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Ask Belle: Cold Weather Tips for Interns

By way of introduction,21 I’m a 3L from Mississippi, and I’ll be interning on the Hill during the Spring semester. I just ran across your blog today in a frantic search for DC fashion advice. While I have some college friends living in DC, they don’t work on the Hill. My question is, “What do I wear as a Hill intern trying to survive the DC winter?” I have several good coats and jackets, but I’m not sure what to do

about footwear.
Thanks! Ericka

Ah, being an intern, I remember it well.  Giving tours, answering phones, licking envelopes…coming hope at night and nursing my bleeding, blister covered feet because I’d never had to walk more than two blocks in heels before.  Good times.  Here are some tips for what to wear.

Cold Weather Gear.  If you already own a good coat, you’ll want a hat and gloves.  It’s chilly walking down into those windy Metro tunnels.  For the gloves, I like these cashmere-lined leather gloves.  For a hat, you can wear a chic cloche or go all in on the ear protection with an embellished beanie.

And do not forget a scarf! Keeping your neck warm is key.  This Pendleton plaid is a classic, or this ASOS oversize scarf.

For the boots, you have two choices: Wellies with warm socks, or real snow boots.  I own the Sorel Caribou snow boots, but as discussed, they can be a bit heavy for every day wear.  For daily wear, I often wore my Hunter boots with wool boot socks.

Staying Warm at the Office.  It will not be warm in your office.  I spent more than one shivering afternoon warming my hands on my coffee cup.  That is, until I discovered the joys of sitting on a heating pad to keep warm.  Space heaters are banned, so this is as close as you can get.  Some ladies also use foot warmers.

Footwear.  In my youth, I prized style over comfort.  Now, I know better.  Sore feet make every work day longer and more taxing.  Being able to walk for miles in your work shoes with only minor discomfort makes working long hours a lot easier.

I am a big believer in a rubber sole.  It absorbs shock and gives your feet a break.  The Michael Kors Flex heels are a reliable choice that come in a variety of colors and styles.  I also like Rockport and Geox, but the styles aren’t as classic.

I recommend flats for the days when your feet need a break.  Dr. Scholl’s makes a work appropriate flat that is also comfortable in both pointed and round toe.

Additionally, you’ll want to keep some band-aids in your wallet of all sizes for blisters.  They’re nearly inevitable.  I also recommend outfitting shoes with gel insoles when possible.

Accessories.  Whether you choose to wear skirts or pants, warm tights are a lifesaver.  I like the fleece-lined tights from Plush; Apt. 9 makes a more affordable option.  Xhiliration makes a plus-size option.  I also used to wear socks with my tights.  It kept my feet a little warmer and less battered.  But you have to put them under the tights, or they won’t help.

A lightweight scarf or wrap is also good for chasing off the chill.  I have always adored the Lovequotes brand for its variety of colors and slightly oversized look.

If you have any more tips for the interns braving the wet D.C. winter, leave them in the comments.

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  1. Mary G. says:

    I echo all of these tips! I would say no matter what the weather, never leave your house without an umbrella in your purse.

    Also, even with those long intern hours, be sure to take care of yourself. First workouts (or even weeks) are free at a lot of group fitness places across the city.

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  2. Laura says:

    I didn’t intern in an elected official’s office, but my walk from my apartment to the red line and from Union Station to my think tank internship just a couple blocks away was . . . not fun. On days when the weather wasn’t a slushy disaster, I found the combination of sleek boots, a skirt, a sweater, and tights to be the best go-to. I nabbed some of my mom’s forgotten Easy Spirit brand boots from the depths of her closet, and they were comfortable enough to stay in all day. Three years later, I still wear them to my law firm! If you can find comfort boots that still look polished, they will take you far.

    I’d also recommend a tote that zips completely. You may be bringing a lot with you (change of shoes, lunch, purse items), and if your tote doesn’t fully close, your stuff will get wet.

    Lastly, a solid meal at lunch can warm you up big time. My favorite Hill cafeterias are in the Supreme Court (you might just see a Justice) and the Library of Congress (the newer building on Independence Ave., not the older, ornate building next to the Supreme Court). You can’t beat the value.

    Enjoy your internship!

