Practical principles to apply when choosing your stylish winter fashions, keep warm and look good at the same time. Use this guide to compliment your own fashion style so the style / functionality compromise doesn't leave you cold.
It's not only the material that something is made from that provides its warming properties, but also the design and how well it traps air that you then warm up that keeps you warm, air is the real insulator. The design of the garment to optimize the insulating properties of the material is as important as what it is made from, losing that warmed up air is what makes you cold. Style and fashion is dictated more by aesthetic than functional design. With this in mind it is possible to identify which winter clothing will be the most effective at keeping you warm, and after all if it doesn't do this effectively, you may as well not bother and just wear what you wear in the warmer months.
to help you stay warm
Footwear - Boots are always warmer than shoes as they cover up the ankles too. As well as being practical boots provide an opportunity to spice up an outfit becoming a feature. A thick sole is vital in cold weather as you will lose a lot of heat through a thin one, a man made sole will give better insulation than leather. Recent innovations mean that it's possible to get stylish boots that are seriously warm in well below freezing point temperatures.
Boots, latest arrivals - Women's Men's
Thermal insoles - Less insulating footwear can be helped with thermal insoles at little cost and are invisible in terms of your outfit adding practicality to the most impractical shoes or boots, they are no substitute for proper winter footwear however.
Outer layer, coats and jackets - there are an awful lot of very good looking stylish winter coats that are practically pretty useless at keeping you warm. It's not just about the material, design matters a lot too.
Pants - Warmer than a dress or skirt, but tight fitting isn't good here, a little loose is always going to be better for retaining the warmth. Thicker material is better (obviously) wool or wool mix is warmer and cotton is generally a bad choice other than moleskin - which is standard Antarctic issue.
Wool pants - Women's Men's Moleskin - Women's Men's
Hats - A surprisingly large amount of heat is lost through your head. To stay warm in seriously cold conditions you need to insulate your head (I can confirm this from many chilly experiences in Antarctica). Any hat is better than no hat, natural materials like wool and fur work really well and because hats can be a relatively cheap but highly visible part of what you're wearing they can be used to compliment coats and various outfits performing style and practical functions admirably. If you have hairstyle issues that affect hat wearing, headbands or ear muffs may work for you though not as effectively as a hat.
Hats - Women's Men's
Scarves - Everything that applies to hats also applies to scarves. They do need to be worn in a particular way to get the most benefit from them. They aren't just to keep your neck warm, they should be positioned so that they act as a baffle to prevent air movement from inside your outer layer, stopping warm air from pumping out and being replaced with cold outside air going in, your own personal draught excluder. They should be placed under the outer layer for best effect, not over the top. Probably the best result in terms of warmth per $. Cotton is the worst material for insulation purposes, but good for looking-at scarves, a loose cotton scarf on the outside of your coat adds next to no warmth at all.
Scarves - Women's Men's
Gloves and mittens - Mittens are warmer than gloves made of the same material, leather may be stylish but on its own is not so warm and a simple thin cotton lining adds little to the insulation. Long cuffs help a lot, either elasticated so your sleeve can go over the top or wide so they can go over the top of your sleeve, an exposed bare wrist will lose a lot of heat and can be quite uncomfortable. In extreme cold, a good solution is to have over-mittens that can go on as well as your thin inner gloves.
Gloves - Women's Men's
Hand warmers - Whether disposable, refillable or rechargeable, these can help your comfort levels significantly, one for each hand works better than passing a single one back and forth.
The best way to keep warm, but needs some thought. 3 shirts or blouses isn't going to look great and the thin cotton they're made of really isn't the best material for keeping you warm. Layering should be about layers that have different functions and not just lots of layers. The base layer provides comfort next to the skin close fitting is best for insulation, the mid layer (or two) provides further insulation and the outer layer provides direct protection from the weather, particularly wind and rain and snow, it can be combined with extra insulation or just be a barrier. You can use layering to keep using warmer weather clothing in the cold with a base layer of close fitting underwear under your normal clothes or a good functional outer layer on top.
