Remember when I said that Fashion Friday would be back after a hiatus, but only occasionally? Well, it’s baaaaack… (but only occasionally).
We’ve had some seriously wintry weather down here in the south lately. You might have noticed? Now, in Houston we’ve been luckier than in Atlanta — oh, those unfortunate folks! — but it’s been sort of intense here. We’ve had TWO school days cancelled in five days because of a winter storm which dropped actual sleet, hail, and snow flurries on our fair city. Astounding, I know. There were honest-to-goodness icicles hanging off my roof and real ice crystals covering my car more than once. And the frost? Oh boy, it was like Jack Frost had taken up permanent residence! Temperatures in the 20s every night for goodness-knows-how-long, and we had to wear coats and hats and scarves and gloves! (Okay, I’m probably one of the few who consistently wore a hat, because, you know, hats! And to be honest, we wear coats and scarves if it dips below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. We’re proactive that way.)
All that fun fashion layering got me to thinking, though, about my friends up north: how does one dress for weather so cold it makes your lips bleed?
Today’s Fashion Friday post comes to us from guest blogger David Jón Fuller, who lives in the apparently frozen wastes of Manitoba. You might have seen his blog As You Were, which is very cool and which you can get to by clicking here.
(And before I forget, remember that tonight at midnight is the deadline for the January Haiku Contest on the subject of New Year’s Resolutions. Check out the contest and the entries so far here.)
Fashion Friday: Dressing for the Polar Vortex
Like most non-meteorologists, I had never heard of a “polar vortex” until this winter. In Winnipeg, temperatures hovering around -30 C, high winds, and frequent blizzards don’t constitute a vortex. We just call it “January.”
(A side note here on temperature: I will be giving it in Celsius, because that’s what we use here, though I personally feel the whole world should be using Kelvin. Celsius is fine, because since 0 C is the temperature at which water freezes and ice melts, and the human body is mostly water, I like a temperature scale relevant on a visceral level.)
One odd thing about this winter, though, is that rather than having the snow and cold build up gradually in November and December — which helps all the Christmas movies and specials on TV look more valid — with temperatures that are only around -10 to (at worst) -20, our weather seemed to jump right into the deep freeze at the end of November and stay there. So Winnipeggers are currently grouchy at whatever we can blame (I’m looking at YOU, vortex) for having more of January than we feel we deserve.
One other important term, if you haven’t lived in a dry, cold climate, is “wind chill.” Meteorologists have been trying to move away from this term, because it’s not really quantifiable. (My co-worker Bartley Kives has a good piece on this here.) It used to be a number we were supposed to tack on to the actual temperature to judge how cold the wind made it feel outside. So the temperature might be only -20 (which means wear long johns) but it could feel like -40 (exposed skin freezes in 5 to 10 minutes). You can see Environment Canada’s descriptions here. I think they should skip the wind chill and go straight to where they tell you how long you have outside before parts of your body start freezing – that’s all we care about, anyway. That, and whether our cars are going to start if we forgot to plug in our block heaters.
If you are a Star Wars fan, imagine living on Hoth for several months of the year. Regarding automobile makes, some manufacturers may well have adopted the phrase “we’re having some trouble adapting them to the cold” as a given; but heated garages and block heaters, and, if all else fails, jumper cables and a helpful neighbour with a running engine are frequent workarounds.
This post came about when I commented to Angélique that I hadn’t taken my long johns off for more than 10 minutes since the beginning of December. A bit of an exaggeration, but there have only been one or two days when I haven’t worn them, so it feels true. The trouble is, there is no one fashion item I point to to get me through January, however long it lasts, psychologically or meteorologically. So I’ll go through a number of things I wear nearly every day, to look fabulous not getting frostbite in as I wait for my bus.
Unlike coastal cities, where you have this thing called “humidity,” Winnipeg is in the prairies and very dry. In the winter, it feels even more so, because any humidity in the air dies a horrid death and clunks to the ground as ice crystals. (This makes for some spectacular displays of sun dogs and even halos around the sun, as my coworker Joe Bryksa captured.) But that means if you dress in layers, you can keep the cold out — which is not true in a place like Iceland, say, which, while not as cold as Winnipeg, in the winter sometimes feels colder thanks to the chill that “gets into your bones.”
What I wear to layer
* wool socks
* long underwear
* long-sleeve shirt: Or, t-shirt and collar shirt unbuttoned just enough to show off the tee logo, and therefore what a huge nerd I am.
* Icelandic wool sweater: I still wear a black Icelandic sweater my mom knit for me when I was 17. Icelandic sweaters are made of lopi (Icelandic wool), knit on circular needles, and usually “natural” wool colours such as white, grey, or brown, with patterns in the colour around the shoulders, cuffs, and bottom. There are many, many colours and patterns being used today, though. The wool is bulky, though I don’t find this sweater too heavy. Very warm, but doesn’t block the wind, so you have to wear it under something. My mom has made me a few sweaters since this first one, and I knit them too! Because sweaters.
* fleece vest
At this point we are still inside the house/office/whatever.
For going outside
* down-filled jacket WITH A HOOD YES YOU WILL NEED IT
* gauntlet mitts: Not gloves, unless I wear them inside my mitts.
* toque: A knitted cap, something that covers the ears completely, with a dense weave so the wind doesn’t get through.
* heavy winter boots: Needed not just to keep feet warm, but also so you don’t slip on the snow and ice everywhere.
Of all the elements above, the ones you are going to feel miserable without are the long johns and the sweater. Don’t think your coat is going to be enough! Also, mitts. And toque. Ah, who am I kidding? You’ll be miserable if you’re missing any of it. Just because it’s only your ears that actually freeze doesn’t mean you are only 5 per cent miserable – the pain lasts a long time.
Still, the whole “exposed skin freezes in 10 minutes” warning has so far not applied to the part of my face I leave uncovered. However, the dryness in the air that caused me to lick my lips so often they cracked open and bled (just like my hands do, without any licking) was bad enough. I eventually had to use lip balm, which I hate for the same reason I hate hand lotion: it’s slick and slimy and feels like self-applied snot. But it’s better than bleeding, so I use it.
So: if you want to know what is at the core of my fashion sense, in a city that has four distinct seasons (in the summer, the mercury climbs to 35 C and we get phenomenal thunderstorms), it’s this:
Always dress as if you may have to walk home.
(Because sometimes your tauntaun really will freeze before you reach the first marker.)
David Jón Fuller is a writer and editor living in Winnipeg, with past stints in Edmonton, AB and Reykjavík, Iceland. He blogs at www.davidjonfuller.com and is working on an urban fantasy novel set in Winnipeg.
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