Say you live in a place where the thermometer hovers around “holy s**t, my [body part] is frozen!!” for approximately 6 months of the year. Say you’re not a huge fan of long-johns, fishermen’s sweaters, and wool socks. Say you dropped enough money on a summer-appropriate wardrobe that it will take you approximately 137 years to achieve a reasonable cost per wear. What do you do?
Well, if you live in Edmonton and love skirts, sleeveless dresses and cropped pants, like I do, you improvise. Or, more precisely yet, you winterize.
You’ve heard about it before: layering. Sure, it’s the key to extending the life of your clothes through the seasons, but how to do it? I’m by no means an expert, but necessity is the mother of inventiveness, and by that measure Edmonton’s climate is terribly fertile. Here are some of my more successful tips (short of “pile on everything you’ve ever owned at the same time and hope someone shut off the office A/C”):
Get a turtleneck. A black turtleneck is the (almost) universal winterizer of dresses. It doesn’t work for dresses made of really lightweight fabrics, or anything with a V-neck, but otherwise it’s pretty fail-safe. A light knit is best; you don’t want anything too chunky or with too much ribbing, but you also don’t want anything with too much cotton in it – it will lose its shape more quickly and start looking sloppy. A ¾ sleeve is also a good idea, to show off a bit of skin (since you’ll be all covered up on top) … but you can always fake it by pushing up the sleeves.
Double up your layers. The key is to pick different or contrasting weights and/or textures, but make sure that the chunkiest layer is always on the outside. Examples might be: a lace cami + shirt + sweater coat; or blouse + cardigan + jacket; or shirt + vest + jacket. It’s best if no more than 2 of the layers involve sleeves, otherwise your arms can start looking a little bit lumpy from all the extra layers. If the lengths of the layers are different, I usually have the longest one on the outside, but that’s mostly a personal preference – I’m sure someone with more layering savvy (say, Kate Moss) would scoff at my prejudices.
In terms of colour, it helps if at least one of the layers is a solid neutral. My usual approach is to pick one print, one neutral and one solid colour that is complementary to the print. I don’t like wearing layers of the same colour because it’s difficult to match shades exactly – unless you purposely wear different shades of the same colour, which can give a rich, luxurious look as long as the various shades are harmonious. Black, however, is an exception; different shades of black should never be mixed, whether intentionally or otherwise.
Get your boots on. If you’re an Edmontonian (whether by choice or not), you have to embrace the fact that you will need a whole boot wardrobe. First and foremost, you will need a pair of boots in which you can wade through snow for at least half an hour (if, God forbid, you were to find yourself in that extremity) without breaking your neck and/or contracting frostbite. These will not be stylish, and you will probably want to hide them from any prying eyes. Second, you will need at least one pair of knee-high boots. They should be sufficiently pretty that you can wear them with skirts or dresses to events where taking off your shoes is not the first thing you do. They will most likely be “car-only” shoes, particularly if there is any kind of heel involved. Third, you will need at least one pair of ankle-high boots. Technically, while you can wear your knee-high boots with pants as well as skirts (obviating the need for ankle-high boots), having a separate pair for pants extends the life of your boots and lets you have different heel options. Finally, you may or may not want to look at booties, which are a low-cut version of ankle-boots that can work with both skirts and pants.
Of course, regardless of your shoe choices, pantyhose of some description will be a given. I prefer tights over nylons because (a) they tend to be warmer, and (b) they don’t usually have the “stranglehold” control top that seems to be mandatory for nylons these days (and which makes my insides feel like a pretzel by about 10 a.m.). Nowadays, there are ever so many hosiery options in terms of colours and patterns, which means that your tights/nylons can be an accessory all on their own.