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Ask Belle: Cold Weather Essentials

Hi Belle:

I recently found your website, and adore it.  I’m moving to DC during the winter months to take a job with a government agency.  I live in a warmer climate now, so I’m building a professional winter wardrobe from scratch.  Any tips on essential purchases to survive a DC winter but still look put together?

Thanks, L.

Cold weather makes dressing well a challenge.  Whether you’re a D.C. commuter or a Montana resident, most of us need a warm winter coat.  But that alone will not cut it.

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Topshop Faux-Fur Earmuffs ($22)

Earmuffs. Most of my childhood winters were spent arguing with my parents about wearing a winter hat.  Who needs to have their hair messed up for no good reason?  Unless the temps dip into the low teens, I’m good with just the muffs.

These faux-fur earmuffs are a cute option.  I also like these wrap around Lush Ear Warmers.  Prefer a hat?  Try a cashmere beret from Nordstrom (comes in six colors), or this chic bow cloche, also from Nordstrom.

Gloves. Hunched over with your hands in your pockets is no one’s best look.  Protect your fingers from the biting cold with a chic pair of gloves.  These Charter Club leather gloves are cashmere lined and come in your choice of seven colors for under-$50.  I own these Thinsulate-lined gloves from Sierra Trading Post, and I love them.  Or if you prefer knit gloves, I like these Portalano Pearl Stitch glove.

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Johnston & Murphy Variegated Stripe Scarf ($35)

Scarves. You must keep your neck warm to stay warm.  I like a printed scarf in the same color palette as my coat.  I found these for a black, navy, or grey coat.  Want something versatile that will work with any neutral?  This Johnston & Murphy scarf above is phenomenal.

Tights. If you plan to wear skirts and dresses during the winter, you need tights.  For the cold, I like Gap’s Maximum Heat Tights.  Fleece-lined tights are also an option.  I think the Berkshire Cozy Hose hold up the best after repeated washes.  Plus-size ladies should check out Lane Bryant.

Boots. Add a pair of knee-high boots to a mid-thigh length coat, and you can stay toasty warm on your commute.  During my time in D.C., I commuted in Hunter wellies and the matching fleece socks.  Need something under-$100?  These Tommy Hilfiger boots in black and tan are phenomenal.  Want something a little sleeker?  Try these fleece-lined Dav Equestrian Boots.

Need something more substantial than rain boots?  My go to is a pair of classic Sorel Caribou snow boots.  If you need something under-$100, try these Kamik snow boots.

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Handbag Lady Hand Warmers ($15)

Hand Warmers. If you have a long commute or you need to be outside for an event, I recommend these microwaveable hand warmers.  Just heat them up in the office microwave before you head home.  If you want to make your own, here is a tutorial.

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    10 comments

  1. A says:

    For plus size tights I would highly recommend Spanx. I wasn’t so sure about spending more than $20 on a pair of tights but they have been great and actually comfortable. I got them on sale at Nordstroms

    December 1, 2014/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Good call. I didn’t know they made a plus-size.

      December 1, 2014/Reply
  2. Katie says:

    I just bought gloves and earmuffs in the C. Wonder sale (40%, plus extra 20% if you sign-up for their email). The gloves claim to be wool with a leather palm, and cashmere lined…sound pretty warm! You can find them here: https://www.cwonder.com/Accessorize-It%21/Buffalo-Check-Gloves/product/CWW-H14-AG1186.html

    I picked up the matching earmuffs for fun. It’s my first C. Wonder purchase so I can’t speak to quality or warmth, but it’s definitely a bargain today.

    December 1, 2014/Reply
  3. C says:

    Wondering what other reader’s favorite winter commuter shoes are? I worry about changing out of bulky boots and leaving them at my desk, but flats are obviously not substantial enough for slush/snow… any suggestions?

    December 1, 2014/Reply
    • Belle says:

      What about shoe covers? Some of my male co-workers used those. Not sure if there is an alternative for women. Maybe just a rubber ankle boot?

      December 1, 2014/Reply
  4. D. says:

    Friendly advice, when you move to DC, saying you work for a “government agency” will immediately get people asking questions. From one government employee to another.

    December 1, 2014/Reply
    • Ak says:

      My husband was in a wedding recently where everyone “worked for the government,” including the groom. He then blurted a joke about shady government operatives to them….now we feel like we’re on a list.

      December 1, 2014/Reply
  5. Jennifer D says:

    Greetings L – As a past and current D.C. resident, I agree with all of Belle’s suggestions, especially earmuffs. I wear them all winter – I look like a dork, but it’s worth it to have my head warm. Invest in a good winter coat – either quality wool (J.Crew’s stadium cloth coats are great) or even down (which you will eventually wear). Be sure your coat fits comfortably over a blazer, vest, or other jacket – that extra layer will be needed. Snow and/or rain boots are typically awful, but necessary, particularly as I look out at the continual rain this afternoon. DC winters tend to cycle – a few mild seasons followed by some pretty harsh ones. While you want to look great, make sure everything is functional – at some point, you won’t care what you look like but appreciate that you are warm when it’s 20 degrees and very windy out. Good luck! Jennifer

    December 2, 2014/Reply
  6. Lauren says:

    Quick question about Hunter boots – have been thinking about buying a pair, but I was wondering – how do they work in the snow? Not in DC, but on the east coast in an area where winters of late have been brutal! Thanks for any input 🙂

    December 7, 2014/Reply
    • Belle says:

      It’s more about temp than snow. I did fine in three inches or so in the boots with tread. However, when it got really cold, low teens, the rubber could become heavy and unwieldy.

      December 7, 2014/Reply