What to Wear to Russia In the Winter
Fashion post alert! These are my favorite types of posts – where I play like I’m some kind of fashion expert when the exact opposite is true. But, I can at least tell you what I saw. Furthermore, there’s not a lot of information about this particular topic on the interwebs (because seriously who would choose January to visit Moscow? Besides people who will have a newborn in April, I don’t know…) Hopefully this post finds its way to the google searches of some other curious travelers like myself. We managed just fine on our trip in mid-January, so here is my report on what to take and how to prepare.
So, there are two guiding principles. First, you need to be prepared for COLD. The temperatures are going to be low and moderately humid. We caught the tail end of a warm snap, and temperatures for our trip ranged from about 10 to 30F – in other words, kind of like Mississippi during a polar vortex. Moscow can be even colder than this, more like -10 to 10F, but I think my advice will hold up even in that case.
The second principle is this: If you want to fit in with the Muscovite masses, you are going to need to be as ‘put together’ as you can possibly be while still dealing with the 10F weather. Moscow ladies wouldn’t be caught dead without their hair fixed and makeup applied. They regard American woman as sloppy dressers, and that may be true in comparison. And frankly some of us may not care about that perception one bit (thumbs pointing at me anyway) when its 10F, but if ya want to fit in , stick to dark colors and sleek lines.
So, first you need a coat. Far and away, the most common type of coat on a Russian woman in 2014 is:
- Mid-thigh length
- Slightly puffy but fitted and must have a cinched-in waist
- Usually has a belt on that cinched waist
- Dark color, either black or brown. Some tan and red ones are out there as well.
- Fur trim around the hood, either faux or real depending on how chic you really can afford to be
Something like this:
If you’re searching from the US, I’d start with a brand like Victoria’s Secret or even a department store brand like Michael Kors. I actually bought a second hand coat off Ebay just for the trip, primarily due to the fact that my own coats can barely zip up these days. BUT, its a great place to look. Second hand coat prices are quite reasonable, and who want to spend a ton of money on something just for one trip, right? Also watch the fill content on the puffer coats. You want as much ‘down’ as possible.
My purchased coat was a department store model (Kenneth Cole I believe), nothing special. 65% down. Probably originally cost $120 or so. I purchased for half off on Ebay, with tags still attached. It was perfect for the trip and plenty warm. In other words, you don’t have to have a fancy coat made for the Arctic Circle to be comfortable there.
The key is layers.. Under the coat, I’d recommend a sweater and one other underlayer. Here’s my uniform for the week.
I also bought a pair of snowboots for the trip, because I found some on Craigslist that I loved for a mere $40 – Sorel Caribous. I can’t recommend these highly enough. They are extremely warm. And and AND, I wore them for 12+ hours a day for 6 days in a row, with lots of walking, and never got one blister. Not even a foot ache. Like, tennis-shoe level of comfort here. That is sayin’ something for a pregnant lady and for literally never wearing them even once prior to the trip. Seriously, I couldn’t have been more impressed.
Also the liners are removable and washable. Kicking myself for not owning a pair while I LIVED in COLORADO. Hello. (Also, spoiler alert, Bethany’s post for Friday is… more BOOTS!)
Now the downside: lumberjack style is out in Russia. Sleek is in. Most Sorels are highly lumberjack-ish, which I prefer with my sloppy American outlook on life. These Caribous are BIG and bulky. If you want to fit in with the Russians, look for some Sorels that are solid black without a bunch of contrasting hardware and whatnot.
Actually most of the Russian women wear boots that don’t look like snowboots per se. Example:
But I bet their toes weren’t as toasty as mine were! And finally, DO NOT do what I did. Make sure whatever shoes you bring are actually comfortable before you leave the US of A. Blistery feet in a foreign countries are no fun. Not a risk you want to take.
Go for either skinny dark denim or skinny black. You want them tucked into your boots. And for extra warmth, bring some leggings to wear under your pants. That trick keeps the frigid air at bay pretty well.
You need all the usual winter stuff: scarf, hat, and gloves. Simple knit hats are the most fashionable right now, often with a matching scarf. For maximum warmth, pull your coat hood over your hat and then wrap your scarf on the outside of the coat. Sarah and I conducted research into scarf positioning for maximum warmth and decided that outside is the way to go but makes for a more complicated assembly process.
For gloves, I bought a $25 pair at the local department store and they were just fine. If you really want warmth, find some mittens. If you want to operate your iphone camera, you need gloves with the little conductive fingertip. Or just pull your gloves on and off 100 times per day like I did.
Moral of the story: Ebay. Layers. Sleek. Bethany II and I once swore off European winters entirely, but we were ready this time and that made all the difference. The weather is doable, just be prepared.