Hey all! I’ve been receiving a lot of enquiries from readers wondering how to dress for winter, especially when it’s sub-zero temperatures in places like Seoul!
Yes, I’m a tropical Singaporean girl through and through. But with the amount of travelling I do and experiencing winter so frequently (I did subzero temperatures twice, this year alone), I feel somewhat qualified to speak my piece. I’ve amassed a bit of experience and a whole lot of tips and hacks in my arsenal on how to look stylish and still stay warm, even at -5 degrees!
So here you go:
A Tropical Girl’s Guide to Dressing Up Fashionably for Winter!
I have a confession to make.
I friggin’ HATE winter puffer jackets that make me look like a bazhang (aka dumpling). I just cannot. I know they are amazing when it comes to keeping me warm, but looking like a dumpling is not an option.
[Coat from Uniqlo, scarf from ZARA]
I only own ONE puffy jacket from Uniqlo and I think it looks amazing for a puffy jacket lol.
But I usually keep it for situations like:
1. It’s so cold that I don’t really care even if I’m looking like a ba zhang
2. I’m somewhere in the wilderness cos then i think it’s acceptable to look non-fashionable – Puffy jackets do have a rather sporty appeal to them isn’t it?
[Coat from ZARA, snood from Hong Kong, thermal inner wear from Uniqlo]
But if I could look like THIS at -5 degrees (i.e. meaning to say somewhat fashionably stylish) then Y NOT, right?
I’m actually a very basic kinda girl. Not really the most adventurous when it comes to winter dressing, but let me share with you what works for me.
1. Find a great coat!
As seeing how your coat is the one main staple of any winter outfit, it is of paramount importance that you find a good-looking coat that fits you to a T!
Down jackets are more than warm, but a chic coat in a good fabric like wool or cashmere, or even fleece-lined offers the benefits of both decent protection from the cold, as well as keeping you stylish. On the downside, wool coats and the likes usually tend to be heavier, but it’s a trade-off for me haha I rather look a little more glamorous on my holidays, thank you very much.
[Coat from ZARA]
I love coats with detachable hoods! You can switch them up for different looks. This is the same coat as the one in the first picture of this post! Looks very different without the fur hood doesn’t it?
I own quite a few winter coats. Every time I see one I really like and it’s within budget, I’ll tell myself OK LETS BUY ITTTT. It’s quite difficult (IMO) to find a good winter coat that fits well and looks stylish at the same time. In Singapore, there are only a few places that sell fashionable winter wear at affordable prices, and I always find myself back at ZARA for their stylish range of winter wear!
You’ll have so much more selection when shopping overseas, especially during winter season.
Tip: Remember to get your coat in the right size – It should be just slightly too big for you. You want to be able to layer under the coat without it feeling suffocatingly tight on the shoulders/arms!
[Coat from Taiwan, beanie from F21, turtleneck/knit dress from Seoul]
I got this coat from Taiwan! It’s made of wool and is fairly thick. I wore it on my last trip to Seoul in January when it was about -5 deg. Of course, the trick to really staying warm in subzero temperatures brings me to my next point…
2. Thermal wear is a must
No way you can wear one of these coats with just one layer inside and expect to stay warm. I’m sure you already know mine and everyone else’s open secret. Uniqlo‘s Heattech wear!
Their thermal wear is really affordable, and comes in a variety of colors and styles. I’m basic so I just go for the regular black scoop neck design and black leggings.
More importantly, they have the regular version, extra warm version and ultra warm version! If you’re really really afraid of the cold, layer your heat tech!
I only have the regular and extra warm versions, so on days that I really needed to bundle up, I actually layered two layers of thermal wear inside. On top of that, I wore another knit piece or sweater! Uniqlo also does heat tech fleece turtle necks and tops which help to keep warm too.
[Fleece turtleneck top and cashmere coat, both from Uniqlo]
Some readers have also recommended me fleece-lined leggings from Taobao/Qoo10 that keep warm even in -20 deg! I probably need to get myself a pair of those leggings to see how well they work.
3. Keep your extremities warm by accessorising
[Scarf and coat from ZARA, cute beanie from random shop in Hongkong]
When you’re looking at subzero temperatures, one of my preferred layering options might be:
Regular heat tech (top and leggings)
Extra warm heat tech (top and leggings)
But all that is not enough, because the parts of your body exposed to the air as well as your extremities (that lose body warmth the fastest) will be the coldesttttt when you’re in such freezing conditions.
You’ll definitely need the following to help keep yourself warm:
You might end up like this when it gets too too cold. Beanie to protect ears, face mask to cover face. Don’t underestimate how much they help!
I have a variety of cute beanies and colourful scarves to keep me warm cos I think it’s the best way to add a pop of color to your winter outfit. Generally I like a bit of color though some people can pull off monochromatic outfits very well. With a bright color or print on you, you’ll stand out more in pictures too.
Tip: Remember to look for gloves with touch-screen capabilities – This will allow you to use your phone without removing your gloves and freezing your digits!
4. What to wear under your coat?
If you’re wondering what kinds of tops to wear over your heat tech, the best options are long-sleeved knit sweaters, turtleneck style tops and thick wool fabrics. I like turtleneck tops for winter because they offer an extra layer of protection around my neck – When it gets real cold, that extra bit of fabric really helps!
