The Warmth of Silk

silk long johnsReader N writes in with a question about warm pants…

I am based in Northern California, and have recently started having to travel for business. I am finding that the wool pants I buy around me are no match for winter in Philadelphia, Cincinnati and New York. I’m told that I should find lined wool pants for warmth, but can’t seem to find any. Are there other fabrics that would be warm enough? To add an additional wrinkle I am a size 18 , so I need to find someplace that carries extended sizes as well.

Welcome to the land of seasons! Out here, if the low temperatures don’t get you, the windchill factor will. We’re weirdly excited to share with you one of the best secrets we picked up from our undergrad years, which we spent in a city known for sub-zero temperatures: silk long johns. Wear these babies under regular pants or jeans and you’ll be comfortable (with a proper jacket) below 35 degrees or so — if it’s very cold (and windchill takes it subzero), we’d suggest wearing them with wool pants.

The amazing thing about silk long johns is a) they’re super thin, so they don’t add bulk to your pants; b) they’re silk, so they block the wind like nobody’s business, and c) when you’re inside, in a normal temperature, you don’t really notice they’re there — it isn’t like a cashmere or wool sweater that can feel suffocating. As a bonus, d), if you’re wearing unlined wool pants, they stop the pants from being itchy. Ok, and fine, e) the other great thing is that you can usually find the long johns, on sale for around $15, at your local Filene’s. (The one pictured above is available at Amazon for $25-$45.) They also come in fun patterns, but we recommend your basic black for a working wardrobe.)

I’m a fan of the Winter Silks line (and notice that they do carry a full range of sizes, including women, tall, and petite); silk long johns are also available through Land’s End.

Off topic note: Alas, because they’re silk, they can be a bit see-through — so they won’t be appropriate for your next Jammy Party.


  1. Quick question –

    I’m a fan of long underwear (I think this is the same basic idea as silk long johns) for super cold days under my jeans/cords. But I’m also wearing thick socks and either sneakers or hiking boots. What shoe choices have you found to work well with silk long johns at work? I’d imagine you’d want to keep the long johns from poking out underneath your suit pants…how do you make that happen?

    • You can get capri-length long johns if it’s a real problem — o/w I tend to wear high-heeled boots (that hit at least above the ankle) with slacks in the winter (better for dealing with snow/slush/water anyway).

    • I wear leather boots that look fine with a suit. But unless you are wearing cropped pants of some sort, your long johns shouldn’t be longer than your pants.

      • Anonymous :

        I propose another discussion about boots, but this time geared to boots that one could wear in the office under a suit. I have yet to try this, but it sounds ideal. I treasure comfort and practicality and generally wear loafers/flats, and not having to swap shoes after trudging to the office would be great. However, I am worried about looking too casual or too rough and tumble, so all suggestions welcome!

        • My best boots, which both look fine with a suit and are sensible in wet/snowy weather, are Rockports. I also have pairs from Aerosoles and Naturalizer, but the Aerosoles tend to fall apart quickly. has a good selection of all three.

          If it’s really snowy and icy, though, I’d caution against wearing your nice boots outside, because the salt will destroy them. I wear rubber boots while walking to work if there’s salt on the streets.

  2. I wear wool tights for warmth – don’t need to worry about them peaking out or riding up/down underneath your pants.

    I’ve found them for cheap (comparatively) online here:

    • also check out for lots of tights … all over the world, great differences in denier/weight and colors and patterns.

    • I love Hue brand sweater tights, available at department stores. They are a bit pricey ($18) but I’ve had the same pairs for three years now and they are holding up fine.

  3. You can get lined wool slacks in plus sized at Talbot’s. If the stores near you don’t have them, you can order online. I wear them all winter in the Midwest.

  4. I second this recommendation – I love silk long johns! Although originally from the south, I picked up wearing them as a habit in college in the northeast, and always use them now on the coldest days. A good pair will last through years and years of use, I’ve found. I wear mine with professional-looking (at least calf-height) heeled boots: donald pliner, aquatalia, and santana canada all make waterproof, but professional looking (low heel, pointed toe) boots that work well under business pants. If water isn’t an issue, I also like Cole Haan boots.

  5. Long John Silker :

    The silk long johns I have have a substantial elastic cuff at the bottom, so I can pull them up to mid-calf and they stay there all day, hiding the fact that I am wearing them. Sierra Trading Post has them on sale right now for $15 and change. I also recommend the long sleeve undershirt for extra warmth under regular business clothes.

  6. I have L.L. Bean’s silk capris and camisole and love them! The camisole is short (at least for someone with a long torso like me), so it doesn’t stick out from under my button down shirts. I do wish the neck was a little scoopier so that I could wear v-neck sweaters with it.

  7. Thermasilk, thermasilk, thermasilk! The really thin stuff can be expensive, but it is worth it. I wear a silk undershirt to the office almost every day during winter.

  8. I am flying for business next week to Boston and Pittsburgh. Will I need some of these?

    • Corporate Tool :

      Depends on where you’re coming from, but as a Southern girl, I vote YES.

      It is VERY cold in the North right now, and Boston isn’t likely to warm up in the next week or two. I’d pack a pair or two (if you don’t have time to shop online, sometimes they are available at camping stores). And warm socks.

    • I am in Texas, so cold to me is 40 degrees. Thanks for the advice! I am not the OP but this was very timely :)

  9. Thanks for answering my question! Silk long johns are a great idea, and I’m glad to hear they’re not stifling indoors. I’ll be picking up a few before next week’s trip.

    Thanks for the tip about Talbots and the tights as well. I will definitely check those out.

  10. My husband bought me silk long johns from REI almost 7 years ago and it has been the best thing he has ever bought me. I wear them all the time under my suits. I love them even though I live in the South!

  11. In addition to silk long johns, Filene’s and similar stores also sell bamboo fiber long johns, which I love — they are super soft, totally windproof, and seem to fit me better (more stretch?) than the silk ones. I wear them under unlined suit pants and am never cold, even standing on the El platform in Chicago winters, nor too hot in our very warm office.

  12. I wear tights under my work pants during the winter.

  13. Silk is so durable. I still have silk long johns and undershirts that I bought back in the 80s. I originally got them to wear under ski clothes, but they’ve been great under dressy clothes, as well.

  14. I love love love silk long johns, too. Thanks for recommending them. I’m often wearing shoes with socks around the office (Danskos, etc.), and tucking my long johns into the socks keeps them from showing out the bottom of my pants. (It’s dorky, I know, but who cares when it’s underneath.)

  15. Delta Sierra :

    I’m really surprised to see all the long john love here. I lived for a long time in a VERY cold climate, frequently 20 below, and never once wore, or even heard of anyone wearing, long johns of any sort. Regular wool pants, or a skirt with tights. Good boots and a warm coat for outdoors. Done.

  16. Love love the silk longjohns. Also, superfine merino as well. i tuck them into my socks (and really, if it’s cold enough for long johns, I’m wearing wool socks and boots). For days when it’s cold but not -30 cold, I wear knee socks and boots under my suits.

  17. Great recommendation, Winter Silks are just wonderful! They’re thin enough that they can be worn underneath your business apparel and your colleagues would be none the wiser. They’re quite economical as well. I recommend Winter Silks all the time.

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