You're as cold as're willing to sacrifice our looooove!
August 12, 2007 6:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Latvia from Los Angeles/Orange County in a few weeks and I need recommendations for nice, professional, but not insanely expensive winter clothing. Size and style parameters inside.

First off, I'm a 24-year-old guy, going to Riga to work teaching English at a private school and probably in some businesses around town.

Because I'm young for my field, I feel that (at least at work) I'll need to up the formality a bit and not look like a 16-year-old ready to hop on a ski lift, so I'm wary of bright orange Michelin-man ski jackets. But lots of what I've seen that isn't nine inches of thick down and Goretex doesn't look like it would be very effective against the cold, snowy/sleety/rainy, just generally horrible weather Riga gets in the winter (climate chart here).

I have so many questions here: for example, I really like this jacket from LL Bean, and it fits my budget, but how do I know if it'll be enough? What other accessories do I need? How do I keep my pants dry in the rain and snow, especially the cuffs? Do I wear big snow boots on the way to work and then change into work shoes when I get there, or are there, like, shoe...sole...cover...things that I can use to not slip and die on icy sidewalks?

And most importantly: what do I buy here in California (or online!) and what do I buy there? It seems like clothing is much cheaper in the States than it is in Europe, but winter clothes in LA (which I've only seen at places like sporting goods stores) seem to be limited to $400 snowboarding jackets and $100 technical microfiber sweaters, if I can find them at all.

Sizewise, I'm quite small: 5'7" (170 cm), 140lbs (63.5 kg), US shoe size 8.5/9. This means that lots of winter jackets that look fine on a model and hit their legs mid-thigh go further toward my knees and make me look even smaller; lots of clothing sized "small", especially outerwear like jackets, often has sleeves that are too long.

I already have a cashmere scarf, a beanie, some very futuristic-looking earmuffs called 180s, and a cotton jacket, all of which barely kept me alive during a trip to Chicago and Wisconsin in early March. I don't have any waterproof gear aside from an umbrella, and I don't have any waterproof/snow-appropriate shoes or socks, sweaters, other hats, gloves, or warm-weather underwear.

My everyday apparel for work wear in Los Angeles doing the same job would be a long-sleeved collared shirt, perhaps with a tie, non-jean pants (khakis or, uh, non-khakis), and non-athletic/sneaker shoes. Zara and H&M, as well as Banana Republic, stock my favorite things, but none of those stores have winter stuff in stock right now and I can't afford a huge new wardrobe either.

I've seen this question (clothes for a Floridian headed to Europe on a winter vacation), but many of the links are dead and since I'm moving there full time and working, I think my needs are a little different.

To review: winter outerwear and work clothes, a little more formal, flattering for a smaller guy, not too expensive (total budget for work/winter clothes less than $300-$400), available online or in Orange County and environs. Sorry if I rambled, but I'm a little freaked out about spending heaps of money and still ending up freezing cold!

Thank you!
posted by mdonley to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total)
I'm sorry this isn't actual information, but I would try to wear what the (nicely-dressed) locals wear. They're probably comfortable enough, and dressing similarly will help you seem less of an outsider. Any way you can get some tips from your new employers?
posted by chudmonkey at 7:19 PM on August 12, 2007

Wool, first and foremost. Woolen stockings. Woolen caps. Woolen sweaters. Woolen pants. Woolen jackets. Wool retains warmth when damp, or wet, better than any or all synthetic fibers. Cotton and synthetic fibers are easier to wash and dry, but Woolite is your new friend for Latvian winters. Do not bullshit around with polyproplene or acrylic fiber blends, regardless of color choice, claimed rot resistance, or washability. Wool is what your need, and learning to care for wool is a life skill north of the 30th parallel.

Next bit of advice with regard to winter clothing is to eschew fashion for maintaining a wind/water shell that is contiguous from your head to well below your buttocks. The jacket you linked is "cute," but it is not long enough, and the phrase "zip off hood" is not what you are after. You will need a woolen ski mask/cap and an insulated, water resistant hood to survive typical Latvian winters. Something like 40% of all heat loss from the human body happens from the head and face, and you need multiple layers about your head, and significant face protection, for real winter survival, expecially in wind conditions. In wind conditions, surface frostbite of the face, nose, lips and eyes can happen in seconds, no joke. The Maine Warden's Parka is what you are after, in the L.L. Bean catalog. If that is outside your budget, run a bake sale for the difference. Your survival is at stake.

