On Dressing for Colder Climes

When it was still summer, and the notion of damp, chilly mornings at the playground was but a distant one, I popped into the children’s clothes shop near us for a quick flick through the sales racks. In the back of my mind was the need to get die Lüdde a jacket for autumn (as opposed to the waterproof playground pants for Autumn and the water and snowproof suit for winter) and I thought I’d see what was out there. I ended up saying to the sales assistant, ‘look, I don’t come from Germany, I am not good with knowing which jackets fit which seasons for myself, let alone for my daughter. Is this an autumn jacket?’ It was a lined, ‘soft shell’ number (total buzz word in children’s apparel) with a tag boasting insane stats like ‘impenetrable for upto 300L water, wind proof for screaming gales, child could roll around in ice and still be warm as toast’. The sales assistant told me it was the ideal autumn and early spring jacket. I bought it, and silently wondered what the tags on a winter jacket boast of; ‘child can be submerged in arctic water for 24 hours at a time and not feel a thing.’

A week or so later, I strolled past another sales rack of children’s clothing and noted a pair of waterproof playground overalls (which are essentially plastic overalls that you put on over their clothes. Waterproof booties optional, yet enjoyed by many parents.) marked down by 50%. Considering these bad boys were also fleece-lined, and all-weatherproof and claimed to be suitable for ungodly winter temps, and per chance matched the soft shell jacket I had just bought, I thought, well this would make a tidy little weatherproof suit for autumn. So, for those still following, now we have the perfect suit for gravely cold temperatures – aka deemed suitable for autumn – and it has been 19 degrees and sunny every afternoon since September 23rd, which means die Lüdde has worn her fleece-lined, weatherproof playground overalls approximately once. In attempting to be clever and think ahead, I was outsmarted by the weather.

No matter, I hear seasoned German parents say, go to Tchibo and get a lightweight pair of rain pants for the playground. Aldi has them too. (I also hear seasoned German parents say, ‘no matter, 19 degrees and sunny are ideal conditions for fleece and soft shell, go for it.’) But at about this point, I begin getting both belligerent and delirious – how many weather items must children own? Must die Lüdde have a wardrobe of rain pants, arranged on a sliding weather scale? I still haven’t bought her snowsuit for the winter, or her snow boots, although she owns gumboots and can’t even bloody walk. And even though I think the fleece-lined weatherproof overalls would be totally warm enough, I don’t want to be snowsuit shamed by other parents. And even if she does use the already-bought overalls for winter, she needs a winter jacket, because her soft shell was sold as an autumn/spring jacket. So, no, I do not want to buy yet another pair of flipping waterproof overalls, which she will have grown out of by next season anyway. Consequently, on these completely pleasant autumn afternoons at the playground, die Lüdde has been getting around in pairs of old, thick jeans which she dirties up nicely, while I wait for a drop in temperature, so I can wrestle her into her weatherproof overalls and matching jacket, and finally feel smug about the whole situation and having my child in icicle-proof soft shell.

Perhaps you can see, I am not good with all-weather clothes. I am not familiar with them, I didn’t grow up with four different options for rain pants in my wardrobe, and the one time we ever went skiing as a family, and my father skiied into a fence, we borrowed snow suits. My mother had to send us to pre-school with a hat and some sunscreen. At school, the golden rule was ‘no hat, no play’. If you forgot your hat, you spent recess and lunch indoors, watching everyone else shrieking with joy as they ran around the asphalt. Wet weather considerations were a raincoat, which alwas grew mould in a drawer somewhere, an optional hat cover to protect our straw boaters, and an umbrella. So I find myself on a steep learning curve here, as die Lüdde grows and the weather cools, and children start appearing in entire suits made of impenetrable soft shell. I am well out of my comfort zone, reliant on slyly observing dress codes at the playground, and hoping sales assistants will take pity on my wide-eyed ‘I’m not from here’ schtick and be honest with me.

It must also be said, I am not good with cooler fashions for myself. While many, if not most Germans look good in autumn and winter, with their cute stockings and jaunty jackets and seemingly effortless layering, and oversized pashminas and draping knits, I feel like a huge, stompy buffalo, huffing about in ill-fitting clothes, eternally on the hunt for the perfect legging/boot/tunic/knit/jacket combination that allows me, too, to swan about looking chic and autumnal, instead of vast and lumpy and mildly sweaty. I yearn to gad about in a slouchy roll-neck knit dress, with cute stockings and ankle boots, but roll-necks itch, knit dresses stick to bottoms and ride up, and stockings fall down (and I haven’t been able to wear the things post high school because I hated wearing them as part of our winter uniform with a thousand, burning, individual passions). Jeans, on my hip-less body, slide off and I stop every twenty metres to pull the damn things up, over the muffin top, in the hope the muffin top holds the pants in place, and I am concerned rolling the jean leg up to sit atop my ankle boot, as is the fashion, would make my legs look like little sausages. So leggings, I wear a lot of leggings. But for leggings, one must always ensure the top you have paired them with, covers the crotch. So all tee shirts must be long, and then covered with something warmer, and then perhaps something warmer again, in case, and then all of that gets stuffed into a coat or jacket that is ideally also long enough to cover your bottom, in case the crotch-covering tee shirt rides up as you walk, and the leggings aren’t offering enough protection.

