Help me outfit myself for my expedition to the Yukon. Well, not quite... but pretty close.
July 21, 2008 10:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to go off to college- in Massachusetts, when I've lived in Texas my entire life. Ideally, I'd like not to freeze all winter, so I'm looking for your clothing/lifestyle advice geared to someone without a clue. Additionally, the only members of my family who've lived anywhere cold are male, while I've fairly recently embraced my dressing-like-a-girl options. Any advice about how women in Our Frozen Territories stay warm without giving up on looking nice is especially appreciated.

I've seen this thread, and while helpful, I think I need some more concrete advice (links to specific products, please!). I know layers are good, hats/scarves/gloves are key, etc., but I could use some advice more tailored to my situation.

I'd like to do as much shopping as I reasonably can while at home. Cold weather clothing is scarce in Texas in July, but I currently live within 20 minutes of five malls, while my transportation and shopping options are waay limited in the tiny New England town I'm going to be in. What places carry the kind of stuff I need year-round?

And what kind of stuff do I need, anyway? I know I need a warm jacket, but I don't want to go down there with something huge and warm and find that it's overkill most of the school year. Adjustable options? A coat wardrobe? What do people have up there?

As for other clothes, I want to be warm, but I don't want to entirely sacrifice my newly found girl dressing abilities. I have a decent handle on what looks good on me down here, but tank tops and sundresses are not going to cut it up there. What do people wear in this context (college girl in cold region)? As a teenage girl, fitting in is a concern, as well as not looking like a dork among my new peers who've lived with snow their entire lives.

Another thing: shoes. After being a one pair of shoes kind of girl for years, I've discovered the joys of owning multiple pairs. Mostly, sadly, the cute kind that are not practical in the cold. I suspect I need some kind of waterproof boot sort of thing for snow, but what else? Are their boots appropriate for snow out there that don't look like ugly hiking boots?

I'm pretty much trying to create a new wardrobe for myself, here. Help me, please!
posted by MadamM to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (34 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A lot of this will depend somewhat on your lifestyle while you're here. If you're going to be commuting, you'll need certain clothes whereas if you're living on campus [and not paying for heat] you'll need something different. If you're really into oudoor sports [or decide you love snowboarding or showshoeing] you'll get something else. A lot of people manage to be decent looking in New England despite having to dress for winter.

That said, the answer to this question "Are their boots appropriate for snow out there that don't look like ugly hiking boots?" is yes, but you may find that ugly hiking boots are the best boots though you may not feel that they're the best looking. After a winter here, you may actually change your mind about what looks good. That said, many people have big clunky boots for getting around in and then change to something nicer looking if they're going to be inside a lot, especially in college people may have indoor shoes specifically for this, or even slippers.

So, to be specific

- silk underwear allows you to have something that feels good on your body, looks decent (or at least not bulky) under clothes and is very warm. Here is a good example. That can be a bottom layer underneath a nice shirt, sweater or anything else.
- mukluks are big this year. I don't know if they're your style but a lot of people in Vermont wear them with pretty much any old thing. They're not great if you're walking around roads which tend to be heavily salted but for just padding around in the snow they're warm and comfy.
- wool tights - you can wear these under skirts and still show your legs unless it's SUPER cold. That said, they're spendy and depending, can be itchy so it's best to try these on and see if they're for you.

Really you can get away with wearing nearly anything if you have a good set of outdoor clothes, unless you're living someplace where the house is super cold (this is not unlikely, but then you face different challenges). So for ourdoors you need to cover up which means hat (whoch covers your ears, preferably wool), wool scarf (not optional, not not not), gloves or mittens (waterproof if possible or with liners), boots and a jacket that covers your waistline [halfway down your butt is sort of minimum] and goes all the way down your arms and preferably has a collar. What sort of jacket really depends. You'd want a lighter more flexible one if you're driving a lot, a down/puffy one if you're doing outdoor sports, a long one if you wear skirts a lot possibly. Some of this depends on how you already dress.

Some basic things to know

- heels and snow don't mix well
- snow can be salty which is hell on shoes which is one reason to have some clunky boots
- layers matter a lot but you can layer without looking like a potato
- type of fabric really matters - wool sweaters are loads better than cotton or polyester, so look for wool on the tag. You can get nice blends and really soft fuzzy sweaters so don't let the fisherman's sweater look throw you off.

