Capsule Wardrobe, Winter Edition
October 12, 2015 3:26 PM   Subscribe

I have recently moved from the warmth of the American Southwest to the frigid climes of New England. Please help me stay warm!

I am on a grad school budget and have limited funds, but I also have very little winter gear.

I would like to brainstorm a list of the absolutely necessary items to purchase to help me, a person unused to the cold, get through this winter. Brands/links preferable. Assume I have very little knowledge of snow/rain/freezing cold temperatures. Looking good is not terribly high priority, but always a plus.

So far I have: a NorthFace fuzzy jacket, some Eddie Bauer thinly lined rain jackets, some pashmina scarves.
posted by kingfishers catch fire to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Order some HeatTech long underwear from Uniqlo. That's cheap and fits under the most formal of clothing or your jeans.

Get a thick all wool sweater--two if your budget stretches. Woolovers is reasonably priced and good quality especially in the men's/unisex section. Get the "British Wool" or "Pure Lambswool" line, not the other lines. Sometimes you can get good warm wool sweaters in thrift stores or ebay for very cheap.

Get a pair or two of thick wool socks. Wigwam is not nearly as expensive as Smartwool.

Get a warm hat and warm (ideally Thinsulate-lined leather) gloves from a place like TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, Filene's Basement.

Put all the rest of your money into two things: A good warm coat and good boots. If you buy a wool coat, get one lined with Thinsulate; otherwise look into technical down-filled ones. If you don't get "snow boots" or "ski boots" get good leather ones; then take them to a cobbler to get waterproofed and have grippy soles put on. Two pairs of boots is not too much, even if one pair is a cheap rain boot that you wear with thick socks; that way when you come home with wet boots you won't have to worry about whether they'll dry overnight.

For winter holiday presents, consider asking for a cozy bathrobe and sheepskin slippers, depending on your apartment's heating. LL Bean is apparently good here.
posted by Hypatia at 3:44 PM on October 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

A pair or two of long underwear. They make regular pants warmer by adding a layer -- and bonus, you don't have to buy warmer pants. They are generally pretty cheap at Target this time of year. I prefer the cotton waffle-weave but the microfiber ones are thinner and will fit under more things.

They also make long underwear for your torso, but personally, it doesn't fit under most of my tops, so I just add layers on top. Thrift stores can be a good source of inexpensive wool layers, but check for felting and moth holes.

I use a fleece headband rather than a hat (personal preference) -- again, cheap at Target, but buy now as those do sell out (and they're already starting to now).

Wool-blend socks are cheap at Ocean State Job Lot, if you can get to one. If you can't, Target has decent wool blend socks (selling out as we speak) but they are somewhat $$ for the quality.

The cheap gloves available for a couple bucks are basically worthless. If you know any knitters, ask for wool mittens now.

I agree that you will need a warmer outer coat -- I usually go with basic wool, either peacoat or duffle. Whatever you go with, make sure it covers your hips.

If you will be walking a lot, it's worth knowing that sidewalks here can get icy. You could consider something like a Stabilicer Lite to allow you to up the traction on existing hiking boots or winter boots on bad days (no affiliation with Stabilicer -- they're just my personal favorite).
posted by pie ninja at 3:52 PM on October 12, 2015

There is New England, and there is New England. The climate of Rhode Island can be very different from the climate of Vermont. Where exactly are you?

If you're in southern New England, I'd go with layers - a decent wool coat for dressy occasions and a more casual thing (L.L. Bean makes something called a "barn coat", which would be perfect for this), and then you can just round things out with sweaters and flannel shirts and hats. In southern New England, where will be days when you'll want to pile the layers all on, but then there will be also days when just the coat and a flannel shirt will be enough.

If you're in northern New England, you may still want to go the layers route just so you don't end up looking like the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man. But in that case, I'd invest in good "base layers" in fabrics that would be good in cold. Seconding the Uniqlo Heattech stuff for that purpose - I was wearing that on a winter hike once and actually plunged my foot ankle-deep into a river, and it was so cold out that the hem of my jeans froze solid on the walk back to the car. But my body temperature was warm enough thanks to the heattech that my feet never even felt cold. Merino wool is also always recommended for winter warmth. As to where to get some of this stuff - hit up camping supply stores for "base layers," which are usually plain shirts and leggings that are designed to be worn next to the skin to keep hikers and campers warm outdoors. They'll either be made of some super-hi-tech fiber, or out of merino wool. Most of them are designed to not be seen, but some may be attractive enough to be simple pullover tops. Wear those under your clothes on super cold days.

