How to wear dresses and not freeze?
August 29, 2019 9:51 AM   Subscribe

I love the idea of switching my work wardrobe to mostly dresses, but I'm not sure what to wear under them. Right now I have a few dresses that I can wear with black leggings and ankle boots, but any dress that doesn't work with leggings I only wear in spring and summer.

I live in Canada (though the warmer and rainier west coast), and commute by transit /walking 45 minutes each way. Bare legs are a non-starter, because I will just be miserable. Pantyhose don't seem very warm, and I've never found a pair of tights that don't sag uncomfortable throughout the day. I'm only 5'3", and tights seem sized for someone who is taller.

Also! What colour tights do people own? Many colours? Just black? What would I wear with a navy shirt-dress? My wardrobe is heavily navy and gray, with colours, but fleece-lined leggings seem to only come in black. What about a light coloured dress? How do people wear wrap-dresses without a camisole riding up, and are slips still a thing?

What things can I buy that are available in Canada?

Bonus: Since it's still no-tights weather, I wore a skirt yesterday, which literally spun around 180 degrees when I walked with a purse. Is there a magic way to keep them in place?

Thanks! I have some lovely skirts and dresses with pockets, that just lie in my closet while I wear the same two pairs of pants all the time because I'm cold.
posted by Valancy Rachel to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (38 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
You can get fleece lined leggings in lots of colors! You'll probably have to buy online for a decent selection though. Here's an example.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:59 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm 5'3 and wear tights all the time, maybe you're not wearing the right size? I like control-tops both for the obvious reasons and because I think they stay put better.

I have a few dresses that are too see-through to wear without a slip, slips are definitely useful and still a thing!

I like the look of wrap-dresses but I have really large breasts and have accepted that they don't work well for my body type.

I think a navy shirt-dress would look fine with black or gray tights.

I pretty much exclusively wear black tights but you can certainly be more whimsical with your color choices if you like. I'm not sure how old you are but when I was in my twenties I wore much wackier tights, though obviously there is no age restriction to wearing wacky tights.
posted by cakelite at 10:01 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

My most frequently worn non-black tights are grey, brown, and navy. With the navy dress I'd go grey.

Boots will help a lot to keep you warm in dresses - I feel like with dresses + boots I'm often warmer than if I'd worn pants.

And yes, totally get some slips.
posted by something something at 10:07 AM on August 29, 2019

I wear dresses with tights almost constantly for work. After much experimentation I have found a brand and size of tights that work for me (plus size and 5ft). They last about a year or so before they’re too misshaped to wear comfortably. I pair navy with charcoal grey.
posted by plonkee at 10:09 AM on August 29, 2019

In the long far ago when I wore women's clothes - hence skirts and dresses - and bike-commuted in Minnesota winters, I wore two layers of thick tights plus calf-height boots when it was cold, typically one cabled/fuzzy/textured pair and one thick nylon pair. I also wore wool socks with the boots.

Target was having a very good few years with tights, so I got all my cabled and textured tights from them. We Love Colors makes very thick, stretchy nylon tights in a bananas range of colors plus stripes. Their tights can be machine washed and dried - or at least I've machine washed and dried them.

I found that getting tights that were actually big enough helped them not sag from the waist. Like, I'd buy tights that were a size up from my measured size and they would not creep down. If they're wrinkling at the ankle because they're too long, sadly I'm not sure what to do about that. But since I wore boots in the winter and thinner cheaper Target tights in warmer weather, it wasn't much of a problem.

If I wore navy and grey, I'd look for tights in deep blues, various greys, maybe a rust, olives...

Wool tights and wool blends are also a thing, although at the time it was very hard to find them over a size large so I never got any.
posted by Frowner at 10:13 AM on August 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

(Revisiting the We Love Colors range is making me regret that as a broad generality, men's clothes do not require tights.)
posted by Frowner at 10:15 AM on August 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

I have fleece lined tights in lots of colours and I live in calgary, so you should be able to find them! I suggest the Bay (Hue is a good brand) or winners, but then you can't have something in mind. I also own quite a few pairs of like, cable knitted tights that are cute with plain dresses, as they're usually textured if not coloured.

