Man or woman, it is relatively easy to dress well when the sun is shining. A pair of trousers and a decent shirt, or a pretty dress and a nice pair of shoes. Even when it is getting a bit cooler a woolen suit, with a shirt or jumper are just the ticket. But when it starts getting wet and windy, chilly and dark looking good is much more challenging. If you have a car then this may not be much of an issue. You can create your own micro-climate and wear the same thing, whatever the season. I get around with an Oyster card so standing at a bus stop in pouring rain, or trudging up the road in snow, is all in a day’s work for me. I popped round to see one of my sons on a cold day, and found in him in his salopettes (padded ski trousers) – it works but it is not workwear.
Here are a few tips on how to deal with English weather during the working week.
Everyone knows “layers” is the answer to English weather. Consider a base layer. In my opinion Uniqlo long sleeved vests and long johns are just the ticket (the latter under trousers). Made from synthetics they provide a very fine layer of warmth under the clothes. If your office is cold or you work outside proper underwear will really help. Additionally the Japanese firm provide some lovely colours and patterns, so that if your “vest” shows under your blouse or jersey it looks like artful pattern matching rather than your underwear.
Uniqlo also do the best cheap cashmere. The colours are great, they are less than £50 (and often discounted to £40) and although not the very best quality they are good enough. Cashmere is, in my opinion, the softest lightest way to wear a jumper. Also, due to its luxury connotations, it makes suitable work wear with or instead of a shirt.
In the UK rain is always a possibility. My best tip is to get a quality raincoat. For years my coat of choice was a Barbour, an English brand, well-designed to cope with English weather. Although this is a country item, it is also something of an upper middle class signifier, and can be seen on city types on the tube. Traditionally in khaki green, it also comes in black. The company supply a zip-in furry lining (in teddy bear brown), and rain hoods (for the ladies) are also available. Don’t buy a ladies’ Barbour hat (or you will look like Camilla). Once you get into work the coat comes off and, hey presto, you look normal. Well, if you are Cary Grant, you look better than normal.
Alexa wears her Barbour over a dark suit, pie-crust blouse, large pearls and shoulder bag, channelling Princess Diana. The dark green works well with her colouring.
Leather, Fur and feather
My other favourite tip is to steal from animals. Sheep, ducks and cows to be precise. All these animals stand around in fields or float on British lakes, whatever the weather. They are made to resist the elements with their strong skins, fur and feathers.
A sheep skin coat will be the warmest possible item for snowy weather. I have two. One is from the sale at Pringle; the other is a 60s Danish coat several sizes too big, that I wear with a leather belt. Mostly these coats are just too warm for travelling in the tube and are just kept for when the weather is extreme. This shearling jacket from Burberry is a nice shape but is not big enough to wear over a jacket.
Alternatively a leather coat will keep most of the rain out and most of the heat in. Black is a bit obvious. If you get one make sure it suits you and does up properly. Too long and you will look like a time lord.
Then there are the ducks and geese to thank. My standard daily winter wear includes a down jacket, from Uniqlo. The great advantage of down is that it is both light and warm. I often wear a slim down jacket under a suit jacket, in the same colour. It makes me look a little bit bulky, and I would generally take it off when I warm up at work. But it provides the warmth needed first thing in the morning when I set out. I have several – in navy, dark green and dark brown. Uniqlo also do a very light weight sleeveless jacket which would serve the purpose of a warm jacket lining too. Here is a nice look from Dressed to Kill.
I also have a couple of Uniqlo down jackets that go over a jacket – more like an anorak. These are probably more of a weekend wear look, but if chosen carefully in terms of shape and colour can be worn over workwear instead of a rain coat. Have a look at the best of +J – the Jil Sander range – fabulous design at Uniqlo. I love the brown coat and the navy pencil skirt as well as the shaped down jackets.
A great coat
A smart option is to wear a good quality, tailored coat. This is a great solution for men, and suitable coats are available in men’s shops. A traditional item, which requires an umbrella in case of rain. If you make your own clothes the challenge is to make a coat
- in a shape that flatters your shape
- in a good colour for you (probably a neutral)
- that will comfortably fit over a suit (with sufficient ease)
- and keep you warm and dry (wool is the best fabric for this)
My mistake was making a couple of coats that will not accommodate a jacket. This means you look nice on your way to work, but when you take your coat off you look unfinished and cold. Here is smart and warm outfit; a lovely coat, coordinated with gloves, sensible footwear and a hat.
Carry a umbrella
I go for the smallest, lightest ones available, but tend to lose them. Some of my best ones have come from a pound shop in a down pour. All of them have the risk of reversing on a very windy day. Rather than black choose a brightly coloured one, or a pattern that goes with your coat, especially if your coat is a dark neutral. These, from London Undercover for Liberty are nice.
Thankfully women can wear boots all day at work if they are smart and comfortable, although leaving a pair of shoes at work to change into is obviously a good idea. I think boots need to be water resistant if not waterproof. You never know when you are going to walk through a puddle. For work the shape should be streamlined and elegant, without too many bells and whistles. And flattish rather than fetish.
If black is your neutral (for people with deep colouring) then black boots are fine. For others dark brown (cools), tan (warm) or lighter browns (light). If you want to elongate your leg, and disguise ungainly ankles, wear tights and boots in the same colour.
Lace ups or short boots
If you wear trousers on cold, wet days then don’t match them with a summer or high heeled shoe. Wear flat lace-ups, or elegant short boots, which will protect your feet from the elements and ensure you are not tiptoeing through the puddles. It is worth buying sensible footwear which will ensure your feet are dry and warm when you get to work. Gortex works a treat but most of the styles are country rather than town.
They say keeping your head wrapped up is the key to feeling warm and comfortable. But there is nothing like a winter hat to undermine your sartorial achievements. A beanie on a man in a suit is just about acceptable if he is young and cute. Otherwise try a proper hat. This can be a bit of a nightmare too as few men have a clue about hats these days. Look at images from the 1950s, and obey the hat rules.
- make sure it is the right size (Don Draper’s is too small, in my view)
- if you have an angular face wear an angular hat; softer shapes suit a more curved face
- the colour should complement your colouring and suit or overcoat
There are more choices available for women – fur hats, cashmere pull ons, berets, hoods – consider wearing a nice hat rather than just a practical one.
A warm scarf is adaptable and can be bundled up around the face and neck, but unloosed if you start to perspire. A scarf can really bring an outfit together if the colours are carefully chosen, and for men it is a great excuse to wear some flamboyant colours with neutrals.