Core Cold Weather Wardrobe

Mittens (Photo:

I spend most of my clothing budget on cute things to wear for summer vacations. Never mind that our weather is cold-to-freezing for 6 months of the year! I sat down and figured out what pieces I should own to get through a typical Nova Scotia winter, from November to April.

Winters aren’t typical any more, but I still need to crank up my budget for winter wardrobe building. Ultimately I take it more seriously than dressing for summer, because outer wear can be expensive, and I want to buy things that will last a couple or ten years.

What I would wear on a day with no formal meetings...

What I would wear on a work day with no formal meetings…

Here’s what I think my minimal winter work wardrobe should include, followed by what I actually own:

  • 3 heavy-weight pullover sweaters (have: 2)
  • 3 long-sleeve under-layer T-shirts (have: 8, but they are worn 3 seasons)
  • 2 light-weight sweaters (have: 2)
  • 1 shirt or blouse (have: 5)
  • 1 heavy-weight cardigan (have: 3)
  • 2 business-wear jackets (have: 2)
  • 3 pair dress pants – 1 solid matte, 1 textured, 1 with shine (have: 6)
  • 1 pair dark-wash jeans (don’t have)
  • 1 pair flats (have: 2)
  • 1 pair medium heels (have: 2)

For casual wear, I would add corduroy pants, jeans and 18 hoodies (J/K, but you know how I adore hoodies!) Oh yeah, and flannel pajamas!

This month I bought a few pieces to pull together two special occasion outfits: a pair of paisley stretch skinny cords with an open-weave sparkly black sweater; and a heavy-weight red knit cardigan with nice details to wear with black shiny trousers. Both tops require a visible under-layer which will be a close-fitting black long-sleeve top. I was tempted to use a long-sleeved black T-shirt I already own, because I am cheap, but that’s really not appropriate for the occasions I’ll be attending – it’s too matte and faded. I had to fork out for a top with a nice fit and finish! But these two outfits will get me through 5-6 events this month.

Holiday Sweater (Photo:

Bought this top

Corduroy Skinnies (Photo:

…and pants like these

Outerwear is a whole other story. My essential list is:

  • 1 zip-up, insulated, water-resistant parka – for everyday and weekends
  • 1 hip-length wool coat with buttons – for dressier occasions and colder weather (blocks wind completely)
  • 1 old parka to wear when snow shovelling
  • 1 pair waterproof rain pants (don’t have snow pants, that would imply I did winter sports, like, outdoors or something!)
  • 1 pair tall, lined boots for warmth
  • 1 pair hiking boots with serious traction (need to replace)
  • Not essential: I have 2 pairs of short unlined fashion boots
  • 1 pair driving gloves
  • Other: various scarves, mittens, hats, boot socks and skating socks

I have a few strategies for winter dressing. First of all, I am always cold. So there is no chance I will wear sleeveless or short-sleeved tops, or anything open at the neck. Full coverage only! I might force myself to do it for New Year’s Eve, but only under duress. Next, I see no point in layering so that I can add and subtract as needed. There is no chance I will get too warm and want to take anything off. Any layers I wear stay put! I also do “invisible layering,” such as wearing a tank top or even a long-sleeved T-shirt under a sweater. Maybe that’s because I grew up wearing an “undershirt” in the winter. If I spend any time outdoors at all, I wear tights under my trousers. And I wear tall lined boots, not just to keep my feet dry in wet weather, but for warmth.

Things I don’t have, other than skimpy evening wear, are brand name gear such as UGGS (don’t like ‘em) and Canada Goose (love ‘em!)

Canada Goose Parka

Canada Goose Parka

The other factors under consideration are that I work partly in an office and partly in public service. I spend hours at my computer, or hours serving customers while chilly blasts blow through the library doors. But in all honesty, I do not do enough physical labour to ever warm up. Also, I drive to and from work, so I am rarely outside, except to scrape frost off the windshield. So despite the long winter, cold and snow, I am relatively sheltered – and not that keen to stay in the great outdoors. Although my tolerance does increase after a few mornings of snow shovelling! I just don’t look very fashionable doing it.

What are your cold weather essentials?


  1. Mel

    Oh those layers might start coming off as the hot flashes come on!!

  2. This is so great! I’m always cold too but being on the opposite coast I have to also contend with rain….

    • Actually we get a lot of cold rain too – one of the things I hate most is when snow turns to rain and I have to shovel heavy, wet snow before it freezes! But I don’t think our summer and fall are as wet as yours.

  3. SarahN

    Oh bless your heart – that you never ‘unlayer’ – so lucky! Even European Nov, I found a coat + my layers too hot sometimes. Oh so annoying! But agreed, women are often always cold… shame really. Even in Sydney, I too shun the idea of open necks in winter (making me eventually feel like I’m ultra conservative and not at all 27 and maybe possibly somewhat fashionable!)

    Hoodies… have been ridiculed by the new partner. They (being 2) only come out on Sunday/MOndays for water polo game/training and the other is for travelling (cold planes etc). Even still, I feel… weird that it would be preferable that I didn’t wear them… Esp when I’m cold on a Sunday, and I know said hoodie is in the bag… sigh

    • Too bad about the hoodie ban! Maybe you’ll have to replace them with sweaters so hideous that the hoodies will seem elegant by comparison 🙂 Do you have nice warm cardigans to bundle up in? But of course, it’s summer for you now.

      • SarahN

        Hahaha I don’t think of it so much as a ban, but a constructive constraint… and he’s still wearing the “worthy of the house only” shorts in public, so…

        I have a few chunky cardigans for winter – one is like wearing a big blanket, so I love it! It is summer, and still I’m lingering on ‘packing’ away winter stuff – so there’s hangers and space for everything – being in Europe in Nov slowed me down on the pack up!

      • Even though I’m trying to be minimal, I still have distinct summer and winter wardrobes. But by downsizing the total amount of clothes, I have room for all of it now!

  4. We moved to the desert so I thought I could get rid of all of my winter clothes but now it is 30-40 degrees (at least we don’t get snow or rain…I can’t imagine a winter in Nova Scotia! Burrrr).

  5. laura @ move to portugal

    Your comment on my wardrobe post made me start thinking about warm coats and fur lined boots! I don’t have the right clothing to deal with the winter…I think my policy is to avoid leaving the house as much as possible between November and February – ideally I’d like to hibernate!! Anyway I need to add fur lined boots to my clothing wish list!

  6. Pingback: Winter Wardrobe Realities « An Exacting Life

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