Even though I know you want to suit up before going to college keep in mind that getting here in Autumn, it's still pretty warm [60s and 70s often until October] so you won't immediately be in the freezer] and you can go shopping up here where there will be more choices and you can try stuff on. Most New England colleges have someplace within a drive where the students shop so I'd assume you could do this okay. If you're going to school near Vermont call me and I'll personally take you shopping if you're in a jam. Good luck.
posted by jessamyn at 10:32 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

An easy choice for basics: L. L. Bean. If you want something more posh and young, J. Crew. Backup-- Land's End. Bean tailoring is pretty classic, and you can order from your home. While the don't have a lot of cold-weather stuff up right now, it comes out pretty soon.

Boots-- from someone who has lived in Buffalo for 15 years, these are great. These, too. I like the Bean's gum boots. The key is insulation and waterproofing. Don't worry if you think the boot is ugly. If it is warm and waterproof, you are good. People don't even notice boots around here-- they are effectively invisible because a relatively hearty boot is necessary. So you can look around for cuter boots, but in the end, there are few options for really cold weather that will be totally fashionable.

Stock up on thin sweaters (cashmere if you have the cash) with cute, high-quality tees underneath. You will do well to have a fleece. I do a lot of oxfords with cashmere cardigans or fair isle sweaters, and then a fleece over it for running around outside in 20's-40's weather.

One item of clothing I have owned in many iterations over the years is a wool, roll-neck sweater. I usually went with the J. Crew one. But they are just the thing on a snowy, cold day. For me, wearing one is like not really leaving the warm bed.

I have one cold weather coat and one that is good for layering (so it is slightly too big). The big deal up this way is the wind. It can be relatively warm (30 degrees) but if the wind is kicking up, I will wear my heavy-duty coat.

Silk long underwear for under your jeans--thin and warm. Flannel PJs. A few sweatshirts for bumming around in cooler areas. Good slippers with a rubber sole. Thick socks-- wool if you can wear them. Good gloves (nearly ski gloves) and a cute hat.
posted by oflinkey at 10:45 PM on July 21, 2008

And jessamyn is right. I forgot the scarf (ow could I forget? I must have edited it out...). Not optional.
posted by oflinkey at 10:48 PM on July 21, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, Jessamyn! To answer your questions: I'm living on campus, so I'm looking at ~20 minute tramps through the snow and not a lot of winter sports (although I might end up learnign to love em). I'm going to Williams College, to be a little more specific on region. That silk underwear looks nice- I can see wearing that under a sweater/shirt/cardigan where here, I'd just go with a camisole. As for boots, well... I can deal with hiking style boots, I just don't know what's out there. I'm not so into the Ugg/mukluk type stuff, unless they really are the best thing to get.

My own fashion sense, such as it is, doesn't go too far beyond jeans and shirts and so forth, but I've started to wear dresses and skirts and would like to be able to continue that at school. I have a feeling tights will be my friend.
posted by MadamM at 10:50 PM on July 21, 2008

Disclaimer: I live in Boston, but I am not a girl. Take my links as general suggestions.

I would recommend going somewhere like EMS/REI or order online from one of the many outdoor retailiers (Moosejaw, Backcountry) and find a shell. Something like this (cheaper) or this (more expensive). This is practical, warm, and eminently useful. It will stuff into a backpack if necessary, but keep you warm and dry in the most terrible of conditions. Do not skimp on this item and go to Wal-Mart for some cheap knockoff. You want the real deal. Now you want something to layer under the shell, any fleece will do. For less cold or more casual settings, a sweatshirt, a sweater, or even just a long sleeve T shirt will do you just fine. I would also recommend some fleece pants or long underwear bottoms. Under your pants, they will keep you much warmer than without on those really chilly days.

Next, invest in some quality socks. To go with those socks, you will need shoes. Be realistic. Are you going to shoveling snow and trudging 5 miles to work everyday? Or are you going to spend most of your day at home and in the office, with a short walk down to driveway to get into a car? Most of the time you really don't need a full length boot, you just want something with comfort, insulation, and good traction for the icy sidewalks. Something like this perhaps. Less frequently, you do want a boot. I would go with something that doesn't have a whole bunch of laces, something comfy you can just slip on and off as needed. Like this.