For not-freezing days, I like tights that are more ankle length, I have a couple pairs with a lace or scalloped/eyelet bottoms, then you can wear them with more types of shoes, too. these are the ones I have, in every colour.

I tuck my cami into my leggings/underwear, or you can wear a bodysuit. If you have problems with your tights slouching and sagging, you can possibly wear them under your bodysuit and it could help hold them up? I'm short and I just pull mine up super high and then pull them up often throughout the day.

depending on how long your dresses are, you could also wear them with OTK socks or boots - it's kind of too sexy looking for the office if part of your leg is showing, but if your dress is a little longer it should cover the gap.
posted by euphoria066 at 10:19 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Perhaps I'm boring, but I only have black tights/leggings in my wardrobe. And I think they go with just about everything - patterns, gray, navy, almost anything. I'm lazy and it's easier than trying to match colors to outfit.

The only thing I won't wear with black tights is my bright yellow skirt/black shirt. I think that it makes me look like a bee. I wear my one pair of skin-tone nylons with that (or go bare-legged).
posted by Gray Duck at 10:19 AM on August 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

I live on the frigid East Coast and often wear dresses and skirts all winter. I think it can keep you warmer than pants when done right because the wind can't whip between your legs. Fleece-lined tights, and wool-blend tights are what I wear in the fall when it's a bit chilly (perhaps the same temperatures as your winter rains), in the winter I wear ponte knit legging-pants-things. Knee-high boots or at last mid-calf are important for warmth too.

Since it's still no-tights weather, I wore a skirt yesterday, which literally spun around 180 degrees when I walked with a purse. Is there a magic way to keep them in place?

Is your skirt lined? Lined skirts do a much better job staying in place. Likewise, as you've noticed, leggings+skirt can provide enough friction to resist the twist. If the skirt is loose a belt can also help.
posted by epanalepsis at 10:22 AM on August 29, 2019

I like heavyweight seamed ballet tights. They're comfortable and tend to stay up better than fashion tights. The seam allows the leg to be shaped more like an actual leg than a tube, but doesn't really show in black. I also have a pair of Danskins in light tan for when black isn't appropriate. They cost more than fashion tights, but I've been able to keep the same two pairs for about ten years without runs or snags.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:28 AM on August 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

Fleece-lined tights are fantastic! I have a navy dress that I have worn with grey tights and brown boots. I'd also wear it with black tights and my tall brown boots. Or navy or gray tights and burgundy boots. I might even go crazy and wear it with purple or dark green tights and black boots. If all your boots are ankle boots, you might want to try out some comfortable taller boots too, especially for when it's rainy or windy.

And yes, if the dress or skirt is unlined, a slip (half slip or full) is the only way I know to keep my dress or skirt in place over tights. Be careful because there's some squishy, spanx-type stuff that looks like a slip but is really a shaper. I have slips in several lengths, for longer and shorter skirts and dresses.

I often wear a layer under the tops of my dresses too. I have some thin, long-sleeved, fitted wool tops that work great. I might experiment with turtlenecks this winter.

I live in Portland, a few degrees warmer than where you are, but I bike to work all winter, and fleece-lined tights -- which I only started wearing regularly last winter--have made all the difference.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:29 AM on August 29, 2019

HELLO. I could have written this question, as a West-Coast living, transit-taking, dress-loving 5'3.5" woman.

Honestly at this point I mostly wear athletic leggings underneath my dresses, they're tougher than pantyhose (which I always rip) and more comfortable than tights. They also do double duty if I go to the gym after work. Costco usually trots out some merino-wool blend baselayer stuff around now, and I wear those as leggings too.

When it gets "cold" I also swap my summer footwear for knee-high boots (more insulation, more waterproofing).

