A guide to your perfect (sensible) winter wardrobe if you were not born here
Since moving to Scotland my winters have been plagued by the following dilemma: to catch pneumonia while looking cute, or to look like a yeti while keeping cosy? While I am yet to find the ultimate solution to this, I came up with a few strategies for stylish survival, which I think will be appreciated by my fellow non-native Scottish tribe.
See, when I first moved to Scotland from Italy, bless my innocent heart, I thought I could use my Italian winter wardrobe here. I dragged with me a couple of massive suitcases filled with cute little leather jackets, suede booties, lovely floaty dresses, and much optimism. I thought to myself – surely it can’t be THAT bad. I moved here in late August, fell in love with the place in September, had worn all my warmest clothing by October, and then – November came.
Honestly, before moving to Scotland I did not know winter. In Rome winter is generally a mild affair. It can get chilly, but at least between October and February you know that at some point, you will see the sun. You might even get so lucky to sit outside in a classy lightweight coat and sunglasses while sipping your cappuccino in November. This is a joy I am yet to experience in Scotland.
By the time my first November in Scotland arrived, my stylish Italian wardrobe turned out to be painfully inadequate. I remember going out with this adorable chiffon type pink blouse and a little jacket that I would normally wear well into the coldest of Roman winters, and thinking that I had never, ever felt so cold in my life. I quickly learned that while Italy generally has four seasons, Scotland has two and a half:
2- cold and wet,
½ – parcels of sun.
All of this is permanently spiced by winds of various intensity, and famously all can be condensed into one day. Hence, you must be dressed appropriately at all times. This is a concept I fought against for a long time. I thought I could move my Italian wardrobe here and just get on with it. I resisted the idea of waterproof clothing, sensible footwear, and fought many battles to tame my naturally wavy hair in this constant cloud of humidity. Silly woman.
Over a decade, and many layers of warmer clothing later, here is the main life lesson about dressing for a Scottish winter which I wish I had known earlier:
Life is short, and winters in Scotland are too long to be cold and miserable.
So do wear appropriate clothing, for goodness sake. (And also, make peace with the fact that you are unlikely to look as stylish as you do in Italy). From October until February (sometimes well into April) you are going to wear coats and boots, that’s it. Forget your ballet flats.
Learn from my mistakes. There are a few, simple, no nonsense ways to survive winter in Scotland, while still looking pretty dapper:
- Invest in appropriate outerwear. This one is essential. You will spend half of the year wearing a coat, so do choose the best you can afford. You want it to be weatherproof (showerproof at the very least) and warm. Also, choose something that you feel good in! This is the item that you will wear the most for probably half of the year, so choose something that makes you happy every morning and not looking like the Michelin man (unless, of course, looking like the Michelin man makes you happy). I have a couple of padded parkas for the coldest month of winter and a few other coats and jackets for the rest of the year.
- Invest in appropriate shoes. I cannot emphasise this one enough. Having slipped on icy roads many times (and broken my tailbone in the process) I can highly encourage you to think very carefully at what shoes you are going to buy. The first thing you want to pay attention to are the soles – you want them to have a good grip (rubber is generally the best) and give you enough insulation (icy pavements are not only slippery, they are, well, cold!). A good leather boot will last you a long time, if cared for properly, and save you from slipping and freezing. Personally, I am a big fan of a good combat boot. They look cool, they are versatile, yet I can walk almost everywhere in them.
- Buy thermals! They are the foundation that will allow you to take your spring dresses well into autumn (even winter, if you really are that brave). Thermals will keep your body temperature cosy, so you can layer up with any kind of clothes you like and not be restricted from wearing the same one massive, itchy, woolly jumper for seven months. ( Bonus tip: This year I discovered M&S cosy jeggings and I hardly took them off. They solve the tights plus jeans dilemma and keep you toasty without the faffing around of layering tights under skinny jeans. Yes, I am of the skinny fit generation, I am afraid. I have not yet developed an appropriate level of coolness to wear the boyfriend/girlfriend/mom fit).
- Invest in a good bag – this is your way to up the style factor in your outfit and express your style and your personality. I have a 9 to 5 job, which means I carry a lot of crap around for about 5 days a week. I need a bag that is sturdy, big, comfortable and beautiful (the last criteria being the most important one, because this is how vain I am). Since this is an item that you are going to use every single day, it might as well be something that makes you really, really happy!
- Accessorise with hats, scarves and gloves. This one really is up to you, I know not everyone loves wearing hats but personally I couldn’t live without them. I am also partial to a good scarf. It can add that extra oomph to your outfit, while keeping you nice and toasty.
- Last but not least – add colour with your nail polish and make up! Learn this from the locals – a good manicure and a red lippy can really give you that pop of colour that you are longing for during winter.
Ultimately, yes you can look decent without freezing and/or being blown away. It takes practice, and a few key items. And I promise you, occasionally the sun does come out. And Scotland in the sun is definitely a sight to behold.