L. L. Bean and Lands' End sometimes sell flannel-lined jeans; an outdoorsy friend of mine who was raised in Florida has a couple pair and swears by them.

Mittens are generally better than gloves if you have that option - with mittens, your fingers are all cuddled together alongside each other and keep each other warm with each others' body heat.

Finally, if you're on the Cape, don't be surprised if it doesn't get as cold as you expected it too. The Atlantic Ocean can be a bit of a heat sink, and the Cape stays warmer than the mainland over the course of the winter.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:04 PM on October 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

A side note: I have actually survived Minnesota winters (which are brutal) with a "winter coat" made up of an outer layer (heavy wool cardigan, something like that) and a heavy fleece sweatshirt. If you are desperately broke, put your money into boots, gloves, hat and then wear your fleece jacket over a heavy hoodie. (People around here actually do that all the time for winter.) ETA - you wear both in place of a coat, over whatever you're wearing that day - the hoodie isn't part of your outfit and should not be a fashion hoodie.
posted by Frowner at 4:08 PM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Good boots. Good warm waterproof boots. Depending on how you feel about style vs tromping through fresh snow, you can go either snow boots (think something like LL Bean) or leather.

A coat that covers your butt. I wear a knee length wool peacoat, but a down puffy coat is also a good choice.

Warm underlayers - wool or silk (or similar technical fabric) long underwear for both bottom and top, wool socks, fleece tights. Layering is the key to staying warm in the face of truly awful weather. (Depending on the heat situation in your apartment and office, though, they can get to be overkill if you're not outside much. Warm overlayers are much easier to remove if you're not sure how temps are going to be.)
posted by anne_severson at 4:08 PM on October 12, 2015

FYI, down puffy coats tend to be cheaper than Thinsulate-lined wool coats, especially if you go synthetic and are OK with not the sleekest design ever. Check out Lands' End for reasonably priced puffer coats.
posted by serelliya at 4:28 PM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm in Connecticut, so I'm hoping proximity to the water will help the extreme cold situation?

These answers are great so far. Thank you!
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 4:31 PM on October 12, 2015

If you're into wearing tights, fleece lined ones are pretty easy to find these days and work well under jeans as well as under skirts. Very cosy.
posted by peppermind at 4:33 PM on October 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would actually recommend against long underwear unless you'll be spending long stretches of time outside. If you're a typical student, you'll be going in and out of buildings a lot and long underwear gets uncomfortably hot in heated rooms.

What you want are layers that are easy to peel off. For instance, a long-sleeved t-shirt under a cardigan under a winter coat.

Agree with those who say you should focus on footwear and coat. For a coat, you can't go wrong with LL Bean - it's a nice compromise between value and quality. It'll be tempting to get the absolute warmest, but what you want is something made for 20-30 degrees, not below zero (unless you're in Burlington or Maine or similar). If LL Bean is too expensive, Columbia often has good deals - the quality is not as good but it'll get you through. You want something reasonably water resistant with a warm lining. A heavy wool pea coat/duffle could do the job in Boston or Providence.

For boots, LL Bean are good, or you could go with those Bean winter boot knock offs that are everywhere. The key, especially with lower-quality boots, is warm socks, preferably wool (buy them online at Amazon or something - they will be ridiculously expensive at a place like REI or EMS).

On preview: Oh if you're in Connecticut, you definitely don't need long underwear. A decent wool or other winter coat, some wool socks, and a good hat should see you through.
posted by lunasol at 4:42 PM on October 12, 2015 [8 favorites]

Yeah, if you're in Connecticut you'll be fine with a good winter coat, some good socks, waterproof boots of some ilk, and then go with a bunch of sweaters and flannel shirts. The "water effect" may not be as pronounced unless you're, like, right on the coast, but that's still south enough that it won't be arctic. I grew up in northeast Connecticut and I had a down snowsuit when i was about seven, but...that's when I was about seven and wanted to be outside playing for hours at a time. When I was in my teens a warm coat, a couple layers and long socks under jeans did the trick.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:48 PM on October 12, 2015 is a good place to find winter boots for cheap if you're an odd size (or even if you're not!). You likely won't NEED snow boots, but whatever boots you get--make sure they're insulated and waterproof. When I went to Michigan in January I wore my Clarks winter boots and packed my Columbia snow boots and I never needed the latter. Wool/Heattech socks and the Clarks were enough.