ALL OF IT, every single layer of it, makes me want to weep for the sweet, sweet ease of a summer dress and thongs.

Cover image.

8 Replies to “On Dressing for Colder Climes”

  1. Uuuuh, no worries. Just relax!
    All my siblings, buddies and best friends were grown up in the 70ies and 80ies perfectly fine without ‘all weather-proof suits’, Matschhosen and Soft shells. Surely we had one jacket (Übergangsjacke, mostly a rain jacket) for autumn and spring, which we wore open and with T-Shirts underneath on warmer days (or over our arms or backpacks when it was too warm – in our eyes) or closed with a warm jumper underneath. And we had one winter jacket (most of us an Anorak, the fancy ones with downes) and a snow-suit for skiing, ice skating and sleding.
    Yes, we got wet jeans, muddy jumpers and sometimes we were cold, but most of the time we got rid of woolens, gloves and scarves because we sweat from playing and running around. When we got home our mums ranted that half of the scarves and gloves got lost. So just listen to your heart and buy only the stuff you really think you’ll need, the rest will buy the Lüdde’s dad I guess 🙂
    And: I’m sure you look as cute as everybody else in your layering style!

  2. You’re absolutely right about layering in Germany. When in doubt, put on a few more layers of clothing. Enough, to clothe a fully functional kitchen staff, or team of Arctic explorers on a 6 month expedition should do. But it never hurts to stop by a Galeria Kaufhof or H&M for “just in case.”

    The more buttons, zippers, Velcro, and looping through itself garments you have to put back on before saying the final Tschussies the better. Whoever legitimately has to take the longest wins. Otherwise, why bother going out in the first place?

    I’ve spent too many years getting lost in a sea of immaculately yet uniformly dressed Germans to not have noticed. It be a living nightmare, to get separated in a crowd of fashion-forward Germans when the person you’re looking for keeps up with the trends.

    A lot of times trying to find your fashion forward Deutsche in a crowd can be like trying to find Waldo in a “everyone is dressed like Waldo” edition of those books.

    I figured it out! The frustration is real!!!

    They buy what is on the mannequins. …As in walk in the store with the change of the new season, examine the most prominent mannequin in the place and boldly proclaim “I’ll take the whole outfit!”

    One or two people doing that? Fine. When every-second-person does it. Germany!

    One year everyone wore neon orange and green.

    Another, every man wore brown leather shoes, blue jeans, and black scarf.

    My favorite though, was the year all the ladies in Germany wore brown riding boots, with brown jeans tucked in and a brown jacket on top. …Only thing missing was a Santa cap and it would have looked like the Hauptmarkts were all filled with Mr. Hanky impersonators.

    Last year when I moved to Wuerzburg I kept waving back at people wearing Nike Frees, skinny jeans, a black “Michael Jackson style jacket” and had their hair sock-bun. So I could go “sorry, you’re dressed exactly, EXACTLY like someone else I know.”

    Overshare I know, I say it all in good fun and love ze Germans. They way they are makes them the way they are and if they weren’t that way smoke machine salesmen everywhere would be out of a job.

    And the world would have to miss out on THIS KIND OF AWESOME! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdEH_ZBv-WQ That is awesome.

  3. Congratulations Liv and thank you for your writing, this is like eating chocolates, completely addictive, I enjoy each and every one of your words, I always hope the reading never ends…they are so visual and sensitive!…and when the reading ends,.. I take another chocolate and I do start to read another one..I have been like this for a week, since our daughter Mar, (Carmen’s and mine’s) moved to Kiel to study Medicine at the University.
    I wanted to know everything about Kiel, but not from a turist point of view, no, I wanted to see it from an immigrat point of view, someone like you who grew up hiding from the burning sun, as Mar did too..I am lucky to have found your blog…to me, reading is way far much more than just information, it’s all about sensations that I receipt from the writings……all I can say is that what I get from your delicate writing about kiel , is that Mar is in a good place, and that gives me peace, thank you
    Please I apoligezed for my english, sometimes I feel I just speak Spanish with English words

  4. Oh how I feel your pain, Liv. We have a stash of variously lined waterproof overalls inherited from friends and colleagues parked in the “things to put on the chlid prior to departure” zone near the front door and I can’t for the life of me work out which ones the Mini Dietz should now be wearing, if any or none at all. I hadn’t bought him boots or a winter jacket yet because Wiesbaden spent September being mild and dry and lacking in muddy puddles and a light, windproof Autumn jacket sufficed. Plus if I’d bought him something appropriate in advance, the chances he’d have grown out of them by the time came to wear them are very high indeed (will a winter jacket I buy now even still fit in February or will I be spending an entire’s months wages on Appropriate Outdoor Gear for Autumn/Winter 15/16?).

    Of course all of a sudden it’s only 2 degrees in the morning and my poor child is freezing in his light, windproof Autumn jacket (albeit with five layers underneath and last year’s slightly-too-small hat on top) and the Tagesmutter has “quietly mentioned” that a winter jacket might be a good idea now but iI can’t make it to the shops before Thursday and OH MY GOD MY POOR FREEZING CHILD and in any case, how am I supposed to choose from ALL THE WINTER JACKET OPTIONS? Any recommendations? 😉

  5. I’m headed to Germany in the middle of winter and I’m from Florida! Never had to dress for extremely cold weather and I’m simply scared to death about not being prepared!!

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