What colour tights do people own? Many colours? Just black?
Just black.

What would I wear with a navy shirt-dress?
I wear black leggings. Probably knee-high brown boots.

What about a light coloured dress?
I feel like I've done this just with knee-high boots, but I don't often wear light coloured dresses when it's cold.

How do people wear wrap-dresses without a camisole riding up, and are slips still a thing?
Yes, slips are a thing. I got a beige one at the Bay. I don't use it a lot (the dress I got it for doesn't quite fit right anymore, and the slip is also a tad too long) but it's been useful when I've needed it.
Can't answer the question about wrap dresses, since they don't look quite right on me.

Maybe have a look at Uniqlo's Heattech line too?

I don't want to hijack your question but if I could figure out what kind of jacket to wear with these dresses that'd be great.
posted by invokeuse at 10:51 AM on August 29, 2019

I don't want to hijack your question but if I could figure out what kind of jacket to wear with these dresses that'd be great.

How about a denim jacket you keep at work? (Since they are often pretty bulky if you wear them under a coat.)

Also, black cardigans that are on the smaller size -- shorter, left open (so they don't need to be big enough to button without stretching) -- are great over dresses. Buy some in cotton and then upgrade to wool if you find you wear them a lot. You can even keep one or two at work. (Other colors work but since you are wearing black tights, I'm guessing a black cardigan will work well.)
posted by bluedaisy at 10:58 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Light dresses are difficult in the winter because light shoes are difficult in the winter, but if shoes, tights, and a turtleneck (or scarf and gloves) are in the same color family I feel elegant, like a tipped cat or a Przewalski’s horse.

Nth’ing wool tights and slips. I have a silk slip that’s more than twenty years old and still makes everything look better. Drip-dry is the trick to longevity for silk, I believe.

I saw someone looking great in buttoned-up over-the-knee woolly gaiters, like a steampunk take on leg warmers, in the snow last year.
posted by clew at 11:07 AM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

(Revisiting the We Love Colors range is making me regret that as a broad generality, men's clothes do not require tights.)
Is there a way to incorporate gloves into your wardrobe? They also have gloves in all of the colors, which is making my little Raynaud's-having heart go all pitter-patter.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:17 AM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've never found a pair of tights that don't sag uncomfortable throughout the day.

I just wanted to note that I fix this by wearing a second pair of knickers over top of my tights, so that might be a good emergency fix for tights you already own. Footless tights also seem to sag less on me.

Fleece-lined tights are amazing! I mostly only wear skirts and leggings or tights in winter, and they are very cozy. Admittedly anything is warmer than a pair of jeans, but still -- they're great for chilly weather. I buy pretty much everything from Sock Dreams, due to their selection, size range, and overall awesomeness.
posted by kalimac at 11:23 AM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

I often wear Jeggings with a shorter dress or a longer tunic. They usually have quite a lot of stretch to them, and they have a smooth waist front (rather than a zip/button fly that would ruin the line of a dress).

When I first heard about Jeggings, I hated the idea so much that I genuinely lamented the course that society was taking, but I am a complete convert now.

I wouldn't ever put them in the dryer, and they do lose their stretch after a while, but hey, then you can just wear them as "ugly jeans."
posted by cranberrymonger at 11:23 AM on August 29, 2019

Buy better tights. I used to buy tights kind of randomly, now I usually have black, navy, some patterns, and I look for a color that will be more fun for a particular outfit, like black top, jacket & skirt, hot turquoise tights. It can look nice to wear same color tights, like a printed dress with a mustard yellow background and mustard yellow tights.

Get a pair of snow pants, even nylon windbreaker pants for your commute will make a big difference, and they'll fold and go in your backpack.