Knit sweaters can be really cute too, and I love this one that I bought in Hongdae, Seoul, paired together with a wool pencil skirt. Just remember that most of the time, what you wear inside won’t even be visible because it’d be under your thick coat and scarf anyway.
Jeans, leggings or skirts?
This is always a dilemma when it comes to packing for winter. I usually bring along a combination of all three! Let me share a little on how I layer them!
Jeans are a basic and generally go with most outfits.
I usually go for a basic dark wash cos that’s the most versatile. You probably don’t want to wear jeans on it’s own because the fabric doesn’t really block out the cold, so what you can do is to layer one heattech leggings, followed by jeans. It’s a hassle to go to the loo cos you’re gonna have to button/unbutton/unzip, so I’m warning you first!
Jeans made of a more elastic fabric will also work better cos you’ll have one more layer of heattech inside your jeans! Even better if you find drawstring elasticsed jeans because they can’t be seen underneath your tops/coats anyway. I usually do jeans if I’m going for a less girly look.
Skirts can be a little trickier for layering and I’ll break it down into two types, fitted skirts and flare skirts.
With flare skirts, they are a little more challenging to layer because you don’t get a good silhouette if you have longer coats!
Flare skirts go really well with shorter jackets, though! Of course, you still wanna layer with heattech leggings underneath! (Side-note, this leather jacket was definitely not enough to keep me warm at -5 degrees. I brought out a large coat to layer over this after I got the shot I wanted :D)
Fitted skirts work way better with long coats, on the contrary.
Most convenient of all bottoms are leggings and leggings on their own! You can pull off leggings as pants if you are wearing either a long top or a long-ish jacket. Or you could layer a long tee shirt on top, as long as it covers the butt, you’ll look decent!
(My ridiculous fur shrug is from ZARA, on sale. I mean, how often do I get to wear cute furry things? I relish every opportunity to.)
Leggings on their own are great cos going to the toilet is so easy. It also feels much less restrictive! I layered up two heattech leggings this time in Seoul and it worked for me.
I don’t do dresses as much in winter because I generally find it easier to just layer tops with jeans/leggings, but wearing dresses pinafore style with a turtleneck inside can be a stylish way to wear a dress during winter!
Another pinafore with turtleneck inside combi!You can also tell that I recycle my winter accessories a fair bit, like this printed scarf I got in MNG Spain some time ago, it’s one of my favourites.
I’m definitely a boots person when it comes to cold weather!
Boots help to block out the wind, and of course because I can’t wear them in Singapore, so I try to utilise them to the maximum whenever I get the opportunity to.
Boots come in a huge variety of styles and patterns!
I have boots like these: Under the knee leather boots, got these in Taiwan earlier this year! Tall boots are great because they also serve the function of being able to block out the wind and cold, another layer of protection against the freezing cold!
These are lifesavers! UGG boots that are fur-lined, water-proof and also give me good footing even on snowy or wet ground. Good for even subzero temperatures. They are not super pretty but have a rugged charm. I’ve also worn them even for trekking in the snow before, that’s how hardy they are!
I also own a pair of Hunter boots: I got them online on shopbop at least 2-3 years ago and I wear them very often, especially in autumn to mild winter climates.
Hunter boots are great cos they’re waterproof and are so easy to wear. On the negative side, they are a bit heavier than regular boots and they might not work so well for icy grounds cos they’re not slip proof like my UGGs. I sized up half a size and it fits me with allowance, which is necessary for wearing thick socks in cold climates.
Low booties like these are great for normal walking around in city areas!
I especially like black suede booties cos they are most flattering when worn with black leggings. Bought these two pairs from Hongdae in Seoul! The black ones go with everything and are comfy enough for me to walk about the entire day.
Sneakers go well with coats/jeans/leggings too, but I personally prefer boots for their style factor!
6. Not warm enough? Heat packs to the rescue!
If you’re really really afraid of the cold, just do whatever it takes to stay warm, even if it means being all wrapped up from head to toe!
What works for me might not work as well for you, and it all depends on your personal tolerance to the cold. Still not warm enough? Don’t forget to stock up on these useful little packets that can be slotted into your pockets for extra warmth. These are lifesavers especially for freezing fingers that feel like they’re about to drop off!
7. Bonus Tip! Keep a bottle of fabric freshener handy
On a somewhat-related note, a small bottle of fabric freshener could be your best friend on your winter vacation! You will be re-wearing your thermal wear and coats plenty of times, and that stale smell of Korean BBQ lingering on your clothes won’t be pleasant when you have to don on the same coat the next day.
Air your coats well by hanging them up in the open, and be liberal with the use of fabric freshener that helps to kill bacteria and remove odours to keep you smelling fresh all the time. Because one just can’t stay away from Korean BBQ, especially in winter, can they?
No-one ever said that you had to choose between looking stylish and staying warm! On this ending note, I hope this post has been useful somewhat for all the tropical girls out there!
If I’ve missed out anything you wanna know more about, or if you’ve got your own hacks and tips to share, please leave a comment! Meanwhile, stay toasty and stylish this winter!