Winter footwear needs to perform several functions, in decreasing order, to be satisfactory. First function is to provide traction is snow and ice (otherwise, you're a "man down" hazard to all about you). Second, "breathability" for foot generated water vapor, which is going to be a lot simpler if you take my advice above, and lay in a good supply of wool socks. Way, way down on the list is fashion. Buy a good set of boots for regular wear, and keep a couple of pairs of inside "dress" shoes into which you change for classes, at the school. Size your "outdoor" boots to be comfortable with 2 pairs of socks (inner silks, outer wools) on at once, or for thick "system" socks, for the maximum in foot protection.
posted by paulsc at 7:19 PM on August 12, 2007

Um, it's still summer in Latvia. You won't be needing the cold weather stuff for a few more months. I'd recommend you wait until you get there.

First up, I doubt the clothes would be that much more expensive than in the US, especially as Latvia is still a relatively poor part of the new Europe, and outlets will stock & price fashion accordingly. Second, you'd do well to get a feel for what the people actually wear, rather than trying to pre-empt the issue & ending up sticking out like a sore thumb.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:22 PM on August 12, 2007

Is there a reason you can't wait to purchase your winter coat until you get to Latvia? This is what I did when I went to Russia and it worked out great-- by the time I needed a winter coat, I was able to see what kinds of winter coats were popular, and it was very nice to look like a local to the casual eye. Also, I would be really surprised if it's impossible to find cheap clothes in Latvia. Figure out where the locals shop, or ask your co-workers.

I have actually never been to Latvia, but in Russia, yes, you wear winter boots when you're tromping around the streets and then change into normal shoes (or even slippers) indoors if necessary.

My advice would be not to overthink this too much. There is nothing worse than packing a giant pile of clothing and then realizing that half of it is either unusable or makes you stick out like a sore thumb. Make sure you have enough clothing that you can get through a couple of days and then plan to get whatever you need when you get there.
posted by posadnitsa at 7:31 PM on August 12, 2007

My advice is to toss aside the fashion stress and consider your number one priority to be keeping yourself comfortable. Wear a scarf, hat, and mitts, and boots, and a warm jacket with good coverage. Wear an undershirt you can tuck into your pants. Scarf/hat/mitts make a HUGE difference, even if you feel dorky. You have to plug up all the entryways for cold air.

There's nothing worse than seeing people trying to hop around in the winter in good leather dress shoes or watching teenage girls in midriff-length parkas with bright red lower backs peeking out. Those people are stupid. It's like, get over yourself, you know? Be smart: be comfortable and be happy.

You must be excited!
posted by loiseau at 8:59 PM on August 12, 2007

Congratulations on this exciting new opportunity!

I think the advice to wait until you get there to buy your new winter wardrobe is good. As someone who moved from a temperate climate to a place where it regularly goes to -20C, -30C in the winter...I understand the anxiety and desire to be prepared. But you've got a better chance of buying appropriate winter clothing in Latvia than Los Angeles.

If you really want to buy some stuff before going, I'd recommend this place: Mountain Equipment Co-op. (You have to buy a one-time $5 CDN membership but it's worth it.) The clothes are well-made and well-priced, and shipping is fast and reasonable. The two items I would recommend getting from MEC are 1) a pair of long thermal underwear that you can wear under your trousers until you get to work, and 2) Yaktrax, a spiked strap-on traction device for your shoes. I am terrified of slipping and falling on ice, and these really help. It's almost impossible to fall, even if you're a klutz.

If I had to pick the two things that have helped me adapt to this climate, these would be it. Oh, and wool is definitely a great fibre for warmth, and layers are your friend.

Good luck!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:03 PM on August 12, 2007

Response by poster: I'll be going through the links everyone's provided...if anyone has more suggestions, keep them coming! Thanks so much!

hurdy gurdy girl: Yaktrax are EXACTLY what I was thinking about when I wrote "shoe...sole...cover...things that I can use to not slip and die on icy sidewalks". Yay, they exist!
posted by mdonley at 11:25 PM on August 12, 2007

mdonley: stay tuned becoz i'll see what i can do in terms of finding out the places to shop for cheap clothes over there (i googled but with little success) so you can compare products & prices - as an Australian Latvian, i should be able to plumb some people on the ground for information. in fact, my sister was in Latvia little more than a month ago & i'll be seeing her tonight, so she might have some tips.

other than that: layering, yeh. i assume that Canadians & Americans from colder areas know all about this, but my experience of Europe in winter is that you're *constantly* moving from cosy heated spaces (trains, buses, shops, restaurants etc) to the chilly outdoors & you need to be able to strip off layers & put them back on with a minimum of fuss becoz otherwise you go insane with the constant wardrobe rearrangements...
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:52 PM on August 12, 2007

Glad to be of help! Oh, by the way, there are other brands besides Yaktrax...Get A Grip is actually the brand I have--I bought them in a local shoe store here, so they're probably fairly widely available.

