2019 Update: We still stand by this advice on looking professional in cold weather — but you may also want to check out our more recent story on how to dress professionally on the coldest days.
Reader J has a question probably shared by a lot of other recent graduates… how can you look professional in cold weather? What should you wear to work when it’s cold outside?
I have a question about getting dressed in the colder weather. I just graduated from law school and am now beginning my career up north after living in the south for my entire life. After only working summer jobs my whole professional life, I have warm weather office wear down. The big problem is that I have absolutely no idea how to dress myself for work in the winter. Do I wear boots to work? Do I wear something different for the train ride to work? What do I do when it’s raining in all directions? Please help!
This is an excellent question, if only because nothing is sadder than a grown woman wearing a ski jacket with a skirt suit, or someone trouncing around the office in Ugg boots. (Pictured: Ewww! I just got some slush down inside my boots. I really *hate* that!, originally uploaded to Flickr by Ed Yourdon.) In general, cold weather dressing should entail:
- Outerwear: Buy a warm coat that is long enough to (at least) cover your suit jackets (and big enough to wear your suit jackets beneath!). I like the knee-length versions (such as yesterday’s TPS) but there are some mid-thigh versions, as well as some calf-length versions that work nicely. Ultimately, look for something sleek, versatile, and don’t be afraid to splurge — buy the highest quality you can afford, because this coat should last you at least three years (preferably 10-15!).
- Footwear: Obviously, you can’t wear flip flops to commute to work in the winter — and I would argue that, if you must wear Ugg boots (or anything similar) they’re only acceptable for commuting shoes. Otherwise, there are a ton of options. I’ve always found that for light snowy days, the ankle/calf-length boot (worn with pants) is the most comfortable option — a number of brands make weatherproof boots (Aquatalia by Marvin K., La Canadienne); you can also buy weatherproofing spray for your shoes.
- Headwear: I’ve always heard that 80% of heat escapes from your head, but I’ve now heard that’s a myth — either way, I’m a fan of hats when things get cold and blustery! That said, I don’t think people will deem it “unprofessional” if you don’t wear a hat — to each his own. (If you’re looking for advice on which hats are *more* professional, you may want to check out this older post on which winter hats are professional.)
For extreme weather, there are a number of options. For truly chilly days, I love silk long johns — they’re lightweight enough to not be noticed beneath clothes, but the silk blocks the wind. For days where “the rain is coming down in all directions,” as you put it — or the snow/slush is more than a foot deep — for my $.02, I’d advise you to wear a skirt and pair it with either waterproof boots or, for commuting purposes, a subtle rain boot like Hunter with a nice thick sock (such as Hunter – Welly Socks, available at Zappos for $30).
Readers, what are your closet staples for looking professional in cold weather?