Practical ideas to apply when choosing winter fashions, how to ensure that your winter style doesn't leave you cold.
Fashion doesn't lend itself particularly well to dressing for practical purposes and of course by its very nature changes continually. To stay warm in cold conditions, is more a matter of style which is timeless and lends itself more to purpose than appearance.
There are several aspects to dressing effectively for the cold, the fabrics and materials used, the design of the garment, how it integrates with other garments you are wearing, and how well they trap air that you then warm up, air is the real insulator, losing warmed-up air makes you cold. There are a number of simple effective design elements to look for in winter clothing to retain that valuable warmth, after all if your winter clothes don't do this effectively, you may as well just wear what you wear the rest of the year.
to help you stay warm
Footwear - Boots are always warmer than shoes, as they cover up the ankles too. Boots provide an opportunity to spice up an outfit becoming a feature in themselves. A thick sole is vital in cold weather as you can lose a lot of heat downwards, man-made materials give better insulation than leather. Recent innovations mean that it is now possible to get stylish boots that are seriously warm in well below freezing temperatures.
Winter boots - Women's Men's
Thermal insoles - Less insulating footwear can be helped with thermal insoles at little cost, they are invisible in terms of your outfit adding extra practicality to any 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 too.
Pants - Warmer than a dress or skirt, tight fitting isn't good, a little loose is always going to be better for retaining the warmth and not constricting circulation. Heavier 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 and has a very pleasingly soft texture.
Wool pants - Women's Men's Moleskin - Women's Men's
Hats - A surprising amount of heat is lost through your head. To stay warm in seriously cold conditions you need to insulate your head. Any hat is better than no hat, natural materials like wool and fur work really well and because hats can be a relatively cheap they are great for accessorizing your outfit, 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 - Another item that is light and relatively inexpensive for accessorizing as well as keeping warm. They 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. Cotton is the worst material for insulation purposes, 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
Sensor gloves: Gloves that allow you to use touch screen devices without needing to take them off.
Hand warmers - Disposable, refillable or rechargeable, these can help your comfort levels significantly, one for each hand works better than passing one back and forth.
The best way to keep warm, but needs a little thought. 3 shirts or blouses isn't a good look and the thin cotton they're made of is a pretty poor material for keeping warm. Layering means having layers with different functions and not just lots of layers. The base layer provides comfort next to the skin, close fitting soft stretch material here is best for insulation, the mid layer (or two) provides the main insulation and the outer or shell layer provides direct protection from the weather, wind and rain or snow. This top layer can be combined with extra insulation or just be a shell. Layering lets you use warmer weather clothing in the cold too with a base layer under your normal clothes or a good functional outer layer on top.
A foundation layer of silk - in a complimentary or contrasting color if visible, can provide good warmth.
Silk - Women's Men's
Vest / Gilet - Under your favorite outer coat when it's especially cold, or as an outer layer over a sweater, jacket or thick shirt. Surprisingly effective 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.
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), you can expect excellent performance from a number of alternatives. Design details for optimum flexibility and performance are well developed, for the best performing cold weather clothing regardless of style see here.
Fashion garments often have the choice of material dictated more by looks than function, there are two common areas where materials are often used less than optimally 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 (hence it is widely used for warm weather clothing), it can be quite miserable and clammy when damp or wet and provides little in the way of insulation.
Instead, use polyester, or polycotton with a high polyester % (50+) and wool or synthetics for insulation layers and synthetics for outer shell materials.
Partly as an experiment, I took my Barbour waxed cotton jacket as my outer shell on an Arctic cruise to Northern Canada and Greenland well inside the Arctic circle. 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, They look good if you like the refined country-folk image, more than adequate in cold but above zero conditions, though not for extreme 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).
Wool winter coats are like those great looking stylish cars from the 1930's, nice to look at, but yesterdays technology and not good to use any more.
Wool is however an excellent material for a mid insulating layer, when knitted it is soft and 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.