Fashion Friday 1/31/14

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

* jeans/pants

* 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.

DJF in his Icelandic sweater
DJF in his Icelandic sweater

* fleece vest

At this point we are still inside the house/office/whatever.

For going outside

* scarf

* down-filled jacket WITH A HOOD YES YOU WILL NEED IT

* gauntlet mitts:  Not gloves, unless I wear them inside my mitts.

DJF in his mitt
DJF in his mitt

* toque:  A knitted cap, something that covers the ears completely, with a dense weave so the wind doesn’t get through.

DJF in his toque
DJF in his toque

* 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 and is working on an urban fantasy novel set in Winnipeg.

If you’d like to be a guest contributor for our Fashion Friday series, click here to find out how.

29 thoughts on “Fashion Friday 1/31/14

  1. Pingback: How to dress for the polar vortex, a.k.a. Winnipeg | As You Were

  2. I’m not very fashionable when the temps dip below minus 20 either, but I’m warm. Layers are the key for me. I’m outside twice very day regardless of the whether because I have to feed, water and monitor animals.

    One horribly cold day many moons ago I had been out walking and came back with frost-bitten legs. Never again will I ever go out unprepared. You’re right: it hurts for a very long time.

    I’m located in central Nova Scotia where the temperature can be -20 in the morning and plus 15 by one o’clock. It really takes planning and looking at the forecast to prepare for a day out.

    Thanks for warming tips.


  3. I have only been in Nova Scotia a few times, but I was in Halifax one Decemeber on the way home to Winnipeg from Iceland. That damp chill is really something else! I felt like a suck for finding -15 “cold.” 🙂 Fortunately I still had all my Iceland-ready clothes ready, including my ubiquitous sweater.
    If I have a philosophy regarding my comfort, it’s this: never be cold.


    1. Minus 15 can be cold here if the wind is blowing. Earlier this month we had temperatures in the mid to high minus twenties with a windchill factor making it much lower. That was bitter. I welcomed minus 15. The keys are layers and staying dry. Good boots and a thick hat keep most of the heat in.

      I spent one winter in Banff, and was surprised by how warm it was there. That’s when I learned that the damp coast made you colder faster. While in the mountains I wore a spring jacket all winter. On hikes through the mountains I put a sweatshirt underneath to make sure I was warm.

      I’ve never been to Iceland but hope to go someday. I know a few people who visited and found it to be a wonderful place.


      1. I lived there for two years and so got to experience a lot of different weather (often all in the same afternoon). One thing that never failed to amaze me was the wind. The only word I think adequately describes it is “unholy.” But it the country is very beautiful, and the experience of living on an island was a profound psychological experience for me. I highly recommend visiting there, if you have the chance! There used to be direct flights from Halifax, but I’m not sure Icelandair still flies there.


  4. I’m curious about why living on an island was so profound for you? I’ve always lived near or on a coast myself so don’t have a lot of experience of being landlocked for more than a few (miserable) days or even a couple of weeks at a time. I’ve always wondered about the mindset that allows people to adore the mountains or the desert. What is it like to relocate from the prairie to an island?


    1. Winds can turn a good day into one intolerable, particularly if it’s cold.

      I’m curious too about island experiences. Maybe it’s because I’ve always lived by the sea, but going to Newfoundland or Prince Edward Island never made me think twice about being surrounded by water. Of course, Nova Scotia is practically an island. There’s only a small chunk of land connecting us to the mainland.


    2. I never realized until I was physically in Iceland that the idea I couldn’t simply drive/walk/cycle away was troubling. I still can’t explain it. But the Canadian prairies are so vast, and to “get anywhere” you have to drive for hours, I had somehow internalized that as normal. If you don’t like where you are, you can literally walk away (within reason). But in Iceland, the only viable option was to fly, there weren’t even regular passenger ship stops I was aware of. It just felt so small, and like I couldn’t easily leave.
      There were also the mountains, which were beautiful, but still seemed to block the infinite horizon I was used to on the prairies.
      I still feel I am not quite articulating this. Being in the middle of the North Atlantic, away from a lot of other places (psychologically, at least) was a big part of it. And it wasn’t that I didn’t like large bodies of water — I grew up going to Lake Winnipeg regularly, which is essentially a freshwater sea.


      1. This makes a lot of sense. I seem to have an aversion to being landlocked for a significant length of time, though I’ve never been able to articulate why. I really dislike the desert, though, mountains or not. When I used to drive from Houston to Los Angeles and back (commuting twice a year), I would get through Arizona and New Mexico as quickly as possible. Something about the mountains being so up close really unsettled me. But then I was raised in a flat, humid place, so I guess this isn’t a huge surprise.


  5. Way to represent the dudes for Fashion Friday! Love the Icelandic wool sweater. I am on a hunt for a big ol’ chunky wool sweater, preferably cable knit.

    Growing up in Texas, I never knew I was missing out on such a variety of winter wear. Earbands and fleece-lined leggings now rock my world.


  6. I’m going to need evidence that the dry hands aren’t from licking. Waiting… waiting…

    I resent any destination where my long johns (specifically Cuddle duds) are not appropriate because it means I freeze on the way there. School, I am looking at you!


    1. Well, I supposed I cannot PROVE I haven’t been licking my hands, but my knuckles are in fact very dry. Will have to put more of that goop on them if I don’t want to look like I’ve been boxing bare-knuckles…


    1. I still have not read those books or seen the TV series. Shameful, I know! But I LOVE the image of Sean Bean with that slogan underneath. In Winnipeg we like to deny winter is coming until it’s actually here. Then we complain about snow-clearing budgets and windrows.


    1. Wow. I’m not sure I could ever live in a landscape like this, but I sure would like to see it in person some time. Part of the reason I nearly went to grad school in Vermont was because I really wanted to be able to experience the snowy forests after reading The Lake of Dead Languages.


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