Round your repertiore out with some light gloves, a scarf, and a hat. You should be good to go.
posted by sophist at 10:53 PM on July 21, 2008

Response by poster: And thanks oflinkey, too. I'm slightly worried that if I shop at Land's End, etc., I'll end up looking like a mom. Which is not quite my ideal. I might be biased because the mother of a good friend of mine wears pretty much Land's End exclusively, and well, quilted down vests are not my thing.
posted by MadamM at 10:53 PM on July 21, 2008

I moved from Atlanta (whee! coat? who needs a coat?) to Chicago last August, and in the winter I quickly realized that my pseudo-winter clothing just wouldn't cut it. Frankly, it's going to be colder than you can now imagine it will ever be. That said, there's a lot you can do to keep warm, even while others are shivering around you:

- There's just no way you're going to find warm enough clothing in Texas, no matter the time of year. If you won't be able to shop in your new home, look online, at the sites others have mentioned.

- When buying sweaters and scarves, get wool or cashmere, to keep you warm. Cashmere is generally a thinner material, while wool range from thin to super-thick and cuddly. Don't bother messing with acrylic or cotton sweaters, unless they're for fall wear. They just won't keep you as warm. I've managed to buy some nice cashmere sweaters for fairly cheap on eBay. You might try that if you don't mind used clothing, and taking a bit of a chance on fit.

- You need a coat, not a jacket. This is an important distinction. Get a coat rated for cold-weather wear. Mine keeps me warm in -10 degree weather. Goose down is good. I also have knit mittens for "warmer" days (say, 40-20 degrees), and heavy-duty gloves for when it's super-cold. I hate hate hate having cold hands. Check LL Bean as a starting point.

- Stop worrying so much about "cute" outerwear. You can find outerwear that still looks good and will protect you. When you're outside in temps cold enough to literally freeze off your fingers and toes, you tend to focus more on what's important: warmth. Snow boots aren't great-looking (IMO), but it's worth it to remain warm and not slip around on ice and snow. Layers of thin tops, including silk long johns, do help with the cute factor.
posted by runningwithscissors at 11:21 PM on July 21, 2008

Like sophist, I'm not a girl, but I lived in Boston for 4 years and the northeast for the remainder of my life. The winters sound scary and can definitely be cold, but Massachusetts isn't that far north that you'll have to sacrifice fashion. In the winter, for example, I'm pretty happy walking for hours in a pair of boots, a couple of layers (shirt + sweater), gloves, hat, and a wool overcoat. I haven't bought anything from Land's End and probably never will.

The two things that can make a world of difference are a good pair of boots (EMS is good at this) or overshoes and warm usually wool socks.

I wouldn't worry too much about stocking up on everything now, before you know what the Williams fashions are like. You may want to wait on some of the big purchases until you see what sort of style Williams has before heading to the store. When I was in college (I graduated in 2004), Williams tended to be a combination of sporty and preppy, but these things change.

Good luck!
posted by eisenkr at 11:29 PM on July 21, 2008

I wouldn't stock up too much until you get to school and see what 'everyone else' is wearing.

But what you can stock up on is:

- Jeans and other pants
- 2-4 sweaters that you like and fit your taste
- A down coat (there is likely to be a hot winter coat - North Face or something else that everyone will be wearing, so I'd wait on this and wear the dressy coat)
- A dressy coat (pea coat or something similar - this will work in fall, winter and early spring)
- A fleece jacket for fall and spring (there is probably a hot jacket, North Face or something as well, but pick up any one you like)
- 2-3 pairs of thicker socks

- Some boots that you don't mind destroying. You're not going to be walking through snow per se, rather you'll be walking on shoveled sidewalks (and not til November at least). Every season there is a boot that everyone is wearing and a knock off version.

Personally I, and many of my classmates, wore durable sneakers in the winter and we were fine.

I've lived in cold climates most of my life and I only wear long underwear for outdoor sports. Sure, you might want to get a set if you think that you're going to ski or something, but I don't think that it is a requirement.