And I'll echo the layers of Uniqlo Heattech stuff (especially the jeans!) and wool in any way you can get it.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:07 PM on October 12, 2015

I much preferred wearing a pair of tights or nylons under pants when I lived in Chicago. Way less bulky and I didn't get overheated indoors. Yet, that thin extra layer really made a difference.

A good pair of boots with a more platform-ey wedge or sole are fantastic. If I moved back to a cold place, I'd probably get these. I loved my long-ish waterproof parka. It cut the wind and with layering underneath, I could wear it all season. This is similar. I really didn't like long wool coats or puffers as they didn't do well in wet weather.

I also liked very thin silk undershirts with 3/4 sleeves. They didn't get horribly hot inside like synthetics can and they made a big difference in warmth. Again, not bulky - they're so thin.

A couple of pairs of wool socks for when it gets really cold or I'm going to be outside a lot. I prefer the thinner ones and you can get them for pretty good prices at REI sales (Smartwool women's socks or similar knock-off). I'd often wear the wool socks over a very thin pair of regular socks.

Wool sweaters are great and I eventually figured out that cashmere sweaters did best in both indoor and outdoor situations. Some giant wool sweaters just get way too hot inside. I used to buy the cashmere sweaters at Costco for a very good price (maybe ~$40-50ish?).

When it got really cold, I'd wear one scarf under my outerwear and then a large shawl around the outside of my neck/shoulders.

Your first winter will be a bit of a shock, even while people around you are wearing practically nothing. But, you get used to it.
posted by quince at 5:09 PM on October 12, 2015

I grew up in the Southwest then moved to Canada for a few years and now live in NYC. Dressing warm actually isn't very difficult. It doesn't turn cold instantaneously, so you will have some chance to acclimatize.

In winter, in addition to my regular clothes, I usually wear a wool peacoat, a scarf, gloves, and a thin wool sweater. I don't like wearing hats but if you're a hat type, wear one. That's it. For the very snowy/slushy days I have a pair of waterproof boots. It's not for warmth, it's to keep from ruining your nice shoes and getting your feet wet.

The coldest I have ever been in my life was in Korea and nowhere in the Northeast at least semi-close to the coast gets that cold. You'll be fine.
posted by pravit at 5:10 PM on October 12, 2015

Are you a grad student with a car or a grad student who will be walking for your primary form of transportation?

If it's the former, in Connecticut, just get waterproof boots, gloves, and hat. You'll be more comfortable with a warmer coat but you can get by with layering under your North Face.

If it's the latter, you need all of the above plus a real coat and (IMO) long underwear, preferably Uniqlo Heat Tech (it's the best). While I agree that full body heat tech under warm clothes can be a non starter if you're going to be in a classroom all day, heat tech leggings under jeans is tolerable inside all day and very nice, verging on necessary, if you're going to be walking for significant periods of time outside in the winter.

I was a walking everywhere grad student in Maryland (Maryland! for God's sake) this past winter and my standard uniform was:

- Snow boots
- Wool socks
- Heat tech leggings
- Jeans
- Tank top
- Flannel shirt
- Wool sweater
- Wool scarf
- Wool coat
- Wool hat
- Gloves

To make it explicit, when we say "wool" we mean specifically wool, not "any sweater-y fabric" or acrylic cotton blend or whatever. Everyone here is saying wool because wool is very warm, very breathable, and even a little bit waterproof. Check labels if you have to.
posted by telegraph at 5:48 PM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Get ridiculously fluffy waterproof mittens. They are bulky and inconvenient sometimes, and look somewhat ridiculous, but my hands are not cold when I wear these, and having warm hands goes a long long way toward being comfortable all over. Especially if you anticipate walking outdoors farther than from your car to the building it's parked in front of, get a pair of mittens. Not gloves, not knitted mittens, but thick insulated fluffy waterproof mittens. You don't have to wear them every day and all occasions, but sometimes they are perfect. (Like the entire month of February IMO)
posted by aimedwander at 6:11 PM on October 12, 2015

If you expect to be spending any amount of time waiting for public transportation, invest in some of those gloves that let you operate a touch screen without taking the glove off. LIFE SAVER. When it's 10 degrees out and wet-snowing you will be glad you don't have to take your gloves off to see when the $#@)(%^ train is going to show up.

