Function Over Fashion

the onset of winter allows Wisconsinites to forego stylishness in favor of staying warm

Caroline Akervik


One of the very best things about winter is winter clothes. Winter allows one to liberate one’s inner fashion outlaw. Cold weather eliminates or overrules the dictates of style all in the name of keeping warm. As the temperature drops and we seek to keep the energy bill down, you can get away with fashion faux pas like wearing your husband’s hooded sweatshirt that’s super soft inside. Fabulously comfortable items including full zip sweats and cardigans emerge from their summer hibernation in trunks and bins. Even the materials of winter gear have a deliciously sibilant sound to them: flannel and fleece. The words make you feel warm inside and call to mind wood-burning fireplaces, Christmas cookies baking in the oven, and perhaps the seasonality of a Burberry candle.

In winter time, I get a free pass to wear a brown, sleeping bag-esque coat. It is likely you could bury me a snow drift in that coat at subzero temperatures for an entire night and I would emerge none the worse for the wear.

There are some unpleasant winter clothing items, anything pullover falls into this category. Have you ever worn a turtleneck that doesn’t feel like it’s choking you by the end of the day? Let’s forget the whole turtleneck thing. The work-around is a long-sleeved shirt with a scarf. According to scarf rules, you can, without fashion penalty, wrap or drape oneself in approximately half a blanket of comfy fabric and be considered fashion forward. What a coup!

Outerwear is even more delicious. In winter time, I get a free pass to wear a brown, sleeping bag-esque coat. It is likely you could bury me a snow drift in that coat at subzero temperatures for an entire night and I would emerge none the worse for the wear. This would be even more likely to hold true if I covered my face with my silky, heat-retaining balaclava. What an awesome piece of winter gear this is! It perpetuates the whole freaky, Halloween mask thing into the new year. Who doesn’t feel a little frisson of excitement before donning a balaclava and heading out onto snow-covered sidewalks. You are now a person of mystery, and no one can be entirely sure what is going on behind the mask.

In my mind and probably nowhere else but the ’80s, there exists a Holy Grail of winter outfits. It is made in the Father Christmas of all winter materials, and no, I am not referring to corduroy. My dream winter outfit is a plush, black velour sweatsuit. It would have to be black, because then I could accessorize it with an appropriately colored scarf on any given holiday. I could wear it for both formal or casual occasions. The top would have to fall to just the right spot, be flatteringly figure shaping, and have a zipper or, better yet, attractive buttons. It would express with a certain loose but comfortable fit that “I feel good in my skin and I can eat whatever I want without undoing the top bottom on my pants,” because, yes, the waistband would be elastic. Though the fashion cognoscenti may not yet know it, the velour sweat suit is as timeless and ageless as the little black cocktail dress. Imagine the utter magnificence of head-to-toe velour accented with fuzzy boots, and, yes, a scarf. If you ever come upon this elusive Bigfoot of winter outfits, please find some way of letting me know it does exist.

There is one item in my wardrobe that is particularly evocative of the final quarter of the year. It is a green wool chapeau. Yes, hats are a must in winter. As my grandmother always said, “You lose 90 percent of your body heat through your head.” I’m not sure that this is scientifically accurate, but her words are etched into my very soul. The first fall of snow indicates it is time for the emergence of what my kiddos refer to as “that hat.” It is made of soft, green wool with little gold flecks. Made by my mother-in-law, it is floppy and offers endless head room. I could probably pull it down over my head to the base of my neck. In other words, it encapsulates all that is glorious about winter clothes. There is no tight place or area on it, and it goes on my head from the time I walk in the house at the end of the day until I go to bed. It is comfort embodied in head gear.

I’m no fashion maven, but I would argue winter allows for a little more self expression in the clothing realm, all in the name of keeping warm. Those misguided souls who wear shorts and T-shirts in the last quarter of the year just don’t get it. How much more of a clothing statement could they make in wool or flannel? Even our color palette expands to include blaze orange and plaid. Thus, my advice to you is find that pom-pom snow hat, light-up dinosaur gloves, or timeworn Carhartt jacket that expresses who you are and wear it outside with pride. All of those poor misguided souls who aren’t dressing for the season will be sitting at their windows staring out at the fearless glory that is the winter “you.”