San Francisco to New York in the Dead of Winter: A Transplant’s Perspective on Surviving Winter in Style.

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By Suzanne Hitchman

For the past six winters I watched the snow from my Facebook and Instagram feeds from San Francisco with envy where I had been living. I love San Francisco. It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  But for years I complained of weather I found to be boring and predictable. After all, it never snows. Sadly, it hardly even rains. There’s no lightning. No thunderstorms to break the non-existent wet, wet heat. There is no crisp autumn ripe with the scent of a fireplace stoked for the first time, or a spring that breaks with the electric energy of people emerging from their hermitage, showing skin for the first time in six months. SF is cold most of the time. For years I bundled up in scarves and cardigans day after day craving the drama of a proper east coast weather event. Specifically, I missed the camaraderie of a snowstorm, a giant snowfall where you have to ask your neighbor to borrow a shovel or help someone dig out of their parking spot,  or make small talk with someone you never met before only to feel an instantaneous sense of brother/sisterhood – after all, you just survived a snowpocalypse together!!!

Well, earlier this month, I realized my desire to reunite with a proper east coast winter weather system. Two days after I moved to New York I was told to brace myself. A polar vortex was coming our way. A polar what?!?! At the time I didn’t even have a winter coat! Internet click bait or not, I was sufficiently scared by the imagery the media created. All of my naïve, romantic notions of extreme weather turned to dread as I came to the realization that I was not prepared for winter in the slightest. The heaviest coat I had was made of felt or something just as measly, and the array of scarves I owned were purely decorative. Reader, I hear you laughing at me, and you are right. I was a fool, a soft San Franciscan with whimsical notions of snow angels and hot cocoa. I thought that what I lacked in coat, I made up for in scarves, but as the temperature dropped to what felt like 17 below zero, I quickly realized how very wrong and how very doomed I was. I wasn’t going to let a little cold weather stop me from enjoying myself, but if I wanted to have fun in style, I needed to make like a New Yorker and toughen up quick.

Below is a list of lessons learned and strategies employed to get out of the house and into the streets when winter was beating down my door.

1. Juggling fashion and warmth during a northeast winter requires wearing multiple hats. And scarves. And socks. And gloves. And pants. And sweaters. I may look like the love child of Jonah Hill and a snowman with all those layers, but boy am I warm! Which leads me to…

2. While there are ways to look cute in the arctic, not freezing will be my number one goal.

3. To avoid freezing, I learned a proper winter coat is a must! I ended up ordering a parka from on post holiday sale because I hate to shop. I like JCrew’s simple androgyny,  and their sizing is true and reliable. It’s long enough to keep my buns warm, is super insulated, and is even water resistant while still being really cute and chic. Even better, it came just in time for the sub-zero temps and freezing rain and snow.

4. I unpacked my rubber SF rain boots and repurposed them. They are now my slush-stomping snowshoes! Too bad they aren’t fur lined thought, because while they do a phenomenal job protecting me from the snow, they do nothing to keep my feet warm (because they ARE NOT SNOW BOOTS!). Doubling, and sometimes tripling up on socks is necessary. *Note to self: BUY SNOW BOOTS!

5. Carbs and fats are my friend. I had lost some weight because the moving stress had me eating less, and San Francisco had really turned me into a brown rice and organic veggie kind of gal. When I began to brace the cold in the land of pizza and bagels, my body started craving, well, pizza and bagels…and fried chicken, and hot wings and cheeseburgers and french fries. I’m pretty sure it’s because my body was trying to do that evolutionary thing all other mammals do,  which is bulk up for winter. Bears do it. Beavers do it. Even squirrels  and chimpanzees do it! It’s the story of, it’s the glory of – SURVIVAL. So I took the hint and indulged in some greasy, carby goodness, and I feel much better and warmer for it. And as the old saying goes, “When in New York – eat some delicious friggin’ pizza, capiche?”

Ok. So now here I am, all bulked up on layers and bread products slathered in butter and cheese, trusting I’ll be moving around more as soon as spring hits so as not to stress out about whether I’ll fit into my shorts or not. I put my suede boots back in the closet and opted for functional rubber wellies (with an eye towards getting a proper pair of winter boots) and I’ve got a parka on that obscures so much of me it’s hard to tell there’s even a person in there.

I can’t remember the last time I shaved, or washed my hair for that matter, but I just moved to town and I’d like for peoples’ first impression of me to not be akin to a Sasquatch citing, and I’ve already established not freezing as my number one priority. What do I do? Since I’m not likely to take my coat off for very long, I choose to focus my style energies on what people can actually see,  my head. I usually don’t wear much makeup, but during this New York winter, I’ve taken to wearing a fun and bright red lipstick. I have a bright yellow scarf that pokes out of the top of my coat and I never leave home without a knit hat, another opportunity to add a little color and style. Winters are so gray and drab. I find the color pop energizing and a great way to distinguish myself from the pile of gray/black snow that’s towering over me at the bus stop.

And besides, while survival mode may feel like the only way to cope with winters this cold, we can’t forget that element of play that’s so much apart of this season. Snow angels, hot cocoa, cuddling up with a cutie in front of a fireplace, and confidently rocking the layers underneath a cute snowflake knit sweater are just some of the many joys that winter brings. While I feel tougher already after surviving two polar vortexes, the sense of romance and whimsy lives on as I bundle up and head out the door to catch snowflakes on my tongue. I will survive this winter in style with a bright red smile on my icy cold face.

* Suzanne Hitchman performs comedy and writes things in Brooklyn, NY. She is also Andrea’s cousin.

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