How I Stay Warm in the Winter (While Trying to Look Cute)

Okay, yall.  I hesitate to write this post because I live in Southern California where winter is a mild 60 degrees during the day and maaaaybe 40 at night when it’s really cold.  But I thought of this post because I’ve had to travel many, many times to Chicago, St. Louis, and Madison (but mostly Chicago) during the dead of winter.  Brrrr!  In Chicago, I’d be with people who lived in New York, Michigan, Minnesota, and Washington DC, and Chicago–all with colder winters than California–and they were always freezing while I wasn’t.  I mean, I was cold, but some of them were really struggling.  (There were also people from Vancouver and Toronto, but they were totally fine!  🙂  )  I started to wonder why I was less affected by the frigid Chicago temps and windchill compared to 5 other people who lived in colder climates–especially because I’m definitely one of those people who “runs cold”!

Like I said, I’m a Californian with little cold to endure so there’s a lot I still have to learn about cold weather dressing.  But as I’ve talked to friends and PMT readers all over the country I’ve realized there are some cold weather dressing tips that are worth sharing in case anyone’s in need of them!  I’ll just share how I dressed that kept me pretty warm, and since I’m sure there are even better ways to go about this, if you’ve got great tips to share, please do!  

Also, one note.  I’m not referring to staying warm while playing in the snow or stuff like that.  This is just for day-to-day stuff, going to and from meetings and running errands and that kind of stuff during the winter.

Anyway, basically, I dressed in tons of layers while trying not to look like I was bulked up with layers.  My typical “formula” was:

How to Stay Warm in the Winter and Still Look Cute

1.  Camisole.  They’re usually thin and help keep my core warm.  Don’t underestimate keeping your core warm!  I just wear cami’s from Old Navy and have been for years.

(I know a lot of you tell me you don’t like these because they make you hot.  If that’s what you’re thinking right now, in the most polite way possible, this entire post might not be for you.  ;P )

2.  UNIQLO HEATTECH.  I’ve talked about these before, but I love these things.  HEATTECH a very thin layer that is soft, smooth, and stretchy, and never loses shape.  They cling to you without squeezing you (unless you get the wrong size), so that you can have an additional layer without bulk. The sleeves are intentionally a little too short so that the layer stays hidden under your shirts or sweaters.  I also get the scoop neckline to stay hidden under open neck tops.  They come in several colors, but I just have nude and black.  For sizing, I’m 6/8 or S/M and get these in M.  Find them HERE.

I hear other women wear Cuddl Duds or things like that, though I’ve never tried them.

3.  Long Sleeve Tee.  Sometimes this would be a cotton long sleeve tee and sometimes it would be a long sleeve or 3/4 sleeve blouse.  Back when I was traveling to Chicago often (falls and winters of 2009 and 2012) the only striped tee I owned was a yellow/grey thermal type one from Target, but it was pretty thin.  If I were to do this formula today, I would wear a black and white striped tee like THIS or other long sleeve tee equivalent, or I would do a blouse.

This layer was important if I peeled off layers once I was inside with blasting heaters.

Shop the Pieces:

4.  Cardigan, Sweater, or Fleece Zip Up.  Back in 2009 and 2012, I usually wore a white fleece zip up instead of things like oversized cardigans.  The one I had was from Gap (I still have it!) but it was camouflaged under my white outerwear that you’ll see below.  That helped the whole thing look streamline instead of mismatched or haphazardly thrown together.  My fleece was very plain and more fitted than loose, but white and slightly more fitted.  If I did these layers with my style today, I could substitute a pullover sweater or one of my oversized cardigans for the fleece zip up.  However, I still find fleece is much warmer than a cardigan!  If I were *really* worried about being cold, I would do a pullover sweater AND the fleece zip up.  😀

Shop the Pieces:

5.  Down Feather Coat that goes to your thighs or knees.  I WISH the particular coat I have was available today, but it was a random lucky find from Costco in late 2008.  I bought it because I needed a coat for going to Chicago, and it totally works for the occasion.  It keeps me sooo warm, but it is SO thin.  Much thinner than other down coats I’ve tried.  I can roll it up and it only fills 1/4 of my carry on suitcase–it’s amazing!  And, since there was no price tag and no more of these coats in the store, Costco sold it to me for $25.  WHAT?! YES!  #luckyday

It also almost goes down to my knees, which means that if I’m wearing riding boots to keep my legs warm, the down jacket keeps most of the rest of my body warm.  That extra length is so important!  Several of the other women I spent time in Chicago with only had peacoats or ski jackets that went to their hips, and they were so cold all the time.

