Winter Weather and Commuting: Style Tips

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dressing for winter bad weather

Wind, rain, snow, and sleet can wreak havoc on a morning commute… and your commuting style. When it comes to dressing for inclement weather I learn so much from my fellow DC office workers and commuters. Some is what not to wear, but more often than not it’s tips and tricks on how to stay protected, comfortable and stylish when the weather outside is frightful. This week is cold, rainy, a bit windy and down-right gross in DC; here’s some things I’ve learned on my walks to work:

Go Monochrome. Walking up the escalator from the Metro, I was behind a woman in all shades of blue and green. Teal tweed wool coat that almost hit her knees, dark jeans tucked into seafoam wellies, indigo leather tote, and a navy umbrella. The monochromatic look made each separate look so cohesive, so purposeful, and like a true ensemble. I am not a fan of wellies  (how often does one deal with water over the ankle when walking to the office anyway? And I am not asking those of you in Seattle and similar climates or those in rural areas…)but with her look… it worked. I could imagine flats or booties in that indigo tote ready to be slipped on once she reached her desk.

The other day, I saw a woman in a black belted wool coat, a raspberry chunky infinity scarf, plum knit beanie, and deep purple wellies. None of the colors were the same, but the consistent color story made the ensemble cohesive and downright stylish. If each piece was a different color the chunky knits and shiny boots would have looked childish; the consistent color gave it polish and professionalism.

Have Neutral Commuting Shoes. I was walking behind three women chatting with one another. They were varying sizes, ages, and personal styles but all had one thing in common – black tights or pants and black flats. I could tell that these were their commuter shoes – they didn’t quite match their outfits, they looked well worn, and pretty comfortable. However, by them being the same color as their legs the shoes weren’t on display and didn’t take away from their outfits. I turned the corner and saw two women waiting for the light to change – one had gray tights and red flats, the other had black pants and yellow patent flats. While their shoes were in better condition than the women in black, their shoes looked just as out of place as a pair of white sneakers. While it’s tempting to add “fun” to a pair of shoes you only wear on your commute, it can really detract from your personal style.

Own a Tiny Umbrella. While many companies claim that they sell travel umbrellas, what it essentially means is a non-Mary Poppins style that has a collapsible shaft. However, some brands sell really small umbrellas that are reliable, but take almost no space in your purse or laptop bag. While you want a durable umbrella that can survive strong gusts, having this little bitty umbrella tucked at the bottom of the bag is a lifesaver for unexpected showers or if you accidentally leave your big umbrella on the train.

Have a Spare Pair of Gloves. Same reason as the umbrella. Especially handy when the bus is late, you have to carry large things home, or you need to hold the rail on the train and you don’t want to catch the flu. While I have gloves in my two work coats, I have lost a glove on the commute, have changed coats last minute, and have many times wished I had a pair tucked in the bottom of my purse or laptop bag.  Since I got another pair for Christmas, I have remedied this situation.

Wear a Hat. While you may be more likely to get Hat Head, a hood flies off in the wind, and the weather will already destroy your hairstyle. Having a hat, be it a cloche, beanie, fedora or otherwise will keep your ears warm, your hair in place, and your body far warmer than a bare head. If you loosely tuck your hair in your hat, you’ll be less likely to get dents in your ‘do.

Wedges Rock. While they give a bit of lift, they are far kinder on the foot when standing, walking, and even dashing across the street to make a light. I see many women who seem to have wedge commuter shoes – they don’t have to worry about cuffing their trousers but have more comfort than heels. Wedges have come back en vogue, be they on pump-like professional shoes or a pair of trainers or TOMS.

Own a Water-resistant Winter Coat. When there’s frigid temperatures, there’s often precipitation, and it’s not always fluffy white flakes. A wet wool coat can be a drag; if you purchase a quilted, waxed, or water-resistant fabric coat, you will be far more comfortable on those days that are both cold and wet. Choosing a style with a unique detail (read this post for great examples) will prevent you from looking as though you just came from the slopes.

Have Matching Bags. I regularly see this woman on the train who has a gray leather purse and gray leather tote. The combination is so lovely and she doesn’t look as hunkered down with multiple bags. Today walking to work, I saw a woman with a red leather purse and a red and navy print microfiber tote for her yoga mat and likely workout clothes. If you need to carry more than one bag, having the two bags match or coordinate really does add polish and cohesion to your ensemble. I wrote about work totes here, but this is something I hadn’t before considered and will be thinking about the next time I am purchasing a tote or everyday purse.

