Style + Ask the Edit

Ask the Edit: Cold Weather Attire

Hi Abra!

I just moved to DC from Florida and am in the process of building a winter wardrobe. I’ve been slowly collecting sweaters and warm leggings, but wanted your advice on shoes and coats. Are puffer coats necessary to survive a DC winter, or snow boots? I don’t want to go overboard but I also want to be prepared and know what to look for. Thank you!

– Lindsay 

It depends on the winter.  Over 12 winters in D.C., I learned that the weather can vary greatly.  One year is wet.  The next is snowy.  The next is mild.  So a Mid-Atlantic winter wardrobe should vary a bit from year to year.

Yes, I owned snow boots.  I stuck to a pair of simple Sorel Caribou boots.  The trick is to find something that you can walk in on ice.  I know a lot of readers swear by Duck Boots.  But you don’t always need them, so if you’re not sure you will, wait to buy them.

For regular wear, I had a pair of rain boots that I lined with warm boot liners or wore with warm socks.   Most days, I could get away with a pair of leather tall boots and Smartwool socks. Many readers recommend Aquatalia boots, which look like riding boots, but are weatherproof.

For a coat, I usually just wore a Thinsulate-lined coat from J.Crew.  Size up a bit if you wear a lot of blazers or bulky sweaters.

If you’re concerned about being cold, you could go with a puffer coat.  They’re not my favorite look.  I own a Canada Goose coat, and it’s pretty warm.  But many women in D.C. wear puffers, so if that’s how you think you’ll stay warm, do it.

The real trick to staying warm is to keep your neck warm, so you need a good scarf.  Oddly enough, my warmest scarves were all <$30 at ASOS.  I like this striped scarf and this very long, very soft scarf.

A lot of people from Southern states worry about being cold when they move to D.C..  Like any place, D.C. has unique winter-weather challenges for each person and each type of commute.  You just have to figure out what’s right for you.

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  1. Eliza says:

    I lived in DC for 4 years. I refused to buy a down jacket because I thought they were ugly, but by the 3rd winter with the windchill in the negatives for what felt like a month, I finally broke down and bought one. It was such a great decision. I still don’t think they are attractive (getting one with a belt helps you look less like a blob), but it is so warm and so light! When the metro was blazing, it wasn’t a huge deal to take off my coat and carry it. I also did not need to wear a 100 layers underneath it like I did with my pea coats (which also helped with the hot metro situation). Long story short, you can definitely get by without a down coat, but if is looking like it is going to be a cold winter, it might be worth it! (Side note: I got mine for a great price from Lands’ End.)

    October 8, 2018/Reply
    • Jess says:

      Yes to down. I regularly winter camp in the Boundary Waters and the Canadian Wilderness, and our sleeping bags are down. It just doesn’t get warmer. By the most fashionable down coat you see, but know that in this case, pride takes a hit. I’d rather be puffy and warm in the winter, than pretty and cold.

      October 9, 2018/Reply
  2. Norcalgal says:

    +1 for Eliza’s comment. 3/4 length down coat with a hood. The hood will keep you so much warmer, and you’ll avoid the dreaded hat hair. That, plus good boots, like Aquatalia, wool/cashmere scarves, and lots of wool socks (I like Smartwool and Darn Tough) should keep you comfortable.

    October 8, 2018/Reply
    • NORCALGAL says:

      Norcal by way of SoCal -> Michigan -> Boston -> Michigan -> DC
      Just so that you know I’ve got a little cold weather cred 😉

      October 8, 2018/Reply
    • Kelly says:

      Yes to the 3/4 length coat and good boots. If your commute has you outside more than 2 minutes, a 3/4 length coat is totally worth it. And make sure your boots have good traction in snow/ice. I spent 3 winters in very cute but very slippy duck boots and it was not a good time. Depending on the year, you can save some money by purchasing winter gear when it really starts to go on sale. By me (Wisconsin) it usually doesn’t really hit winter until January…and then everything is practically on clearance.

      October 8, 2018/Reply
  3. Sarah says:

    An important trick to staying warm is layers! If it’s truly cold, try long underwear (seriously) under your clothes.

