...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Like cake, with layers upon layers

This entry is for Cheryl, who requested such an article in time for her upcoming trip to China, where it will be around one degree cold. Her question is: How does one dress for one degree? In the words of my sister – to whom I reported through e-mail about my first one-degree experience here – how does one degree even feel like?

Well, I could go out and check! (We're back to plus-degrees this week)

Understandably, when you come from a country where the mean temperature year round is 25C, and where sea water is almost always at body temperature, it's hard to put one's head around anything colder than SM City Cinema's air conditioning (which actually is cold). I remember months of worrying what clothes I should bring to Sweden – how thick my socks should be, how thick my jackets should be, and (ahem!) how fashionable I should be besides. That's aside from worrying if all my year's clothes will fit in the suitcase and still manage to keep it under 15 kilos! As it turns out though, nothing can prepare one for cold as actually being in a cold place, suffering and trying hard to keep a cool face in front of your other suffering friends. :-)

Likely, amidst your suffering, you'll hear something like this: "there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes" – a saying that is overly-positive about crap weather and blames you for your own misery. I must admit that it's partly true, but how is one supposed to know what good clothes are, when people wear tank tops all year round where one comes from? Some African students in my old class were notoriously dressing themselves up in everything thick and still froze despite looking like snowmen... and this was in late autumn! Sure, one probably gets some tolerance for cold after a few seasons (something we exchange students obviously didn't have then), but perhaps it was a case of "bad clothing" as well?

Before googling "how to dress for winter" pretty recently, I lived on advice from others and clothes that I already had (or were given to me by mom and Margareta). The result was actually what articles in Google also say, meaning I was thankfully in the right track.

Below is an example of what I wear on very cold snowy days here, perhaps around the middle of January. I actually own these pieces; I just thought that it would be much more fun to draw them than to take pictures:

I discovered Adobo Illustrator, you see.
Layer 1: thermal undergear (i.e. long johns), from mom; Layer 2: fleece jacket and socks; Layer 3: polyester-lined jacket (actually a horse-riding jacket that I got from Margareta), jeans (I will invest in a pair of non-denim outdoor pants soon), a scarf, mittens, a hat, and Gore-tex boots.

Basically, articles advise on good layering. First you don a "wicking" layer that absorbs sweat and keeps your body dry (never cotton as they retain moisture and make you colder; settle for polyester), followed by an insulation layer that is "breathable" (like wool or fleece sweatshirts, pullovers, sweaters, etc), and finally an outer layer which is ideally wind- and water- resistant. You should also have a winter cap, since you lose most of your heat through your head, and have a scarf and a pair of gloves ready (mittens give more warmth though).

Take out layers or open up when you feel warm, when beginning an activity (brisk walking will soon make you warm so it's better to open up before you begin) or when you're indoors, and take them on again when you feel cold. The point is to let air circulate and to avoid sweat. I actually heard a saying which sounds like, "if you sweat, you're dead" – which of course isn't exactly true – but it can get uncomfortable and potentially smelly in there. Besides, sweat is moisture, and if left undried between your clothes, can also make you cold in the long run. Another tip I heard was that it is better to have shoes with thicker soles on than to have thin shoes with thick socks in, because feet get cold mostly by conduction.

So, does this advice good for 1 degree? I would say it works for any cold day outdoors. Depending on how cold it is outdoors, I replace the thermals with an plain shirt or a tank top, replace the fleece jacket with a pullover or a blouse, or replace the jeans with a skirt and wool-mix stockings. It all depends on what kind of activity you're planning on doing to do.

That said, I think most people (even sometimes myself) dress too little and just suck it up, knowing that we will be indoors soon and survive the winter anyway. In fact, most city people (I think) are badly dressed judging from this layering criteria, and wear cotton shirts and denim (read: cotton) jeans with Chuck Taylors (tried it one winter, they're okay as long as they don't get wet). I also sometimes skip the insulating layer when I'm wearing a blouse and my thick polyester jacket. On the other hand, if I would do winter sports or go out for a longer walk, I would follow the layering rule to the book and even replace my jeans for water-proof pants.

And don't worry if you think that all of this is hard to remember, very contextual and isn't any help in deciding how you're going to dress in the cold. I rather think that how to dress is the first question people ask themselves here when they go out for work and check the temperature, even when they've lived here all their lives... which is why you can now buy these "weather stations" with a weather boy that shows you how to dress!

Oh yeah, and don't forget to drink warm drinks, okay?


Blogger Christianne said...

Nice illustration! :)

The key is to bring good gloves, hat and make sure your neck is well covered by using a scarf or whatever. I usually just throw on a fleece jacket and a thick lined jacket with a high collar on top of my normal clothes. I only put on thermal pants under my jeans when I'm going sledding with Annika. Otherwise, like you said, there's no use putting on so many layers since you'll only spend a little time outdoors anyway.

4:25 PM

Blogger aka Cheryl said...

WOW!!!! I love it! (and I haven't even read it, hahaha.) I will try to digest everything before I leave later ;)

4:51 AM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Christianne: Isn't it much much colder there in Stockholm? (with the water and everything?)

Cheryl: Guess you're in China by now, or at least on your way there. Have a happy wappy trip! Looking forward to read all about it! :-D

4:08 PM

Blogger Christianne said...

I'm not sure, I do know super mas malamig daw sa Gothenburg even if it's further south because of the wind chill and rain. It's not half as rainy in the Stockholm area :)

3:31 PM

Blogger hoy nene! said...

My Chucks served me very well during winter :) And ski socks work well kahit manipis na yung sole ng sapatos -- at least, that was my experience.

Sent my Erasmus application today :) Crossing fingers til May! Do they just email you or do you have to wait for the post?

Happy New Year, Joy! :)

1:20 PM

Blogger Ahoy! said...

Good luck, Jeline! I'm rooting for you! :-)

About the clothes, I never got to use those clothes "for cold snowy days in the middle of January", because the temperature just became warmer since I wrote that entry :-P But yeah, Chucks are so versatile!

They first sent me an email but said that it wasn't a final announcement until one gets the acceptance letter by snail mail (which takes just about a week more by priority post). They were actually late in announcing the scholars then; we had to wait 2 more weeks or something from the date they said the results would come out. Lots of nailbiting and stuff during this period, but like I said, I think you don't have anything to worry about :-)

Take care and Happy New Year!

10:14 AM

Blogger aka Cheryl said...

joy, i read this before i left and i got ideas on how to layer. GRABE ANLAMIG. it was 4C in shanghai and -7C, -11C in beijing! layering clothes went well, but most of us weren't prepared for how cold our feet could get. we had thick socks but i guess wearing 'breathable' rubber shoes wasn't a great idea, hahaha. and you know, dapat pala one size bigger ang shoe size para magkasya yung ganun kakapal na socks -- ang sikip tuloy ng shoes ko and my littlest toes almost went numb. poor babies. anyway, winter outfits can be very interesting pala. although when you're main intent is to get warm, wala nang fashion fashion!

longer post to follow in my blog. it won't be as long or detailed as my previous one though. :D

Thanks again for this joy! i'd refer to this again in case mapunta ulit ako sa malamig na lugar.

4:17 AM


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