Cold-Weather Dressing For Kids
This is the problem: ACK! We have accepted a job in the great white north- probably no big deal for anyone else but dude! EVERYWHERE is the great white north to me, we live on the Gulf Coast. Heat I understand fully, but snow? Well, crap. I have seen white stuff falling from the sky a total of about 5 times in my entire life, two of which actually “stuck” and put no more than 4 inches on the ground, and it promptly melted before we got a snow man of more than a foot tall out of it. Around here we moan about how cold it is when it hits about 50 degrees or so, and even overnight lows are not that low, compared to the city which we will be in this winter.
I need to figure all of this out, but mostly I need to know how to dress my kids for this weather. I have two girls, 4 and 1 respectively and need to know what to look for in coats (seriously, hoodies will do it for us most of the time, so the big one doesn’t really even own a COAT) Do I get snowsuits? Rubber boots? Mittens or gloves? Layering? Tight undergarments? Cotton?
The internet is failing me, mostly I am just confused about all that it is telling me- plus I keep hearing that the cold isn’t that bad when you get up north, it feels DIFFERENT because of the HUMIDITY and blah.
Oh hey there! Greetings from the great white north! Where we are currently on day number 345 of a seemingly endless heat wave, with temperatures cracking 100 degrees almost every day. Where every day, I spend at least 20 minutes thanking the AC gods for NOT BEING PREGNANT ANYMORE.
And then, in about five months, it will be cold and snowing and blustery and my husband and I will look at each other and wonder why in the world we live in this city and not like, California. Or Jamaica. Or Oz.
The first thing you’ll learn about winter is that there’s dressing for the cold AND there’s dressing for snow. Two different things. And there’s even different LEVELS of dressing for snow — like, there’s dashing through the flakes on your way to your car, there’s playing in the snow, and then there’s going skiing and crazy stuff like that.
Dressing for the cold involves some layered regular clothing — so keep those hoodies and cardigans — and then your basic coat/hat/mittens combo. I don’t usually bother with scarves for my children, unless we knew we would be outside during like, a wind advisory and I wanted to protect their faces. (And then I go for neckwarmer/cowl styles that don’t pose a strangulation risk for getting caught on things or in car doors.)
Dressing for the snow involves the same stuff, but with more waterproofing. Also boots. I only bother with snowsuits and/or long underwear if the kids are going to be outside playing in the snow for an extended period of time, and even then, I sometimes opt for the “you must come inside and change/warm up after 20 minutes” take on snow play instead. Because I’m mean and lazy and have no patience for dealing with a snowsuit on a diaper-wearing or potty-training child…or even an older one, who I GUARANTEE YOU will have to go potty five minutes after you’ve bundled him up.
If you are going to be living in an area that does indeed get frequent snow storms, here’s what I recommend you look for in outerwear:
Go for waterproof or at least water-resistant. It can be tempting to buy something cute and stylish — like an adorable wool peacoat, for example — but that really won’t be practical in the wet or even the really, really cold. A ski style jacket with a HOOD will be your most versatile if you hope to only buy one coat — especially if you can find one that includes a zip-out fleece layer inside. (LOVE the fleece zip-ups, both with a coat and worn on their own.) I’ve bought perfectly decent coats at a ton of different places (and price points) over the years, from Columbia to Hanna Anderssen to TARGET, of all places. Ski and outdoorsy stores (REI, Columbia, L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, etc.) will have the most hardcore, warm and waterproof options, but you’ll also pay a lot more. I can justify splurging on a nice coat for Noah because we can typically get two winters out of it, and then hold onto it as a hand-me-down for Ezra. (Who also gets hand-me-downs from his cousin. I’ve never actually had to buy him his own coat yet. Not sure what shape the coats will be in by the time Ike needs them, however.)
I like hats with fleece ear flaps, but it really mostly depends on what your kid likes and will tolerate wearing. Your kids might prefer earmuffs, or those fleece headband/ear-warmer things that don’t mess up their hair. Noah refused to wear hats of any kind for awhile, save for one goofy knitted tiger hat we found at the grocery store. He loved that hat. He wore it for at least three winters. Now he’ll put on whatever I hand him at the door, which currently is a very thought-out selection of WHATEVER THE HELL FITS.