6.  Scarf.  A must!  I’m infinitely warmer when I wear a scarf.  The ones I had at the time weren’t even that thick.  If I were to go to Chicago tomorrow I’d bring a blanket scarf.

7.  Riding Boots or Knee High Boots.  Because these cover more of your leg, I find I’m so much warmer in them.  None of the other women I was with in Chicago wore knee high boots.  The one other woman who had a long down coat like mine was from New York, and she wore ankle-height shoes and was always really cold still.  I think I was warmer than her because of the camisole and HEATTECH but also largely due to the riding boots.

Shop the Pieces:
boots  |  scarf  |  coat

(8.  Gloves and hats.)  Most of the time I could stick may hands in my pockets and be fine, unless we were walking for a long time outside.  But I still made sure I always had gloves in Chicago because we were lugging around music and sound gear made of metal, and OHMIGOSH, grabbing metal with bare hands when it’s been sitting in a trunk in freezing cold is NOT awesome.

I seldom wore a beanie because it made my hair staticky and I didn’t know how to manage that at the time.  However, if I were in even colder weather, like how some of you talk about -10 degree weather (which I can’t even wrap my mind around!) I would definitely wear something to cover my head and/or ears.  Instead, I just used my coat’s hood when necessary.

Those trips to Chicago were actually pretty bearable thanks to all these layers.  And again, I didn’t feel bulky, rather I felt pretty stylish AND pretty warm.  Also, this was extremely helpful for managing the variance in temps from outdoors to extremely heated indoors.  When other people were wearing huge sweaters under their coats yet had no shirt underneath the huge sweaters, they would often be sweating once we got inside.  In contrast, I could peel off layers, down to my long sleeved stripe tee or 3/4 blouse, and be really comfortable in varying temperatures.

Other Tips to Consider

– Clothing Material.  I have THIS navy gingham top from J.Crew Factory, but it is very lightweight and thin.  Contrast that to THIS red flannel plaid from J.Crew Factory which appears similar but is actually much warmer because it’s flannel.  So, if you wanna do a similar navy gingham in the winter, I might go for THIS one instead because it’s flannel.

I don’t know much about other cold weather materials, but if anyone can speak to sweater material like wool versus something else or whatever, please do!

– Fleece Lined Tights.  Sooooo much warmer than regular tights, and it makes wearing dresses and skirts doable in the winter.

– Sweater Dresses.  On the note of dresses, if you want/need to wear dresses but fear that idea in the winter, remember that sweater dresses exist!  For example, I have a knit maroon swing dress similar to THIS (the Old Navy one that feels like pajamas that I’ve been talking about a lot lately), but the material is fairly thin.  Great for all other times of year but not the best for a very cold climate.  However, instead, you could do a dress that looks very similar but is a sweater dress instead, like THIS ONE.  Same look but probably way warmer.

I think that’s all I’ve got for you!  How do you typically dress to stay warm but look cute?  Do you have an additional tip to share?  Favorite layering pieces?  Favorite types of material you’d recommend?  

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  • Reply
    January 11, 2017 at 7:44 am

    This is a great post with lots of helpful tips for people who perhaps are not used to “real” winter weather but might be traveling to a colder climate. I live in Madison, WI and do a lot of the things you mentioned. Particularly a down, knew-length coat and taller boots. The coat is key for walking in windy winter weather during my bus commute or playing with my daughter outside. I also layer a sweater of some type over a long-sleeve shirt though I rarely ever take off the sweater. Even in my very over-heated office. I think in general you just adjust to that weather you live in. We’ve been in Madison for 5 years now (six winters!) and I can run from the house to car to target with just a zip-up fleece even when it’s below freezing. I never wear baselayers like cuddl duds unless I’m going to be outside hiking or something for over an hour. But, when my parents came to visit for Christmas they totally wore baselayers or long johns because they aren’t used to the weather here.

    Tldr: great post for people traveling to a colder climate than they are used to. Wool trumps all in terms of baselayers or just winter layers in general imo. My daughter wears a wool leggings and onsie under almost all her clothes in winter since toddlers/babies need more layers than we do to help regulate their body heat.

