I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where winters were harsh and long and school was very, very rarely cancelled. And while I didn’t walk uphill both ways to school, I did walk about two miles round trip, almost every day, in often bitter, subzero temperatures.
Strangely, I don’t remember ever feeling chilly while growing up in such a cold climate. Winter was just a fact of life, something we dealt with and prepared for and dressed for. I wore long johns under my pants December through March; we rarely left the house without snowpants, gloves and hats during the winter months. We built fires in the evening and wore sweaters and warm socks inside.
It wasn’t until I moved downstate at the age of 12 that I started hating the winter. My theory? I got spoiled by the unpredictable, up-and-down weather in lower Michigan, and started taking the occasional warm-ish day for granted. Instead of treating every day from December through March as winter and dressing for the cold, I started feeling inconvenienced by cold days and living for warmer ones.
At some point, I also stopped dressing appropriately for winter in the upper Midwest. I’d throw on any old shoes before going outside and eschewed scarves and gloves on all but the most frigid days.
Finally, one day I had to ask myself if I really wanted to be so miserable all winter long. Maybe there were some subtle changes I could make to the way I dressed that could help me feel more functional – and less like hiding under a down comforter – during the winter months.
So for the past several years I’ve been making changes to the way I dress, indoors and out, and I’ve found that a few simple additions to my daily wardrobe make me a lot happier. In light of the crazy-cold temps and winter weather so many of us are experiencing right now, I thought I’d share five essential pieces that are helping me stay warm – without cranking up the thermostat:
I used to wear wimpy slippers that only covered the bottoms of my feet, but they didn’t accomplish much besides keeping my socks from getting wet when I walked through tracked-in snow. A few years ago I got a set of calf-high Muk Luks for Christmas and they changed the way I experience winter. Now my feet and legs are always toasty and warm, and I’ve become quite the evangelist. My sister-in-law Jenna even brings over her Muk Luks when she hangs out at my house for the evening. We midwesterners know how to stay cozy, yo.
My new pair of Malena Muk Luks are my favorite yet. Technically they are boots, but they are so soft and comfortable they feel like slippers, and I only wear them in the house to keep them dry and clean. (I really don’t think they would stand up to a wet Michigan winter or spring with a lot of outdoor wear, but they might work as boots in a warmer, drier climate.) I wear them more than I wear my regular boots, so they are totally worth the price tag. If you’re in the market for a less expensive pair, Jenna has – and loves – the Helga style slippers.
Just like a good pair of indoor slippers, every cold-weather dweller needs a good pair of outdoor boots. I don’t mean wimpy “fashion” boots that leak when you step in a puddle and let in wind like they’re made of cheesecloth, but honest-to-goodness BOOTS that cover a decent part of your ankle (preferably also your calf), resist melting snow, and provide enough traction to keep you from falling down on hard-packed snow or ice. The first footwear I ever spent more than $100 on was a pair of suede knee-high Born boots, similar to these, seven or eight years ago. I wear them almost every day, November through March, and they still look new.
A house sweater.
A few years ago my husband gave me a snuggly cardigan made of thick yarn from the Gap. Since it was so big and puffy it barely fit under a coat, I instead adopted it as my “house sweater.” I’m a big fan of cuddly, warm bathrobes too, but a sweater actually feels like part of an outfit instead of sleepwear, which is important when you want to feel like a productive member of society.
I wore my original house sweater so much it started to fall apart, and since then I’ve gone through several incarnations. The best house sweaters are drapey, soft, and warm like this long, thick hooded cardigan from Amazon.
Make a house sweater part of your winter experience. I promise, you will thank me. And if you work outside the home, keep one in your office, too.
A Lightweight Scarf.
I was a little slow to adopt the scarf-as-fashion-accessory trend, mostly because I got confused by how to tie them (yes that is true) and thought I wouldn’t like having something around my neck. But once I tried wearing a lightweight cotton scarf around the house, I saw the great potential of scarves as more than outerwear. Lightweight scarves (Sarah and I love the ones from FashionABLE) keep my neck and chest toasty while I’m puttering around the house, and are enough to keep me warm outdoors on all but the coldest days.
I never really got into the legwarmer craze of the 80s (I was too busy playing My Little Pony to care much about fashion at that point), and almost missed it this time around, too. But on a whim, I bought a pair at Target a year or so ago and they sat in a drawer, unused, until one particularly nippy day when I decided to pull them on before heading out into the snow. What a difference!
After a few days of toasty warm legs I went to a boutique in town and bought four more pair. Now I wear legwarmers every day, morning through evening, even slipping them back on after changing into my PJ’s at night. They are a small thing that makes a big difference and they honestly make my winter life better, so why not? Plus, they look really cute under boots. Or slippers, for that matter. I’m loving these Dahlia Cable-Knit Legwarmers.
If you live in a cold-weather climate, what are your “must-haves” for staying warm?
note: all Amazon links are affiliates. If you click the link and make a purchase, I will receive a commission at no extra cost to you.