The Hunt: Warm Winter Pants

warm women's dress pants for the officeSure, we all know what wardrobe essentials for work professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

It’s been a while since we went on a hunt for warm women’s dress pants for the office, so I thought we’d take a look today. I’m breaking out this Hunt a bit differently than our usual roundup to talk about the pros and cons of the different fabrics in general, but I’d love to hear from you — what are your favorite pants to wear to work in the winter? (Or is it FLEECE TIGHTS all the way?) What fabrics do you like best, what do you wear beneath unlined pants, and where are your favorite places to find them? Can you wear velvet/corduroy at your office, or do you prefer to stick to wool? What are your thoughts on cropped pants in winter weights? (And what shoes do you wear with them — booties?) See our roundup below of the different kinds of warm winter pants to wear to work…

Wool Flannel Pants

Flannel pants are, I think, the holy grail if you’re looking for warm winter pants. They don’t have the itch of wool or tweed, but they drape better and feel more versatile than velvet or other options. Of course, the downside is that you often end up paying a lot for them… Talbots is one of the more affordable options you’ll find right now, as is Everlane (but note that Everlane has them on their “pay what you want” pricing, which may mean they’re on their way out.)

Pictured: $95-$536 (on sale!): one / two / three / four

Other Wool Blends

I’m separating out wool flannel because I think it’s the softest, the warmest, and the most versatile — but there are a zillion other wool blends and woolen fabrics, including wool gabardine and wool blended with elastyne for stretch (like the plaid pair below). These may be itchy — so see our trick about how to deal with unlined pants — but they may also be great for winter. Note that seasonless wool (aka tropical wool and  “lightweight wool,”) is also great for winter, but, as we’ve noted before when advising on whether you can wear a tropical wool suit in winter, they may be a bit chilly on the most Vortex-y days of the Polar Vortex. Tweeds may be a wool (like this pair at Talbots), but they may also be a polyester (like this pair at Boden) — but for my $.02 I’ve always preferred tweeds as a skirt than a pant because the inner thighs of pants may wear unevenly and/or get nubbly.

Pictured, $98-$285: one / two / three

Velvet & Corduroy Pants

I’m putting velvet and corduroy together because they both can go either way, although corduroy is inherently more casual and velvet is inherently more dressy. But if you see either fabric in a five-pocket style (like denim), odds are the pants are only going to be acceptable for a more casual office in general (or, say, a weekend workday in a conservative office). On the flip side, if you see them with welt pockets like the blue pair below, or cut like trousers like the bootcut burgundy pair, then they’re far more acceptable to wear to conservative offices. Note that the swish-swish sound both pants make while walking can be a problem in an office with very quiet hallways — and that lint can also be a problem with both (note that, in a pinch, a Fed Ex mailing pouch works wonders!)… There are a lot more professional-looking options in velvet right now, so those are pictured below — also check out the tons of options at Banana Republic, Boden, and Uniqlo (with HEATTECH added so they’re extra warming).

Velvet pants pictured above, $39-$475: one / two / three / four

Long Johns and Silk Leggings

One last thing worth noting: long johns can be lifesavers, whether you’re using them to make an already warm pair of pants SUPER warm, to warm up a favorite pair of less seasonal pants (such as a washable pant for work probably in a cotton blend), or to use as a liner for an unlined suit pants. These are particularly great when the problem is the wind (such as in a city like Chicago) more than the temperature — especially because while a silk long john will block the wind, it won’t overheat you once you get inside. Some favorites include these:

Pictured above, $9-$145: one / two / three / four

Readers, which are your favorite warm women’s dress pants for the office? Which fabrics are your favorite — which wear the longest — and where have you bought them recently?

Like this feature? Check out other recent installments! Curious for older installments of this Hunt? Here’s our 2012 roundup of the best wool flannel pants for women  and our 2011 roundup of the best wool trousers for women.

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  1. Anonymous :

    I’m team long underwear. Its cold and snowy outside, and I’m wearing regular Talbots ankle pants, silk LL Bean long underwear, and knee high boots over my pants. I was warm shoveling off my car and walking the 4 blocks from my lot, and I’m comfortable inside.

    • Anonymous :

      I just wear tights or hose underneath pants. Thin layer and plenty warm. Also saves me in the office when sitting at my desk. Also a great trick for keeping bulk down for skiing, winter hiking etc…

  2. Lana Del Raygun :

    There is very little point to buying pants in special warm fabrics if they don’t even cover your poor frostbitten ankles. When will this trend die? :'(

    • Panda Bear :

      Good question… I love the look of ankle pants, but I have no idea what to do with them in the cold weather. I have a wool pair that I love and look cute with flats on warm days, but once it’s cold – I refuse to go with flats or booties because I don’t want exposed skin, and booties/flats + exposed socks/tights doesn’t look right. Nor do any of my ankle pants look good tucked into tall boots.

