An Urban Guide To Keeping Warm in Winter

by Sarah Rammos

I'm sure you’re all tired of reading, talking, and thinking about how cold it is by now. Which is too bad, because it’s not going to warm up for months. But take it from someone who grew up in Miami and still uses the fact that I'm a “Florida baby” as an excuse every time I’m told to shut up already about the temperature: no matter how long you’re in a colder climate, winter doesn’t really get any easier — especially in urban environments. Spring, summer, and fall last long enough to give you time to forget how miserable the world is from December through March. And once it arrives, those who grew up in warmer climates are usually completely unprepared.

But that’s where friends come in. During my first winter in New York City, my New Jersey-born roommate had to sit me down and teach me exactly how to dress because she could tell I was freezing (and also because she was tired of going out with someone who looked like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man).

Here's what I've learned since then about keeping warm in a cold, urban climate where you have to walk among the elements.

1. Layer Correctly

There are a lot of items in this list, but you’ll thank me later: First, put on a base layer like a pair of tights and a tank top. Bonus points if either of these are made of silk, which is super-thin and comfy (order online from overseas to get it cheap), or something like Uniqlo’s Heattech, which I swear to you was sent directly from heaven and is worth every penny. If the tank is long enough to tuck into the tights, even better. The idea here is to create a completely airtight seal against your surroundings.

Then comes a long-sleeve shirt, a cardigan or light sweater, a sweatshirt/hoodie/other light jacket, followed finally by your coat. On the bottom, wear jeans or other thick pants. If it’s really cold, you could wear knee socks on over the tights but under your pants, or invest in leg warmers to throw on top of everything.

The idea is to make the layers thin and snug, which prevents the bulky marshmallow-type look I mentioned earlier. Plus, if you overestimated how cold it was going to be, you can always take something off. Lastly, the coat should — at the very least — reach your butt. None of those cropped, waist-length things. Save ‘em for fall, or risk one strong breeze going straight up your spine.

2. Buy A Bigger Purse or Backpack

In addition to all the pieces of clothing I just mentioned, you’re also going to need a hat, gloves, and a scarf. If you used to live somewhere you could leave all your junk in the car, something tells me whatever bag you own isn’t going to cut it anymore. Once indoors, warmth-providing accessories get taken off and you’ll need a place to put them all. You don’t want to be that person who accidentally abandons a single glove on the sidewalk. Plus, a bigger bag means you can carry a supply of amazing things like...

3. Consider Handwarmers

I discovered HotHands while skiing with my family, and they are useful for far more than winter sports. They come in all shapes and sizes designed for different body parts. There are little pouches that fit perfectly in coat pockets, adhesive patches for your toes or for your entire foot, and even giant ones you can stick to your chest or back.

Hot Hands (5 pack), $7, Amazon

All you do is open the plastic baggie. Once the warmers are exposed to air, a wonderful chemical reaction takes place that provides 8 to 10 hours of toastiness. The trick is to keep them somewhere that the heat can be contained, like a pocket. (If they’re in the open air, the heat will escape.) Each one is single-use, but if you buy them in bulk it’s not very expensive. There are also DIY versions for the crafty or eco-conscious readers.

4. Do A Costume Change

Office attire is very often not the same as cold weather attire. If you can, leave a change of clothes at work and switch out of your Arcticwear when you get there. If that’s not reasonable at your job, this is where the giant purse comes into play. Dress for the weather when you leave your house, pack a professional outfit in your bag, and change in the bathroom before clocking in. It can also be good to leave a few pairs of work shoes under your desk or in a file drawer. That way you can wear winter boots during your commute and have options when you arrive.

5. Treat Your Feet

If it’s snowing, all the footwarmers in the world won’t help if you’re wearing thin shoes that will eventually leak. Once the temperature drops and the rain/sleet/snow combo starts, I pretty much live in Doc Martens until spring appears. What you want is a pair of waterproof shoes with thick soles that will keep your feet as far from the ground as possible. Tread is good too, as are shoes loose enough to leave space for really thick socks. This is also a good place to take advantage of the knee-high boots trend because the more layers between you and the cold, the better.

6. Make Changes At Home

There are two types of people in the world: those who shower in the morning and those who shower at night. I’d be willing to bet that most of the former don’t live somewhere it snows. Unless you’re willing to add an extra half-hour to your morning routine to blowdry your hair, I’d suggest showering before you go to bed.

Other easy tweaks are putting rugs down to shield your feet from cold tile floors, swapping light summer blankets for thicker down comforters, and investing in space heaters. Bonus points for things like draping your clothes over the radiator while brushing your teeth and eating breakfast so they’re toasty when you put them on. (Just be careful with things like rivets on jeans. Those suckers can get hot.)

7. Spoil Yourself

When it’s pouring rain, the streets are filled with half-melted snow, you’re a 15 minute walk from the closest subway stop, and the bus is nowhere in sight, hail that passing cab. It will cost you about five bucks — and save you plenty of time and misery. This goes double if it’s during your commute home from work.

The same goes for ordering takeout if you don’t realize the fridge is empty until you get home. Once you’re settled in someplace warm, do everything in your power not to leave until it’s completely necessary. You'll make up for it with all that walking and cooking in the spring. Right?

Images: Giphy (6); Tumblr, Jaggoda