Ask the Image Expert

Sherry Maysonave is the founder and president of Empowerment Enterprises, one of America's leading communication-image firms. Sherry conducts corporate seminars and coaches executives, professionals, and politicians in achieving excellence in communication and image. She is also the author of Casual Power: How to Power Up your Nonverbal Communication and Dress Down for Success

Cold weather essentials

Question: I work for a Fortune 100 company in Florida. I travel year round, often going North during the winter. Because I never have to dress professionally in cold weather, I always feel at a loss when I travel into a cold state. Is there any rules or essentials I should know about dressing for the cold in a corporate environment. Please keep in mind that I cannot buy a whole winter wardrobe for a few days of cold each year.

Answer: Dear Kathryn,
Dressing for the cold can seem like a foreign challenge when you live in the Sunbelt. There are numerous ways to approach this problem. I suggest that you focus on sophisticated outerwear rather than buying a wardrobe of heavy clothing.

The first step, and the simplest solution, is to invest in one long wool coat (preferably cashmere) in black, navy, or brown (your best power neutral). A long coat can go over your regular business wear, keeping you warm and saving you the cost of a heavier wardrobe. If you have budget concerns, shop the department store coat sales toward the end of the winter season. Also check out high-end resale shops located in upscale neighborhoods for great buys on winter coats. If your travels take you to New York or Chicago, both cities have an abundance of resale stores that usually have a great selection of designer cashmere coats for a fraction of the original retail price some almost like new, hardly worn. Wherever you purchase a coat, buy the best quality you can afford so that you continue to attract opportunities for success, even when traveling in the colder climates.

In addition to the long coat, you will need gloves and a scarf. Depending upon just how cold the temperatures are where you are traveling, many times a scarf and gloves worn with your regular business clothing will suffice to keep you warm. If this option suits your needs, purchase a high-quality wool scarf in a neutral color that coordinates with your gloves and favorite footwear color. Otherwise, your scarf can be a bright color or pattern if you plan on wearing it only with your coat.

Boots are another cold-weather essential. Again, choose black or brown, whichever color coordinates best with your wardrobe. Ankle styles and mid-calf boots are the most businesslike. For those colder climates, long skirts and pantsuits are appropriate and commonly worn for business; thus, an ankle boot may work best for you. Add wool socks or heavy cotton ones, over your normal hosiery and your feet will stay warm.

Long silk underwear -- long-john style -- wears beautifully under regular clothing. While lightweight, it adds a layer of warmth that is surprising. Many skiers choose the silk long johns over the thermal variety, which adds visual weight and bulk to you. Your regular clothing will drape and still fit nicely with the silk type. If you do not have any heavier suits to wear when traveling North, I highly recommend that you try the silk. Wool camisoles worn over your bra and under any blouse or top also adds additional warmth.

Consider investing in a warm hat as well. One that suits your fashion personality and face shape. Berets are popular now and can add a dash of mystery to your image while still retaining your body heat. We loose enormous amounts of body heat through our heads. It is my experience that if I can keep my head, hands, and feet warm, I can survive almost any cold temperature. Be sure to coordinate your hat color to the color tone of your coat.

Layering your garments can also help to keep you warm. For example, you can wear a black (or other color) turtleneck under a white cotton blouse. If you have vests in your wardrobe, they can be worn over blouses, turtlenecks, knit tops, then topped with a tailored jacket. Of course, you want the outfit to look coordinated, color and texture wise.

A good quality dark-colored polyester pantsuit (yes, it's possible) would also serve you well. Not only does polyester not wrinkle easily, making it great for travel; it also traps in your body heat. Take a look at the Collectibles line at a Casual Corner store for an example. That line is also priced well for the quality of fabric and construction. If you only have extremely lightweight garments in your wardrobe, you may also want to invest in one or two heavier wool blazers as you can afford them. Dark colors, even in lightweight fabrics, will make you appear more appropriately dressed for the cold. You will look out of place if wearing light colors and lightweight fabrics.

Avoid fleece garments and sweat pant type fabrics. While warm, they are too casual for the business environment, placing you at risk of not commanding respect. To keep your image powered up, stick with business like outfits and fabrics, even when dressing for the cold.

"WARM" Regards,
Sherry Maysonave

Also see:

  • Advice for dressing when overweight
  • How much makeup should I wear at work?
  • Ask your image questions
  • Personal Power: A case study from 'Casual Power'