Cute versus Warm – Midwestern Winters

Happy Friday, everyone, and welcome to Topics Fridays!

Now, this is the first week, so I’m just getting started.  And my first topic is one that I came up with all by myself, sort of as a how-to or an explanation for people who are new to the Midwest, or who just don’t understand how things work here.  And here’s proof that I know what I’m talking about – I spent my first eighteen years in Minnesota, my four college years in Michigan, and then after a (too) brief foray into life in the mild South after graduation, I moved back to Minnesota, where I have stayed ever since.  So trust me.  I know how to dress during the Midwestern winter.

Now, I’m going to break this up into four categories:  tops, bottoms, footwear, and accessories.


I’m starting here, because this is the most important part of dressing for winter.  Now, obviously, this completely depends on where you’re going and what you are doing.  If you’re just going from here to there, I would just recommend a good jacket.  A decent wool peacoat, or a down jacket, or something with Windstopper fabric does the trick if you’re not going to be outside for very long.  And, this is good if you’re trying to be cute and warm at the same time.  If you have a cute jacket, you’re set.

However, if you’re going to be outside for any length of time, or if it’s below zero, you have to also think about what you’re wearing underneath the jacket.  The first rule of thumb is this – cotton does not insulate well, and if it gets wet, it doesn’t insulate at all.  I would recommend a base layer made of either wool or a synthetic fabric.  Under Armor, North Face, and other similar brands make wonderful synthetic fabrics that wick sweat from the body and insulate even in the coldest of temperatures.  And anything made of merino wool will insulate without all the bulk, and my favorite brand is Smart Wool.  Second rule of thumb – layers!  It sounds so silly, but I’m not kidding.  You want to make sure you’re well insulated.  On really cold days, I wear a synthetic tank top under a synthetic long sleeve shirt, then a fleece sweatshirt, then my down jacket.  It’s a lot of clothes, but it’s better than frostbite.[i]

Follow that advice (and tweak it to suit your circulation and needs), and you should be able to keep your core warm enough to prevent hypothermia!  Which is obviously everyone’s goal.


If your core is warm, you don’t have to worry about what you wear on the bottom half of your body as much.  However, it does warrant a conversation.  One thing is certain – jeans are not very warm.  They’re fine, especially if you have a good jacket on top.  But if you’re out for a long time, or there’s any sort of wind chill, you’re going to need to strategize your pants, as well.  If you’re trying to look nice, it’s pretty easy to fit a pair of leggings (preferably made out of a synthetic fabric or wool, like the shirts I was talking about) underneath them.  Unless your jeans are “painted on,” like jeans in every single country song.  Or, you can invest in some long underwear – silk is a great insulator, as is anything synthetic.  You should be nice an toasty in just about any weather if you have those two layers.

Now, as with anything, there are exceptions.  My only exception here is in the case of extreme wind, or precipitation.  In those cases, I would recommend layering enough to suit your body for the temperature outside, and then adding a windproof outer layer that is at least water resistant.  This will keep you dry, as we already know that cotton does not insulate.  (And denim is made out of cotton.)  Personally, I have a pair of wind pants that are just an outer shell that I layer on top of whatever I’m wearing when we walk the dog in the winter.  That way, I can follow him into the snow if I want to, and the wind doesn’t cut through me so easily.  No, pants that remind you of the overall snowpants of your youth aren’t very attractive.  And they swish when you walk, which annoys me.  But sometimes, it is truly better to be warm than cute.


This section is easier to explain.  As soon as there is snow on the ground, ditch anything canvas, or that is made of mesh for easy breathing in the summer.  Any precipitation will soak through, and wet feet are the worst.  I always recommend boots, because that will keep any snow from getting inside, too.  There are so many different varieties of boots that you can definitely keep it classy and still keep your feet warm.  Bonus if you spray anything nice with waterproofing spray – you’ll thank me later.  The best boots I have ever owned are waterproof Keen hiking boots, but I am speaking from the perspective of a dog owner.  You really can’t go wrong with boots.

My only other advice here is – wool socks.  If it’s cold, or if your feet might get wet, ditch the cotton and go with the wool.  Cold, wet feet are seriously the worst.  I’ve said that before, and I will most likely say it again.


I’m going to talk about three things here:  scarves, gloves, and hats.

Scarves – you can’t get much cuter than scarves.  With all the fancy ways to tie them, you can’t go wrong!  And the big benefit here is that your neck will stay warm, which is really important to keeping your core warm during the winter months.  So pick a pretty color or pattern that matches your outfit, and you’re good to go.

Gloves – the bane of my existence.  It’s hard to function like a normal person with them on, but without them, your fingers are numb in mere minutes.  If you’re constantly on your phone while you’re outside, you’re going to want some of those that are compatible with touch screens.  If you have poor circulation, go with mittens.  And if you’re hot one second and freezing the next (like me), get hobo gloves!  (Full disclosure – they probably have another name.  But I don’t know what it is.)  These are the ones that have fingerless gloves with mittens that pop over when your fingers are too cold.  They’re excellent – I recommend them to everyone.

Hats – no one likes hat hair.  Seriously, aside from my dad (who is excited when he has a hair day at all), no one enjoys dealing with hat hair.  But honestly, it’s better to be warm and have hat hair than to be cold with nice hair.  More heat escapes through your head than anywhere else in your body.[ii]  If it’s cold, wear a hat!  They make such cute hats now that everyone should be able to find one that looks flattering on them.  And with the Hunger Games being so popular, the side braid is in style, alleviating some of the hat hair issues.  Especially if it’s windy, you’re going to want something covering your head.  So invest in something cute and just rock it.  That’s what I do!

Hopefully, this has been helpful to people who are a) always cold and don’t know why, b) new to the harsh Midwestern winters in the place that I call home, or c) randomly interested in what I have to say!  Dress warm, and winters aren’t so bad.  They’re only as bad as your attitude, really.  So break out the little kid sled or the skis/snowboards, because one thing you’re not going to be is cold.  J

Happy Friday!


[i] Which is a real thing, by the way, for those of you who may not have experienced a real winter.

[ii] My dad has been telling me that for as long as I can remember.


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