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  3. Meg says:

    There comes a phantom warm day every late winter when it’s drinks on the patio weather, full of sunshine – and your skin hasn’t seen the sun in 3 months. Highly recommend keeping a sunscreen stick or a travel size for your face, neck and chest in your purse so you can fully enjoy that one sunny day without getting your first sunburn of the year in mid-February. Been there. 100% agree with keeping an umbrella, and a zip top coat! For your leather shoes and bags, I also love Apple waterproofing spray. I do all of my boots and bags a couple of times a year. Hard to find in stores, but Amazon will be there for you. Have fun!

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  4. Jennifer says:

    As a former Southwesterner, be prepared for winter to last longer than you expect and for it to be darker much earlier in the evening. You will still be wearing all this stuff through February and into March, so multiples of Belle’s suggestions will probably be needed. Also keep a waterproof hooded jacket or an umbrella handy (small one because the sidewalks are narrow), because sleet/freezing rain/wintry mix are much more common than snow and much less pleasant to walk through. Check that your coat(s) still fit if you plan to layer suits or blazers under them.

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  5. DeNae says:

    If your office gets cranky and bans heating pads (I’ve worked multiple places that did!), I have found a secret. It sounds crazy, but it works and it is nearly invisible. Get a small self-warming pet bed in a color that blends in with your décor. These are flat liners almost. I have one in charcoal grey that is backed in black. It looks like a bit of a comfort pad on your chair. It isn’t particularly crinkly or anything. But it makes a HUGE difference in warmth.

    I discovered this when I wasn’t paying attention at sat in the recliner that had our beagle’s on it. An hour later I realized I hadn’t grabbed the blanket because I didn’t need it!

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  6. Christine says:

    I would also suggest ear muffs for the days when you want to wear a bun or sleek ponytail to work. Also, if you are able to, I would leave heels under your desk. That means that you don’t have to lug them back and forth everyday with you. I have a box of several pairs that live in my office!

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  7. Sara says:

    When I interned on the Hill in 2006, pashminas were all the rage. Everyone had one. Over the years, I’ve kept a couple of them around because I find they are very useful for those impromptu receptions and cocktail networking events when you want to look chic but don’t feel like being stuffed in a suit jacket anymore. Or you forgot your suit jacket and a cardigan is too casual. When I became paid staff, I kept one at my desk all the time. I also kept Luna bars at my desk for those days when I was too busy to grab lunch. Good luck, and have fun!

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  8. Jennifer says:

    Greetings Ericka,
    Congrats on your internship! I second Belle’s recommendations. Here are a few other thoughts:
    DC winters tend to cycle from season to season and within seasons. You’ll have one winter (2009-2010, 2015-2016) with record breaking snow followed by a couple winters of a whole lot of nothing. Temperatures and wind fluctuate from day to day. Today it’s in the 50’s, but the forecast calls for a 20-degree drop by Friday. Given this, prepare for the worst.
    A “good” coat for DC should be high-quality wool. I own a couple full-length coats and shorter peacoats from J.Crew. I’ve also benefited from their Wintress Puffer, which is a full-length down coat on days when it has been in the 20’s and WINDY!
    Your outerwear should be roomy enough to fit over any blazers or suit jackets you wear to the office, or at least a thick sweater. Unfortunately, sometimes sizing up makes your coat almost too big. The alternative is to take off your blazer/suit jacket and carry it back and forth with you. That one’s up to you.
    Now is a great time to snag winter coats on post-holiday sale.
    In addition to living in DC, I lived in Chicago for several years and value good waterproof footwear. I own slimmer wedge-style snow boots that I wear under trousers and a pair of tall Michael Kors rain boots that are sturdy enough for snow. MK makes a lot of high and low options, but the high boots are great with skirts and skinny trousers and are the best for massive downpours (like yesterday).
    I’ve never been a hat person, but have owned one or more pairs of earmuffs for years, and use them regularly in winter. Whatever your preference (hat, hood, earmuffs), keep something on your head which will exponentially increase your comfort and ward off sick days. Same for using a scarf with open collared coats and gloves. Even an inexpensive layer is better than nothing.
    The temperature fluctuates depending where I am, so I tend to dress in layers that I can take off as needed (twinset with turtleneck, crewneck, or shell, blouse and blazer, etc.). Like Belle, I own an arsenal of scarves, and I always have at least one with me. If you’re by yourself in your office or cube, you can get away with a blanket scarf (if needed, but I recommend something smaller if you are out and about.
    More cold = more clothes and more snow and sleet to ruin your handbag. You may want to pick up a waterproof tote to hold your purse, work shoes, etc. during your commute. Given the abuse it will take, picking up something inexpensive might not be a bad option. I like Eagle Creek’s No Matter What line that I’ve purchased from and the Container Store.
    Good luck!

