January 20, 2009

Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Socks

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“Now is the winter of our discontent.” Well, it is winter, and though Shakespeare was astute about a lot of things, there are two he clearly failed to consider about this winter, both of which minimize discontent. First, the awesome dressing opportunities winter presents, and second, the momentous occasion taking place today, not to mention my first and probably only inauguration day press appearance ever (Go Obama!) For more information about number one, read on. For more about number two, tune in to CNN.
So, what’s awesome about getting dressed in the winter? Here is a brief list, in no particular order, to get us started: Layers, fuzziness, scarves, knee socks, funny hats, mittens, earmuffs, and awesome patterns such as Fair Isle sweaters, plaid, and menswear patterns: houndstooth (my favorite!), herring bone (my second favorite!) argyle, and a whole lot more.
What to buy? Starting at the bottom up: invest in warm socks (caveat: this section of the column warrants a lot of “invest in…” statements.) Winter is hard on your body and hard on the things you’re wearing. You need things that will last and sometimes that requires a little investing. It is my experience that feet get cold very easily and with all the trekking we do around our often snow-covered campus, keeping our feet warm is especially important. Part of that is about the shoes (check out my last column for boot advice) but good socks are equally important. What you’re looking for is warmth, and if you can find it, something that’ll keep you dry as well. Wool, thick cotton, and silk are good fabrics to start with. Remember: your shoes will fit differently depending on what socks you’re wearing, and wearing thin socks because you want to wear a certain pair of shoes is foolish. Chances are you shouldn’t be wearing those shoes anyway. Another dimension to consider is the socks’ height; boots work much better with higher socks and they’ll keep you warmer anyway. (Super big caveat: Beware the sneaky socks that slink down and pile uncomfortably under your arches; they are an enemy well-versed in stealth tactics, and I have yet to find the antidote.) I suggest you throw out any socks whose elastics are losing their grip, and while you’re lingering by the rubbish bin, toss the ones with holes in them as well. I know it’s hard, but if you’re not gonna get them mended…
I can’t explain why I just waxed poetic about socks for that long but here are a few briefer explanations of some other options that are both handy and excellent. Flannel-lined pants make you feel like you have your pajamas on but look sleek on the outside (there are fleece-lined pants as well but I don’t think they’re that great). I also recommend wool pants, (preferably with lining) and thick tights, which enable you to wear skirts and dresses in the winter,
Layering is an essential component of winter dressing, both for its fun and functional aspects. Functionally, it can help keep you warm (or cool) as necessary. Much to my chagrin, I have yet to discover a remedy for getting really hot and sweaty under my clothes while walking to class, although I suppose leaving my apartment earlier to avoid having to walk so fast would probably help. But one of the great things about layering is the ability to bundle up or down as the temperature changes, both inside and out; Libe always seem so warm, but WSH is cold, for example.
There are basically two ways to approach layering in the winter. One is to pair a light layer with a heavier one, like a t-shirt under a fluffy sweater, and the other is to wear a warm under-base, like thick tights and a turtleneck with something lighter on top, such a cotton dress or a vest. Under thicker items, you want to choose pieces that are thin, warm, and easily washable to avoid the complicated process of washing your sweaters all the time. Long shirts guarantee warm tummies and backs even when you’re wearing low jeans, and provide an extra dash of color or pattern to your outfit. When choosing under-layers look for interesting colors, silks, and knits that seem lacy or have small holes. I know that seems counter-intuitive but the holes help trap heat (or something like that.)
To form a solid, warm layer over which you can wear something less substantial, you’ll want a pair of the aforementioned thick tights and a turtleneck or some sort of thin (but warm) knit sweater. I like knit tights that have interesting patterns like cables or ribs to add some texture. Cotton-cashmere blends can provide a lot of warmth without too much bulk or bite on your wallet. This technique enables you to wear warmer-weather clothes in the winter and bring some color and patterns into the mix as well.
I tend to wear a lot of black in the winter, but layering helps bring some excitement into my wardrobe. The other solution is to buy colorful; a big fuchsia sweater or a turquoise scarf will perk you right up as you walk through our snowy campus. Sweaters are another way of adding some excitement, especially second hand. You can find absurd patterns and outrageous colors in sweaters, and sweatshirts for that matter, which can help bring some irony into your winter landscape.
Another ingredient for successful and fun winter dressing is jewelry. A big necklace layered over a turtleneck (or any sweater) or a long chain and pendant will help to elongate and bring the look together. Be careful though; snagging knitwear is highly probable, and when you take layers on and off or unwrap scarves it’s easy to lose jewelry, especially earrings! Check frequently that you have both and wear studs, hoops, lever backs, or use stoppers on the backs of hooks.
I hope this has been enlightening, if a bit on the un-exciting side. The bottom line with winter clothes is that they should be fun and happy and warm, like a big hug.