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April 15, 2024

Winter Style

By Cheryl Haimann

Every summer, when the fashion magazines trot out their winter apparel, I smirk. The typical Vogue model - let's call her Midge - is pictured out on the town, at a restaurant with tuxedoed waiters, or at the theatre (always the kind that is spelled -re, never -er), or at a hotel where one night's stay in the penthouse costs as much as six months of my mortgage payments. She may be waiting for a taxi or a limo or a slender-faced man who probably has perfect teeth, but never deigns to show them by actually smiling.

Midge protects her rail-thin self from the elements with a strip of shiny satin or a lacy little jacket. On rare occasions she may have a scrap of critter hide slung carelessly over one shoulder. Sometimes she doesn't wear any wrap at all, because her dress has puffs of taffeta on the sleeves or billows of peau de soie at the spot where many of the world's women have hips.

And on her feet, Midge is always, always wearing stylish shoes. Sling backs, open toes, devilishly skinny high heels, or all three. Her perfect party shoe has the equivalent of three strands of rhinestone-studded spaghetti keeping her foot from sliding off the four-inch heels and onto the expensive parquet floor.

I don't know where the editors spend their winters, but judging from these images, it is not in a place that has actual winter. I live in Iowa, and winter here is not a fashion shoot, it is a triathlon. Instead of competing in swimming, biking, and running, though, we spend the first months of the year facing down cold, snow, and ice.

To successfully master these challenges requires both style and technique. The technique portion involves such skills as:
  • The Half Step - Walking in short steps, feet never more than a few inches apart, to minimize the chance of skidding gracelessly across the ice;
  • The Flail - Dropping the groceries and waving every available limb in an attempt to stay upright should the Half Step fail;
  • The Kick - Kicking built-up snow/ice/sand/salt off the wheel wells of the car without breaking a toe;
  • The Stomp - Upon entering a building, stomping several times to remove excess snow from shoes and pant legs before it melts into an embarrassing muddy puddle.

As for style, we don't like to give in to winter without a fight. For example, I wore my lightweight, unlined jacket until well into December. The day comes, though, when only a parka will do. That day came this week when I had to take over snowblowing duties from my injured husband, after dark, while the temperature hovered near zero.

The secret, you may have heard, is layering. This is not fashionista layering, though, involving a lacy camisole, an unlined suit jacket, and a silk scarf. No, true winter layering is refugee layering. Parka over flannel shirt over t-shirt over turtleneck. Jeans over long johns. Ugly, yet waterproof boots over fat wooly socks. Hats that do hideous things to your hair. Chunky mittens over gloves. A scarf wrapped around it all. And anything lined with Thinsulate is worth its weight in gold.

Here's how to tell if you are properly dressed for serious winter weather. When you open the garden shed to get out the snowblower, you find that two naked people have taken shelter in there. If you are able to clothe both of them and stay decently attired yourself, you are ready for whatever winter can throw at you.

At my job, I receive an e-mail every time the National Weather Service issues an weather alert for my county. Lately I have been receiving several every day about below-normal temperatures with dangerously cold wind chills. Some of them have been downright alarming. "The combination of cold and wind will keep wind chills in the range of 20 to 30 below," it says. "If you must venture outdoors, make sure you wear a hat and gloves." There is no mention of needing coats, though, much less pants.

Midge would feel right at home.
Article © Cheryl Haimann. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-01-31
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