I wouldn't stress out about this too much now. You can do a lot of shopping online. I'd say get the dressy coat, get the fleece, get a sweater or 2 and see how the rest works out.
posted by k8t at 11:30 PM on July 21, 2008

Oh - and hat/mittens/scarf! These are fun to shop for. I'd suggest getting 1 pair of Target black gloves and then some cuter colorful gloves.
posted by k8t at 11:32 PM on July 21, 2008

Best answer: I went to Williams. Williams is small and isolated, and the winters can be truly glorious, especially if you get out into the mountains, but it's really not like you're moving to the Yukon.

There's plenty of good advice upthread, but here's my two-cents:

Walking around campus in the winter, 90% of the time all you need is a decent jacket (you'll see a LOT of North Face fleece, assuming things haven't changed that much in the past 7 years) and maybe a hat. It's a small campus, and walking from class to class you might be outside for five minutes. You won't freeze to death in that time. For when it snows you might want a decent pair of boots, but they get the walkways cleared pretty quickly after -- even during -- a storm, so most of the time your regular sneakers will do just fine. Even on the coldest days you won't be outside long enough to need heavy-duty winter gear if you don't want to be. Message: don't worry too much!

All this said, Williams provides a lot of opportunity to get out into the woods in winter, through the existence of many trails and the freely available gear and organized trips from the Outing Club. I can't recommend taking advantage of these enough -- my own experience in the winter at Williams led to a real love of the outdoors, especially the wintery outdoors. If you do choose that option, you might want to invest in some better outdoor gear, in which case, sophists suggestion of a trip to REI is a good one. You'd want some good Gore-Tex boots and a Gore-Tex shell, fleece jacket, wool or polypro baselayers, etc. If you're going on a WOOLF trip, your packing list is probably not a bad place to start ( (In fact, if you're not going on a WOOLF trip, this would still be a decent place to start if you plan on spending a lot of time hiking, snowshoeing, xc skiing, etc. while at Williams.

Feel free to email or MeMail if you have any specific questions about Williams in winter, or, just about what it's like in general.
posted by dseaton at 11:32 PM on July 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I grew up in Tennessee and went to college in Boston so I had to do a similar wardrobe stocking. I basically agree with everything people have said here, but I'll add/concur with a few things that were particularly important to me.

-Long underwear. Seriously, it saved my life. I never understood wearing seven layers on top but just jeans on the bottom. I knew a ton of people who didn't bother with long underwear, but that just seemed nuts to my poor, Southern self. I had a silk pair and a warmer synthetic pair that I basically put on in December and wore until March (and then threw away to mark my move to San Francisco.)

-Socks. I like SmartWool. They're warm, don't itch hardly at all, and keep your feet warm even if they get damp.

-Boots. I bought a serious clunky pair and was always thankful to have them, but I ended up wearing them less and less. They were just so ugly and I'm so vain. I got a pair of black leather knee high boots with a flexible, grippy sole and a very low wedge heel that I waterproofed the hell out of and ended up wearing all the time. It was a lucky find and kept my lower legs warmer. Take a look at La Canadienne boots. They're adorable (neither embarrasing Ugg miseries nor horrid LL Bean monstrosities) but still waterproof and hardcore.

-Layers aren't just good for keeping you warm, they're helpful for when you get inside and have to peel some off to keep from getting heat stroke.

-Coats. Certainly, you'll need serious Coat with a capital C rather than just a jacket. However, it doesn't have to be ugly puffy nylon. I had a nice wool pea coat from J. Crew with the thinsulate lining, but honestly, with the lining and a sweater and shirt, it was almost too warm most of the time. My other, unlined warm coat got more wear. Also, this won't be a concern your first winter out, but I ended up finding I liked having more than one coat. You wear it for so damn much of the year, it can be depressing to see yourself in the same thing day after day. I had a sky blue one, a cardinal red one, a charcoal gray jacket, and a flamboyant vintage number that I switched between by my senior year.

-If you're not used to wearing a hat, it's time to start getting accustomed to the idea. Yes, it will squish your hair, but no, nobody will care because everyone's hair is squished. A warm head equals a happy human. Every time my mom would visit in the winter, she'd just refuse to wear a hat and always froze her butt off as a result. The perfect, bouncy hair was little consolation.

-Tights. For the months before and after doom middle of winter cold, knee high boots and colorful tights with a skirt provide nice variety. Plus, they're really in right now.

