Snowy with a chance of fashion faux pas

Ellen Warren

Answer Angel

December 16, 2011


Our crazy Chicago weather has been mostly gentle so far, but we know in our hearts there's some ferocious stuff in our future. On one of the coldest days so far — temperature in the freezing zone and snow flurries too — I went looking for the do's and don'ts of winter wear. I found a lot of both.

The biggest mistakes were in footwear, where an alarming number of people were in denial and still wearing sneakers or summer shoes — in December! I'll be writing more about boots after testing some promising ones in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, underdressing for Chicago's wind, cold, snow and slush is a pretty bonehead play. The right clothes can make the difference between miserable and bearable. I got a reminder of this recently. As I wandered the city talking to the people on this page, my feet soon felt like blocks of ice and my hands weren't any better. I belonged firmly in the "Don'ts" column.

Next time I'll wear thicker socks, heavier boots and insulated mittens over my fur-lined leather gloves. Yup, layering works. Please learn from my mistakes and … stay warm.


Tips for staying warm


Natural fibers like silk, wool, down

Thick socks and waterproof or water-resistant lined boots

Hats that cover ears or with earmuffs

Mittens on top of gloves

No exposed flesh anywhere

Libby Haagensen

33, sales associate, Chicago

Even as snowflakes fell on her furry hood, Haagensen contended, "This isn't cold. This is comfortable. It's refreshing."

Perhaps she felt that way because she was dressed for the cold. She wore a down Mackage coat, thick socks from REI, heavy leggings and substantial boots from Coach.

When I told her I was surprised that she had no gloves, Haagensen invited me to stick a hand in her warm pocket and I had to agree it was a pretty cozy place — but impractical if you're carrying packages or like to talk with your hands.

When the temperature drops to single digits, Haagensen's heavy artillery is a down coat from The North Face, Sorel boots and snow shoes for outdoor fun in Lincoln Park.

Jason Carrazco

21, college student, Chicago

"I like being cool and cold," said Carrazco. Mission accomplished. This ensemble is fine, he said. "Until we get a blizzard. I might consider a sweater. Gloves? Maybe. I do wear a sweater sometimes," he said.

To the amazement of his parents and three sisters, he doesn't own a hat, boots or a parka and says he's fine even on the coldest subzero days. "I've got a poncho, Mexican hoodie thing." The earphones he's holding serve as his ear muffs.

Yes, his mom lectures him. "She says, 'You're not cold? It's freezing. You need a jacket.'" But he doesn't listen. As for his friends, "They always have a flabbergasted look on their face. They always ask me if I want a sweater or a jacket or something." He always says, "No thanks."

Valerie Vasquez

19, Chicago college student,

San Antonio

"What were you thinking?" I asked Vasquez, pointing to her flimsy fabric flats with no socks. "I wasn't, I guess," she laughed. "It wasn't snowing when I went to class," she weakly explained as the flurries flew about. It's her second Chicago winter but she still hasn't quite accepted that she's not in Texas any more, acknowledging that her cloth shoes are "more like slippers." The scarf is a nod to winter, but the skimpy fleece she's wearing over a T-shirt isn't exactly right for winter misery.

"My friends call me crazy," she said.

Lyn Regan

"Just put 60," homemaker, Springfield, Va.

Dana Malloy

59, retired, Lorton, Va.

Esther Taylor

71, retired, Springfield, Va.

This trio of East Coast friends acquired their $20 animal hats (with attached scarves and mittens) shopping at the Christkindlmarket. All said they had brought their warmest clothes anticipating a freeze here. "Isn't Chicago known for cold?" Taylor asked.

You bet!

Regan revealed that she was wearing long johns and had brought boots but said the gym shoes she was wearing were keeping her feet warm enough. Her two friends said they, too, were fine in their sneakers. However, a wardrobe change loomed for the three friends.

Said an excited Taylor: "Tonight we're going to see Donny and Marie."

Carmen Lemons

57, retired Chicago public school math teacher and president of Lem's

Bar-B-Q, Chicago

"You've got to make sure you've got a warm hat," explained Lemons, who is wearing a knit rabbit one. (She left the matching scarf in the car.) Her toasty down coat is made from lambskin.

Lemons regretted not wearing tights beneath her jeans and was wavering about whether she'd made the right choice leaving her shearling-lined boots at home. A lifelong Chicagoan, Lemons knows how to stay warm. "You need to layer!"