Brrr: Staying Warm in a Freezing Office

freezing-office-2How should you dress this winter when you work at a freezing office, and your trusty back-of-the-chair cardigan just won’t cut it? What are the best ways to keep warm while still looking professional and stylish?

Reader J wonders:

My office is freezing cold in the winter — some of the assistants and paralegals keep huge blankets in their office spaces and wrap up in them, or alternatively wear Northface jackets around. As an associate, I can’t get away with cuddling up in a warm blanket or wearing my Northface — it doesn’t exactly scream competent and professional. Do you have any recommendations for sweaters or wraps that look professional but are also very warm?

We talked about how to stay warm in a freezing office a looong time ago (and, more recently, staying warm with office A/C), but now is a great time to readdress it. While gloves, space heaters, and wraps-as-lap-blankets can help when you’re in your office, here are some thoughts for people who are moving around a lot (e.g., during meetings) during the day, or those who just don’t have the option to wear gloves or sneak in a space heater:

  • Cashmere and merino wool. If most of your pullover sweaters are cotton or a polyester blend, you need to upgrade to cashmere or merino wool — I notice a HUGE difference in warmth. These don’t have to be expensive — we’ve seen prices dip as low as $60-$80 in recent months from places like Talbots and Lord & Taylor — and they don’t have to be bulky.
  • cardigans-over-shouldersLayers. I’d add a wool blazer on top of a merino sweater (perhaps with a cashmere wrap or ruana thrown around my shoulders for added warmth).  (Here’s another wrap that looks great for a cold office.)  If you’re feeling preppy you could always wear a cashmere cardigan around your shoulders (and here’s a great tutorial on that from WhoWhatWear, also pictured). Adding a layer of silk long underwear or fleece-lined tights under pants can really help as well.
  • Try a long cardigan. Knee-length (and longer) cardigans are back in fashion, and they can be a great thing to wear. Yes, some of them (fine, a lot of them) can look and feel a bit like bathrobes, but they still can be a nice option when you’re seated at your desk. They look a ton more professional than wearing a North Face jacket or a blanket, but they cover almost as much.

Ladies, how do you stay warm in a freezing office?



Not pictured, but Shutterstock credit: Shutterstock/Dean Drobot.


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Brrr: Staying Warm in a Freezing Office


  1. I used to work with a woman in a very cold office. She visibly, obviously, kept a log of time and temperature dates, and clearly said that she was keeping the log in order to report for OSHA violations. The vent in her office got fixed.

    • I did the same thing. My office was extremely cold. I was told that because of the way the ventilation was set up, they could not increase the temperature in my office because it would make other offices too hot. I bought a thermometer and started charting the temperature each morning when I entered my office. It was in the 50s consistently. I finally sent the chart to our builder manager along with OSHA text about acceptable temperature levels for an office. I got a space heater and eventually the vents were fixed.

  2. This is a timely post, I’m sitting here freezing with my jacket on and wondering if I can put on warmer shoes

    • christineispink :

      I wore my NorthFace puffy coat for most of the 2 weeks of Xmas and New Years since no one was here to judge. Yesterday I wore arm warmers (they’re like leg warmers but fingerless). Today, I haven’t changed out of my Uggs yet because my toes are SO cold. Also, wearing the alpaca wrap my sister got me in Peru as a giant scarf (does not match my outfit at all).

    • I have slippers that I wear at the office. We’re small, business casual and don’t have a lot of face to face client interaction. And I have nicer shoes, just in case. But mostly it’s the slippers.

  3. It looks like Brooks Brothers doesn’t carry that Ruana anymore- any other alternatives Kat?

  4. I am perpetually freezing, to the point where I think I may have something wrong with me. I’ve already done the layers of wool, long boots with socks under pants, office blanket, office fleece, and am thinking of office gloves with the figers cut out.

