Surviving a Winter in Skirts

Jillian Venters of the Gothic
Charm School demonstrates.
Being an alternative fashionista* involves many accusations of impracticality, but the chief among these for us be-skirted northerners is that we will eventually have to turn to jeans or freeze our asses off.  Well, my ass is fully in tact despite not owning a pair of jeans and having spent long winters in Western Pennsylvania where it routinely drops below zero and a solid four-five months are spent in below freezing temperatures.  In the interest of knowledge sharing and promoting the slow death of the jean-industrial complex I present here a full accounting of my strategies.  I was going to post this much later (say, when it was actually cold), but I thought that this is the time when many of us are doing preparatory stock-ups for the season amid back-to-school sales, most specifically (in America) the coming Labor day weekend sales.  For my fellow knitters, now is the time to start casting on all that winter wear, if only to distract from the horrifying fact that Christmas is coming.

Fabric Basics
The key to a warm wardrobe is often the right kind of fabric.  Look for my mother's corrections to this section in the comments.
tl;dr version: chose animal fibers over plant fibers and knits over wovens.

Fiber Content and You
The whole world of fiber can be broken down into three major types (from coolest to warmest): plant fibers such as cotton, linen, and bamboo; synthetic fibers such as polyester, acetate, and nylon; and animal fibers such as wool, alpaca, and silk.  Obviously you should try to incorporate as much animal fibers into your winter wardrobe as possible (sorry vegans, you'll have to stick with synthetic insulation and knits).  Wool deserves special mention for wet climates and snowball fights as it is warm even when soaking wet.   Most westerners don't think of silk when they think winter, but is the primarily fiber for winter clothing (and quilt batting!) in China, even the really cold parts like Manchuria and inner-Mongolia.  Silk is actually very adaptable and can be insulating but not over warm, making it ideal for days when you will be going back and forth between buildings and the outdoors (so, most days).

Fabric Manufacture
There are two basic methods to making fabric: weaving and knitting.  In general woven fabrics are cooler and less insulating than knits meaning that a knit fabric can be thin and still very warm.  Some weaves, such as the twill weave used to make denim or brocade, use multiple threads in a small area making them much warmer, but also noticeably thicker.  Certain knits, such as Fair-Isle styled color-work, cables, or double-knitting, create a similar effect making them much warmer but also less flexible.

Be-Skirted Winter Wardrobe Basics 

This is how you wear fishnets in winter
under tights.
Opaque, thick-knit tights: Remeber what I said about the insulating power of knits? On their own opaque tights can get you through blustery days (say, down to the mid 50s or in Celsius upper teens).  For colorful or stripey tights go with We Love Colors and for black I can not recommend Torrid highly enough (and they are on sale now).  They are super comfortable, the only plus-sized tights I have ever bought where out the package you look at them and think "yeah, I can see that fitting around my waist", but mostly because about 2 years ago when I lived in Switzerland I went on a weekend trip to Rougemont (sort of the poor man's G'staad) and got into a major sledding accident involving a clutch of British lawyers on ski weekend.  I lost about a quarter-sized piece of flesh from my shin but the tights I was wearing at the time did not even get a teeny-tiny run and I still own and regularly wear them.

Leggings: The powerful combo of leggings+tights will get you at least to freezing cold days, add wool socks and boots and you might even push past that.  I usually get my leggings from Torrid or Avenue but there is nothing special about either and I have no fun near death experiences on the Alps with British lawyers to tell about them.

Socks, small and large: If you will to forgo the leggings+tights combo of power, long socks are a good alternative.  Your socks should reach 1-2 inches above your skirt at a minimum.  I used to have issues with them but since their size descriptions are no longer filled with vicious lies have become much more accurate and their returns policy is now allows you to return socks you tried on that didn't fit I recommend Sock Dreams.  Their Extraordinary line even fits around my footballer calves.  Ankle-length wool socks with a good pair of boots are your best friend in the snow (even better friends with a pair of leaky old boots or sneakers) and especially the slush because your feet will stay warm even if they get wet.  I have found that if your feet and head are warm you will never feel too cold.

Cable-Knit tights: These are even better than long socks.  I will only these season be adding some to my collection as they are difficult to find in adult sizes, much less adult plus sizes, but I have fond memories of them as a kid.  Sock Dreams has a few in straight sizes (even in wool!) and there is apparently a that I will be ordering from and reviewing, probably soon.

