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What to Pack: Cold Weather

By Amalah

Dearest Wise and Wonderful Amalah,
I am writing to you in desperation from the other side of the world – Sydney, Australia to be exact.
On January 1st 2008 (as in less than month away) I am traveling to Atlantic City, and will be there for about 6 weeks. My reason for writing to you is that I have no idea what to pack – apart from very warm jackets! I have not traveled to the US in winter before, and I have received a lot of conflicting advice friends who have. Do you or your readers have some advice you could impart to a poor little antipodean traveler on what the basics are that I will need?!
The main problem seems to be what to take for below the waist. Some friends say jeans, others have warned of the dire consequences of wearing said denim (having them get wet and freeze on to your legs thus scarring them forever??), other again say skirts and thermal tights are best of all. Then there is the issue of footwear – what do I need to take for getting around? I have been told everything from waterproof snow boots to hiking boots to sneakers to gumboots and beyond.
At the moment, I am sitting typing in a light cotton dress, with flip flops and I am still hot (typical Sydney Christmas weather), so trying to shift my mind into cooler climate packing is proving too much!! I also know that I will shop when I arrive, but I will need some things to get me through the first little while.
If you could help, I would be so very, very grateful!
Merry Christmas to you and all your readers,
Cold Climate Clueless

Okay, so. While Atlantic City is indeed much colder than what you’re used to, it is also not Siberia. You may, in fact, not see any snow at all. Or you might, and on those days? You stay inside, mostly. If it’s actual, squalling blizzard-type weather, stuff gets shut down or delayed until the sidewalks and streets are clear.
So basically, jeans. Everybody wears jeans everywhere. Skirts and tights are totally fine (although I haven’t owned a pair of thermal tights since I was seven years old, but they might not be a bad idea for the first days while your body adjusts to the colder temps). But the thing with skirts? In a place like Atlantic City? Where you are going to see a lot of bad, bad fashion and sequined velour tracksuits? Unless you have an actual reason to get dressed up (like for work or a nice dinner out) you’re better off in jeans or pants.
Your friends with the dire warnings of denim freezing to your legs? Seriously? Again, you’re going to Jersey, not scaling Mount Everest. Unless you are out making snow angels and wading through snow drifts for hours on end and then like, drying your pants off in front of the air conditioner while you’re still wearing them, that’s not going to happen. If your jeans are on the long side and it’s wet outside, cuff them or tuck them into your boots.
chooka%20welly.jpgAnd yes. Boots. A very good idea, but I wouldn’t bother buying expensive waterproof snow boots unless you know for a fact that there’s a big snowstorm in the forecast and you will have to be out in it. A pair of rubber wellies will work just fine most of the time. (Added bonus: they are super cute these days.) You can tuck your pant hems into them in case of giant roving leg-eating puddles, and then toss your heels or whatever cute shoes you’d rather wear into your bag, along with an extra pair of socks in case of disaster. (Honestly, wet socks are much higher on the likelihood scale than frozen jeans.) (Yes, that warning is still bugging me. Seriously, so not going to happen this side of civilization. Your pants get that wet, you GO HOME AND CHANGE THEM.)
So we have jeans, wellies, plenty of socks (knee socks are a good way to sneak an extra layer of warmth under your pants)…what else? If you’re wearing skirts or a dress, knee-high leather dress boots are also an East coast staple. On regular non-rainy, non-snowy days (and I promise you we DO have them over here), you can wear whatever kind of shoe you feel like. Except, you know, flip-flops. But sneakers, pumps, loafers, cute little heeled ankle boots — whatever.
You’ll need a scarf. You wear a long skinny knitted one for casual wear; a pashmina or cashmere wrap-type one for dressing up. And here’s how to wear a pashmina. (Uh, the “noose wrap” part. Please don’t wear your pashmina around your hips. Ew.)
You’ll need gloves. Again, I wear funky colorful knitted ones when I’m going casual (I have this AWESOME pair of mittens that actually flip open to become fingerless and thumbless gloves, which are great for when you actually need to DO anything with your hands and don’t want to yank your gloves completely off), and then I wear leather ones (lined with Thinsulate or wool or something similar) when I’m dressed up. The whole casual/dressy thing? Totally just depends on your coat and whether you’re wearing a ski jacket/parka or a wool dress coat. Oh! And you can alway layer on a thin zip-up fleece under your coat. We are ALL about the layering over here, since otherwise you get inside where the central heat is blasting and you’re sweltering in your gigantic wool sweater.
Oh, and then there’s a hat. A hat I can’t really help you with because I only wear hats when I’m, like, skiing. (HA! I don’t ski.) I just don’t bother with them, no matter how cold it gets. If it IS super cold and I need to be out in it for longer than say, the time it takes to walk a few city blocks, I prefer earmuffs since they don’t ruin my hair.
And now I’ll turn this over to the peanut gallery. Readers? What other cold-weather essentials does she need? What are your winter fashion dos and don’ts?