And I was thinking about it a little more, and I wanted to emphasize what others above have said about a hat. I never realized what a difference a hat can make. Covering your head with a warm hat keeps your whole body warm. It really is like a tea cosy for your body. You mentioned you have a beanie--I don't really know what that is--but it's probably what we Canadians call a toque (pronounced to rhyme with "Luke"). Your toque should definitely be wool--I cannot stress this enough; acrylics just don't cut it--and it should come over your ears, in case you don't want to wear your ear muffs one day.

Advice on hand coverings: mitts (fingers all together, plus thumb) are warmer than gloves (each finger separate). MEC has Gore-Tex shell mitts and separate polar fleece glove liners. These are good because you can wear the liners under the shells for warmth, and when you need more dexterity you can pull the shells off but your hands are still covered by the polar fleece gloves.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:23 AM on August 13, 2007

I'm Norwegian but I've been to Latvia a lot. The place to go for cheap clothes in Riga is the market. It's those old Zeppelin hangars behind the railway station. The quality varies wildly, so have a good look before you buy. There are other, smaller markets too, but ask around when you get there.

For brand type clothes the selection is actually quite good. Have a look around the center, especially the shopping centre at the railway station itself. The prices are comparable to the rest of Europe, which means that for Latvians it is quite expensive.

As far as clothing advice goes (I've got winter warfare experience from the Norwegian army): Use layers! Do not buy an insanely padded winter jacket and expect it to perform well. You'll have to get several layers of clothing and adjust them to your day. For extreme cold winter weather you will need synthetic "technical" breathing long underwear closest to you body, a layer of long wool underwear on top of that, woolen socks and mittens (gloves are useless), windproof overgarments and overmittens (jacket needs ventilation openings and a hood), winter boots, a woolen hat, a scarf and a bring-along sweater for when you're sitting down. Take clothes off when you're moving, and put them on again when you're sitting still. But you will most likely never need this, due to:

a) Riga is on the Baltic, which means wetter and warmer weather than inland and b) you will spend all winter ducking in and out of buildings (warm) and trams (warm).

More likely you will need a hat (a fleece or wool beanie is fine), a windproof jacket that is moderately insulated and shrugs of sleet and light rain, gloves (preferably wool-lined), a scarf and good boots and woolen socks. Keep your nice indoor shoes at work, and change before classes.

Wind and rain will be bigger problems than extreme cold, especially if you're crossing the bridges over Daugava on foot.

I'll end by giving you the two best tips you'll get on living in winter: It's better to be slightly too cold than slightly too warm, and bring a chapstick!

Just ask if you need some advice on living in Riga or coping with Latvians (I'm married to one... ;) )
posted by Harald74 at 1:56 AM on August 13, 2007

ah, Harald74 has come out with good first-hand info. i'll hold back on annoying the second & third cousins ;)
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:32 AM on August 13, 2007

Seconding the wool recommendations (of course, I write knitting books for a living, I'm biased ;) -- but there are reasons it's held up for so many years as THE winter fabric, especially in dampish climes. Wool socks in particular are great to have.

Now, I used to live in Prague and I've traveled all over the eastern reaches of Europe, though the closest I've gotten to Latvia is Gdansk, Poland, and that was November, so not sure it counts, but it never got anywhere near as cold as Cleveland does... you're coming from LA where they wear parkas for 60-degree weather (witnessed at the Burbank airport in October!), your mileage may vary.

I would, before you go, stock up on *real* wool socks, scarf, hat, etc etc and at least one very heavy sweater. When I lived in Prague I found that there were an awful lot of fake wool and horrible wool blends -- those won't do you any good.

Silk thermal underwear sounds absurd but is really effective -- look into getting a pair! :)
posted by at 6:32 AM on August 13, 2007

p.s. -- re: keeping your pants cuffs clean and dry, I learned, after asking quite a few Czech friends WTF was up with all the girls wearing miniskirts and knee boots in the winter -- that's exactly why. Easier to wipe off boots than clean pants, especially in the dire laundry conditions of some apartment buildings.
posted by at 6:34 AM on August 13, 2007

I'm from Scotland so I'm well versed in cold/ windy/ wet weather and what I'd suggest is an all-in-one waterproof down jacket. These are excellent in places with variable weather because waterproof on its own is useless if it's freezing, and warm on its own is useless if it's wet. I own a North Face Goretex goose down jacket which is just the ticket for this. Unfortunately, North Face don't make them any more, but they do make other good warm/ waterproof jackets which don't look like you're about to hop on a ski lift. There's a North Face store on Beverly in Beverly Hills. Oh, and I'm about your size and their smalls fit me perfectly. And I've had my jacket for 7 years now - they're guaranteed for life too.
posted by forallmankind at 7:34 AM on August 13, 2007

I've survived many Riga/Latvian winters. They aren't that bad if you've got a few essentials and a reasonable tolerance for trudging through cold, snowy streets.

