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“Winterizing”, aka Dressing for Winter in Canada

Self Portrait, Ottawa, November 2013
Self Portrait, Ottawa, November 2013

I discovered the wonders of innovation at Old Navy–a pair of fingerless gloves with a knitted top that converts them into regular mittens. A button-loop tab holds the mitten top when not in use—how cool is that! I mean, my regular pair of iconic “red mittens” (I buy the new edition every year) is great but not super practical to find my bus ticket or reply to an email on my BlackBerry while waiting for the damn bus to show up.

$3.45 later, the cool convertible gloves are mine.

Since Halloween, the retail world has switched to winter mode. The buzzwords are “soft,” “cozy,” “warm,” “layers” and “outerwear”—said Old Navy even has a “cold-weather accessories” category… that’s Canada for you! Gone are the days when you could wear shorts, although there is always someone, somewhere in Canada, parading in shorts when the temperature is hovering around 0 °C. Go figure.

But the rest of us is, well, human, and we need to dress warmly.

“What do you wear in Canada in the winter?” is probably one of the questions I’m the most often asked (along with “can it really be that cold?”). As much as I wish there were magic outfits to keep warm (a Snuggie is not an option), there isn’t a foolproof way to dress for extreme weather.

I usually wear jeans (the perks of being a freelancer!), socks, one of my beloved t-shirts, a sweater and a coat (or a jacket with a big scarf if I want to show some Canadian-ness and pretend the cold doesn’t affect me the least). Really, the key is in the accessories: a good scarf, gloves and a hat.

I bought a new winter coat this year. I have too many winter coats already and I felt bad for splurging on a new one… but I couldn’t resist. I adopted a cool black fur-trim long puffer at GAP. My excuse? I liked the fit—the coat has a belt and a slim tailored fit so it doesn’t feel like I’m wearing a giant bag.

It took me years to master the art of picking a coat to survive Canadian winters. The first year, I imported my stylish and trendy Miss Sixties jacket from France. New flash: there is a “small” difference between the light rain we get in Nantes (or that Italian designers get around the Mediterranean) and the blizzard we experience in Canada. The second year, I invested in what I believed was a good Canadian coat—I even shopped at Sears. I mean, they know the local market, right? I bought what I nicknamed my “goth witch coat,” a very long black coat with a hood. Think the Little Red Riding Hood except, well, it was black. And not waterproof. And it came down to my feet which was rather inconvenient when I was walking in the slush or in the snow. Okay not the right coat, again.

I went through two more coats, a brown one from GAP and a purple one from ESPRIT, both now pretty worn out after surviving several winters. Salt damages and stains the fabric.

Well, that’s my excuse for buying the new coat anyway.

Because I don’t want Mark to freeze (I’m good at mothering, ain’t I!), I also bought him winter clothes. It’s always hard for me to tell whether Mark is cold, he doesn’t exactly let me know. Case in point, he sometimes bumps his head pretty hard and just keeps on playing, but he can scream for a good five minutes if I don’t let him play with the empty box of pasta (he eats the carton…). Kids are not very logical.

I bought Mark a “body bag,” a comfy one-piece snowsuit complete with gloves attached to the sleeves (only in Canada…!). Problem is, he doesn’t love it because he can’t move freely. Meanwhile, I wish the same snowsuit came in adult sizes because it looks really comfy!

I also got him a pair of mittens. The trick? A little ball is sewn to the back of the hand and it makes noise, like a rattle, so he plays with it rather than taking them off. Well, at least for a little while. He also has hats (doesn’t stay on his head long!) and many zippered hoodies.

We are ready for winter. Well, maybe not psychologically ready but… we have clothes on our backs!

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French woman in English Canada.

Exploring the world with my camera since 1999, translating sentences for a living, writing stories that may or may not get attention.

Firm believer that nobody is normal... and it’s better this way.

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