How A Florida Girl Learned To Dress For Winter In The Alps

How A Florida Girl Learned To Dress For Winter In The Alps
November 18, 2010 Leslie Juvin-Acker

Moving to a region with real winters takes guts. It also requires a solid winter wardrobe. Learn how I learned how to brave the cold fronts, the icy mornings, and the chilly nights in France.

I was born in the Philippines and raised there until I was four. I grew up in sunny north Florida, where the coldest parts of winter are usually twilight frosts. I lived in San Diego and Miami, where a pair of jeans and a sweater are generally enough to keep a gal warm during the winter months.

What happened when I move to a cold climate? I moved to Reims, France in 2009; Little did I know the Champagne-Ardenne region has some of the coldest winters in the country; even colder than some parts of the Rhone-Alpes where I live today.

The first time I visited France, I thought wearing panty hose was enough to keep me warm. I had no idea what wool sweaters were, let alone understand the concept of layering. Heating in 100 year old homes is hard to come by, so my teeth chattered and experienced icy feet a good majority of the time.

When I officially moved to France, I spent most of my time indoors with my feet attached to a space heater. I rarely left my apartment because I felt I would crumble into icicles the moment I stepped outside. I finally had the nerve to bid my flip flops, tanks, and shorts shorts farewell and learned how to dress for winter.

The key elements of staying warm is covering the following: Feet, ankles, hands when possible, and the neck. Keeping these key spots warm is essential for feeling like a normal human being in bitter colds. I did eventually learn why the French are so obsessed with their scarfs; keeping the neck warm works wonders even in cool or windy weather. Never, ever, leave home without a scarf.

Wool is your best friend. Cotton doesn’t cut it. For you vegans out there, find an alternative to wool. I don’t know a good alternative, but I hope my vegan friends who live in cold places will chime in and recommend an alternative. Wool or alpaca scarves, wool socks, wool stockings, and if you can bear it, wool-blended undergarments and thermals. Find the highest wool blend ratio possible and don’t be cheap about it. I bought a pair of wool blended stockings for 22 euros. That’s a lot of money for a pair of stockings in my book, but the difference between wearing stockings versus not wearing stockings under my pants is remarkably different. You won’t regret it.

Get warm house shoes. I used to walk around my house barefoot or in flip flops (slippers as my Filipina mother says); those days are long gone during chilly months. I bought a pair of velvet Isotoner house shoes and my toes are ever so cozy.

Layer, layer, layer. This one is obvious, but I had no idea what that really meant. Take my first advice and get wool-based undergarments for the base. The closest part of your body is key here. Then, you can put your jeans or slacks and then collared shirts or blouses under your wool or acrylic based sweater; if you’re fancy, wear cashmere or some kind of other animal wool. Put on a scarf and closely wrap it around the neck. If you hate scratchy stuff touching your neck like I do, get scarves made of soft material.

Then, buy a coat – a full length coat if you can – or at least a coat that covers your lower back if you bend over to make snowballs or tie your boots. I bought a snazzy full length at United Colors of Benetton that is filled with 80 percent down feather and 20 percent fill. It’s not heavy and it’s great for riding a scooter on a cold night. Get one with great, warm pockets and hoods are good, too, if you forget to bring your hat along.

Don’t be afraid to use color. It’s easy to get caught up in greys, blacks, and whites; it’s the default when I have nothing else to wear. I believe that winter can be pretty depressing, so I like to mix it up with bold colors. Reds, blues, yellows, purples. Anything to lighten the mood and improve upon the holiday cheer. I even lighten my hair during the winter just so that I don’t feel depressed when my skin starts to turn a pale yellow.

Add accessories. My Swedish friend wears the most adorable pins made of little people. They’re bright, cheery, and always conversation starters. Franck’s aunt wears the funkiest bracelets and necklaces over her simple ensembles. I have learned, however, that wearing big metal earrings in the cold is not fun. I just try to go with bright necklaces or bracelets.

Invest. Winter clothes are not cheap. Quality jackets, scarves, boots, and undergarments can rack up a bill that will make your husband gasp for air when he sees the receipt. I learned to go with a friend when I buy winter clothing because they will tell me if a coat gives me no shape or if that color is just wrong for me. I ask friends where they got their coats or pieces and where they prefer to shop. It’s OK to spend a little more than usual on classic quality styles because you’ll be wearing them for at least three to five years.

Don’t forget to take care of your winter wardrobe. Much of it is wool or delicate fabric, so it’ll need to be washed by hand and air dried. Fortunately, you won’t need to wash much of these items as much because you’ll be wearing undergarments to absorb sweat, but be sure to take extra attention to those clothing tags.

Finally, think about your lifestyle. I like going outdoors, snowboarding, gardening, walking with my mutts and then, I like dressing semi-formally for work, going out, and spending time with family. One part is more sporty and casual, so I’ll wear sports jackets, jeans, and insulated hiking boots. The other requires slimmer cuts, slacks, blouses, and more softer fabrics. Isolate your style and choose pieces that work for each and know how to piece together your winter outfits accordingly.It takes time to create a personal winter style, but just keep at it.

I have learned that when dressed appropriately, I can spend hours on end outdoors enjoying the mountain views and landscapes in the snow or in the bitter, windy cold. By dressing warmly, we cold blooded creatures can have some semblance of a life and enjoy the change of seasons with grace rather than curled up under blankets locked in a warm room.

Do you have tips for dressing warmly? Share your story of making the cold transition!


  1. jrandom42 7 years ago

    Some comments on winter wear:

    1) Silk thermal underwear. Lightweight, doesn’t absorb moisture, keeps you way warm and feels good. If it’s too expensive,. polyproplyene is a good alternative. Just be sure to wash it properly.

    2) Gore-Tex and its equivalents. Waterproof, windproof and breathable. Definitely will keep you dry, and that’s at least 50% of warm. As with polypro, wash properly.

    3) Goose down and its artificial equivalents. Most insulation per weight of any natural substance. The natural stuff needs to be dry cleaned properly, but the synthetic can be machine washed.

  2. jrandom42 7 years ago

    Forgot one:

    4) Even though you don’t lose more heat through your head and ears as conventional wisdom says,, covering them both will make you FEEL warmer and that’s more than worth it!

    • Author
      Leslie Juvin 7 years ago

      I have been on the hunt for ear muffs, but I can’t find good ones. Can you recommend any?

  3. jrandom42 7 years ago

    Not really. I’ve got an authentic Royal Navy issue watch cap that keeps me warm and dry. It’s knit from wool with the lanolin still in it.

    • Author
      Leslie Juvin 7 years ago

      How manly! Still, I’m a girl and I don’t want to ruin my ‘do! 😉

  4. jrandom42 7 years ago

    Whatever happened to your “tomboy” style? 🙂

    • Author
      Leslie Juvin 7 years ago

      It’s in the part that says I like snowboarding, hiking and going outdoors! 🙂 Hopefully, Indo surf trip in 11!

  5. jrandom42 6 years ago

    Instead of earmuffs, how about this?

    Now THAT’S attitude!

    • Author
      Leslie Juvin 6 years ago

      I was actually looking for something like that last week! I ended up buying a Salomon headband that comes with a little lid. Your suggestion, I’m afraid, came a week too late, my friend.

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