In Riga, the first major snow is usually in early October, and it stay on the ground, turning into hard packed ice until Febuary/March or so. It seems to me that the seasons come faster over there than they do in the U.S. By the first break of the school year (a week off in September) it's already cold. October the snow sets in, and it starts to get very cold. Also, it gets dark very early in the day, which is hard to get adjusted to at first (you sort of feel cheated when you get out of school at 3 and then sun's already disappeared, after having struggled to get out of bed in the morning while it’s still dark out), but of course summers make up for that (the summer solstice/ St. John day/ Jaani is pretty much the biggest holiday in Latvia and most of the Baltics, bigger than Christmas). But spring there seems to come early as well, although it still remains cold until March. It's a beautiful thing when little maroon buds appear on the trees and the ice on the rivers starts to break up in big chunks and float down stream. They have a particular name for this time, as they have for most things related to nature. Latvians have a close relationship with the land and continue to have remarkably strong pagan influence in daily life. Lithuania and Latvia were the last and second to last areas of Europe to be Christianized and they’ve stubbornly hung onto a lot of their superstitions. On a side note, buy yourself a calendar when you get to Riga and be cognizant of your students’ names’ days. They will be impressed if you remember.

Sorry for the tangent. Regarding clothing: If I were you, I would do my shopping in the States. It’s true that Latvia has all the same stuff you’d find in any other European country, but clothing is very expensive. Sure, you can do over to the Riga Central Tirgs (the big Market in 3 WWI hangers) but most of the clothing you’ll find there is mostly cheap or hit and miss. I’d go with LL Bean and other reliable retailers so that you know you’re getting a quality product.

Most importantly: it's already been mentioned, but it's important enough to repeat: silk underwear. This is key for when it gets really cold around November. I got a really good pair from LL Bean that I wore over there for a couple of years. They're your foundation. Because
like everyone else has already mentioned, you have to layer. You’ll be going from cold and windy outdoors into hot and stuffy indoors all the time and you’ll be uncomfortable if you can’t constantly adjust peel something off or bundle up again.

Boots: Spend a bit of money if you have to, but get yourself a pair that is waterproof and comfortable for walking, because you’ll probably wear them every day for about 5 months. At least when walking outside. At work you’d be well served to change into normal shoes, and inside other people’s homes you’re expected to take your shoes off, which is a practice that you’ll probably want to adopt for your own apartment. I still wear a pair of Doc Martin boots whenever I’m in Riga during the winter, but I got them specially water-proofed, and I keep a pair of Wellies with me when I’m in the countryside. The streets get very slushy in the early spring and your feet will get cold and wet. As an aside, 10 years ago, they only plowed 2 streets (2 main thoroughfares- 11th of November and 13th of January Streets) and every other road was left covered with snow. Now it’s better, but they still aren’t big on plowing in Riga and in small towns they generally don't. Be prepared to walk through streets with a foot of fresh now on top of several inches of packed ice everyday and make sure your boots have a heavy tread and very good traction. Also, light enough so that you’re still quick on your feet—Riga drivers aren’t overly concerned about running down pedestrians in the road, should you be crazy enough to cross when they deem it their turn to go careening down the street.

Sweaters: lots of ‘em. And turtle-necks.

A scarf: you’ve already got a cashmere one, which is good, but you’ll want to get a few more. Not because your current one isn’t nice and wont serve you well, but because this is so essential that should you forget it at home or should it go missing, you can’t go without it. So buy a couple more cheap ones (don’t bother with more cashmere, although of course they’re nice). It’s very unpleasant to have to wait for your trolley when you’ve forgotten your scarf and it’s -25 C and snowing. And don’t even think about relying on your coat’s built-in hood. It isn’t enough and your ears will turn purple.

Mittens, but if you must, gloves: Annoying when you are trying to get your bus change out of your pocket (actually, on second thought, get a bull/trolley combo monthly pass and a little plastic holder. Much more convenient. They sell them at the train station downtown), but you will be miserable without them. And, like with scarves and hats and other winter essentials, get a bunch of cheap pairs.

Hats: Get yourself several and wear them. Don’t get a ushanka/ shapka (the Russian hat with ear flaps), as Latvians are not Russians, although there’s a large minority in Riga and a majority in places like Daugavpils. You’ll look like a tourist. Who's back from Moscow.

I should post this and get back to work now, but if you’re curious about anything else, email me. Oh, and take heart: They cancel school automatically if it reaches -40 C(or is it -30, I forget).
posted by buka at 11:42 AM on August 13, 2007

« Older Best stores in Albuquerque, NM for musicals on CD?   |   More recent antiques Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.