For the Warm Real Coat everyone is recommending, I would add that if possible, this coat should go down over your hips. You'll thank me any time you have to sit down in the cold.

I live in the Boston area, and as such I did a lot of shoveling this past winter. If you think that might be you, you'll also need a warm but *breathable* coat or jacket and some very, very good gloves that will have traction AND keep you warm.

Jumping on the LL Bean train, if you can find some of their snow sneakers (velcro, not lace-up, laces turns to icy wet knots in snow) you should snap them up. Any day now they will go on back order (if they're not already) so get them now. They're awesome for just about any situation you will find yourself in.

This will sound silly, but at my office I see people come in to work in sweaters; by 10 am the sweater is gone and they're in a short sleeved t-shirt over a long-sleeved t-shirt; sometimes the short sleeved t-shirt disappears; sometimes the long sleeved one does. Many buildings in the area have odd ideas about how warm you want to be inside their walls. Layers, layers, layers.

In winter, if I'm not shoveling, I'm generally not outside longer than it takes to get to my car, or from my car to a building. I don't actually feel a strong need to have a giant bulky coat. I just layer up and go. If you do have a car, you might find you don't need the coat, but you SHOULD make sure the car is well-supplied for warmth and survival if you get caught in traffic in a snow storm or run off the road and need to wait for help.

You'll also want a scarf - a real one, fleece or wool -- plus ear muffs or a hat. Or both. A balaclava of some kind is also useful, if you don't mind looking like a very warm bank robber.
posted by kythuen at 7:46 PM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

You're not going up against cold. You're going up against the unknown.

You only need a few more long-sleeve layers of what you already have, of any fabric. Wool; schmool. Plus maybe, if you want to be outside a long time on a crisp cold sparkly day, a pair of long underwear. Ears and hands are easily taken care of: you simply cover them. Any way. You'll be fine.

I've lived in Alaska and Connecticut. This may sound like throw-em-in-the-deep-end advice, but... You're not really going into the deep end.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 2:25 AM on October 13, 2015

Oh hey! I'm from CT. Disclaimer, I have spent most my time in the North East but IMO CT doesn't get too cold. I do recommend getting waterproof, warm boots and a warmer jacket. I really never need long underwear.

Bonus would be something to cover ears and hands.
posted by KernalM at 5:40 AM on October 13, 2015

I don't know if you wear tights, but Gap sells ones that are marketed as HEAT-PRODUCING TIGHTS and it's true. They're super super warm.

I know a lot of people are telling you that it's not TOO cold in CT and is probably technically true for them, but I am a Southern Californian who goes to NYC in the dead of winter for work regularly and I personally find it VERY COLD INDEED THANKS. So plan to really bundle up until your blood thickens. Overestimate how cold you might be rather than under -- it's easier to take stuff off than find stuff to put on while you're out.

I often wear my LL Bean sheerling lined boots on those trips and they are divine. If your feet are warm and dry, you can live though almost anything.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:52 PM on October 13, 2015

Hello, I was born and raised in southern California and have now lived in places with Real Winter for almost 10 years (including coastal Connecticut and Massachusetts for 6 of those)! I just came in to say a couple of things:

- On the one hand, it will feel colder to you your first winter than to everyone else. On the other hand, to Countess Sandwich's point, I do actually think it makes a difference when you actually live somewhere with cold winters vs. visiting them from a warm climate. It doesn't go instantly from 65 F and sunny to 25 F and freezing when you actually live in New England, as opposed to visiting when this is effectively what is happening. The gradual acclimation through the fall does make a difference to your cold tolerance.

- Also don't underestimate how some people in the North appear to believe that the appropriate interior temperature for buildings is somewhere around 95 degrees at all times in the winter. (I exaggerate, but only slightly: I would regularly be wiping sweat off my brow in my Chicago office after arriving on freezing January mornings.) Layer!
posted by andrewesque at 6:32 PM on October 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

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