We take many things into account when we decide what to wear. Is it a first date, a job interview, opening night at the opera? I obsess over these fine distinctions because I write about what men wear and why. But when it’s winter in Minnesota, those nuances get buried under two feet of snow. We rightly want to know what the weather’s going to be and just how bad the weather’s going to be.
In “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” Dylan Thomas wrote, “I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was 12 or whether it snowed for 12 days and 12 nights when I was 6.” During my Minnesota childhood, it was a major event when the snow came. My sister and I would watch it pile up and wait for word that school had been canceled so we could go sledding. Now I live in New York City, but I still visit Minneapolis come Christmas and hope for snow (and keep a pair of Sorels at my parents’ house, just in case).
I remember my father would get a winter hat that seemed to grow larger every year. It was a miracle he made it out the front door. Somehow my mom found each of the children a pair of enormous gloves that went up to our elbows. Apparently they were what Will Steger wore on his Arctic expeditions. Yes, we took these matters seriously. It was a major production just to get our outdoor clothes on.
The clothing has changed, but the spirit remains: No more snow pants! If it’s going to snow — and it is — then have the overcoat to end all overcoats. Something nicely tailored, preferably double-breasted, with an enormous collar and a vaguely military air. You want to look as if you’re off to lead a platoon to commandeer a bluff then celebrate with a swig of whisky from your flask. Yet a parka remains part of the equation, so why not make it a stylish and sustainable one? Minnesota’s own Askov Finlayson just introduced a climate-positive one that has the added benefit of looking good.
A well-dressed man in winter needs a great sweater. What makes a sweater great? It should look like you inherited it from your grandfather if your grandfather was Tolstoy: a huge shawl collar, big buttons, made out of something that looks like a piece of gnarled wood from a cutting board. You want to look like you’re about to read five chapters on the life of Cézanne next to the fire — or better yet, write five chapters on the life of Cézanne. If you have a sweater that people at parties want to touch and family members want to borrow (even without asking), that’s a great sweater.
A Minnesotan rightly feels sympathy with residents of similarly dignified cold climates. He has a connection with the Danish chef and the Swedish ship captain. What does a Scotsman don on the shortest days of the year? Why Harris tweed, of course. Warm and indestructible, it comes in restrained hues (moss and oatmeal) to match the Scottish landscape, and every bolt is woven by a local on a pedal-powered loom in their garage. When you wear Harris tweed, you’re wearing a historic fabric designed to deal with conditions as demanding as ours. And if you visit the J. Press store in New York City, you can choose a unique bolt of fabric to be made into a sports coat just for you. Now that is embracing the season.
It’s good to know that people have been stylishly dealing with these issues of what we might call “pessimistic conditions” for decades, even longer. A good pair of Sorels (the older the better) can be your ally in a true blizzard. Sturdy English boots come in handy, too. Hunter boots are ideal for intense wet (and those wonderful knee-high highland socks for colder days). When you can actually see the ground, the leather Islay boot by Crockett & Jones is a mainstay.
Accessories are a chance to shine, to show that you’re not one who can be beaten down by the weather. You’ll need a scarf, naturally, but yours should be unusually wonderful. It can be long and patterned or boldly colored. But it should announce your presence when you step into a restaurant. Don’t just whisk it off; extend this process as long as possible. Slowly uncoil it from your neck as more of the patrons look on in jealousy. Or just wear it inside and let people speculate about which successful Broadway play you just produced.
It’s easy to overlook gloves, but please don’t let them be an afterthought. Hestra, a classic Swedish glove company, makes elegant table-cut dress gloves at its factory in Hungary. It’s a tradition that dates back to the 17th century, and they are so lovely it’s a privilege to decide between fawn and moss. Hestra also makes more heavy-duty gloves if your day is going to involve shoveling out your car. Yes, winter is the grand imposition, but be empowered to take on the elements on your own terms. A man of style is always prepared for whatever comes his way.
A Minnesotan turned New Yorker, David Coggins is the author of the New York Times bestseller Men and Style and writes a style column for Artful Living.