    [My office is very bad for an office, but I can be uncomfortably cold elsewhere if the inside temp is <74 or so. And I grew up in the northeast where no one heats their house past 68 in the daytime it seemed.]

    I didn't used to be like this. The last time I had my thyroid tested (an obvious culprit), it was OK. Am thin, but not extremely so (5-4, 125 pounds). I have a hard time being too hot regardless of weather and humidity.

    • Hypothyroidism sufferer here, and your symptoms sound all too familiar. Do you know if they tested your T3 and T4 levels in addition to your TSH? Testing TSH is the most common test for low thyroid function, but people can have low T3 or T4 even with “normal” TSH levels. Alternatively, do you know if the thyroid levels were borderline? Some people have terrible hypothyroidism symptoms even though blood tests suggest that they have “subclinical” hypothyroidism.

      • I don’t know. I have a daughter with congenital hypothyroidism, so you’d think I’d know (but I don’t). Maybe it’s time to retest. My office is ~70 year round and it is awful (for me; many would disagree).

  5. Heating pad, FTW! Saw it recommended here, have been doing it ever since. Warmer than a space heater, safer than a space heater, quieter than a space heater, and no one will walk by and wonder why you have a blanket on (…which I’ve done, I get it).

  6. My solution: bring a heater. I unplug it every night and put it in my drawer. I’m not going to suffer through the work day freezing my butt off.

  7. Try sitting on a heating pad. My office doesn’t allow heaters, so this alternative works for me. I originally bought it from Walgreens when I had back pain and I just kept using. It gets quite warm and I use it year round with the Arctic air conditioning.

  8. CherryScary :

    I have a nice pashmina that I keep at my desk to wrap up in, but I take it off for meetings.

  9. LawyerinChicago :

    Fingerless gloves. Perhaps not the most professional attire ever, but no worse than carpal tunnel braces. They’re more easily overlooked than a stocking cap in any event. I have several pairs of wrist warmers from Ibex and Smartwool (which I don’t see listed at either website anymore, unfortunately) and they make a huge difference. They’re flat knit (not cable) merino, so they are not at all bulky and very warm.

  10. Blonde Lawyer :

    Scarf. If my neck is warm, I am warm.

    Also, underlayers meant for outdoor sports. I have Under Armor layers ( a shirt and pants) that are made to wear under your athletic clothes before putting snow pants on for skiing. I am toasty warm outside in them. On super cold days I will wear them under my professional clothes, especially if I am wearing a suit that is on the thinner side. The downside is they don’t breathe great and since they are made for outdoor wear I can end up way too hot instead. If that happens, I can always run to the bathroom and take them off.

    • +1 to warm long underwear in a cold office. One year when I was teaching, between a building heater that didn’t reach my classroom and windows that didn’t seal properly, the temperature inside almost matched the temperature outside. I started wearing long underwear to work everyday, and it made a huge difference. Textile technology has led to even better choices now.

    • Baconpancakes :

      Long johns FTW. Lands’ End (I know, I know), makes long underwear in cropped lengths, so that I can still wear my cropped pants in winter with cute heels. Yes, it’s a bit crazy to have long underwear and bare ankles, but I’m ok with that. I pretty much wear long underwear every day after the temps drop below freezing, either the pants and top or just the top.

  11. A heating pad. Hot water bottle for your lap. Cashmere cardi over the back of the chair for when you just can’t take it.

  12. Not a Lawyer :

    Massive sale on cashmere and Merino wool at Lord & Taylor website. I just ordered a few sweaters.

  13. Diana Barry :

    I have several strategies:

    1. space heater. If not allowed then take back and forth every day (mine stays in my office).
    2. turtlenecks as an underlayer.
    3. Cashmere is warmer than merino IME.
    4. I wear FLEECE TIGHTS! or regular tights under my pants in the winter.
    5. Fidgeting.
    6. Drink hot coffee or tea all day.

    • Yes to all of this. I rarely wear pants in winter and I wear either fleece tights or Assets (Spanx brand sold at Target/Kohls) which I think are thicker and warmer than other tights.