You Never Know Who You Will Bump Into. So you’re wearing a power suit and have a pair of sensible pumps tucked into your bag, yet on your commute you’re wearing a knit cap with earflaps and cat ears, have a hot pink sparkly faux fur snood, and sequined boot liners under your polka-dot wellies. And then you bump into your CEO at Starbucks. Sort of defeats the purpose of your power suit. If your job is a career, work doesn’t end when you walk out of that office door, and if you work in a city you are very likely to bump into a colleague on the train or street corner. Consider this when shopping for accessories and outerwear and have them match the professional style you show in the workplace.

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A woman with curly hair wearing a plaid blazer holds a green fur coat over her shoulder on a city street.

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  1. I live in L.A. and have Wellies–we do get rain, and it does fill up the gutters and swamp the streets further than I can jump. I’ve seen whole intersections fill up. After one long, long bus ride home with soaking feet, I bought Wellies. I may only wear them a dozen times a year, but they’re totally worth it! But I do wish I’d bought a different color.

  2. A timely post! I go with the coordinating colours – plum coat, jade green bag, blue-green gloves and either a brighter plum or grey hat. My wellies (and most of the shoes I wear to walk in) are black.

    I do the get sick of wearing the same coat every day. I change my scarf and earrings, but still… I may get bored enough to get another coat in the sales. It hasn’t been that consistently cold in England yet this winter.

  3. Grey tights with red shoes or black pants with yellow shoes both sound like parts of actual outfits I’d wear (depending on what’s above, of course). I don’t get what’s amiss in this scenario at all. Same goes for the bag; I almost always have a bright bag. The point isn’t to match or blend for me, but to coordinate. I don’t live there anymore unfortunately, but this was super common when I was commuting in Seattle and when I’ve been elsewhere on the West Coast. Maybe it’s a geographic difference?

  4. I twist my hair up into a knot on top of my head when I wear my hat. When I get to work it’s got some poof, doesn’t look flat, and it’s dry. Compared to wet hair it’s an improvement.

  5. I’ve had a dozen mini umbrellas – they don’t last long, esp. on windy days. But I definitely agree that it’s worth having a little one you can stash in a big purse/tote, even keep a backup in your desk at work. There are so many times when rain comes on suddenly, such as at the start & end of winter, & it sucks to be caught w/out an umbrella.

  6. Can you give me the details for the orange cable-knit infinity scarf in this header picture? I desperately want it!

    Having lived in mild climates my entire teen and adult lives, moving to a climate that gets real winters has been more than a bit of an adjustment. I struggle a lot with wanting clothes that show my personality (my hot pink J.Crew coat!), but also not wanting to look noticeably the same in every picture I take (my hot punk J. Crew coat, in London, and Paris, and Zurich, and Berlin, and…). I adore color and buying “boring” black is painful for me, but I also know that if that coat were black (or even camel), it probably wouldn’t bother me as much that everywhere I go, I look the same. It feels like wearing the same outfit, every day. I think the best solution for me is to buy a neutral coat and then have several sets of accessories. That way, I may see someone two days in a row in the same coat, but one day I’ll have a striped scarf with colors picked up by a blue hat, fuschia scarf, and yellow gloves, and the next I’ll have that same coat with a teal scarf, blue hat, and turquoise gloves.

  7. I have to disagree with you on the wellies — the purpose isn’t just to protect from deep water (although if you’ve ever stepped in an NYC slush puddle, this matters) but they are also high to protect your pant leg from getting soaked as you walk.

    I’m a mobile employee so I can’t change in/out of commuting shoes (I have to carry too many other things as it is), so I bought a pair of patent, weatherproof Aquatalia boots for nasty days. They were pricey (even on sale) but worth it, and they’re beautiful enough to wear on nice days too.

    1. I understand that I guess, though I also see so many wrinkled destroyed pants because of wellies (and far too many women who don’t take them off once they reach their destination). It’s raining in DC today (and did yesterday and the day prior) and not by choice I walked a mile and a half in haircalf flats and both the shoes and I survived so I still don’t “get” knee-high rain boots. But your Aquatalia boots sound utterly brilliant! I have been looking for something similar and will have to check them out.

    2. Yes, the purpose of rainboots it to keep water from splashing on your legs, not just for stepping in puddles (although I’m in Chicago, and when it’s pouring certain intersections turn into mini lakes). There is nothing worse than wet, cold, miserable legs! Unless it’s wet, cold and miserable feet, of course.

  8. Although I don’t commute, I appreciate all this advice. I occasionally have to go into the city for appointments, and when I do, I try to act “as if” in appropriate clothing and accessories. It makes a huge difference. Even around my neighborhood with the kids, I feel more pulled together, both sartorially and emotionally when I look as if I took the effort.

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