There’s an old adage that “there’s no such thing as bad weather – only bad clothes.” But what does that mean for winter commuters … especially those urban dwellers amongst us who don’t own vehicles?
There has been a growing trend over the last few years in high-end winter attire; one need only look to Canada Goose’s briskly climbing sales to see that warm attire is not only practical, but in vogue. There are numerous options for high-end winter gear on the market and many of them come with price tags that can rival the down payment of a car. Pea coats can be chic, but they’re no match for a North American winter; the materials that actually work to keep you warm – down and fur, for instance – come at a cost.
Of course, it might be difficult to wrap your brain around the idea of blowing an entire pay cheque – or two, or three – on a winter coat that will only be worn for a select few months of the year. But before you hang that expensive, well-built jacket back on the sales rack and funnel the money into your “trip to somewhere warmer than here” fund, here are a few things to consider.
Hibernating isn’t always good for you.
Despite the unusually mild temperatures that have graced much of North America this winter thanks to one of the strongest El Niño events on record, scientists have cautioned that the second half of the season will see a return to frigid temperatures and heavy snowfalls. It’s time to pack away the sleeveless shirts you wore all December and dig out the blankets; winter is coming.
Unless you’re a winter sports fanatic, the season is always more bearable when experienced from the indoors; if you subscribe to the Danish cultural practice of hygge, things like candles, warm baths, and feather duvets can turn snowstorms into enforced stay-at-home retreats.
But venturing outside is another matter. The ever-accumulating snow banks and unforgiving temperatures that hover somewhere between “no thank you” and “crisis” make even the simplest tasks unbearable. The journey between home and work, the journey between home and a friend’s place, and even the ten-foot journey between your front door and the recycling bin can feel longer than a trip across the Siberian Steppes. And for those of us urban dwellers who don’t own cars – relying on walking, transit, or even winter cycling to get around – well, imagine trekking those Siberian Steppes on foot.
Without climate-appropriate attire, it’s nearly impossible to muster the enthusiasm for a wintery walk or other outdoor activities that can help keep morale high. It can be easy to fall into the habit of choosing to stay inside whenever and however possible – calling in sick to work, skipping parties, avoiding your dentist. But studies have shown that staying indoors and depriving yourself of what little natural light there is on these shortened days can actually be harmful to your health; the Mayo Clinic even recommends getting outside (particularly within two hours of waking up) as a way to help fight Seasonal Affective Disorder.
It’s an investment.
Cars are expensive. Aside from the cost of the vehicle itself, there are the constant, unavoidable costs of gas, parking, insurance, and maintenance. This isn’t to mention the time requirements that owning a vehicle entails; in some ways, it can be like having another child who habitually demands check-ups, tune-ups, and cleaning.
For urban dwellers without cars, it’s important to remember that your winter coat is your vehicle. You rely on it to get you from point A to point B safely, happily, and free of frostbite scars. When the true cost of vehicle ownership is taken into account, the amount you’re saving by relying on public transit and walking more than makes up for the cost of a pricey winter coat.
I recently purchased an ankle-length Mackage parka, complete with a fur-lined hood and sheepskin padding at the collar and inside the pockets. After tax, it cost nearly a thousand dollars. But it was actually my mother, of all people, who talked me into what I viewed as a fairly extravagant purchase. Having spent her fair share of time working in the north, she’s no stranger to the cold. “You get what you pay for,” she said firmly. “As long as you don’t outgrow it, you’ll have it for years.”
And she was right – how many winter coats have cycled their way through my wardrobe, either because they weren’t well made enough to withstand wear and tear, or because they simply couldn’t hold up when the thermometers dropped? I can’t remember the last winter that passed without me buying yet another coat, making another half-hearted attempt to do winter properly.
“It’s the last coat you’ll ever buy,” said my mother, and ushered me towards the cash register.
You can’t fake a good make.
The big players in high-end cold weather gear – Canada Goose, Mackage, Nobis, Moncler – all offer parkas that hover around the $1000 mark. But what exactly differentiates these expensive puffers from the cheaper options out there?
There’s actually a science to the art of keeping warm. One of the oldest Canada Goose designs, the Snow Mantra, was specifically developed for workers in the Canadian Arctic and was field tested to maintain performance level at temperatures as low as -70 degrees Celsius. According to the Canada Goose website, each subsequent parka design was in some way informed by the DNA of the Snow Mantra.
You may notice, when reading the product descriptions of Canada Goose parkas, that each describes the ‘fill power’ of their down. Fill power is a means of measuring the amount of space down occupies in cubic inches. The higher the fill power, the larger the clusters of down and the volume of air being trapped, which means higher insulation capability of the down in question. For instance, the Kensington Parka has a fill power of 625, meaning that one ounce of 625 fill power down will have a loftiness – think of that like a volume – of 625 cubic inches.
It’s always important to note the ratio of down vs. feathers when shopping for naturally-insulated outdoor gear. Down is derived from plumage, which is the layer of material found beneath a bird’s outer feathers. The best-designed materials are often found in nature, and part of the reason that down is so effective as an insulator is that not only does it keep the bird warm by trapping air above the skin, but it is also incredibly lightweight; birds have obvious aerodynamic requirements that other animals don’t.
Feathers, on the other hand, are taken from the outer part of the bird’s coverage. While they too possess insulating capabilities, they are less warm and less resilient than down. As well, the hard quills of feathers can sometimes poke through a coat’s lining, so parkas with a high feather count have the potential to shed.
Cheaper outer wear brands like Columbia and The North Face may offer some down options, but they also manufacture their parkas lined with synthetic materials; many of these parkas are insulated with both new and recycled polyester. While there are some pros to polyester – it’s more water resistant than down, for instance – it offers less insulation per ounce and therefore is bulkier and less lightweight than its down counterpart. Polyester is also less durable; its synthetic fibers can clump over time, causing uneven dispersion and creating un-insulated areas of a parka through which heat can escape.
Of course, it’s also important to do a bit of research when opting for anything made with animal by-products. Mackage, for instance, is a company committed to only using ethically sourced down – meaning no live plucking, no force-feeding, and only using the down of mature ducks. This company’s down is also sourced as a by-product of the food industry, meaning that ducks aren’t being hunted gratuitously for their plumage alone.
You don’t need to sacrifice style for utility.
It probably goes without saying that it you don’t feel great in something, you won’t wear it. Dresses that look fantastic on the hanger but make you feel self-conscious in a certain light will gather dust in the closet; gorgeous sky-high heels that start to pinch within five minutes will become the wardrobe piece you constantly pair with outfits but trade in for flats at the last minute.
Winter gear doesn’t need to look frumpy or make you feel like the Michelin man. Splurge on something that you actually look forward to putting on. A good coat that performs well while also complimenting your personal style can make getting bundled feel like a privilege rather than a chore.
So if you’re a person whose guilty pleasure isn’t necessarily brand names or fashion, reconsider when it comes to a winter jacket. It’s probably the wardrobe piece with the highest utilitarian demands, so even though it’s a seasonal purchase, it should be the one thing you do spend money on. It’ll mean the difference between tucking yourself underneath a duvet for the entire winter or getting outside, staying active, and embracing all that the season has to offer.