I’d say your kids are still firmly in the “mitten” age range, as getting all those little fingers into gloves will likely take forever and make you hate your life. We go through a lot of mittens, honestly. They are always getting lost, no matter what great little tips and tricks I try (clips, stringing them through or attaching them to the coat sleeves, etc.). You might want a waterproof pair for your older daughter if she really enjoys playing in the snow or making snowballs…or you could simply buy a bunch of cheap pairs and have her swap her wet ones for a dry pair after she plays for awhile. For the one-year-old? Well, you can dream big and TRY to keep mittens on her, but it’s likely that unless you’re talking about mittens that fold over as part of her coat sleeves, you’re going to lose that battle. Practice your best stink-eye in the mirror in case of mommy-drive-bys over the lack of mittens, because pfffft.
You’ll quickly learn that there are two different kinds of boots: rubber galoshes and honest-to-God snow boots. The galoshes will be cute and brightly-colored and adorable, but they are RAIN BOOTS, and they are NOT WARM. You will need to pair them with very, very warm socks (or specially-designed welly socks) in the winter when it rains, and I don’t really recommend them for the snow or ice. They can be quite slippery to walk in, and the tops of the boots do nothing to keep snow from getting in. Then again, buying a new, dedicated pair of waterproof warm adjustable-drawstring-topped snow boots for kids every year can be very pricy, so it really, really depends on your region’s snowfall. Growing up in PA where it snowed frequently but not constantly, my mom would either track down some hand-me-down boots or send me out to play with plastic shopping bags rubber-banded over my shoes. Here in DC, I always THINK I’ll be able to get away without snow boots for my boys…until it snows a ton more than I was expecting. Then I buy boots that they wear once or twice and then it’s spring! And Ezra fits into the hand-me-down boots in the summer! And not winter! And *headdesk*
Only really required if your kids are total snow bunnies who spend hours and hours on all fours in the snow. Long underwear or wool tights under pants are usually fine for short snowman-building expeditions in the backyard. Bring them in once they’re wet and pink-cheeked, strip them down and run a nice warm bath and serve hot chocolate. I cannot even tell you the number of gifted or hand-me-down snowsuits in various sizes that I have in a box in the basement. They have maaaaaaaybe been worn once or twice a winter. They’re just such a pain and take forever to get on, and my kids lose interest in the snow after 15 minutes and want back inside anyway.
Some kids will play for hours, though, and it’s that knowledge that keeps me hoarding all those snowsuits, because WHO KNOWS. Ike might be that kind of kid, or Ezra might change his mind this winter and NOT howl in misery the instant he senses he’s gotten a tad wet and chilly and God help me, I’ll have to BUY A SNOWSUIT.
6. GENERAL CLOTHING
Let the kids’ clothing stores be your guide. They’ll generally stock what you need for your particular climate. And usually the cold-weather stuff shows up in the summer and you’ll have time to let it hit the sale rack before you need to panic and buy your kids sweaters and long-sleeve shirts. Don’t overdress your kids — no matter how cold it is outside, they’ll be spending most of their time indoors in artificial heat, where it is too darn warm for say, flannel-lined jeans AND wool socks AND long sleeves AND a heavy sweater. And even out at the playground on a very chilly day, a kid can run the risk of overheating and getting sick if they’re running around like crazy and dressed for an expedition to the arctic. Layers of breathable fabrics are most definitely your friend.
Lastly, I would highly recommend you start building your kids’ warm-weather wardrobe by shopping at consignment stores, or via the online swapping site ThredUp.com. Coats and snowsuits and even boots tend to hold up very well, since they don’t always get a ton of heavy use before they’re outgrown. If you go with the ThredUp site, you can trade your daughters’ uber-warm-weather stuff for someone else’s cold-weather box. It might not contain everything you end up needing, but at least you’ll be able to NOT PANIC and feel slightly more prepared for the first day when the temperature drops to the 40s and you only have sundresses and hoodies.
And once you’re settled in your new home, totally try to befriend a mom with say, a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old, and get yourself some awesome hand-me-down action going.Published July 25, 2011. Last updated October 29, 2017.