How to survive your first winter: a college student’s guide by Michael C. '16
written by a transplant from sunny Los Angeles
^ how not to do it.
“Help! I’m from [Los Angeles/Orlando/other perpetually sunny place]. What do I need to survive an East Coast winter?”
I’m glad you asked! As a lifelong Californian before I went to MIT, this is a problem I wrestled for a while. And I’ve learned that it’s really not that hard. As the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as bad weather – only inadequate clothing.”
Sure, cold weather is cold (duh), and winter clothes are relatively expensive, but with a few basic purchases you’ll be well on your way to staying warm on a budget.
Maybe you’ll even learn to love winter (I do!) and its beauty:
^ I visited Ouray, CO over winter break for a few days of ice climbing. Temperatures dropped to around -5 F at night, and yet I stayed (mostly) warm.
The secret to staying warm on a budget is that it’s all about layering.
Not only does this let you adjust to different temperatures (by putting on/off layers), but it also saves you money: the same coat, with different layers, is basically a different outfit. (At least I count it as a different outfit. Look, there’s a reason I’m writing for MIT Admissions and not Vogue.)
There are three basic layers: (1) baselayer, (2) midlayer, (3) outerwear. The good news is that you probably already own plenty of baselayers and midlayers!
When I’m in the city, I usually just wear cotton t-shirts and boxers for my baselayer. Cotton is fine for walking around campus, but if you’re doing winter outdoor activities you should wear synthetic or wool baselayers. When it gets really cold I’ll wear a long-sleeved shirt and long underwear; you can get these for cheap at Target.
That was easy!
Thin, merino wool sweaters are the best. They’re colorful, warm, layer well, and are reasonably priced. You can get ’em for around $30 on sale at J.Crew, or cheaper at H&M. Buy a few, mix and match.
Fleece layers are also great. You can splurge for Patagonia/Arc’teryx, but cheap fleece works too.
This is where you’ll have to make the biggest investment. No, the cute jacket you bought in July won’t suffice. You have a choice here: you can either go for a nice wool coat (like a peacoat or topcoat), or a more technical-looking down jacket. Ideally you’ll have both. You can get really nice wool coats from J.Crew/Banana Republic for around $120, or cheaper ones from Uniqlo/H&M for around $70.
My coats that get the most wear are a wool topcoat from Express, a wool peacoat from Banana Republic, and a Barbour waxed cotton jacket.
Wool/synthetic long socks are a must when it’s snowing, but there are a few different approaches to what boots you should wear. Sorels and L.L.Bean duck boots are popular. Since I do a lot of hiking/mountaineering, I usually just wear my Danner waterproof hiking boots or Scarpa mountaineering boots when it’s icy/snowy outside. Regular shoes are fine if the ground is dry.
Some more thoughts on saving money:
Cheaper isn’t always cheaper
Some things are worth investing a bit more money in upfront. A cheap sweater that pills and falls apart after a winter is a waste of money. You don’t have to #BuyItForLife, but I think that particularly with coats and boots, buying quality items will save you money in the longterm.
Break the rules to maximize versatility
I mentioned a formal-technical spectrum above. But I often mix and match — partly out of necessity, and partly because it’s fun.
For example, topcoats are traditionally worn over suits and ties. But I like layering it over anything from chunky sweaters to tshirts:
Likewise, Barbour jackets are usually worn while shooting pheasants or riding horses (well, at least I think that’s what they’re for…my knowledge of British culture comes 99% from Downton Abbey and Sherlock). We, uh, don’t have many of those around MIT, so I’ve had to adapt:
Same goes for watches! I’ve worn my Speedmaster to formal events with CEOs, up high on mountain rescues, and even over Kevlar gloves.
Finally, sometimes it’s fun to break all the rules, and skip the layering ;)
Have fun with winter! It’s pretty cool.