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Amy also

    December 14, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    Definitely bring or buy a hat! I have a sort of knit wool beret-shaped hat that is super toasty warm and doesn’t ruin my hair (I have straight, fine hair, which almost all hats crush flat, but this style doesn’t). If it is cold out, you will be much much much more comfy with a warm hat on your head. Plus Atlantic City is on the ocean, so: windy.

  • KatieMick

    December 14, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    I cannot recommend bringing tights along more highly. Bring at least three or four pairs of black (and maybe a pair of brown) opaque tights, or, better yet to save on packing room, pick them up here (they’re pretty cheap) and then toss them when you leave. They will work under skirts AND, more importantly for cold days, serve as a great extra layer under pants. Once the temps go below 40 degrees Farenheit here, I wear tights every day. And, if you get ones that have a control top or a shaper (if you need that, and basically who doesn’t), you’ve also smoothed out your shape to boot. Two birds, so to speak. And, you can hand wash them easily; not sure what your access to laundry will be.
    Amalah’s tips on knee high leather boots are also spot-on, and again they will work with just about anything you wear. Black faux-pashmina shawl, some black sweaters, black dress pants and jeans will see you through pretty well and mix and match with other accessories. Just bring lots of black stuff – that seems to be the pattern here, I think. Have a wonderful trip!

  • BridehoodRevisited

    December 14, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    I live about an hour from Atlantic City in Philadelphia. Your friend is full of crap about the freezing jeans thing. If it’s that cold you would have gone into shock with hypothermia. That might be something I’d if you were heading towards areas in Canada. Trust me, you’ll be okay.
    You’ll be just fine in jeans and cotton pants with a few sweaters and long sleeve shirts. You’ll also be fine in skirts with tights. Since you’re only going to be here for a few weeks, I’d only buy things that can be double duty, like plain wool black gloves that are uninteresting enough to be okay with a dressy outfit, but will keep you warm during the majority of your casual time.
    Often, the scarf I wear is the size and shape of a pashmina (it has a tone on tone paisley pattern and is super soft) and in a pinch, I have used it as a pashmina, so if you didn’t want to buy multiple items, you could definitely get away with only having one.

  • BaltimoreGal

    December 14, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    I just want to thank you, Amalah, for the Giant Sweater link. I almost died when it was on the first time!! That is me every time I wear either a sweater or a turtleneck in the wintertime.

  • Isabel

    December 14, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    I love this topic! Mostly because I’m out in the cold a lot.
    I love tights and knee highs. Sometimes I wear both under my sassy boots.
    And I ALWAYS wear a scarf. There are so many cute options out there right now. (Gap striped scarves, I’m talking to you!) I also love knitted hats. But yes, they do mess up the hair. I usually only wear them when it’s pouring down rain and the “hat hair” look is better then the “wet hair” look. Or when I’m done with the day and know I won’t need good hair.
    And dude, the pants freezing to the legs warning? That is just crazy talk.

  • Francie

    December 14, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    I also live near Atlantic City and it’s not that cold – it may get down to 30 at the coldest (Fahrenheit, that is). Clothing-wise, anything goes – you’ll see a lot of velour sweatsuits and other pajamas-in-public-looking clothing. Also, AC isn’t a stroll-around-town kind of place – you’ll spend most of your time indoors. The most time you spend outside will probably be walking between casinos or walking between stores at the outlets. Have fun!

  • Meghan

    December 14, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    I’m in Chicago, not Atlantic City, but it’s currently 25F outside, so if the temps will be in the 30’sF in AC then what I do will probably work well for you too. I have to wear scrubs to work every day, and while my nice winter coat is keeping my upper half toasty the bottom half has nothing but a very thin piece of cotton for protection. Enter my two favorite items: Smartwool socks and Keen footwear. The SmartWool Stripeuccino socks are my favorite, I pull them up high and they keep my legs nice and warm. I never thought about wearing tights, but I will be getting some this weekend because that is a brilliant idea. Pair those with a set of waterproof casual shoes, and you’re set.
    Go to your local outdoor store, let them know you want a casual day shoe, or some kind of cross-trainer, and that it should be at least water resistant if not water proof. My favorite Keens are the Sydney, which are Mary Janes, but the rubber and leather are sealed and I’ve not had any problems with wet socks. Something by Merrell, Keen or Dansko should be fine, just remember that sueded finishes are likely to be damaged by salty slush that you might pick up walking down the sidewalk (or is that just here in Chicago? I don’t know if salt is as big a problem in other parts of the country.)
    My favorite outdoor store is REI, but I know it won’t be helpful for pre-trip purchases. (They do ship internationally, but chances are an order wouldn’t arrive in time.) Back in the day worked at a summer camp with a lot of international staff, and the ones from AU and NZ had a lot of apparel from Kathmandu, a NZ based shop. I’m sure there are lots of other awesome outdoor stores in Australia, but this is the only one I remember hearing about. Go in, tell them where you’re going and what you’re looking for, and they’ll help you out. I used to work for REI when in grad school and my favorite part of that job was talking with customers about the trips they had planned, and helping them find just the right thing to make their trip better.