    October 9, 2018/Reply
  4. Jennifer says:

    +1000 on the down coats. I stubbornly refused to buy a down coat until a prolonged drop into the negative degree temps did me in. I swallowed my pride and should have a lot sooner. Land’s End has warm and affordable down jackets that are often 40% off, and many are have belts or other features that help slightly to prevent the full marshmallow puff look.

    After 3 winters in Nova Scotia, I have some musts for a winter jacket – long enough to cover your hips when you sit down (waiting for a bus, etc), has knit or other fabric around the wrists in the arms (keeps snow and breezy weather out of your sleeves, and if it’s really cold you can tuck your gloves in for full protection), and if you live in a windy place, some kind of windbreak on the hood. I hated the fake fur until I put on a jacket that had it and immediately knew why it was there.

    October 9, 2018/Reply
  5. Rebecca says:

    DC native here. Yes to everything that’s already been said. There’s no shame in wearing down/puffy coats, and like NorCalGirl, 3/4 length with a hood is a great choice. For really cold days, I’ll wear silk long johns under my pants. Nobody knows you’re wearing them, but your legs are toasty. I got mine from REI years ago and they’ve held up well. As for boots, mine are from LL Bean, they’re lined with some sort of Thinsulate or something (a must for my cold feet), and they’ve held up for more than a decade. I bought snow pants a few years ago (I’ve got a kid who loves snow), but we haven’t really had much snow since I purchased them. Go figure.

    October 9, 2018/Reply
  6. Mila says:

    Yes to everything else, especially about the longer coats. I’d also add that investing in some high quality gloves (meaning, not the thin wool/acrylic blend ones you find on discount racks) will make a huge difference! Just make sure they’re long enough to cover the entire wrist (made that mistake before) so you can tuck into coat sleeves.

    October 9, 2018/Reply
  7. Michelle says:

    An alternative to a down coat is a snowboarding/skiing jacket that has separable layers, so if you don’t need the warmth but need the wind and snow/rainproof aspects you’ll still be good. They also have vents so you can get some air flow, and tons of pockets, even pass holders on the arms so you can keep your smartrip easily accessible without taking off gloves or unzipping your coat.

    October 9, 2018/Reply
  8. Diane says:

    Eddie Bauer 3/4 length puffer coats are very warm, affordable, and as flattering as a puffy coat can be. I visited DC last January and brought a dressier coat instead of my puffer coat and regretted it. Nearly everyone I saw was wearing one and looked much warmer than me. I have this one and love it:

    October 9, 2018/Reply
  9. Moco_Mel says:

    I also recommend buying a good pair of gloves. I personally opt for a pair of water resistant gloves – they may not be the cutest but they work wonders when I’m shoveling, waiting for the bus, or an impromptu snowball fight. Sadly, the snowball fights are less frequent than the shoveling…

    I originally wore cheaper, knitted gloves but disliked feeling the wind whip through them and having to worry about them getting wet if it was flurying/sleeting/various forms of precipitation.

    October 9, 2018/Reply
  10. Erika says:

    I completely agree with the comments about the coats and gloves. One winter tip: I always had cold toes until…I stopped wearing socks in my boots. I wear any pair of lined winter boots here in Canada without socks, and my feet sweat, and finally feel warm. Try it once, and it will be a game-changer. (My experience is with Uggs, Keens and Sorels) My boyfriend, who was a boy scout for years as a kid informed me that this was a way to keep your feet warm. I was a complete skeptic, but tried it one day on my way to yoga class, and have continued to go sock-less since that first trek in the snow.

    October 9, 2018/Reply
  11. M says:

    As a former Floridian who moved to DC I would HIGHLY recommend buying a puffer coat. It was a game changer. When it starts to get cold and wet a puffer coat does an excellent job of blocking the wind. Lands End make a great down that is very affordable (they often have 40% off sales) and is machine washable. Its great for wet or snowy conditions. I also owned a J.Crew coat in a fun color and a trench coat. If it ends up snowing a lot this winter then rain boots will not cut it. I was naive and thought I could get buy with them and ended up with stress fractures on my feet because rain boots provide zero support on slippery snow and ice.

    October 10, 2018/Reply
  12. NEENS says:

    Floridan moved to Belgium – was terrified of colder weather and panic bought this down filled coat before moving and it has been my go to for winter all over europe. it doesnt have the unattractive puffer look on the outside, but has the cozy puffer feel on the inside and keeps me insanely warm.

    October 11, 2018/Reply