Ask Ms. Dressaday

by Erin on August 26, 2005

Dear Ms. Dressaday,

Winter's approaching, and I know it doesn't affect you from your Malibu beachfront bungalow, but how should the rest of us prepare for dress-wearing in cold weather? How can I winterize some of my cross-seasonal dresses? Where can I buy thick tights? Are tights going to be in this fall/winter?

Thanks for your help,
Loyal Reader

Dear Loyal Reader,

Ah, if only it were so, that Malibu bungalow! Instead, Ms. Dressaday lives in blustery, snowy, icy Chicago, where dress-wearing in the wintertime requires studied preparation.

First off, there are many dresses made of wool. Find them and make them your friends. Lightweight wool will keep you warm but not steamy, and makes for elegant, nicely-structured dresses. Eileen Fisher makes wool dresses that are very simple, but can be worn forever. Do not think that polyester is as warm as wool! It is very warm, but it not, as they say, a "dry heat." It's like wrapping yourself in a plastic bag: it doesn't breathe. And think of the poor jobless sheep! Buy. Wool.

Don't be afraid to layer both over (cardigans) and under (undershirts) your dresses. There are as many different cardigans as there are dresses: I prefer three-quarter sleeves (for ease of access to my watch) with jewel necklines, but try wrap sweaters, sweater coats, and even knit jackets. A warm undershirt will not only keep you toasty, it will also help protect winter fabrics from you (and too-frequent drycleaning). Don't let your Cuddl Duds peek out from a low-cut neckline (unless you are extraordinarily gifted: one FABULOUS London fashmag editor I know wears thermal tees under everything and, by all accounts, pulls it off), but a thin camisole (yes, camisoles were originally intended to be worn UNDER other things, believe it or not) might make the difference between comfort and shivers.

For your last question: good-quality tights are always in fashion, and even if they weren't, who cares? Readers of A Dress A Day set the fashion; they satisfy their own eyes, first and foremost. You can buy them at tightsonline.com, or for the more adventuresome, www.sock-dreams.com. Buy good ones; you won't regret it.

Will you be as warm in a dress as you would be in pants? No. I won't lie to you. Pants are warmer. Snowsuits are warmer still, but I don't see folks wearing them every day from November to March (and remember: I live in CHICAGO. If people were going to wear snowsuits every day, this is where they would do it.) However, if you wear layers on top, sensible underlayers, tights, and (as mom always said) A HAT, you should be able to wear your dresses on all but the coldest days. (And on those days I'd better see you in a snowsuit. With your mittens on a string so you don't lose 'em.)

Love,

Ms. Dressaday

questions for Ms. Dressaday can be sent by email to the address on the right.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

La BellaDonna August 26, 2005 at 9:52 am

Dear Ms. Dressaday:I have actually found wearing dresses in winter to be warmer than wearing pants, even when the temperature is in the single digits or lower, and blowy. This because I will wear, under my lined wool dresses: a silk thermal top (long-sleeved, but low-necked); tights; silk thermal bottoms over the tights; insulated runner’s leggings over the tights,if necessary; petticoat(s); socks; boots (sheepskin-lined, if it’s really really cold); a cashmere turtleneck sweater under the dress; a silk scarf (to keep the turtleneck from itching); a lined wool jacket over the dress; a shawl, if needed; and over it, for outdoors, the Coat From Hell (which looks a lot like what the Wicked Witch guards wear), gloves, and a balaclava with a fur hat over it. I wait for the bus for hours in all kinds of cr@ppy winter weather, and still am able to wear dresses to work (mind you, I peel off an awful lot of stuff when I get there). And I actually manage to look professional, too, and not like the Pillsbury Doughgirl!With warmest regards,

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Erin August 26, 2005 at 9:55 am

You don’t know HOW MUCH I would like to see a picture of you in all your layers! Genius.

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Amy August 26, 2005 at 1:30 pm

I love your site!

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Kelly August 26, 2005 at 3:21 pm

I have to agree with La Belladonna. Dresses are warmer then pants. I wear skirts/dresses about 95% of the time and I live in Anchorage AK. Believe me it gets cold here in the winter and it can hang on far longer then neccesary. In winter with my dress or skirt which is either wool, flannel or some other winter fabric. I wear opaque tights. cotton tank top.. slip.. a blouse if it is a skirt.. over the blouse I wear a cardigan. then maybe a light jacket. Then a big long winter coat and boots and also a scarf and hat. If it is in the single digits I might wear an extra pair of tights. I am never cold. It always seems just right. When I get to work I take off the big coat and jacket.. and wrap a skinny silk scarf around my neck. I have worn about the same thing with pants… and it seems like my teeth are chattering half the day. For me skirts/dresses are warmer.

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jrochest August 26, 2005 at 4:27 pm

A great label to look for — for those who love vintage — is Ports International. It’s an old Hong Kong company that sold its stuff in Vancouver through Woodwards back in the 70′s; the knits were wool and wool blend, and the quality was wonderful. I’ve found a ton of them over the years.There’s one at Prototype Vintage: I hate the colour, but the cut gives you an idea of the look: very tailored, for a knit dress.http://pages.prototypevintage.com/6695/PictPage/1922498551.html

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IA August 28, 2005 at 11:11 pm

Love your site!I wear dresses and skirts throughout the winter in NYC, and I find that I’m really not that much more uncomfortable than I would be when wearing pants, perhaps because having cold legs doesn’t bother me as much as having a cold neck. As long as I’ve got a fluffy wool scarf, I’m happy. And once I get inside, I’m less likely to overheat.That said, I usually start wearing silk long underwear sometime in October and don’t shuck it until April. It goes under the tights, which are almost always Donna Karan’s discontinued Matte Jersey Hose, hoarded since the mid-1990s. (They never run, they never pill. I wear Peds under them to keep the toes from blowing out. If you know of anything comparable to these, please advise.) On especially bitter days, I have been known to wear two layers of long underwear under my tights, or two layers of tights over my long underwear. Boots help, of course, to cover the lump at the the ankle where the leggings stop.

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La BellaDonna August 29, 2005 at 10:31 am

If I can master the scanner (OK, have a friend scan it for me), I will send you a picture. It will include the extry bits I forgot to list: the nice warm muff (yes, fine, rude comments abound), which holds those nifty chemical heat packs which cost a dollar for two packs, and stay warm for 8 hours.The Coat from Hell will have a sister this winter, made from fabric gotten this weekend: claret-coloured alto y basso velvet brocaded with pale vines and flowers. It should be superfantastic!

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