-Lip balm and moisturizer. Not exactly wardrobe related, but I found dry radiator heat and brisk wind really did a number on my skin and lips.
posted by mostlymartha at 12:04 AM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Jackets:
-For fall you will want a fall-weight jacket. This will be fine through October, and maybe Nov-Dec depending on your tolerance. I think of these as good for the 55-30 degrees temp range. These coats should be waterproof or water resistant and have "light insulation", maybe of flannel or thin fleece, and shouldn't be too bulky. There are lots of styles here and you won't go too far wrong.
Here are a few examples; you can probably find more stylish ones in the stores in Texas. example "lined barn coat", example "lined riding coat"

another example, fleece jacket from North Face

-In Jan-Feb, you will probably have temps that are routinely in the 20s and sometimes lower, so you will want a next level of coat. This coat should have good insulation, and there is less room for creative style choices. Down is the warmest. Often they will say what its temperature ratings are; you want comfort below 20 degrees for sure. I always liked having a hood that could attach to my big winter coat, since very occasionally you will want wool hat + hood. example of puffy down coat without hood; example down parka with attached hood.

For a winter jacket, you may not be able to find what you need in Texas in July. But you can mail-order from LL Bean or a similar place. Don't get panicky over this yet; the seriously cold weather will not come until January, and you will assuredly have chances to shop once you're there (or mail order).

-For winter boots, I would say get a pair of good snow boots (example - key features are: rubber foot area, proper boot height rather than show height, insulated) , especially if you think you will want to be enjoying snowball fights, sledding or other outdoor activity. Columbia makes good ones too. You may also want to get more stylish boots, and by all means browse around but by mid-February, campus paths will have a lot of slush and salt, and you may find you want warm, indestructible snow boots. They don't need to be super Arctic expedition boots either, provided they have the three features I listed above.

Layering basics (you will end up with more than one of each, but I would get at least one of each for starters):
-A fleece with a zip neck: example of the shape I mean
-A wool cardigan or v-neck (so it's easy to put on and take off) Jessamyn is exactly right about the difference between wool and cotton or acrylic. Get wool for sweaters you will be wearing past September. Even thin wool will be warmer than cotton, and it will hold its shape better over the long run.
-A thickish cotton zip-front hoodie (Probably obvious but: hoodies are a nice layering choice because they mean if it turns out to be colder than you thought, you can wear the hood and be warmer. When I lived in New England I got in the habit of bringing a hoodie with me in the afternoon even if the weather looked like it would be in the 60s, because if it dips down into the high 40s a hoodie will still be enough to get you back across campus.)
-If you are prone to being cold, remember that chest and neck coverage matters hugely. Turtlenecks or zip-v's that can become low turtlenecks are a LOT warmer than v-necks.
-Silk long underwear is super nice to have for the dead of winter. You could probably wait until Christmas for this, since you will need it most in Jan-Feb.

-Wool socks. Smartwool makes good ones. Skip the cotton ones except for the gym.

-Accessories like gloves, hats, scarves, will be much easier to get in season than now, so I wouldn't sweat getting them now. You will be able to find them in your town for sure, and they are typically inexpensive. But here are suggestions:

-Winter hat - fleece example 1, example 2, or wool example 1, example 2, etc. Ear flaps are nice though not an absolute necessity in my book. Don't get something made of flimsy acrylic or something with an open weave.

A fleece earband (example) might be useful depending on how you wear your hair. A hat will always keep you warmer, though.

A balaclava will be overkill; don't get one yet. example. Ditto for giant Russian fur hats, hunter hats with fur wrap-around sections for the neck, etc. You won't need them. A nice inexpensive wool or fleece beanie/watch-cap is good because you can get a couple and stash them in the pockets of your different coats.

-Scarf - silk ones are lovely, stylish, and are great indoors or for outdoor wear when it's above freezing. (example) But they aren't enough when the weather is below freezing. You want a wool or fleece (example) scarf for winter.

-Mittens are warmer than gloves. I would advise getting a couple of pairs of wool ones rather than high-tech fabric ones, but you may need to just try it out and see what works for you. Wool is water-resistant, but if you will be doing heavy activity handling snow then you'll want better waterproofing.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:11 AM on July 22, 2008

Best answer: A lot of the links here to LL Bean and such are to things that are particularly suited for being outdoors for LONG periods of time in "sporty" type situations. Don't worry too much. You do not need to buy boots specific for hiking seventeen miles in the snow.