Foundation underwear layer - merino wool or modern synthetics are the best performing, though a simple t-shirt or vest also works well indoors with thin warmer weather clothing.
Tops: Men's Women's Bottoms: Men's Women's
A foundation layer of silk - in a complimentary or contrasting color if visible, can provide good warmth.
Silk - Women's
Gilet - Under your favorite winter outer coat when it's especially cold, or as an outer layer over a sweater, jacket or thick shirt. Surprisingly effective if you have never used one before despite the lack of sleeves and good for freedom of movement if you are doing something at all active.
Gilets - Women's Men's
Waistcoats - especially for men, winter is an ideal time to wear that matching or contrasting waistcoat with your suit, possibly the optimal add-on combination of style and warmth in a single garment.
Waistcoats - Men's
Knits - wool is the best insulator and is best for out and out warmth. Part or full cashmere adds extra comfort and luxury, though such garments tend to be quite thin and ultimately not so warm.
Knits - Women's Men's
For modern performance cold weather clothing, the sort worn by hikers and mountaineers, there is not such a huge difference between the different materials used for a given price point, particularly at the higher end, (cheaper budget versions should generally be avoided), There aren't really good or bad materials these days and you can expect excellent performance from a number of alternatives. Design details for optimum flexibility and performance are also well developed. For the best performing cold weather clothing regardless of style see here.
In the name of fashion, the choice of material is often dictated by looks more than functionality. When it comes to the most appropriate materials for cold weather gear, there are two areas where materials are often used in a less than optimal manner resulting in garments that can be significantly improved upon, they are:
Cotton - avoid - Best avoided altogether in the cold, other than for (non-thermal) underwear, as moleskin for pants or the very specific use of ventile for outer garments in sub-zero temperatures.
Cotton feels cool to the touch, it can be quite miserable and clammy when damp or wet and provides little in the way of insulation, hence it is widely used for warm weather clothing.
Instead, use polyester, or polycotton with a high polyester % (50%) and wool or synthetics for insulation layers and synthetics for outer shell materials.
I went on an Arctic cruise to Northern Canada and Greenland well inside the Arctic circle where I used a Barbour waxed cotton jacket as my outer shell. The good point was that I looked more stylish than nearly everyone else (or so the mirror told me) the down side was that I was less comfortable than everyone else and on several occasions had to dry the coat inside out over night, my wife meanwhile had no issues with her modern gore-tex outer shell. I didn't suffer as such, except when I was carrying it in my back pack (they are heavy!) but the shortcomings of material and design soon became apparent, Looks good though if you like the refined country-folk image and more than adequate in cold but above zero conditions.
Wool for outer garments - avoid - wool is very widely used for many winter coats and jackets for its feel and look, right up to the highest price points. It looks better than it performs as a serious cold weather outer layer. In order to provide a substantial outer layer, wool needs to be quite thick which makes it fairly stiff (if it's thin it isn't very warm and the wind blows more easily through it), the relative stiffness makes it gape at cuffs and at the collar allowing draughts, it is also not fully windproof and certainly not waterproof. It will simply soak up water if it gets wet. On the plus side, wool is still a good insulator when damp or even downright wet (ask any sheep).
Alternatives are synthetic "soft shell" outer layers which are much more wind proof, lighter and more water proof too.
Wool is however an excellent material deeper down as the insulating layer and when knitted is softer and more flexible, used in conjunction with a performance outer layer it becomes an ideal cold weather material.
When fully dressed for the cold, there should be no cold-spots, there should be no way you can move around (fairly normally) and expose flesh or just a single layer at the wrists, neck or midriff. The outer layer should be just that, the outer layer at ALL times, don't try to use an inner jacket/layer as the outside one, you'll be far too cold by the time you realise it's not working very well.