      I also bought a stylish black wool cardigan that I keep over my chair and can throw on over almost anything.

      Cashmere > anything.

      While I don’t do turtlenecks as an under layer I try to have a scarf or something to keep my neck warm.

    • Oh, also I almost always wear an cami or tank under everything, even if I am wearing a t-shirt underneath. Jockey cotton or microfiber tank, t-shirt, cashmere sweater, merino cardigan/sweater jacket.

  14. Miss Behaved :

    I’ve been using heating pads at work for about 20 years. And these days I’m all about sweater dresses.

    I’m wearing this one today:

    It’s cozy

  15. Any recommendations on where to get long underwear in maternity sizes? I’m in a cold climate and usually wear long underwear/thermals/cuddle duds all winter. For the office I often wear silk, but it doesn’t seem WinterSilks has maternity. I have tried just sizing up, but it’s not fitting my hip/below belly area very well. Any ideas?

    • Diana Barry :

      I wore maternity tights instead – sadly the selection with everything maternity is lacking.

    • Try the maternity leggings from Gap. They are just regular leggings, but SO soft and comfortable, and they fit just under your belly. I have been wearing them under my slacks to work, and they feel heavenly!

  16. Tights and knee-high boots (& if that’s not office-appropriate, geez, why isn’t reasonable heating appropriate???), silk turtlenecks or other underlayers for insulation (silk is a fantastic insulator, some of the best skiing & camping long underwear was silk knits before a lot of the high-tech fibers were made; silk is still some of the thinniest you’ll find & it usually comes in neutral colors like black, white, creme, so if it does show at the neck or wrists, it won’t distract from the rest of the outfit), fashion scarves made of silk / merino / cashmere (avoid chunky knits, look for fine weaves & either solid colors or simple patters, this helps them look like basic accessories not like “I’m totally bundled up!”; also, learn a few attractive, interesting ways to tie the scarf, again, so it looks more like an accessory).

    Also, this is the time to dress formally! Wear tailored, lined wool trousers & fitted jackets with buttoned-up blouses. Skip the ponte knit & loose, drapey clothes, & look for heavy structure in garments — that helps act as another insulating barrier between your body & the cold.

    • Seconding the suggestion for lined wool trousers — I also work in a cold office, and they make a huge difference in keeping me warm.

  17. USB heated fingerless gloves. Not the most professional option, but so so warm (also cheap and easy to use). Before I got my own working vent in my office, I had a thermometer where I checked the temp, logged it and called the building manager daily. Now I rarely need to use the usb heated gloves!

  18. Just thankful my office is warm now. Several years ago, my office was 60F in the mornings and regular complaints didn’t change it so the firm moved.

  19. Ha there was a similar discussion in here and I once posted that I wore my North Face fleece because I was desperate and everyone jumped on me about how unprofessional it is. I’m always cold.. I’m cold right now. I’m more at a disadvantage because I work at client sites every week and often times a different location every week. And I’m traveling or all over the Chicago suburbs. This week I packed some of my heaviest sweaters which made a big difference. Per everyone’s suggestion, I tried silk long underwear from Landsend. I actually don’t recommend it. They are light but weren’t as fitted as I liked. They stretched out and I felt like I was wearing something bulky and cumbersome under my work pants. I actually prefer fitted leggings for working out. I tried a silk long underwear long sleeve top but despite the “Scoop neck” the top peeked out of the neckline of every sweater I own. I will try Uniqlo heattech layers next but probably only the camis because everything seems to show under my tops.

    I also have Raynauds so I lose feeling in my toes easily when they get cold. I’ve found some short flat booties I can wear with my work pants and that allows me to wear Smartwool socks with the boots. I swear by Smartwool. They’re pricey but I just ordered eight pairs from Sierra Trading Post for around $110.