What's important is to have shoes (or boots) that are closed-toe and waterproof. I wore Doc Marten Mary Janes every single day in college in MA (I also grew up in VT) and I was just fine.

For coats, I would recommend getting some sort of peacoat that goes down long enough to cover your butt. It is important to be able to SIT DOWN somewhere in the winter without your butt freezing to whatever you are sitting on. Peacoats are also generally more stylish than wearing a big parka, and a wool one will be just as warm.

And hey! Winter means pretty accessories! Hats, scarves, and mittens can be super super cute. And legwarmers have been making a resurgence, so layer 'em with tights and skirts and it'll be awesome.

The Holyoke Mall is a really awesome place to go shopping for all of this kind of stuff and it's only a little more than an hour down on RT 2. I'm sure someone, at some point, will be making a fashion exodus there and you'll be able to hitch a ride. :)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:52 AM on July 22, 2008

Cashmere. It's lightweight and *very* warm. It's spendy, but you can get good deals pre-christmas at places like Kohl's, JC Penny's and some department stores. Also, when you go to your malls, check out the deeply discounted racks in the major departments stores. They'll occasionally have crazy deals on one lone cashmere sweater ($20!) that somehow turned up in the off season. Thrift stores also have a surprising number of cashmere sweaters; I buy them to sleep in!

I also only wear cashmere hats. And I sleep in them. (Note that though I live in NC, I keep my house crazy cold in the winter, and I grew up in Michigan.)

One other thing about layering; if you're trekking for 20 minutes in the cold and then entering into an often overly-heated building, you will be very glad to be wearing a normal-weight shirt under your two sweaters and heavy coat.

Have fun and try cross country skiing! (Borrow the gear to start out; your classmates may have a parka you can try.)
posted by Stewriffic at 3:57 AM on July 22, 2008

When you get to New England, go to TJ Maxx and pick up a couple of cashmere sweaters. You'll definitely want some long underwear for the really cold days but you'll be surprised at how rarely you wear it-- get some long sleeved cotton shirts for layering as well.

Tights are key-- get some thicker ones to keep you legs warm when you're wearing skirts. Personally, I do wear legwarmers (I knit them but you can buy them at some mall stores) with skirts in the winter, but I am old and you are young so I don't know if that's hip or not. :)

If I were to buy a single thing for the winter I'd get a long (calf-length) down coat with a hood. That way you can wear cute clothes underneath and still stay warm.

I've found cute boots at DSW-- again, might as well wait till you're in New England. You'll have a couple of months to shop.
posted by miss tea at 4:18 AM on July 22, 2008

Merrell makes great warm boots, and they're cute. The Tetra Launch style is waterproof, and I can personally attest to the awesomeness of the waterproof Spire Peak--my feet have never felt better, and I do a lot of (city) walking. Check Amazon, they may have better prices.
posted by CiaoMela at 6:16 AM on July 22, 2008

Oh, I think this is the third time I've recommended those boots on this site. Well, they really are great. [Not a shill.]
posted by CiaoMela at 6:18 AM on July 22, 2008

I grew up and went to school in New England but I live in Texas now. I think it should be noted here that part of the joy of layering is UNWRAPPING. So, you get to class and you are a toasty, frosty bundle, and then you unwrap yourself and you are wearing basically normal clothes plus silk thermals. Lots of places have weird heat and you may be very happy to be able to unwrap a LOT.

Also, common anecdote: I had a friend who had come to Boston from San Diego, where he had lived his whole life. He knew it was going to be cold, so he bought warm, stylish stuff for the winter.

By December 1st he had gotten the biggest, dorkiest, puffiest, down and gortex military grade arctic coat that money could buy, and matched it with elbow-length sheepskin mittens and an ear-flap cap. There's no shame in being warm, and no one will think the less of you for it, ESPECIALLY when they find out you are from a warm place. It'll be charming.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:19 AM on July 22, 2008

I wear skirts and dresses almost exclusively and I live in NYC. For leg protection I've become a big fan of this combination because I mostly hate tights: CuddleDuds long underwear on my legs, with over the knee socks from SockDreams, and good knee high boots. I also wear a flannel half slip made by my aunt (I've never seen such a thing for sale on the market), which helps cut the wind blowing though my skirt.
posted by kimdog at 6:22 AM on July 22, 2008

Ask someone how to wrap your scarf. You wear a scarf for warmth much differently than you wear a scarf for fashion!

