconsin a lot. I like to wear a hat plus a half face mask like this one. I prefer it to a full balaclava because you can adjust your setup as conditions change. That mask is a good one for glasses-wearers, because the shape of the nose hole directs most of your breath down and away from your glasses, reducing fogging. It probably still makes me look like a criminal, because I wear it with a black hat that comes down over my eyebrows, but if you wore something more upbeat on your head, you might not scare people so much.
posted by juliapangolin at 10:55 AM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another cold-weather glasses-wearer here: I'd also suggest for your next pair of glasses to get the hydrophobic coating. (Your local glasses shop probably sells small bottles of the spray-on temporary stuff, too!)
posted by jillithd at 11:02 AM on January 8, 2015

The most sartorially attractive option is probably going to be a warm scarf and a hat, with the scarf wrapped up around your face. You need a long scarf to do this properly. Heck, you might even want two scarves, one worn around your neck under your coat to act as a sort of cold-air 'gasket', and then another around your neck and face on top of your coat.

If that's too much fussing, I have one of these things that I wear when biking and motorcycling in the winter. They're pretty popular with bike messengers which is how I discovered them. It is a little cartoon-villiany. (Specifically, the Shredder.) I would probably not wear it into a bank, but it's not quite as terrifying as the real serial-killer ski masks with the eye holes either, which, let's face it, are basically a gimp suit for your head.

The plus side of the thing that I have, aside from not covering your eyes which is the key to the uncanny valley with the eyehole ones, is that it has an air outlet valve thingy and doesn't cover your nose completely, which makes it a bit more pleasant if you are breathing heavily (e.g. brisk walk or even riding a bike) and keeps it from getting all gross and soggy. And you can take it on and off without pulling it over your head (big issue if you are wearing a helmet, but also just nice for glasses or not messing up your hair or having to take your hat off).

And it's less than $2 with free shipping which is pretty hard to beat.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:17 AM on January 8, 2015

You said "face" protection but I wanted to mention these Ear Bags. I was amazed by how much warmer I felt wearing these. They look GREAT on, don't mess up your hair, stay on well despite activity level (I regularly work out in them), and don't interfere at all with your hearing. They really do protect you from the cold as well. Highly recommended.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:23 AM on January 8, 2015

For a "cute" balaclava or ski mask, I'd look to Etsy. Examples:

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

(You will note that I skipped the fake beard ones, the terrifying fake-face ones, and the spider-man one).

Etsy. Lots of knitted stuff.
posted by amtho at 12:58 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have googled and clicked on a bunch of the links above and can't find anything like what I used to do in Germany and Kansas (and where I lived in Kansas was colder than where I lived in Germany).

I had a warm knit headband of the sort runners wear, that is slightly wider in what I think it supposed to be the front. It was a lovely shade of purple. In identical matching color and style of knitting, I had a knit hood. It was just a hood. I liked the hood, but, being a hood, wind came in from the front and it just failed to keep me warm in really cold weather. So, in really cold weather, I put the hood on first and put the headband on second, on top of it, facing what I think was backwards, with the narrower part over my forehead. They were such a perfect match in color and style, it looked like it was designed to go together. It looked really good and the headband closed the gaps that prevented the hood from keeping me warm. It was wonderful. In really cold weather, I managed to cover the bottom of my chin a bit with the hood. This gave me coverage similar to the blue baklava pictured here, but more stylish looking.

I mean, it crushed my hair. If you need to have a hairstyle other than a pulled back ponytail or something, this is probably not the way to go. But if you just want to keep warm in awful, freezing weather while looking stylish and not like a potential bank robber, this worked really well for me on all three of those fronts and was something I enjoyed the hell out of (what with being really vain about my looks and fashion back in the day).
posted by Michele in California at 1:09 PM on January 8, 2015

If you wear glasses you MUST go with either a very porous mask/scarf or one with a purpose built breathing hole. No matter how dorky you look, it's the only way. RainX and CatCrap help but your glasses will still fog evantually.

I've had so much ice build up on a face mask before it frostbite my cheek. That sucked, don't be me.

As an aside, I have now decided there is no way ninjas could possibly ninjas in their ninja costumes and it's ludicrous they aren't all immediately defeated by someone sneaking up alongside them. I have a variety of ninjas hoods and I ca barely turn my head in any of them. Also I'm deaf and have no peripheral vision. It's all lies.
posted by fshgrl at 6:05 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

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