My tights will always get a hole at the toe. Now I cut off the end, paint the raw edge with clear nail polish, and they become footless leggings.
posted by theora55 at 11:46 AM on August 29, 2019

Uniqlo heat tech leggings! Cannot recommend highly enough.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:10 PM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

This look doesn't work with every dress or skirt, but I also like to wear cable-knit over-the-knee socks (Yay Sock Dreams) with bike shorts or short leggings (a pair of old tights cut off at the knee works great for this, and it's recycling). I don't know how well this works for more petite ladies; I sort of have the opposite problem from you in that a lot of tights are too short for me.

I generally wear black shoes and tights with navy clothes.

Then there was that day I looked down at work and realized I was wearing a purple dress, navy tights, one black shoe, and one brown shoe, and realized I needed higher-wattage lightbulbs in my bedroom.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:35 PM on August 29, 2019 [5 favorites]

Yes! I wear over the knee black socks with my dresses when I don't want to wear leggings.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:55 PM on August 29, 2019

I have leggings to wear with dresses in navy, gray (sort of a heathered pattern as well as solid slate gray and dark charcoal), and brown. (As well as black of course.)

I think the dress needs to be appropriate for winter...if it's too lightweight of a fabric (pattern can also affect this) it should be saved for wearing when it can be worn with bare legs.

If your dresses don't "feel right" with thick leggings, then trust your instincts and save them for warmer weather, and shop for some more dresses that look good with leggings!

I have found that spinning is less likely to happen on me when I wear a backpack -- it seems to be the one-sided friction from a purse/tote that increases spinning. But some spinning seems inevitable.
posted by amaire at 1:55 PM on August 29, 2019

I live in Colorado and also have a longish walk/bike/transit commute. I love wool tights. If it's really super cold, I'll put smooth tights on and then wool tights, to get an extra layer with minimal bulk. I prefer tights over leggings because I'll wear a warm shoe/boot on my way in but then change into cute flats in the office.

Wool tights can be expensive, and I always seem to wear through at the toes too fast, so I will often wear a pair of thin ankle socks under the tights. I don't know if this prevents formation of holes, but it does keep my toes from poking through holes once they exist, and thus extends the lifespan of a $40+ pair of tights.

Colors: I have black, grey, and brown. Black is my #1 and I have several pairs in different weights and fibers. I feel like a lighter color (grey or cream?) could work with a navy dress, but black could also work; depends on what shoes you're wearing with it, too.

Slips are weirdly hard to find these days, but yes, they are a thing, and they're quite helpful if your leggings or wool tights are having static-y interactions with your skirt/dress. A full slip (example) provides camisole-like coverage without the issues of a cami riding up. I wear a half slip under unlined or static-y skirts, and a full slip under dresses. I order slips online because in the store, I only ever find slips that are also shapewear.
posted by mandanza at 2:36 PM on August 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

Footed tights make my toenails hurt, so I basically only wear footless athletic/yoga leggings or fleece tights. In the winter I wear wool ankle-height socks underneath with low booties. If I’m wearing knee-high boots I wear whatever type of socks that I want. I get my fleece tights for like $6 a pair at TJ Max or Nordstrom Rack. My athletic leggings are mostly seamless ones from Athleta. Last year I basically only wore navy blue, gray, and deep purple tights.

I have a slip that I wear all seasons with unlined dresses, and always with leggings/tights to prevent static cling - it’s a super simple Calvin Klein nude-colored one that I got at Macy’s.

I will be following this thread to see if there are any answers for the spinning skirt thing - I have zero advice for that, the struggle is real.
posted by Maarika at 4:17 PM on August 29, 2019

Shout out to full slips—nab a nude and a black if you can find them. They honestly make cheap dresses look expensive. I’m wearing a cheap jersey dress with a slip now and it flows like an actual stylish dress— no clinging, no bunching, no stretching, no sheer spots.