  • Reply
    January 11, 2017 at 8:14 am

    This is pretty much exactly how I dress in the cold! Anyone reading this: don’t underestimate the long down coat. That’s probably the best purchase in my winter wardrobe. I bought a really nice down coat and I generally don’t have to wear many layers. If it’s super cold I might wear fleece lined tights on my bottom half. If I’m going to be active, I make sure to wear wicking layers like coldgear or wool.

    • Reply
      January 15, 2017 at 7:05 am

      I bought a real down coat two weeks ago – set me back 300€ but holy cow it is worth its weight in gold!

  • Reply
    January 11, 2017 at 8:22 am

    Loving this winter style formula!


  • Reply
    January 11, 2017 at 8:50 am

    Uniqlo’s heattech socks are amazing! We had a store nearby in Okinawa and I bought tons before we moved back to the States. Turns out though that there’s a store in the nearest mall.

  • Reply
    Becky Brown
    January 11, 2017 at 9:00 am

    Wear thin tights under your jeans/work pants. It’s an easy layer to add if your office is always really cold. Layering shirts and sweaters is typically easier but it can be hard to keep your legs warm too!

  • Reply
    January 11, 2017 at 9:36 am

    Sooo glad you did this post! I have been following you for several years and love your style, but struggle to put it into my climate (which is sooo not beautiful Cali). This is super helpful! And I love the long coat idea … I have a few oversized cardi’s and always wonder how I can wear those underneath a coat without looking silly!

  • Reply
    January 11, 2017 at 9:57 am

    I think the only thing missing is something under your pants! I always underestimate how cold my legs will get, especially if I’m walking around outside. Silk long underwear are the best – super thing but keep you really warm and you can wear all your normal pants!

  • Reply
    January 11, 2017 at 11:28 am

    I LOVE the camis from Loft too..they are long (for us taller folks) and have adjustable straps. They come in so many colors and wash and dry well. When they are buy 1 get 2/3 free they are EVEN BETTER!!!

  • Reply
    Diana @ Bumps Along the Way
    January 11, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    I pretty much live in riding boots in the fall/winter/spring. I don’t understand how people can complain it’s cold while also leaving their ankles uncovered…it seems like an obvious place to start. Also, layers…I wear fleece lined leggings under my pants most of the winter. It’s wonderful.

  • Reply
    Jennifer Sandahl
    January 11, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Excellent advice! I see it’s been mentioned in a few other comments, but wearing some sort of long underwear/base layer or even tights/leggings under your pants can really help keep you warm, especially if it’s windy out. The ‘silky’ long underwear a la cuddl duds and heattech are nice, and I actually find them to be warmer than the traditional ‘waffle weave’ fabrics of regular long underwear, though that might be the difference between cotton vs polyester. Also, wool socks, or anything that isn’t cotton, will keep feet warmer. Cotton isn’t very insulating if it gets wet (say you walk through some slush on the sidewalk in tennis shoes and your feet get wet), but wool will almost be more insulating when wet!

  • Reply
    Texas Aggie Mom
    January 11, 2017 at 2:33 pm

    As a Texan who “runs cold,” I loved these suggestions, most of which I’m already using. I’d like to put in another good word for wearing camis as a base layer. I discovered them a few years ago when my area had its first major winter weather event in many decades. Having something to fill in that space in the back where your pants gap and your panties don’t reach is key for me. Mine are mostly from Loft or Express and I have them in almost every color to match my outfits. I also bought into wool socks big time, but had to find them on line. The brand I like best is “Feetures” and my favorite boot socks are actually their knee-high running socks with compression around the foot and ankle areas for more support. I bought mine through Amazon but have since found them on eBay and my local running store. Last year I invested in some “Smart Wool” separates (zip neck top and pants) to wear if it’s ever icy and cold for several days, but so far have only worn them around the house like pjs, instead of under my regular clothes. I also invested in a nice set of silk long underwear to wear in my office, which is freezing all winter, regardless of outside temperatures. These investments have made winter a lot less painful for me.

  • Reply
    January 11, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    Perfect timing as I am going to Iceland next month and buying gear now! Does anyone have a recommendation for a brand of fleece lined leggings? I like the polyester workout leggings opposed to the cotton ones as I feel they don’t fade as much.

