Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Bostonian and the Beastly Weather

This winter in Boston is beastly. Outside I see a combination of well-dressed Bostonians shivering in sleek but useless coats who dart recklessly in front of cars to arrive at their indoor destination sooner, as well as puffer-clad persons dwarfed by their unflattering coats moving about more like Abominable Snow-people. One day in December as my husband left work, someone in his office building mistook him for a maintenance worker. It was freezing cold and he was wearing a sturdy pair of North Face boots with a puffy, orange Marmot ski coat. “I guess I shouldn’t wear this coat and boots to the office,” he joked. He was entertained by his mistaken identity. I have never been partial to the puffy coat myself, and I decided there must be an option other than puffy or freezing.

How to Take on the Elements in Style, an article in the Wall Street Journal with the subheading, "a menswear guide to staying warm without looking like the Michelin Man" addresses this problem. A financial lawyer in his mid-thirties cited in the article would never commute to work in a puffer coat "even on the most bitter and blizzard-iest of winter days." He is quoted as saying,"the puffer is reserved for...casual occasions, like going to the store."[1] Personally I prefer not to look inflated, even at the store.

Work-Worthy Winter Coats

But what options exist for staying warm in a blizzard that are not puffy? To withstand below freezing temperatures, a winter coat should be insulated with down or synthetic fibers rated to the equivalent of at least 500-fill down  (i.e., PrimaLoft, Thinsulate, Climashield). Fleece that is as effective is very bulky.[2,3,4]

LLBean makes a Gore-tex-lined and Thinsulate-insulated men's work coat that is called the Nor'Easter Commuter Coat. Slightly shorter, covering less of the leg, are the Lands' End commuter coats, available in both men's and women's styles and with down or PrimaLoft fill.[5] Both brands have a hood, and zip up over the neck, eliminating the need for a scarf and hat; no one wants hat head. The LLBean coat is rated to provide warmth in temperatures as low as -45° and the Lands' End coats are rated to -30°. For the 15° difference, the Lands' End coat is significantly cheaper and my husband swears it is warm at all Boston temperatures.

Lands' End also has sleek down and synthetic styles for kids/toddlers. However this year our tot chose a grape-colored down coat from Hanna Andersson (a Swedish company - the Swedes know cold) this year.

Do you have a winter coat warm enough to walk around outside in weather below freezing that is also sleek? Where did you get it and what materials are in it?

Boots for Snow and Suits

Of course, having a sleek coat does not matter if you are wearing clunky footwear. BostonInno writer Alex Weaver wrote last week in the "Monday [Gripe] Session: Your 'Commute Shoes' Shouldn't Be Sneakers" that "Boston streets – as anywhere – are judgmental places. You will not be applauded for the majority of your ensemble you got right. You'll be scorned for that last little detail you got pitifully wrong."

Finding boots for women and children is relatively easy. Just about any boot is cute on a child given the mini-me appeal. An enormous selection of boots exists for women, starting every fall and some years continuing through the summer. One year women wore winter Uggs with skirts and shorts, and a few years later open-toed and gladiator style boots took over summer fashion. For work boots that can handle the harsh winter elements, no one is better than the Canadians. Santana Canada actually produces a line of winter appropriate work-wear boots named the urban collection. La Canadienne is another good option from the North.

Finding boots for men, that do not make you look like Bob the Builder, which is only great if you are a builder, is much tougher. In his article, Weaver recommended boot selections for business casual dress code:

"There are so many awesome boots out there that wearing sneakers in transit just to 'save your good shoes' is simply not an acceptable excuse. I wear the classic duck boot from L.L. Bean. Even with a suit. They're so comfortable and universally good-looking, I often don't even take them off once at the office. Red Wing makes some beautiful boots, too, as do Eastland and Palladium. And unlike those cap-toes shoes from Cole Haan, these actually look better the more you beat 'em up."[6]

The New York Times similarly addresses mens' boots and the workplace.[7]  However, finding a pair of winter, snow-proof mens' boots that one can wear into the more formal financial district is tricky. I was therefore elated when I walked into Nordstrom's inquiring about the black Hartsville Uggs for a gift for my husband (see photo at left) only to find that the impeccably dressed mens' stylist in a black suit who I was talking to was wearing them! I never would have guessed looking at him that he had on boots and not normal work shoes. My husband after reviewing this post, told me I should add that he loves the boots and in fact today, wore them to a client meeting with a suit.

What are you and your family wearing in the snow? I have to confess, I have a pair of stylish but not suit-appropriate North Face Abby III boots myself. I always changed my shoes at the office.

Accessories and Gear

HATS, GLOVES, SCARVES, ETC: Scarves, hats and gloves are all fairly self-evident unless you are new to Northern climates. Cashmere-lined leather gloves, though expensive are the warmest. Likewise wool or cashmere hats and scarves provide warmth without being bulky. Wool stockings or silk long underwear go a long way towards making a walking commute bearable.

Notably, walking around outside (as opposed to driving), tech gloves allow you to use your phone even when it is too cold to have bare hands. Given the average reviews overall of most tech gloves, I am partial to 180s brand's performer gloves which are quite cheap, and available at department stores or on

UMBRELLA: Boston is the windiest major city in the U.S.[8] An umbrella with a duplex frame allowing wind to blow through, is the only answer I have found to the broken umbrella problem. Boston also happens to be hit regularly with storms (known as Nor'Easters) that tend to dump a combination of rain, sleet and snow. The Davek Golf umbrella was designed for golfers but Davek notes that it is also perfect for maximum coverage in a storm. At $129, I suggest buying it on sale. That said, at $10 a piece for a junky umbrella that falls apart in a storm, this one pays for itself rather quickly.

STROLLER WIND/RAIN COVER: Orbit Baby Weather Pack is the first and currently only PVC free stroller/car seat cover, to my knowledge. Given little ones propensity to grab it and even lick or chew the cover, in the wet and windy world of Boston, this particular cover is a necessity.

STROLLER/CARSEAT/CARRIER COVER: The ROSK Cold Weather Pouch is another of my favorite items. I love to buy this as a gift for new parents. It ties onto your baby or tot's carrier, stroller and car seat. It keeps them warm, does not have the safety concerns associated with many car seat covers and is waterproof.

As always please let me know what I have missed and feel free to add your own suggestions and recommendations.

Coming Soon

Yesterday my Aunt K mentioned to me that we have 29 days left of winter. Is that all? Thank goodness! While we are stuck inside, I will write about a few more indoor topics. Over the next few weeks topics will include indoor activities to avoid going stir crazy and a few others related to the healthy urban home indoors.

[1] Wallace, Chris. "How to Take on the Elements in Style," The Wall Street Journal. November 15, 2013.
[2] "Insulated Outwear: How to Choose," Accessed February 18, 2014.
[3] "PrimaLoft vs Down - Which do you Need?" Accessed February 18, 2014.
[4] "Types of Synthetic Insulation," Accessed February 18, 2014.
[5] Lands' End. "Battle of the Insulators: Down vs. Synthetic," November 15, 2013. 
[6] Weaver, Alex. "Monday Bitch Session: Your Commute Shoes Shouldn't Be Sneakers," BostonInno. February 10, 2014.
[7] Colman, David. "Boots that Work so Neatly," The New York Times. March 2, 2011.
[8] AccuWeather, The Real Windy City. Accessed February 19, 2014.


  1. You didn't tout the importance of a billed winter cozy cap! Hehe. Great reviews though, might need to watch umbrella sales

    1. I would have if Grace Hats still made my hat. Did you ever figure out what brand yours is?


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