I stay pretty warm with tights and boots. I’m short too, and I agree with the counterintuitive advice to try a bigger size and hike them all the way up.
posted by kapers at 4:37 PM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

Maarika, have you tried convertible/transition tights? I don't know if they'd be more comfortable for you or not.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:55 PM on August 29, 2019

So, I am not sure exactly what you mean by tights because I don't live in Canada and this stuff is highly regionally specific but this winter where I am I've been wearing double opaque-black pantyhose (like, as in two pairs of 120 ish denier pantyhose at a time). It's not super cold where I live (Auckland, NZ) but I do bike to uni and am generally a cold person but this keeps my legs nice and toasty. I know it sounds like a pain in the ass but it's much warmer than one pair.

I generally wear black, but I also have navy and burgundy and one pair of black with white polka dots which I wear if the rest of my outfit is a bit dull.

I have a pair of fleece-lined leggings/tights and they are very toasty but they feel bulky on my already-curvy legs so I hardly wear them anymore tbh.
posted by BeeJiddy at 5:24 PM on August 29, 2019

Transition tights look cool - I’ve never heard of those before! (btw, eponysterical, Underpants Monster!). I have a pair of Athleta leggings that convert from stirrup-style to slouchy ankle style, which are pretty handy.
posted by Maarika at 6:56 PM on August 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

nthing the suggestion of sizing up to prevent tights slipping down. I also often get knit sock / sweater style tights, which are made with a shaped foot that’s shaped like a sock, and shaping in the hip region. Bonus that these tend to have pretty cabled sweater type patterns and are warm - but sizing is pretty important because going with too small a size will result in tights that slide down something awful.

I don’t wear full slips but I have a couple of pairs of slip shorts (?) which are meant to be worn like bike shorts under summer dresses, and they help with keeping tights up too. Also, for those who do wear slips - how do you keep those from riding up? I find that they help with the appearance of dresses for the first 15 seconds, and after any movement they end up bunched up around my waist or twisted around under the skirt.
posted by photoelectric at 9:58 PM on August 29, 2019

Whenever I've had a slip bunch up, it's usually static cling, which you can fix by rubbing a fabric softener sheet over the affected area.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:04 PM on August 29, 2019

My people!! I love dresses too. I live in the UK and am short and small so I can buy children’s school uniform tights, that are mostly cotton because I HATE the feel of nylon tights. I have black, grey, light grey, navy, and red. I buy them in the John Lewis school uniform section. My husband machine washes them inside out and hangs them to dry.
posted by mgrrl at 1:00 AM on August 30, 2019

(Forgive me but I read that as “My husband-machine washes them inside out and I immediately wanted a husband-machine and wondered where to get one and then felt silly when I realized mgrrl has a *husband* who ... Dammit, I was kind of excited there for a second.)

I may be the only one here who likes red or pink tights or leggings but I do. I would gladly wear red or wine-colored legging with a navy shirt dress and black (or navy or red) shoes or boots.
Yes to gray. Yes to polka dots! If that is your thing, by all means.
posted by Bella Donna at 1:35 AM on August 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

hi, I live in So Cal but frequently run cold and have lived in colder climates, so I kinda get where you're coming from. I've learned that it is possible to dress fashionably and stay warm in colder temps if I make a plan for the whole outfit and avoid thinking of articles of clothing in isolation. I have made the mistake of assuming warm jacket = I'll never be cold! and cold temperature = must wear pants! but I know better now.

If I want to wear a dress or a piece of clothing that I associate with warmer weather, I look at how many ways I can pack on extra layers on my body wherever possible. That way, I can wear the dress or other warmer weather piece if I make sure I'm well covered up in layers and toasty throughout the rest of my outfit. You're basically winterizing your summer items with new outfit combos.

So, starting from the bottom, assess your footwear. Choose boots with sufficient insulation and that keep a reasonable distance between your feet and the cold pavement. Thinner-soled shoes will keep you less warm than boots with a deeper tread. Knee-high boots are going to keep you protect your legs better than ankle booties, so consider footwear options that cover more of your leg. Then there are your tights and socks. If you're wearing boots that go past your ankles, you can still wear tights and also sneak in ankle length wool socks to keep your feet extra toasty as the boots will hide your socks. More seasonally-appropriate layers = more warmth.