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  9. Liz says:

    I second layers! I also always keep a wool blanket scarf in my office that I can wear it as as a shawl or a blanket to stay warm in a drafty office/meeting room. It looks more professional than actually wrapping yourself in a fleece blanket or sitting in your coat.

    Congrats and welcome to DC!

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  10. Whitney says:

    Just as a side note, when I interned on the Senate side in 2012-2013 (in Hart), we had space heaters under every desk…

    January 4, 2017/Reply
    • Belle says:

      You probably shouldn’t have. We had two going in our office at one point, and AOC came in and removed them. Fire hazard.

      January 4, 2017/Reply
      • JB says:

        Space heaters are definitely okay on the Senate side — I worked there until about a year ago, and our office regularly requested them from AOC (or whoever provides furniture, etc.). I shared on office and we consistently had at least 2-3 space heaters running in plain sight at all times for several years. I don’t remember ever requesting a space heater as a House staffer (hindsight is 20/20!) but if you’re a Senate staffer, definitely put in requests for space heaters!

        January 4, 2017/Reply
      • Amber says:

        They banned the white ones with the silver cages on the front for a while (as you mentioned, fire hazard). They brought in the wimpy fan driven ones, and now they’ve got larger white tip-sensitive heaters.

        TL;DR – there are okay heaters available currently for Senate staff and interns. I would still suggest alternate methods of warmth, as they can be way too hot, or not warm enough.

        January 6, 2017/Reply
  11. Jess says:

    When it comes to your hat, scarves, and gloves, go with wool or cashmere – they do cost more than the acrylic ones you find everywhere, but they insulate better, keep you warmer and stay warm even if they get wet.

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  12. Sof says:

    In terms of boots: I’ve had lots of success with a fantastic pair of fleece-lined Däv Bristol rain boots for both cold rain and snow in DC, Chicago, and Kentucky. I use them as my all-around winter boots in DC inclement weather, and they’re actually nice enough that you don’t necessarily need to change out of them once you get to work, because they look like any other tall black boot. Plus, FLEECE-LINED! My only warning is that they run very small, so I wear a size 11 in Däv despite wearing a 10 in Sam Edelman and 9.5 in Nine West. You can check out the Bristol boot here:

    And really, once you’ve got footwear down you most of the way there! Best of luck to you, I wish you many adventures in DC.

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  13. Addie says:

    Buy Band Aid brand’s rough strips! They’re the only bandaid that actually stays in place when you’ve got a blister on your foot, especially on parts of the foot that flex a lot. And always keep an umbrella in your bag. The likelihood that you’re going to check the weather and remember to put one in your bag as you’re running out the door in the morning isn’t very high.

    January 4, 2017/Reply
    • Addie says:

      Oops. That should say tough strips not tough strips’

      January 4, 2017/Reply
  14. Ruby says:

    We had an intern from San Diego with similar questions. Two things we recommended that I don’t see here: 1) Tights, especially fleece tights, can add a lot of warmth to inexpensive, unlined pants. So if you’ve got lightweight pants in an all-year color like black or grey, consider fleece tights. Amazon had some the last time I looked that were not too expensive. And if you get the right pair, they just look like heavy, opaque tights – not like leggings masquerading as tights. 2) Silk long underwear — landsend and llbean both sell silk long underwear, along with other stores. It’s a VERY thin silk which doesn’t add a lot of bulk under clothes, but adds a LOT of warmth. A scoop neck, long sleeve shirt will work under almost any winter top.

    In terms of what coat to buy if you don’t have one — I would start with a good quality wool, classic color 3/4 length coat (mid-thigh to knee length) that has room to go over a suit. You can build your coat wardrobe from there, but that coat will cover most of your professional winter needs, if you add a scarf, hat, gloves, and layers.

    Something basic/classic like this:

    or this:

    With the sales at this time of year, It’s worth going to the 100-150 price point, if you can, to get something of a quality that will last you for a number of years. You can find something below 100, but usually the weave isn’t as dense (so the coat isn’t as warm) and the blend of fibers is cheaper (so the coat isn’t as warm and doesn’t wear as well).

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  15. Jenna says:

    After years of freezing in offices, I finally bought a giant box of hand warmers at Costco and carry them with me. On days when I know I’ll be away from my desk and in cold rooms all day (particularly at conferences or in hearings), I wear one of those disposable back warmers that are designed for back injuries under my clothes. It’s extreme, but I run very cold all the time and I can’t look professional with the amount of layers necessary to stay warm when they insist on running the air conditioning in Longworth in February.

