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Fashionably Surviving Snow

January 29th, 2011

Chances are, if you live in the United States, you’ve been dealing with snow. According to CNN, 49 out of 50 states have had snow, with some areas experiencing over 20 inches.

For the fashion-savvy person, snow is rather annoying. Snow usually requires not only cold weather gear, but also a good amount of weather-proof gear, as walking through snow and salt can absolutely destroy clothing unready for the abuse. Thus, in order to help the many people dealing with snow right now (and to help those who will do so in the future), here are some ideas and tips in order to stay fashionable in the snow.

Boots and other Footwear

By far, the most important thing to worry about when trudging through snow or ice is what to wear on your feet — the right footwear can make all of the difference.

Boots are by far the best choice for going through snow. Because boots cover the ankle (and in taller varieties the lower calf), boots protect more of your legs from cold and wet, which can make a lot of difference when walking outdoors for extended periods of time. Boots also tend to have sturdier soles and construction, allowing them to take much more abuse in bad weather than other shoes. Moreover, boots can also be remarkably fashionable, making them pretty much the ideal winter weather choice. Thankfully, if there was any time to invest in a good pair of boots, it is now — boots are trendy now, meaning there’s a huge variety on the market.

It should be noted, however, that few people actually need legitimate snow boots. Snow boots — lined rubber, leather, or heavy cloth boots with fairly strong soles — are invaluable in bad conditions, but are overkill for most commuters. Because such boots are intentionally large and clunky, they also look rather unattractive. Thus, unless you live in an area where snow and/or ice conditions are truly horrible, snow boots are generally unnecessary.

So what should you look for in a good pair of fashionable but utilitarian winter boots? Here are some ideas:

  • A heavy-duty sole. Soles on shoes take a beating, so don’t skimp on the brand or style. Rubber (or other non-leather) soles are a must. Most legitimate boot makers (Red Wing, Wolverine, etc) have phenomenal soles, but fashion brands (or dressier brands, like Alden) are not made for the abuse snow brings, so keep them in the closet for the winter. Under no circumstances should you wear leather or wooden soled shoes in the snow.
  • Solid, ideally waterproof construction. Cloth boots are pretty useless in the snow, so look for a pair of real leather boots with a well-made upper. True waterproofing is rare, but look for boots that will do their best.
  • Construction made to last. Many good boot manufacturers construct their shoes to last, and typically offer re-soling plans and other maintenance plans for free or for a small charge. If the manufacturer can’t fix their boots, this indicates a lack of craftsmanship that will almost guarantee a short lifespan.
  • An easy-to-clean and easy-to-polish design. Don’t buy anything with an odd or fake design, such as slouch boots or odd colors. Stick with something you can clean off and polish easily — at minimum, you will have to do this every so often in order to clean off water and salt residue.
  • A boot you don’t mind messing up a bit. Under no circumstances should you take $300+ Allen Edmonds boots into the snow. Buy a pair of boots that look nice and are made well (which generally means they will cost more than $100), but boots you won’t feel negligent in abusing. Remember, most boots are made to be worn and abused, not coddled.

Incidentally, if you can’t buy boots for whatever reason, the same rules noted above apply to normal shoes — look for something leather and reasonably waterproof with a sturdy sole.

Staying Warm

Footwear alone won’t save you from the ravages of winter — clothing is incredibly important.

As is the case with snow boots, it’s very unlikely that most people reading this article have a need for legitimate snow gear. While athletic ski brands like The North Face have developed some (inexplicable) popularity, the cold weather gear these brands sell is best suited to sporting and actual athletic use. In most cases, even in heavy snow, “normal” clothing and fabrics will do just fine. In other words, stylish outfits can still be made in order to survive the cold — it’s all about layering and choice.

Some tips and tricks:

  • Layer. Believe it or not, most warm weather clothing can be layered for the winter. For example, while summer weight blazers alone are pretty useless in the winter, when thrown over a sweater they serve as a stylish, slightly warm layer. Certain items, like sweaters, are phenomenal for layering — play around with them as much as possible.
  • Invest in a few good coats. If you live in a cold climate, invest in a few good coats. Because wearing a coat is an absolute necessity in cold weather, variety is nice and assists in outfit construction. At minimum, have one good dressy wool coat. Leather is nice too, but can get somewhat chilly. If you live in an area which has a penchant for nasty wet snow (i.e. half-rain half-snow type stuff), you may want to also purchase a rain coat of some kind.
  • Thicker sweaters are your friend. As I have noted in previous articles, thinner wool or cashmere sweaters are invaluable for layering with a suit; however, these sweaters do poorly in very cold weather. Purchase thick sweaters — while they may not layer quite as nicely, they make up for their size in the sheer amount of warmth they put out.
  • Always have gloves, a scarf, and a hat available. Not only do these articles of clothing keep you warm, but they also can add quite a bit to an otherwise bland outfit. Incidentally, avoid thinner fashion scarves like the thin t-shirt cotton scarves American Apparel sells — buy something substantial.

Other Considerations

Some other considerations to keep in mind:

  • Lug soles don’t exactly prevent slipping and falling much more than flat-soled shoes do. Nonetheless, avoid wearing skate shoes and flat-soled shoes in the snow as much as possible. Shoes like Chuck Taylors lack traction to the point of being ridiculously dangerous. If you wear flat-soled shoes to the gym (as you should if you do olympic lifts), consider swapping out shoes at the gym.
  • Winter weather can easily dry your skin. Even if it’s wet and nasty outside, don’t forget to moisturize — it makes a lot of difference. A humidifier is also a worthy investment.
  • Salt can be removed from pants and other clothing with a little bit of water and, if necessary, dish soap.
  • Wear good, thick socks. Few boots are lined enough to keep your feet warm.
  • Heavy wool and tweed blazers can serve as coats in moderately cold weather.

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