For Christmas this year, Santa Claus brought me the most splendid Maine Mountain Parka from L.L. Bean, rife with thoughtful details and flawless construction from hood to hem.
Standing in the living room, I admired the weather-proof cuffs and pulled the oversized zipper with rubber grip pull cord (a must when wearing gloves). I fastened the button-front storm placket — such a satisfyingly haughty act, akin, I’d imagine, to how one of Napoleon’s cavalrymen might have felt strapping on his saber. I flipped the adjustable snorkel hood with its removable faux-fur ruff onto my head and burrowed my hands into the deep snap pockets.
I then plopped down on the couch and gazed smugly out the window at the bomb cyclone raging outside. This coat, with its “abrasion-resistant, waterproof TEK canvas exterior” and “ultrawarm, waterproof, 650-fill DownTek” insulation, is rated from five to 40 degrees. It was a balmy eight degrees in Central Pennsylvania. As a sauna sweating effect began to take hold, I begrudgingly took off my new coat. But not before giving Mother Nature one more “bring it on” stare.
The next day, it was 30 degrees. Three days later, it got up to 49. Yesterday, the high temp reached 55. My parka remains draped, with tags still attached, on the couch in the living room, serving as a reminder that the greatest casualty of climate change has been our winter wardrobes.
Winter is my favorite season for many reasons, one of them being how fun it has traditionally been to get dressed this time of year. Historically, in the Northeast, each day presents a new challenge. Will it be 33 and drizzly, calling for a sleek, Merino fair isle sweater, a midweight wool jacket and waterproof Sorel boots that rise to mid-ankle? Or will it be 33 and sunny (rare), in which a fluffy, cable knit sweater might be paired with a puffy vest?
Oh, there’s two feet of snow on the ground, flurries are flying, and it’s barely going to reach double digits today? Why, then, time to dig out the Smartwool base layers, a chunky Aran sweater, and that waterproof down coat that makes you look like a sleeping bag with legs. On your feet will go cushy, thick, knee-high socks and tall, shearling-lined boots with soles that turn you into Young Frankenstein puttin’ on the Ritz. Twenty minutes later, when you’re done lacing them up, you’ll pull on that Polartec-lined beanie that snugs down over your ears and yank on those lined glittens that keep you cozy without diminishing your dexterity to that of a sloth. Your hood is up, your situational awareness reduced to a level 1, but by golly you’re ready for that two-block expedition to the post office!
There’s something about being prepared not only to face but defy the elements in style that makes the prospect of cold winter days thrilling. Whatever the weather, there is an outfit — some of them pretty involved — to contend with it. There’s nothing like walking in the frigid air, snow blowing around you, and realizing, as your breath builds a warm shield behind your balaclava, that you are remarkably warm. Being able to own and plan the perfect get-up for enjoying the out-of-doors without suffering is a modern marvel. So when I look at a January forecast and see a week of above-freezing temperatures, I pout and wonder why climate change had to arrive at the same time that our clothing technology is peaking.
Please don’t misunderstand — I don’t have a Greta Thunberg poster on my wall. I haven’t taken to throwing soup at priceless works of art. I have simply observed that the climate where I live has changed change since my childhood. This is a natural thing the earth does. It also isn’t a bad thing (except for my neglected closet). As my friend Sterling Burnett of the Heartland Institute notes, “As the Earth has modestly warmed, the number of people succumbing to heat-related deaths has barely increased, while the number of people dying from nonoptimal cold temperatures has fallen dramatically.”
Actually, on second thought, warmer climate trends probably are better for me in the grand scheme of things. One of my favorite pastimes, you see, is perusing sporting goods stores and imagining the hypothetical situations that would warrant a three-in-one lightweight jacket with a removable shell. There’s just So. Much. Neat. Stuff. Just reading the names of these garments makes you feel like you’ve summited Everest. There’s the Dryzzle FUTURELIGHT Jacket, the Triclimate Jacket, a Thermoball Eco Jacket, and the Bugaboo II Interchange Jacket.
And these are just the jackets. There are also vests, coats, wooly mammoth fleece sweatshirts, fuzzy flannels, and sweaters of every level of bulk and warmth. And accessories. Hats, boots, scarves, and gloves are the same way. Pants don’t excite me much, but there are adorable winter skirts that come in wool or down and slide over tights and pair with boots for the cutest sporty-Nordic girl look.
The price of most of these things is usually outrageous. I find the more tags a product has explaining its virtues and the lighter weight it is, the more expensive — and desirable — it tends to be. Patagonia, for instance, seems to have discovered a way to condense down feathers into subatomic particles. The company’s “Plumafill” insulation, which fills its featherweight “Micro Puff” Jacket, “all adds up to nothing” in the landfill. But where your wallet is concerned, it’ll add up to $279.
Hitherto, even with its obscene price tag, resisting a “go-to insulation piece for mixed (and possibly miserable) cold conditions” with “the best warmth-to-weight ratio of any jacket [Patagonia has] ever created and the highest compressibility of any of our synthetic jackets” has been challenging. But climate change is helping with that. I’m less tempted by clothes and accessories that will only be used once or twice a season.
Instead of indulging in these high-end, cold-weather wonders, I try to excite myself for spring by reading on the REI Expert Advice blog about the moisture-wicking glories of GORE-TEX (what a name!). I’ve also been saving the gear money for a trip to Alaska — for the sake of my ingeniously curated winter wardrobe.