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  16. Anna says:

    Pay attention to materials! That belted coat from H&M may look super cute and cozy but if it’s just 20% wool, it won’t keep you warm. I look for at least 60% wool and for wool-cashmere blends for my accessories to up the warmth and cut down on the itchiness. I just got a black Ralph Lauren wrap coat that’s 70% wool, 10% cashmere (which is warmer than wool, but it’s hard to make a whole coat out of it and crazy pricey), and it is AMAZING how warm it is without looking like the Michellin man. For puffer coats, Lands End makes high quality ones that often go on sale. Some of their styles are matronly, but you can find some stylish options in there. Look for higher quality pieces on sale. This is not a place you want to skimp on quality. Trust this Floridian. Being warm will have a measurable impact on your quality of life (at least it does on mine).

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  17. Monica T says:

    Oh thank you, thank you for the tip about the cashmere lined leather gloves and silk long underwear. At my previous company we had a site outside Minneapolis, I remember visiting in October once and being absolutely freezing to the point of wearing my winter coat inside. My visitors desk was near the shipping dock which they kept open to receive deliveries. My new company has a site near Sioux City, South Dakota. -20 today with wind chill! I will probably be heading out before the end of winter and definitely will incorporate all these tips, even if only for a one week duration instead of an entire winter duration!

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  18. Amy says:

    I second all of the comments about umbrellas. DC gets slushy, sleety rain far more often than pretty snow. I have a mini umbrella in my work tote at all times, and full-sized umbrellas stashed at work, at home and in my car. As others have mentioned, unless you can find a Goldilocks shoe that can take a beating outside in all that slush and still look presentable at meetings, you will probably need two pairs of shoes each day. Some people keep one or two pairs of nice shoes under their desk. Others carry them to and from work in their totes each day. Figure out a system that works for you. Also, even if you’re not wearing a suit every day, keep a comfortable but presentable blazer at work at all times. It will do double duty as an extra layer when the office is inevitably chilly and an emergency “suit” when you get unexpectedly pulled into an important meeting.

    January 4, 2017/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Good call.

      January 4, 2017/Reply
  19. Bri says:

    I definitely second the umbrella. D.C. in the winter is just wet, wet,wet.

    I also second the layers, but more from a standpoint of needing to take things off. I interned for a member in Cannon last semester and one room in the office was always at least 10 degrees warmer than anywhere else. Another hint if you’re in Cannon, bring a reusable water bottle.

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  20. kate says:

    Ohhhh lord, EVERY office in the Senate is FREEZING.

    It’s like an echo chamber in this comment section, but I’ll add to it: bring an umbrella with you everywhere! The weather here is more freezing rain than snow. And it rains all the time in winter!

    Don’t bother commuting in heels, just keep a couple pairs at your desk. I second Belle’s Michael Kors Flex recommendation. I keep a black pair and a navy pair of the Flex heels in my office. When I worked in the Senate, I kept them in my desk drawer. I commute in flats I don’t mind getting wet and scuffed. A lot of DC women wear rain boots or Bean boots commuting on inclement weather days.

    Make sure you have a good, warm winter coat. You mention you have a lot of coats, but in my experience, Southerners don’t always get what a “good” coat is. A cute coat from Ann Taylor is not the same as a real down filled or 100% wool coat. Material matters!

    Cashmere sweaters are super warm and look professional. I’ve had good luck buy some second hand from places like Poshmark if you don’t want to spend a ton.

    Finally, always keep a blazer at the office. It’ll help keep you warm if needed, and you never know when you’ll get pulled into a meeting. When I was a staffer, I was more likely to send the professional looking interns on something fun and forward facing. Always having a blazer helps you pull that off.

    I keep a black 100% wool wrap in my office. The dark color makes it look okay for the office, though I always take it off before I leave my desk. It’s hella warm.

    Last tip: always keep a back up pair of black tights in your desk drawer. There is nothing worse than ripping your tights and still having to walk home in 20 degree weather. Plus, you can double up on tights on really cold days. Although the Ann Taylor in Union Station is a godsend in a pinch!!

    January 4, 2017/Reply
    • kate says:

      Oh, one more: you can totally get away with wearing ski tights instead of regular tights with some outfits. I wear ski tights with dresses and boots alllll the time in the winter. So warm!!