The Cure understand the importance of
proper winter attire.
Thermal Underwear: Thermal pants+leggings+socks will get you through nearly anything.  I have been in sub-zero/-10celcius temps with this combo and felt fine.  Wool is best if you will be outside all day, but silk handles the outside/inside transition better.  Silk thermals can be found at LL Bean and Winter Silks (a good place for winter basics, just in general).  Cotton thermals are not as warm as leggings so honestly, what's the point.  

The Skirt and Under: Obviously, a warm skirt helps immensely.  I have a few sweater knit skirts, and my next knitting project will likely be this fancy number in black and purples.  The warmest skirt I eve owned was made of a high-thread count flannel sheet, folded in half with a drawstring and was originally made so I could be a caroler at a colonial living history museum during my misspent youth.  Avoid long and especially trailing skirts when it is snowy (I probably didn't need to say that), generally tea-length is the longest you should wear in snow.  If you wear petticoats those let in a lot of cold air, they seem to practically draw it in, so I highly, highly recommend some flannel bloomers.  You can whip some up in an hour with this tutorial.

*Or anyway person who manages to match most of the time and has spent way too much of her time this week searching for the perfect dark purple lipstick.


Sarahbelle said...

Well said!!!
Let me begin my pithy comments by wholeheartedly endorsing the notion that skirts can be worn and be warm in the coldest of climes! I, too, don't own a pair of jeans, but for the opposite reason -- here in East Texas it is blisteringly hot most of the time, and denim does not breathe well, and is thick, thereby holding the body's heat in too well for my comfort!
When we lived in Germany, I wore skirts year-round. Over a wool flannel half-slip, wool cable-knits tights, thick socks, and knee-high leather boots, I was never cold.
I take ever-so-slight exception to one thing: your assertion that knits are a better choice than wovens is, I think, too generalized and simplistic to be accurate. Knits are wonderful insulators, and have the added appeal of 'cuddle-factor'; but there are many wovens that rival knits for warmth: Harris tweed comes to mind, felted (boiled) wool flannel is unsurpassed for warmth, and velvet and corduroy garments were keeping Saxons, Normans and Celts warm and toasty long before Central Heating came to be. Many woven fabrics have the advantage of having a smooth surface, and thus, shedding a light rain easier than a knit's textured surface can.
Knits are an excellent choice, just don't dismiss wovens too quickly.
Of course, one's ultimate cold-weather dressing would be layering a tightly-woven, thick woven fabric over knit(s).
Cuddly, and warm!!!

Anonymous said...

Finally! Someone pointed out the warmth factor of skirts! Let me tell you, I survived New England winters in long velvet or wool skirts and thick tights. Layers are always much warmer than a pair of thin (and cold) jeans or slacks. And tights are easier to dry if you get wet. Honestly, skirts, tights, and thermals are my go-to outfits for the cold!

HUZZAH for Sabayon! Hugs and more hugs darling.

Bane said...

Excellent post! Flannel back satin is great for bloomers. The flannel inside keeps you warm while the satin outside keeps your skirt from sticking to your tights. :)

Sabayon said...

Sarahbelle - See, I knew you would have important things to add! Also, of course velvet is great, really like seems like it goes without saying.

Mary - Exactly, layering is the key to warmth!

Bane - Oooh, that's a great suggestion! I will have to find some flannel-backed satin.

Sarahbelle said...

Bane: flannel-backed satin? Brilliant!!! I'd love it for a long half-slip under a thick nubby tweed.
If I ever move back North (fingers crossed, everyone), I shall make one before Fall!

Sal Kaye said...

Oh my! I love the Prairie Skirt!!! Beautiful! Unfortunately, I can only knit squares. :(

Sarahbelle, where in Germany did you live?

Sabayon said...

Sal - Squares are a perfectly good start!

Sal Kaye said...

Really? Any good pattern for a skirt made from squares out there? I am very interested!

P.S. Who are you on Ravelry? I'm there, too.

Sabayon said...

Well, I know some patterns that are basically just rectangles sewn or buttoned together, like this one:

VictorianKitty (Sophistique Noir) said...

Right on!! Long, flowy skirts definitely allow more room for layers. I'll often be found in skirt, slip, tights, socks and boots when it's terribly cold. I *love* Bane's suggestion of flannel-lined satin bloomers! Thank you for the bloomer tutorial! This will come in very handy, indeed.

I've never tried cable-knot tights, but I am intrigued. I'm keeping my eyes open for them!

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