  • Reply
    Oksana, Toronto
    January 11, 2017 at 4:35 pm

    As someone living in Toronto (which is one of the warmest places in Canada ha-ha), I agree with all the tips mentioned here. Layering is definately the key.
    My other tips:
    – Using fleece-lined other staff (bienies, mittens, even pants). Fleece lined pants are rare animals, but so much much worth it!
    – Investing in wool (sweaters, coats, leggings, scarfs). They are much better at keeping you warm compared to polyester staff.
    – Using wools insoles in boots and buying the right boots. For example, when boots are very tight, your feet can get cold quicker. High quality snow boots are a must.
    – the same goes for puffer coats – it is so much worth to spurge and buy a high quality one specifically designed for extreme temperatures

    Another question for a totally different discussion is how to make winter outfit interesting, when you spend lots of money on quality coats and boots and could not afford to buy many of those…

  • Reply
    Kimberly Flannery
    January 11, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    I have been wearing Uniqlo’s heat tech leggings under my pants/jeans/other leggings every single day in the winter for at least 5 years. So thin, and so much added warmth! They are smooth so they glide nicely even under skinny jeans, no pulling or bunching. I just tuck them into my socks before I pul my second pair on so they don’t get pulled up. This year i tried my first pair of the ones with the “body warmer” which have a maternity-like high band but not as roomy. So good for core warmth!

  • Reply
    January 12, 2017 at 5:47 am

    and an extra 2-cents from someone in the DC area (which is expecting a high of 65 today and wintry mix tomorrow!):
    * tuck that cami into your undies. you’ll feel silly, but it will stay put all day + keep your backside warm!
    * layer tights if you dont have fleece tights. as a plus-sized gal, ive had a really hard time finding fleece tights that fit me, but ive found that doubling up on my tights keeps me warm AND keeps things from jiggling — win-win!

  • Reply
    January 12, 2017 at 10:06 am

    I use sock liners under my socks. They are a thin, wicking material. I don’t remember the brand. I got them in an outdoor store.

  • Reply
    January 12, 2017 at 10:43 am

    I live in Minnesota, and run very cold, so I have a similar system (unfortunately I have to wear it everyday, 9 months out of the year). :/

    I wear a cami, two long sleeve shirts, a sweater (or cardigan, dress, whatever my top layer is), leggings under jeans (or leggings under other leggings), wool socks, and boots.

    A couple of extra tips:

    -Isotoner makes the only kind of mittens I buy. They have to be flip-top (because I wear them constantly, so I have to have ready access to my fingers), must be fleece-lined, and CANNOT have a slit in the thumb (duh, people, when it’s 10 degrees outside, a slit in the thumb = might as well not even be wearing mittens).

    -When it comes to the “under-layers”, I find fit is even more important than fabric. I am slim and lean, so a lot of clothing ends up boxy on me. Boxy = air gets in = cold. So I work hard to find camis and shirts that are long and lean. It can be hard to find, but I’ve had luck at juniors brands like Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch. This year, Kohl’s juniors section had THE PERFECT shirt. When I find a good version, I buy 2 of every neutral color I can get (usually black, navy, and gray). And I couldn’t wear the Heattech shirts in this post because my sleeves need to be long, so long that they cover the backs of my hands. You’d be surprised at what a difference that little patch of skin can make.

    -Tuck in your under layers whenever possible. You will be bulky, so if you can tuck your top under-layers into your legging under-layer, it’ll keep things looking smoother. I find this especially necessary when wearing dresses.

    -Scarves. All of the scarves. I mean, if you’re cold and you’re not wearing a scarf, what are you even doing with your life? A tip for storing them: Just use a regular coat-hook wall strip. You’ll be able to see them all at once, and remove them/return them very easily (some organizers I’ve seen require lifting up, unclasping a ring, unlooping a scarf, etc.).

    -I bring cozy slipper socks with me when I go to someone else’s house. If I know I’ll have to remove my shoes, even if I’m wearing wool socks, my feet will be cold. It’s a little quirky, so I wouldn’t do it at, say, a cocktail party, but for most of my social gatherings, it’s fine.