    Other recommendations: I have this blanket scarf from LandsEnd and I absolutely love it. I did a lot of shopping around looking for something that was heavy and warm, big enough, yet didn’t take up too much space in my carry on. This is perfect and the price point is unbelievable. I tried a BCBG blanket scarf and two scarves from Nordstrom. They didn’t compare to this LandsEnd blanket scarf. There are two and I can vouch for both:, I’m also currently wearing this sweater right now and I love it. I have three: I like the fit. It holds its shape and it’s really warm.

    Finally, if you report to the same office every day, I recommend a heated blanket. It’s not the most attractive, but Kohls had a throw-sized heated blanket, the “Biddeford Plush Electric Blanket”. I bought the throw-sized one for a friend and she uses it. I sleep with the queen sized one at my home. It has an auto shut off after 8 hrs.

    • Christina :

      Fellow sufferer of Raynaud’s here – for those who don’t know, it’s an autoimmune disease where our blood vessels contract, and extremities like fingers and toes go blue and numb when chilled very very quickly. E – ask your doc about adding a vessel dilation medication, they’re usually used for people with heart conditions to open up blood vessels. I added one and see a significant change in my symptoms – also helps to prevent long-term damage.

      I second what everyone has said here – cashmere and wool are the way to go. For layering with silk – the easiest way is to find silk knit shells, and buy those in bulk. Silk wovens tend to bunch up since they’re made to drape and are easy to ruin with deodorant. A good tip I discovered when my Chicago office windows didn’t shut all the way – sweaters are layerable too! I layer the tanks under a thin cotton sweater, and then top with a cashmere sweater. I find that once everything is all tucked in (shirt to pants/skirt, pants into boots, pants over long socks), it is much much warmer. Also – ladies, let’s try knee socks in the winter, I layer them under my pants instead of dress socks or stockings, and layer them underneath my tights if I’m wearing a dress. My tights are opaque enough that it doesn’t show, and if I’m wearing trousers, the socks are tucked away into boots anyways. My mistake shoe size buys (half to one size too big) are perfect for this.

      Space heaters are a wonderful invention, and I have to try out heat blankets.

      I’m with Blonde Lawyer on keeping your neck warm – if you wear blouses/suits a lot at work, consider breaking out silk squares or scarves and wear them tucked into your neckline during the winter! It’s not as bulky as a heavy wrap, but it adds a significant layer of warmth, especially tied like a cravat

  20. TO Lawyer :

    I am always freezing, especially in January/February when it’s arctic temperatures outside. I wear two pairs of tights under skirts or dresses. I find a scarf around my neck is really helpful as is a wrap on my legs. I also have a heater and when things are really awful, I wear fingerless gloves although I get teased for that one so I try to avoid it.

  21. Didn’t see uniqlo’s heattech mentioned but it’s great – very toasty. They have tights, too, which I think look much better than the beloved fleece tights that pill after 3 wears.
    Gap also has heat tights and I have heard rave reviews but they seem to be sold out.

    My office is generally fine but I remember when we had no heat at all after hurricane sandy and the solution really is layers, layers, layers. I would do a heattech longsleeve undershirt, a long sleeve blouse or sweater with a winter wool dress layered over and a wrap or warm blazer on top. I won’t say that was optimal, but I was able to work and get through the day.

  22. Me too. My solution is to bring an industrial sized PASHMINEA scarf and wear it around the office. The manageing partner does NOT like it, but the alternative is to have me freezing and sniffeleing around the office all day. He does NOT like that either, tho Frank says it is OK. FOOEY on men who have extra layer’s of fat that keep the heat down to save money! They do not care that it is OUR TUCHUSES that freeze! Yet they want women svelte, not zaftig, tho dad says I am the most zaftig size 0 in Manhattan. FOOEY on him. By definition, I am to thin to be zaftig, tho I do have a tuchus that I need to get rid of if I am to find a mate. I hope to find one this year. YAY!!!

