The purpose of winter clothing is to protect the body from wind, rain, snow and cold temperatures. Most winter clothing is primarily designed to fulfill this function, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still room for style and self-expression when it's freezing out. Since most of us move between the indoors and outdoors throughout the day, layering different items of winter clothing is the most practical way to dress when the temperature starts to drop.

Girl drinking hot tea and reading book in bed

The Outer Layer

The garment we call a jacket traces its origin back to short tunics worn in the Middle Ages in Europe. This short outer garment is meant to keep the torso and arms warm. It may be quilted or lined for additional insulation, with fleece and fur linings especially popular. Winter variations on the classic suit jacket include windbreakers, hoodies, parkas, puffy jackets, biker jackets and bomber jackets. The coat, a longer version of the jacket, offers additional warmth. Like the jacket, it usually has long sleeves (unless it’s a cape or cloak) and closes up the front. The length of coats varies from hip to floor length, and they may be both belted at the waist, like the trench coat, or hooded. The cut is usually roomy enough to accommodate wearing a jacket, sweater and other layers underneath.

Knit Tops and Dresses

In some climates, many basic items of apparel like tops and pants can be worn year-round, with a jacket or coat providing warmth in winter. In other climates, winter apparel is always a necessity. Tops and dresses made from knit fabrics are available in a wide variety of fibers and weights, from the finest cashmere to bulky wool cables. Popular sweater styles for winter include turtlenecks, vests, cardigans and oversized pullovers. Knit dresses for winter are often longer versions of sweaters, and popular lengths include just above and just below the knee.

Hats, Caps, Scarves and Gloves

Winter accessories are key to any strategy for keeping warm. Hats and caps keep warmth from escaping through your head when the rest of your body is clothed. Knit caps are one of the most popular choices for winter, especially beanie styles that can be pulled down to cover the ears. Beanies can be decorated with pompoms or a favorite team logo. Many knit caps are paired with a matching scarf that keeps the neck warm. Felt is another popular hat fabric for styles like berets, wide brimmed hats and cowboy hats. Gloves are an important winter accessory that’s usually chosen for their practical features. Materials used for winter gloves include knits, leather, microfiber and fleece.

Winter Boots and Shoes

It’s important to keep your toes warm in winter weather. Boots are the go-to shoe for winter weather, as much for their style as their practicality. Popular boot heights include ankle, mid-calf and knee. Design details include front laces, fur lining and cuffs and platform soles. Boots designed to be worn in rain and snow come with advanced insulation and waterproofing features. Besides boots, winter shoe styles include clogs and leather shoes with thick, nonskid soles.

Staying Warm Under It All

One of the most important aspects of winter layering is the base layer, which can help keep you warm and comfortable on cold winter days. According to outdoor retailer REI, you should consider material, weight and fit when shopping for base layer items. Long underwear, leggings and base layer tops made from natural fibers like silk and wool are warm, breathable and moisture-wicking. Lightweight synthetics are another popular fabric choice. When it comes to fit, wicking fabrics work best when in direct contact with the skin, so the fit should be as snug as possible.