      January 4, 2017/Reply
  21. CHOB says:

    Space heaters are not banned in House Office Buildings. Just must have a function that they turn off when tipped over.

    January 4, 2017/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Interesting. I honestly don’t know if ours complied, as I didn’t buy them, but I’ll never forget showing up to work in 2009, and the space heaters being gone with a nice note from AOC. So maybe they were the wrong brand or something, who knows.

      January 4, 2017/Reply
      • Michelle Seger says:

        Yep, they have to be approved by AOC. but AOC also has a stash of approved ones. If you make friends with them, they will bring them to your office for free!

        January 6, 2017/Reply
  22. AAR says:

    As a current DC-area resident and former Hill-intern-frantically-looking-for-attire-advice, I do suggest you comb through Belle’s advice. She’s a total lifesaver, and helped me look appropriately professional when many other interns looked like they were lazy teenagers. Also, many of my Southern friends were unprepared to wear pantyhose to work–err on the side of caution, and start with pantyhose. If no women in your office wear them, then don’t worry, but bare legs can be *scandalous if they are not the norm.

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  23. Cindy says:

    Great comments, just a couple others I’ll add. Long underwear is a MUST if the workplace is chilly. I’ve become a total convert to Uniqlo, which has pretty much every permutation you can imagine (tanks, short sleeve, long sleeve, scoop neck, crew neck) in a thin cotton that doesn’t show even under a blouse but makes a world of difference in warmth. Their stuff is also much more affordable than most of the silks out there. If you get to DC and you’re still not warm, stop by Eastern Market any Saturday or Sunday and you can pick up a great pashmina or wool wrap or about $10 from a vendor (in addition to having a great time at the market!)

    January 4, 2017/Reply
  24. Cindy says:

    Great comments, just a couple others I’ll add. Long underwear is a MUST if the workplace is chilly. I’ve become a total convert to Uniqlo, which has pretty much every permutation you can imagine (tanks, short sleeve, long sleeve, scoop neck, crew neck) in a thin cotton that doesn’t show even under a blouse but makes a world of difference in warmth. Their stuff is also much more affordable than most of the silks out there. If you’ve been in town for a week or two and you’re still not warm enough, stop by Eastern Market any Saturday or Sunday and you can pick up a great pashmina or wool wrap or about $10 from a vendor (in addition to having a great time at the market!)

    January 4, 2017/Reply
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    January 5, 2017/Reply
  26. Rachel says:

    Hot hands for your pockets if you’re waiting for the bus! I have learned (maybe this is a shorter-person thing?) that skirts and dresses with fleece-lined tights are way better/warmer/easier to keep dry than pants on those wet days. Do not underestimate the stagnant water/giant puddles that await at all the corners and intersections.

    January 5, 2017/Reply
  27. strin012 says:

    I’m from South Alabama and was similarly unprepared for “real” winter weather. It will be really cold through March, but for Southerners, it is cold through April and into May. Spring is just code for “it’s still cold and windy, but stuff is blooming.” You can’t wear your whites and seersucker until Memorial Day, because it’s just too damn cold at Easter.

    If you have bare feet in shoes (rather than tights or socks), I recommend using a blister stick. Band-Aid and Dr. Scholl’s both make one (I have one at all times in my purse). They create a thin barrier between your shoe and your foot.
    Dr. Scholl’s:

    Gap’s cozy scarves are my go-to. They’re soft and, yes, cozy, but are very warm and wide enough to double as a wrap in a pinch:

    The umbrella is a great call. Stash them everywhere.

    I’m not sure how or why, but the Hill is always windy. Not breezy – WINDY. Buy a hat with wool or silk lining (won’t mess up your hair) that fits down on your head. A cute, perched hat will blow away.

    Good luck!

    January 5, 2017/Reply
  28. Valerie says:

    Another suggestions for rain/sleet/snow boots: Blondo makes very stylish tall boots in waterproof leather, and they look like dressy riding boots (they also come in both black and brown). I’ve even considered buying a pair with a low wedge heel. A friend bought them last year and swears by them; she works in an office with a business dress code and appreciates not having to bring a separate pair of shoes to work every time it rains/snows.

    The only downside is that they’re on the pricier side, but if you keep an eye out for Nordstrom sales you can get them at a discount.

    January 5, 2017/Reply
  29. Nicole says:

    8 year DC resident here and I swear by UNIQLO Heattech Camis and tees to wear under sweaters, blouses and even dresses. They are super thin, incredibly warm, moisture wicking, and affordable!

    January 9, 2017/Reply