Sunday, November 19, 2017

How I Dress for Cold Weather Events

In my neck of the woods, we can expect the possibility of a cool weather event between October and April. (Though that’s definitely not a guarantee- Midwest weather is fairly unpredictable.) It’s important to pay attention to weather forecasts heading into the weekend, because being unprepared for the weather is one sure-fire way to ruin an event. When I think back about events I was miserable at, in many cases it was because I was dressed too lightly.

As with dressing for the cold in the modern context, layering is the way to go. If it turns out that you overcompensated, you can take layers off. Layering is crucial particularly if you don’t have wool garments to add in. It takes several layers of linen or cotton to take the place of one layer of insulating wool. I also focus on mobility. I do a lot of walking around at events, and I don't want to add so much or the wrong types of things that I make it difficult to actually DO the things I'm at the event to do.

So I thought it would be fun to show you layer-by-layer how I dress for events when the temperature is low.

Base Layer

I use some modern items on this layer, but they are fully concealed once I add other layers. My yoga pants provide a full covering on my legs. These can easily be switched out for heavy wool chausses tied to braies (like men wear). Given the evidence, this would have been an unusual configuration for women in period, but having a full covering on the legs is an important part of maintaining a warm core temperature.

I wear a linen chemise, like always. This is my newest chemise, BTW. I don't think I've shown it here yet. Note that it is tightly fitted in the torso and sleeves. There’s little chance for air to pool between the linen and my skin, meaning that while the linen breathes, but doesn’t have the opportunity to also cool.

Something new I’ve been doing is to wear a pair of modern socks on my feet to add insulation and comfort. I don’t know about the rest of you, but when my feet are cold, my whole body is cold, no matter what I’m wearing. I’m learning naalbinding, and at some point I’ll make a pair of short socks to replace these. I have no idea if something like this was done in my period.

The last item on this layer is my trusty Saint Birgitta’s cap. Holds my hair in, insulates my head. Gives me places to pin.

Middle Layer

The best item I’ve found to use for the next layer are light weight wools or 2-layer linens (such as a fully lined dress). Worsted wool or lightweight flannel are perfect. They allow the next garments to layer easily over top because they don’t add too much bulk. However, if I need to lose layers because it’s gotten warmer than expected, I’m still in a dress that will keep me at a comfortable temperature. This pink dress is worsted wool fully-lined in linen and is one of the most versatile dresses I own.

I also add hose or socks. While I do have some wool fabric hose, and these are the more authentic option, I prefer the overall comfort of wool knit socks. In either case, I add garters to make sure they stay up. The ends of my yoga pants tuck in so that there's no skin left uncovered.

To keep my neck and upper chest warm, I will add a wimple. Wimples in the early 15th century are typically tighter around the neck and chin, which may indicate that they were shaped pieces. I haven’t figured that out yet,  though, so I just use a doubled-over linen veil. This looser look isn’t incorrect- just not entirely in fashion.

Outer Layer

Now on the last layer, I’ll add a heavier woolen dress. I have a few choices that give me varied levels of weight. I'll opt for different dresses depending on whether it will be wet and windy, or cold but sunny. Another way to look at it is in terms of cloth layers. If the temps will stay around the 40 degree mark, I'll want three layers of cloth above my base layer, such as this configuration of a linen lining (1) on a worsted wool (2), and a flannel wool (3). If it's going to get colder, I'll want four, typically meaning the outer wool also has a linen lining.

On my head, I add one of my wool open hoods. Here again, wool is ideal for the insulation, but it also handles rain and snow perfectly, in case the weather turns that direction.

Remembering that warm enough feet is a priority, I use my brown turnshoes because they cover my feet more than my other pair.


If needed, I have a few extra pieces I can add. A modern addition is some knit fingerless mitts. I like these a lot, even for regular winter life. I do also have a pair of 3-finger gloves, made for me by a friend, if I want a more authentic look. I usually find I need easy access to my fingers, though.

If there’s cold winds or snow, I can add a wool gollar. This is basically a hood without the hood part, and it adds more warmth around my neck and shoulders.

If it’s particularly cold, I can add my gold sleeveless wool layer, either as the outer-most layer or somewhere in the middle. I can also double up on socks, or wear a heavier, longer pair of pants way down on my base layer.

So, to recap, my goal is insulting where I can and making sure than my most vulnerable points (feet and neck) are considered. I also want to think about each layer over the base in terms of how helpful it will be if I need to ditch the outer layer.

Stay warm out there, my friends!

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