I moved from Texas to Chicago, and it was just a lot of trial and error and getting used to it. It's really not that bad, especially if you accept that there's "dressed to look really stylish" and "dressed for a blizzard" and not a lot of cross-over. Layers work not only because the insulation is better, but because it's really cold waiting 20 minutes for a bus, really hot riding a bus for 20 minutes in all your winter gear and a pain in the ass to wrap up completely to walk ten feet to the next classroom building. You use layers to regulate those differences throughout the day.

Definitely get a coat long enough to cover your butt. Definitely get gloves long enough to cover your wrists and a coat with cuffs long enough to come to the bone on your wrist. Minimize the amount of you exposed to the air and you'll be fine. Stash extra gloves in your bag, stash an extra hat in your locker/study carrel/best friend's car. You'll lose them and be glad you have spares.

As for specific suggestions of what to buy and where, I am a huge fan of icebreaker wool underthings, which I always buy on sale at Sierra Trading Post. I like silk long underwear too, but it can generate a lot of static electricity.
posted by crush-onastick at 6:23 AM on July 22, 2008

Oh, I forgot to mention, a thin, hemmed, oblong piece of woolen fabric, like a thin blanket, is a great multi-purpose cold weather tool. Get one thin enough and long enough that you can use it as a scarf or as a hood or shawl depending on your needs at the time.

Also, learn to tie your scarf the other way, where you double it around and pull the end through (Google is failing me, and I don't have time to explain this well. Anyone?) - it stays put better, is warmer, and looks good.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:25 AM on July 22, 2008

Staying warm will be easy if you follow all these suggestions. Anthropologie has cute sweaters that no one will mistake for menswear or momswear.

In the feminine vein, I cannot recommend highly enough the humble shawl, especially a lightweight tightly woven wool number like this one (picked at random). In biting cold you can wrap your head in it, hat and all, and use it to cover your face if necessary.

Once you've ducked inside, some buildings will be overheated, some not. In the latter case, if you start to feel a chill, a shawl's a lot easier to quickly layer or unlayer during class than a sweater or coat. [The rest of the year, it's great backup for nighttime temperature drops. (Incidentally, these pack up nicely. I took one to Texas with me last time I went down for a conference. Great for the plane ride, helped me endure the air conditioning down there, and I got tons of compliments on it.)]
posted by pammo at 7:11 AM on July 22, 2008

As people have said, don't buy your winter clothes in Texas. I had a roommate who brought stuff from somewhere south. She then had to rebuy everything, because she had very little that was appropriate. There will be a great selection of stylish and warm winter stuff in a place that has winter -- also, stylish means different things in different regions.

Layers layers layers. People tend to take everything off as soon as they're inside. You do not want to be warm when you're inside, because then you're going to freeze to death when you're outside. This can mean short sleeves inside, because some buildings don't moderate heat well. This will mean taking off the long underwear under your jeans during the day. I often layer long underwear over heavy tights -- along with a long wool skirt, knee high boots and a long enough jacket I stay warm. I then take off the long underwear when I'm inside. On the days it's really cold, no one is looking to see if you're stylish.

Be sure to have boots that are high enough that you're not going to get snow pouring into them when you walk in it. Turtle fur/polar fleece is awesome. Blankets, shawls, hoodies, pants. Bear in mind that you will probably not wear shoes inside people's houses, though you can always bring a spare pair around. Find a coat that has elastic cuffs so the air doesn't get in.

You may want to buy a humidifier for the winter.

But mostly: wait. You don't know what you'll need or want until it gets closer. Options will be a lot less limited than you think they will, even in a small town.
posted by jeather at 7:37 AM on July 22, 2008

You will now find out why women in cold climates have a reputation for looking dowdy (or as you put it "like moms"). We look really cute once we're inside, but outside in the wind it's all about warmth. But don't worry, because we all look like that.