  • heels

    December 14, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    For boots: Do you already own Blundstones? Those with wool or Polartec socks will do your feet just fine. Not fancy, but they’re dry and comfy.

  • TasterSpoon

    December 14, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    I’m a big fan of packing thin (silk or synth) long underwear, no matter where I travel. Because it’s thin, it’s unnoticeable under most of your ordinary clothes, but you’re that much warmer, and it scrunches up in your suitcase into almost nothing. Actually even if I’m going somewhere warm I bring a layer in my carry-on, it’s that convenient.
    I think it’s an American brand, but I favor Cuddl Duds, some of which have a nice camisole-looking chest part so it’s even okay if they peek out a little.
    Hmm, the outlet store there doesn’t have the cute lace-edged ones. But ones in the department stores do. Googling around found a broader selection.

  • Anne Glamore

    December 15, 2007 at 7:32 am

    I LOVE my wellies and as Amy said, they are great whether it’s rainy or icy or snowy.
    Call me nutty, but I went out on a fashion limb and bought white ones because everything else I buy is black black black and I wipe them with 409 when they get gnarly from street gunk and set off again.
    I add wool socks when it’s cold.

  • qwyneth

    December 15, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    I’m in Baltimore, which is just a tad south of AC. Yeah, your friend is crazy with the jeans thing. If you’re planning on going skiing, I would plan something other than jeans or pick up some watertight snow pants. Otherwise, jeans should be more than sufficient.
    I loathe tights and never wear them, but they’ll certainly add a toasty layer of warmth under pants and skirts. Silk long underwear will also do that, as will , though that’s possibly more than you’ll need. Honestly, layering under your clothing is probably more than you’ll need unless you plan on being outside for long periods of time. A coat, hat, scarf, and gloves should be more than enough for traveling from the hotel to the car to the destination.
    Unless you’re planning on playing in snow, I wouldn’t worry about boots at all. Most places you go to will already be shoveled. I’d choose shoes with good gripping soles in case of ice, and definitely no heels. (Though, if you want to wear heels or fun shoes, definitely pack and wear boots and change at your destination.) If it’s not snowy or icy, of course, your only worry is that strappy heels let your feet get very cold when you’re outside.
    Everything inside will be well heated, so choose layers you can shed as you warm up. (A pashima can serve double duty for this, actually. Wear it noose wrapped outside, and then shake it out and wrap it around your shoulders inside.) That video is hilarious, Amalah. My grandmother tried to give me a 25-year-old 100% wool sweater with big wreaths on it last weekend. Gah!
    Finally, a hat, gloves, and a well-wrapped scarf make all the difference. In a pinch a wide scarf or pashima can be wrapped around your head as well as your neck–if it’s super windy and you’re without a hat you won’t care about how silly it looks. Or I don’t! I’d also recommend a wool coat, if you have one. Wool just absolutely locks out the cold. A simple black pea coat can be dressed up or down, and will leave you nice and toasty.
    Have fun! And really, we don’t all dress and act like the people you’ll see. 😉

  • erin

    December 18, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    I definitely agree with most of what everyone has said. Tights and knee-highs will definitely serve you well – I wear them under my pants, too, on really cold days, especially in my cold office building! I think you’ll use them a lot, especially as you’ll take some time to adjust to the cold.
    Same deal with light long sleeved shirts (t-shirts) – I layer them under sweaters. I agree with Amalah, a light fleece layer would be great also under your coat.
    Also, Atlantic City WILL be windy, especially if you’re near the ocean/boardwalk/casino areas at all, so you’ll be thankful for a hat, gloves and scarf. My family has a beach house in Avalon, about 20 miles south of there, and it’s rare for it to snow on the shore, but the wind chills get pretty cold. The beach is beautiful in winter, though, so I think it’s worth bundling up and heading down there. Maybe check out Cape May (30 miles to the south) too!
    The great news is that Atlantic City has a pretty new outlet mall where you could hopefully pick up anything that you seem to be missing.