2020 Update: We still stand by this advice for how to do business casual in cold weather — but you may also want to check out our more recent discussion on how to dress professionally for the coldest days.
What are the best strategies for staying warm during a wintry commute while still looking professional when you get to work? How can you look stylish and professional in the winter? Reader M has a question about how to do business casual in cold weather:
I’m graduating this year and moving somewhere cold, and I have no clue how to dress business/business casual in the winter. (I have tons of dresses and cardigans and skirt suits from my summers, but rarely any winter clothes.) Specially, I’m wondering — what kind of coat should I buy? What kind of shoes/boots should I wear under work pants? What do I wear to walk to work in the snow/rain? I know this is pretty basic question, but I’d love a post on this topic!
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Great questions, M — business casual in cold weather can be tricky! Some thoughts for you:
Professional Coats to Keep You Warm in Cold Weather
Although puffer coats have come a long way, I still think the most professional outerwear is a knee-length wool blend coat. It looks good with skirts and dresses because of its length, and the “wool blend” aspect is important because a 100%-wool coat can be really itchy. (I’ve always preferred a wool/cashmere blend.)
I would vote for practical features such as pockets and a buttoned neckline (as opposed to some of the deep-V coats we’ve seen recently).
As far as fit, make sure you can wear a thick sweater or a blazer beneath the coat — this may mean sizing up a bit.
Some of our favorite latest trendier coats (as of 10/7/21):
Cold Weather Boots for Work Outfits
Psst: these boots look great with business casual looks! (updated 10/21!)
This depends heavily on where you live and what kind of circumstances you expect to encounter on a) your commute and b) your quest for lunch. If you’re in tundra-like conditions you may just want to get a pair of proper snow boots to commute in (we’ve even talked about packable snow boots for interviews!)
For NYC winters I’ve always felt that you can usually find a fairly clear path on the sidewalk if you have a short commute, and have always thought heeled boots or booties were the best. If you think you’ll encounter a bunch of snow or slush I’d recommend wearing a skirt (perhaps with fleece tights) so you can avoid getting your pant hems wet.
Commuting to Work in Bad Weather
I mentioned this above, but I’ve always found a heeled boot or bootie the best for commuting, albeit with a relatively low heel (1.5-2.5″) if you’ll be walking a ton.
(I’ve always had pretty good luck with waterproofing spray, but I wasn’t exactly jumping in puddles.)
Ladies, what are your thoughts on staying professional on your commute? What would you advise Reader M?