Lots of good stuff upthread, just want to add that you need to think about layering and I'm talking serious layering, because while our outdoors is underheated (so to speak), our indoors is often overheated, so you need to be able to adapt. I usually do camisole-tank or t-shirt-sweater. Then the outerwear-- scarf, coat, gloves, hat, sometimes a wooly shawl over or under the coat on especially windy days. Warm waterproof boots are a must, and you're going to be wearing them all day unless you want to be hauling shoes around outside and boots around inside. I'd start with the basics for now, see how cold you get and then fill in once you're in MA at the resale shops. You'll get stuff cheaper and more pertinent to what you need.
posted by nax at 8:00 AM on July 22, 2008

Missed the second shirt: s/b camisole, tank or t-shirt, shirt, sweater.
posted by nax at 8:01 AM on July 22, 2008

Columbia is a pretty trendy brand that has good winter coats/jackets and boots. I live in Michigan, and this is what the college kids are wearing in the winter.
posted by at 8:01 AM on July 22, 2008

If you plan on spending time outdoors in winter (and I suggest you do, staying indoors all the time will get you very depressed) then a very good winter coat is a must. If you can afford it, the Kanuk brand is an excellent choice.
posted by Vindaloo at 8:47 AM on July 22, 2008

FYI, do not worry too much about your style. Assuming you find New England men amenable, you will discover that most of us are well acclimated to women covering up like it's Saudi Arabia. It's just that much more enticing. I speak for many of my NE brethren when I say we're much more interested in a woman bundled up in Bean, who looks ready for a weekend at a wood-stove heated cabin, than one who seems to think that losing a pinkie toe to frostbite might help her squeeze in her stylish heels.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 9:12 AM on July 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sturdy, knee-high leather boots will keep your whole body much warmer and are cuter than snow boots, and you can wear them with skirts and tights. I live in these all winter. Paired with a knee-length coat, I stay pretty warm.

The Holyoke Mall is a good place to shop. You might want to look into a day trip up to the outlets in Freeport, Maine, in the early fall--there's lots of good retailers there that will have tons of warm clothes, at a discount. You definitely don't want to be buying your winter gear in Texas.

And yeah, layers, silk long underwear, layers, hats, lots of cute big scarves, layers, mittens (warmer than gloves), down coat, layers--you'll be fine! Oh, did I mention you want layers? ;) (Kids at my high school in Western MA used to just wear 7-10 shirts and a hat/scarf, no winter coat.)

Have fun!
posted by min at 10:11 AM on July 22, 2008

Massachusetts girl here,

American Apparel Thigh High Socks!! Wear them under jeans.
Additionally, Thick tights under jeans.
Boots with a slight wedge or platform--it sounds completely weird but having your feet further from the snow and the freezing ground actually does keep them warmer and dryer. And yes, of course boots come warm and cute. If I weren't at work right now I'd find you a picture, but I got a great pair at Nordstrom for just under 100$.
Gloves should be longer than your wrists--because theyre cute, and because freezing between your glove and sleeve is no fun at all.

If your school is anything like mine, the insides of the buildings and dorms will be so overheated you will still wear tee shirts under all this anyway, and find yourself going through moisturizer like never before.
Don't worry about the looks part--we have years and years of consumerism and vanity under our belts, and warm things come in all sorts of styles. You'll be fine.
posted by shadowfelldown at 10:13 AM on July 22, 2008

In my experience as a Mass girl we dress comfy and warm normally, then for pretty and impractical going out at night.

And no - this isnt the yukon, BUT man when that wind comes whipping you'll wanna be bundled up!!
posted by beccaj at 11:00 AM on July 22, 2008

As for boots, ankle to knee height boots of hard leather (suede will get messed up by the salt and snow) will be fine for almost all campus - commuting. Just wear warm socks underneath. Rubber or other synthetic waterproof material works too, but it's harder to find cute stuff. Make sure there aren't openings close to the bottom (like for a zipper slit), or water will seep in. Set some money aside if you think you might be interested in winter sports, so you can buy some serious (-ly ugly) boots for that. Check out Burlington Coat Factory once you get up to MA, they have a wide selection of warm coats, some of which are really cute. For the Fall, get a light jacket, H and M usually has a good selection of cute fitted jackets. And definitely make sure your hat covers all of your ears without you having to pull down on it (you won't believe how cold earlobes can get). Have fun!
posted by fermezporte at 5:52 PM on July 22, 2008

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