If I'm wearing a dress or skirt in cooler temps, I'm almost certainly wearing a silk slip underneath. Silk is a nice option because it is very light in bulk so it is a layer that can hide itself nicely while keeping me warm. Silk is also tightly knit and made of protein, which helps keep the warmth in and close to my body. I have purchased my silk slips from secondhand stores, they are much less expensive that way. If I am wearing a more relaxed style, like a loose-fitting dress or a jumpsuit, I may also wear a pair of silk shorts or even long underwear as they are neatly hidden away under my layers but act as additional insulation and buffers against the cold.

It's also fashionable to wear dresses over certain kinds of pants, or thin shirts or turtlenecks under dresses, so that's another route to take, depending on the dress style and the paired layers. Alternatively, you can choose to wear a dress in more of a skirt style if you wear a sweater or a shirt plus a sweater over your dress.

I'm more likely to wear the same two pairs of pants in constant rotation not because I don't have other clothes but because I can't put those other items together into an appropriate outfit, usually due to a clash in color or style. As a result, I have limited my wardrobe to a few key colors that go well together and mostly avoid prints and patterns as they add color matching complication that I can't handle with my limited wardrobe.

I also fall into the mental trap of thinking I'm wearing the same two pairs of pants all the time because I don't have enough pants and need to get more pants, when actually the issues is the lack of appropriate shoes to go with my other pants/leggings/dresses that will then open up new outfit combos. Like, my having two pairs of shoes that are appropriate for the weather. Which is fine from a getting-out-the-door-clothed perspective, but limiting when I want to be more expressive through my clothing choices. So, in case you're feeling limited in wearing the same few dresses when you actually have multiple dresses, it may not be that you need new warmer dresses, but that instead you need the right sweater/shoes/tights that keep you warm and look good together with your current dresses.

I read these two style bloggers from Canada, they often touch upon how to dress well for the weather with the items you already have and both make an effort to highlight Canadian brands. They also reference wearing Swedish Stockings.

Perhaps too obvious but still worth mentioning the benefit of a wonderfully long coat or duster layer to keep you warm and covered up from (nearly) head to toe!
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 9:41 AM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Seconding the recommendation to wear an extra pair of underwear over your tights to keep them in place—I especially like a thong for this, because it sort of helps to give me two buns instead of a diaper-bottom look. I wear one or two adequately large pairs of black, navy, or dark grey footless tights pretty much all the way through the colder months (and I live in Edmonton, so that’s most of them). I usually stock up at the beginning of winter when my local dollar store gets them in (sorry anyone else who wanted the large ones!). They’re only about $4 a pair, so when they start looking ratty or saggy they get thrown in the rag box.
posted by Edna Million at 10:39 AM on August 30, 2019

Response by poster: Wow! Thanks for the responses. I’m going to buy some grey wool tights, they would probably work with all my dresses. I am also going to admit that the pocketless light green wrap dress that looks horrid with leggings was a bad purchase and donate it.

I actually never considered buying tights not at the drug store, so off to a real store I will go.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 10:47 AM on August 30, 2019

Hello! I'm a 5'0", tights-wearing woman with a professional wardrobe of almost exclusively dresses in mostly navy! These Wolford Pure 50 tights are the shit. They're not too long, they're comfortable, they're not shiny at all, and they never wear out. The "Admiral" color is a nice blackish navy. (And for the question of what to wear over dresses, the answer is J.Crew Jackie cardigans in a size too small and leave them open. Looks much nicer than the proper size that would fit buttoned.)
posted by HotToddy at 11:04 PM on August 30, 2019

trick to keep tights from sliding down: wear a second pair of underwear on the outside, Superman-style.
posted by jb at 10:00 PM on September 1, 2019

I have also sometimes done the underwear-over-tights thing (love the "Superman" description) but with a pantygirdle. Bonus: it gave me an inconspicuous place to clip my insulin pump.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:02 PM on September 2, 2019

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