Winter is an interesting time for fashion-y people in cold parts of Canada. Fashion is great and all, but if I have to choose between staying warm and being a well dress corpse, I have to say that I choose warmth. 'Winter' fashion shoots usually make me laugh or start yelling in rage about how the people wearing those outfits would die in actual winter conditions (I might be over reacting). I mean, they would be fine if your winter temperatures are 10 degrees C (50 degrees F) but we call that autumn or spring.
Here is an example of a 'winter' outfit. I will give you a chance to figure out why it isn't suitable for temperatures below -20C (-4F).
cardigan: t k max, top: Next, skirt: Zellers, tights: winners, leg warmers: H&M, slippers: Egli's Sheepfarm
Did you notice anything wrong? First of all, the arms are bear. It is good to layer up, but leaving the arms bear is a bad move that will leave you shivering and rubbing your arms to try to regain feeling in your frozen limbs. Then, there is the skirt. You might be thinking, 'But it is a knitted skirt with wooly tights?' Yes, which is better than a thin skirt and bare legs, but the wooly tights are not enough to make this truly winter worthy. The leg warmers help, but the lower half of this outfit is only something to be worn on warm winter days by the stout of heart, with a proper sweater (jumper) on top. We do still make sacrifices for fashion in winter, but mostly for special occasions. The slippers are proper warm wonderful winter slippers though. They are made from real warm fluffy sheepskin, in a small town not far from Thunder Bay. It is only a three hour drive, so that counts as local.
Now on to practical dressing. Canadian winters vary greatly depending on where you are. Some places (like parts of British Colombia) have mild winters similar to England. Thunder Bay winters are pretty cold as they go. Of course, we would not dare compare ourselves to the Far North and their down right madness. Mount Logan in the Yukon has the dubious honour of recording the lowest temperature in Canada at a mind numbing -77C(-106F). Thunder Bay does currently hold the record for lowest temperature recorded in Ontario after wind chill was factored in: -36C(-33F) actual temperature, but it felt like -56C(-68F) when the wind was taken into account.
The key to winter dressing is layering. Fashion must bow to need. The following is an example of layering for a 30 minute walk at a temperature of -30C(-34F), or colder.
The first step is what is called 'the base layer' by some of the hardcore winter loving peeps. I don't wear a thermal layer on top, mostly because I don't find it necessary. It is a bit easier to build up the layers on top if need be. Also, in really cold temperatures, more than one pair of socks might be required.
t-shirt, long johns or long underwear or thermal underwear or thermals, wool socks
The next layer is clothing that is trying to retain some level of stylish dressing while still adding warmth. Tight jeans are not really ideal since they need to fit over the long johns. This layer can be altered to be less fashionable and warmer as temperature dictates.
Black hoodie and teal jeans added
Now it is time for the final layers. I have several jackets that can be layered to provide different degrees of warmth. I tend to mostly wear my down filled jacket, but I do also have a jacket with a zip out fleece liner and a wind and water proof shell. Snow pants are key to keeping the lower half of the body warm. Mine have a lovely thin fleece lining for a bit of extra warmth. Proper winter boots are also key. Mine are trying to be as fashionable as they can be (which isn't much) while still being everything that they need to be. I believe these boots are meant to keep your feet warm to a temperature of -30C. There are boots out there that are rated to keep your feet warm all the way down to -100C.
Starting to look like a marshmallow or the Michelin man
The final steps will leave you almost unrecognizable to everyone, expect those who are familiar with your normal winter layers. A good hat, mittens and scarf are needed to keep the remaining extremities toasty. My knitted hat is lined with fleece for extra warmth. The gloves are leather to keep out the wind and have a lining to add warmth. Finally a good scarf or other face covering device helps in the coldest temperatures. As you can see, the only thing left uncovered are the eyes. On really cold days, icicles form on your eyelashes from the moisture in your breath.
Who is even in there?
This may not be my favourite look, but it means that I arrive at my destination with feeling in all of my extremities.
There is an epic beauty about Canada. I love the winter landscape. But the cold winter months of January, February and even March leave many people (myself included) feeling a bit trapped by the cold. I have heard weather warnings that are just for extreme cold and wind. One warning advised people not to leave their houses unless they really needed to, and that exposed skin would freeze within 5 minutes. Not exactly a good time for a wilderness walk. But watching massive beautiful snowflakes fall from the sky make you forget about all the rest, if only for a few minutes.