    • Reply
      January 15, 2017 at 7:01 am

      I love this. Here in Germany, I need this level of layers maybe 4-5 months of the year, but I do it exactly like you do: cami, two longlsleeve shirts, a sweater, two scarves (a thinner one for inside, a thicker one on top for outside), fleece-lined tights or leggings underneath pants (or both!), boots, fleece-lined flip-top gloves, and I just bought THE most incredible down coat that goes down to almost my knees (which is a miracle because I’m 6.1!). The reason I’m telling you all this is because my family says I’m insane, but they all run hot, and DAMMNIT it is cold outside!!! Sending you warm thoughts from overseas 🙂

      • Reply
        Audrey @ Putting Me Together
        January 18, 2017 at 9:23 am

        Hahaha, hi Johanna! For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re insane for needing layers. If you need layers, you need layers! ;P

        • Reply
          January 19, 2017 at 12:09 pm

          I’m glad you understand me 😉

  • Reply
    J in New England
    January 13, 2017 at 7:08 am

    Yay! Thanks for this post! I’ve been following your blog off and on as I really like your style and you’re about the same size as I am (a lot of outfits I like on the blogs just don’t translate to reality either in terms of size or motherhood). I mostly follow in the summer since I live in New England and the other 3 seasons are just so much colder than anything in most of CA (I’ve lived in a few different areas of CA also). Great tips, especially RE creating layers that look stylish all the way through.
    I second others’ comments about wool – that’s the way to go. It’s easy to end up both too hot and too cold when wearing certain synthetics (i.e. fleece and acrylic sweaters). There are also lots of different types of wool, of course. Merino is very soft and smooth and works great as long underwear but isn’t very warm by itself. Cashmere of course is very warm for the weight and very soft (and expensive). A merino/cashmere blend is typically less expensive but warmer than just merino. Thick lambswool sweaters are very very warm but are usually too itchy to wear next to your skin; they’re great with a heattech undershirt. For the mothers with small children out there, woolovers makes great washable wool sweaters, etc. One more tip, and then I’ll stop ranting about wool: knee-high smartwool (or similar) socks under tall boots (either under pants or over tights/leggings) are awesome. Oh, and sherpa-lined boots, of course.
    Thanks again for a great blog!

  • Reply
    February 21, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    Thanks for this post! I recently relocated somewhere that has an actual winter and was looking for a great “under” layer that wasn’t too bulky. Just ordered the HeatTech tshirt and leggings using your link 🙂

    • Reply
      Audrey @ Putting Me Together
      February 22, 2017 at 10:33 am

      Great to hear it, Lia! Hope they work out for you!

      • Reply
        March 6, 2017 at 1:30 pm

        Got them and LOVE them – thanks for the recommendation. Wore the shirt as an under layer while hiking in 40 degree weather – kept me toasty but not hot and it wasn’t bulky at all. Thanks again!

  • Reply
    November 26, 2017 at 10:45 am

    keeping warm in winter wear a cami and wear thermalboants and shirt you will be warm underneath. Walmart online gas set for less than seven dollars. Wear tight in winter months. Wear leggings under your pants. Have a couple cute coats I gave black, with ter white, red and grey coat

  • Reply
    December 19, 2018 at 8:35 am

    In my experience there are two kinds of winter people: the kind who know how to bundle up like an expert (or else complain endlessly about the cold), and the kind who are used to being cold in winter and aim for “not freezing” rather than “warm.” I definitely run cold — I live in California now and heat my house to 73F while wearing a wool sweater indoors — but I haven’t found long down coats to be necessary in Newfoundland or Montana, both plenty wintry places. Because my opinion of winter is: you’re supposed to be cold when you’re outside, keep moving and keep your core warm. A short down coat is much warmer than a long wool coat, unless the wool coat is lined with Thinsulate. I love heattech layers for skiing, but for everyday life when you’re only outside for 10-15 min at a time, it’s overkill. I find wool or cashmere sweaters, worn with no cami against the skin, to be more breathable than synthetics and doesn’t have the hassle of removing layers when I’m indoors. Also, don’t forget about a hat/scarf/gloves, they make a big difference in windchill.

    But there’s a big caveat — all of the above is only for people who are willing to be a little bit cold in the winter! If you hate winter and want to be truly warm while outside, then invest in a Canada Goose long down coat or wear tons of layers as described above. That’s totally a valid strategy too 🙂

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