women's winter coatsCold Weather Clothing and Fashion
Dress warmly in winter

Practical ideas to apply when choosing winter fashions, how to ensure that dressing well in winter doesn't leave you cold.

It's not just the material that something is made from that makes it warm, but also the design and how well it traps 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.

fashion winter bootsThings to help you stay warm

Footwear - Boots are always warmer than shoes, they cover up the ankles too. 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 if it is thin, man made materials 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.
Winter boots - Women's   Men's

insulating insolesThermal insoles - Less insulating footwear can be helped with thermal insoles at little cost, they are also invisible in terms of your outfit adding extra practicality to any shoes or boots, they are no substitute for proper winter footwear however.
Thermal insoles

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.

  • Avoid too open fronts - a coat or jacket with a deep front V is never going to be good at keeping the warmth in, even if you use a scarf. A coat that fastens to the top under the neck (or even better to under the chin) is going to be far more effective, turn-up collars are good at keeping the wind out.

  • women's fashion winter coatsFastenings down the front - A zip is the most effective closure, 1 or 2 buttons? that isn't going to work very well, you need good closures at least down to the waist, where it's useful to have...

  • A Belt - in conjunction with good closures and close fittings at the neck creates a zone from the collar to the belt where warmed air can be trapped and not leak or pump out with movement, this is a good thing. If there is no belt, the garment should be quite close to the body and not too loose (though allow space for extra layers underneath if appropriate). The belt doesn't need to be external, an internal draw-cord does just as good a job.

  • Insulated jackets - down is the best insulator unless it is going to get wet. Stitch-through sections that hold the insulation in place can create long cold spots at every row of stitching, so check them and insist on a box-type construction that avoids cold spots.
Winter coats - Women's   Men's

- Warmer than a dress or skirt, again tight fitting isn't good, 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 and has a very pleasingly soft texture.
Wool pants - Women's   Men's   Moleskin - Women's   Men's

fur hatHats - A surprisingly large 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 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. 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

women's warm glovesGloves 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 the glove off.
Men's  Women'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.
Hand warmers

women's fashion coatThings to avoid if you want to stay warm

Bare skin - Yes I know you know this and no-one would ever have any bits uncovered in the cold if they wanted to stay warm would they? Well, yes, actually, yes they would and that top bit of your foot as a result of your fabulous (uninsulated and cold) shoes is going to lose a lot of heat even though you have pants on.

Those bare regions, legs, arms, almost exposed shoulders and neck will lose lots of heat. Wearing extra stuff elsewhere doesn't make up for it! So keep skin exposure to a minimum to stay warm.

Thinly insulated regions - similar to above. Most commonly found as 4 layers on the top half of the body and then just thin pants, leggings or even shorts or a short skirt with bare legs on the bottom. You will lose heat quickest through the least insulated part. Your legs might not feel specifically cold, but they will be making your whole body colder by acting as a radiator, improve your leg insulation and you'll be able to lose at least one of the upper layers.

Close fitting pants - the rule here is close fitting inner layers = good, close fitting outer layers = bad, so those figure hugging skinny jeans you just know you look so good in are going to make you colder than the slightly looser pair that you could wear instead.

Don't be fooled by long coats - stylish, most definitely, but frequently not fastened very far below waist level and often with a large vent at the back, this means that for insulation purposes, they are going to be little better than a short jacket, worse if they don't have a belt at the waist.

women's warm knitsLayers

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 here 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 rain or snow, this top layer can be combined with extra insulation or just be a shell. 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 layer - the gold standard of thermal underwear is merino wool. Wool from merino sheep, a soft, fine natural product, naturally odor resistant.
men's merino wool   women's merino wool
Women's long underwear  |  Men's long underwear

A foundation layer of silk - in a complimentary or contrasting color if visible, can provide good warmth.
Silk - Women's

men's warm sweatersGilet - 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 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 -

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.
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), 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.

For fashion garments, the choice of material is often dictated by looks more than function. For cold weather gear there are two common areas where materials are often used less than optimally resulting in garments that can be significantly improved upon, they are:

Barbour - waxed cotton jacketCotton - 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.

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.

down jacketWool 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 for a mid insulating layer, when knitted it is softer and more flexible, used in conjunction with a performance outer layer it becomes an ideal cold weather material.

Down - the warmest insulating material for a given weight though not good when wet, synthetics are improving all the time and are still good when damp albeit a little heavier and not quite as soft and forgiving.

Parkas, with down or synthetic insulation Men's   Women's

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.