  23. anonymama :

    I don’t understand the “sweaters over shoulders”… wouldn’t it be warmer to just put on the sweater? And the picture of the girl with the hat does not look professional at all… what a weird example to use.

    For me keeping warm is layers… at least one layer close to the skin, at least a tank top if not a long sleeved tshirt underneath. Also, cashmere, and a scarf, and tights or socks. So, tank top, button down shirt, with cashmere sweater over top, lined wool pants, warm socks, booties. If no collar on my shirt/sweater then I need a scarf.

  24. I wear scarves around my neck and find that helps a lot.

  25. We are allowed space heaters. Mine is very quiet and inexpensive and in a somewhat open cube environment, provides a happy low level of innocuous white noise to help me concentrate. I always always always shut it off though. Someone on the other side of my wall has the same device and so I knew it wasn’t intrusive (noisewise) before I bought it. For meetings in cold conference rooms I put on a scarf or wrap over my wool sweater and jacket.

  26. I recently read about fleece lined tights and fleece lined slips. If I still lived in Boston I would definitely get some!

  27. I am cold every day lately, annoying for typing. Sometimes, I wear by coat, a business coat. If anyone were to say anything I’d say I was about to head out. Or just got in, and am warming up.

  28. I have Reynauds as well and am always cold, even in the summer. I swear by filament silk camisoles. They are featherweight and almost impossible to see under clothes. Although they require hand laundering, it’s just a quick swish in the sink and they dry overnight because they are so lightweight. I get mine fromWinterSilks.

    WinterSilks camisoles

    My favorite recent find though has been Uniqlo’s HeatTech line. I can not say enough good things about this clothing line! I wore their HeatTech turtleneck and my usual silk camisole under a blazer the other day when it was 20 outside. Within an hour, I had to remove the cami (in the ladies room) because I was so warm. Quite literally, I had rivulets going down my back. This was absolutely a first for me!! I can’t believe that such a thin material at such a price is so warm, but I am proof that it is the real deal.

  29. SoCalAtty :

    I just cut a couple of pieces of foam board and wedged them over my vents, about 20 minutes ago. Seems to be helping a lot. Other than that, hot tea and a jacket live at my desk.

  30. shopping challenged :

    I can’t do wool or cashmere (allergies), so am always looking for alternatives. I also like feeling warm without looking “all bundled up”. If you wear great big sweaters all winter, you might just forget what your body looks like by springtime! (slight exaggeration, but I do find it refreshing to wear winter clothes that don’t make me look like a football player) One trick I learned while living in a cold place–bodysuits! You can wear them as your shirt, with a jacket, or just as a bottom layer. I don’t know why, but having the snaps down there makes the garment much warmer than a similar shirt–even a long one that’s tucked in. Try it! another tip I got was to wear two pairs of tights. I never tried that, but certainly wore tights under long johns under pants or under long skirts with up to the knee boots. That was great too!

  31. I spend a great deal of time on Sock Dreams for my layering. It’s usually my legs and feet that get cold, so I’ve got a pair of long length thigh high socks, with another pair of ‘regular’ socks over them. If I’m doing any long term outside wear, I’ll have tights underneath that whole package. And for keeping socks up (since I know lots of people have issues there) I use sock glue, which keeps the thigh highs up where they belong, versus sliding down to my knees. Very comfy all around!

  32. I have a sincerely brilliant friend who makes scarves in warm materials like fleece, merino etc. they are warm, but more importantly they are stylish and make whatever I’m wearing much much more stylish. But best of all – you can wear them a million different ways including as a scarf, a skirt or a wrap. It’s genius and gorgeous.

    A North Face jacket will NOT cut it at a law firm or an investment bank!!!

    Here is a link:!product/prd1/3305653071/textured-double-sided-black-%26-white-wool-blend

  33. Has anyone found a fleece-lined blazer or business casual fleece moto jacket? I basically want to wear something that feels like a north face jacket but looks like a sweater.