      My saving grace has been that at my new office, I can get away with jeans most days. I tuck those into my tall boots. When I have to dress up, I’m better off with skirts and tights than trying to solve the ankle pants conundrum.

      • Anonymous :

        Nude for you hose solve this problem. Knee highs work as do full hose. No one can tell that you are wearing anything and it works.

    • Anonymous :


      • Maybe this is what the new, weird, mid-calf height boots are for? I am still trying to figure out their purpose.

    • Folded boot socks over booties, just covering the exposed skin? Looks intentional.

    • Socks. Socks are the answer.

      • KateMiddletown :

        Socks with ankle pants are super not the answer.

        • Socks, ankle pants, boots (or booties as everyone here insists on calling them). Even Kate Middleton could pull that off.

          • Anonattorney :

            Yeah, I’ve seen a lot of people make that look pretty cute. Granted, it’s a more casual look and usually is best with denim, but I think it looks good. If you have nice slender ankles and long calves. I, for one, have shorter calves and longer thighs. Ankle boots just don’t work on me.

      • Anonymous :

        I think the only thing stupider than ankle pants with an inch or two of skin hanging out above a bootie, is a sock hanging out. How does that not look like your pants are too short?

        Same with nude socks/hose.

        • Anonymous :

          I can’t help but think it looks like Pee Wee Herman when your socks stick out.

          • Lana Del Raygun :

            Yeah, and ankle pants in general just feel like “I give up trying to find clothes that fit” to me.

        • Huh – I love ankle pants/shorter pants ’cause they don’t drag on the ground & pick up all the ick of winter. I just wear socks that go up high & lay flat (warmer than trouser socks, but just regular knit socks). They look fine w/ boots or flats. I don’t really get this controversy . . . .

  3. Anonymous :

    Talbots Windsor fit, Herringbone. Full length, wool, and lined- nicer blend of colors than appear in pics online- brown with some russet and mustard threads. They are a straight leg relaxed fit though- I think they’re classic.

  4. Anonymous :

    Any suggestions for warm fleece tights/leggings? I live in South Florida and need them probably 4 days a year when we have some outdoor activity and it is below 50, so I would prefer something on the inexpensive side, but will take those fancy suggestions too! Thanks!

    • This’ll sound nuts, but do you have Safeway grocery stores or an affiliate down there? They have bins of $5 ones near the register and I grabbed a pair on a whim. They’re great and they were $5!

    • Anonymous :

      Oh man, the idea of needing fleece tights because it’s 50 outside is so crazy to me. I’m in the upper Midwest and that’s barely even sweater weather here.

    • Anon in NYC :

      Target 80 Denier black tights.

    • Honestly, if you have family up here I’d ask them to mail you a pair. They’re readily available at Walgreens, TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, etc for $5-$8.

    • biglawanon :

      If you are using this for outdoor stuff, I like the Under Armour heat gear tights paired with SmartWool socks. For winter hikes in Southern California (50s-60s), I’ll wear those underneath my hiking pants.

  5. Anonymous :

    I don’t bother with warm pants, I just have a super long and super warm down parka (for cold Canadian winters).

  6. I extend my capsule wardrobe by wearing the Uniqlo heattech leggings under my ankle pants.
    So far it’s working really well and most of my work is in Poland so not the mildest of winters…

    On a somewhat related note, I flew with a very senior client and he wore the thin Calvert coat from Loro Piana. He didn’t seem to mind the cold and he looked very comfortable so it got me thinking: is Loro Piana really that good? and would it look weird if a woman were to wear a men’s coat? (petite, size 4, flat chested but curvy hips)

    • +1 for Uniglo – I love their heattech jeans – they’re lightly lined with fleece & really comfortable.

    • Mineallmine :

      I just looked up that coat, and it comes in an XS that’s an EU size 36. That’s my EU size, and I’m also a US petite size 4! And it’s not too long in the body, though the sleeves will likely need shortening. So give it a shot. It’s a pretty color. It’s super expensive though here in the UK :/

      I love the idea of wearing a classic mens coat but only if you can either have it fit, especially through the shoulders (the rest can be tailored) or make it look intentionally oversized, maybe by styling it more casually. Usually my attempts to wear menswear, such as an oversized blazer, makes me look childish and sloppy, but I was trying US menswear, which is boxier than European.

  7. Laura Bowman :

    How do you wear boots (or booties) with pants to work? Especially flat or low heel boots.
    I somehow can’t get the look right (very comfortable with jeans and knee high boots or booties) and would love examples and pictures. I do wear trouser style pants with heeled boots or booties (basically hiding the boot) but would love to wear flat or low heel boots or straigth/ankle pants.

  8. Yes! What about warm, work appropriate shoes and how to style them?

  9. Does anyone know of a long john pant with a WIDE waistband? the skinny elasticized band is so uncomfortable to me….

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