Sometimes function overrules fashion in the face of a chilly climate
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 23, 2010
It's long been said that Hawaii people don't know how to drive in rainy weather, and as recent rains have shown, we could use a little help dressing for cold, rainy weather as well.
In a place where the sun shines about 350 days a year, rain and cold often catch us off guard. Even more puzzling is the question of what to pack for a vacation in cold climes when we don't want to be lugging around a 20-pound coat.
No one wants to spend a lot of money on a coat or jacket they may wear, at most, once or twice a year. A lot of people start with borrowing a coat from a friend or family member, but it's so much more convenient to have something in one's own closet, ready to grab and go the minute the temperature drops.
Those on a budget can start with resale stores like Savers and Goodwill, where mainland transplants often drop off outerwear they no longer need. At Goodwill Beretania, Ken Leung, Goodwill Industries of Hawaii director of retail stores, said coats and jackets come in all year, though the bulk of them seem to arrive in the summer months.
"A lot of people come to us for bargains, because jackets start at $6.99 and up. They might need something to travel and rather than spend $100 and up, they could get away with spending less than $50."
Recent finds included a London Fog women's raincoat for $24.99, and a men's navy peacoat made in Italy and selling for $79.99.
"A lot of people come in saying they need something to go to Las Vegas or Alaska," said Goodwill's Beretania store manager Doreen Bailey. "We also get a lot of tourists, from the mainland and Japan, shopping for winter clothes to take back to where they're from. They say it's a lot cheaper here."
ALTHOUGH MUCH of the heavier apparel would be appropriate for midlayer dressing, performance is also an issue. Without all the original labeling, it is sometimes difficult to determine materials used in secondhand clothing.
You might start at Patagonia, a company with roots in mountain climbing gear and clothing appropriate for scaling the Himalayas.
At the Auahi Street store, assistant store manager Celeste Yamanaka said education is an important aspect of their work.
"We do a lot of teaching people how to dress for cold weather," she said. "A lot of people think that they can wear one jacket and be warm. They don't understand why they have to worry about layers. They don't understand the concept of layering."
Layering essentially involves three or four layers. At Patagonia, it starts with a base layer, a comfortable layer next to the body, designed to wick away moisture that can turn freezing if you start perspiring. Patagonia uses a synthetic Capilene fabric the company claims is more effective than natural fibers.
"Everything we make is super functional. We're not a fashion company," Yamanaka said. "Everything in here you can wear in the city, but you can also wear climbing Mount Everest."
Depending on the temperature, next might come a lightweight midlayer, something appropriate to strip down to when you're indoors. Then comes an insulating layer that should also be activity- and weather-appropriate indoor and out. This warm layer might range from a cashmere or wool sweater or polyester or polypropylene fleece. The materials help trap warm air and hold it close to your body.
If it's not raining, your insulating layer could be enough to serve as an outer layer.
The outer layer, or shell, provides you with a barrier from wind and rain. These would include wind-resistant jackets and raincoats made with non-breathable materials.
"We sell a lot of raincoats to people who go walking, fishermen, people who are outdoors a lot," Yamanaka said.
If you're traveling and worried about bulk, Patagonia offers lightweight down sweaters, jackets and vests with tear-resistant, ripstop shells made of recycled polyester and down that traps body heat with a minimum of weight. The pieces fold down or can be stuffed into a self-zippered sack that measures about 7 inches across for easy packing. Cleaning is equally easy, a matter of throwing it into the wash, while following the manufacturer's care instructions.
La'akea Caravalho, who also works at Patagonia, said, "The first thing people go for is looks, but as long as we find out where they're going and what they have in their closets, we can help them pull together what works."
With proper layering, he said: "You can go to the top of Mauna Kea and have as much function as if you had a $400 parka."
IF LAYERING seems complicated, it becomes second nature when one is actually confronted with cold weather. Lynne O'Neill, who grew up in Hawaii, got a taste of it when working in San Francisco, then New York, where she heads a production company, Hula Inc., producing events and fashion shows during New York Fashion Week.
"You learn it really fast; it's survival," she said.
When it comes to finding the finest of insulating materials, luxury brands deliver cashmeres and wool, although, in the face of cold, she said even the most fashionable people on the planet find themselves willing to sacrifice style for warmth.
"We don't care if we look like the Michelin Man because everybody looks like the Michelin Man. The classic is the Norma Kamali sleeping bag coat. She designed a version for Wal-Mart last year and it was the rage," she said. "I have a Commes de Garcons black wool coat and Prada down jacket, but I usually go more for function than fashion and wear something from Land's End or an H&M down jacket. Everyone wears a down jacket when it's cold because they're not as concerned about fashion."
Now back home to escape the New York winter, O'Neill always packs a few winter pieces to face the colder temperatures once she returns to the Big Apple.
"I have it down. I wear layers, starting with a T-shirt and pants, then a polar fleece pullover that zips up. That way, when it's hot you can open it up, and when it's cold, you can zip it up and have a high collar so you don't need a scarf, although I bring a scarf anyway.
"Then the most important piece for winter is the down vest. It's lightweight and not too bulky. I love Land's End's vest and fleece pullover. Then I wear leather gloves lined with cashmere."
Tiffany James provided one extreme example of the notion of letting go of appearances when cold. The co-owner, with her husband Walter, of the lingerie party company UndercoverWear, divides her time between Hawaii, Boston and cruise ships, and travels with as many as 30 ball gowns and every other cocktail dress and garment she might need.
However, on one South American journey, she had packed for Rio de Janeiro, the Caribbean and Argentina, while failing to note how the tip of the continent put them within touring distance of Antarctica, the coldest place on the planet, where mean summer temperatures run from minus 5 to minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit.
"My first indication was when I started seeing glaciers," James said. "I have every type of cold-weather coat in Boston so I refused to go shopping for sweaters."
That's how she spent a couple of weeks swaddled in the ship's wool blankets.
"I looked like Nanook of the North. It was hysterically funny and there was no sympathy for the woman who had brought all these shoes and all these gowns, but had failed to pack a coat."
For staying warm, she prefers cashmere and fur coats, and swears by silk socks as a base layer for your feet. She also recommends knee-length, rather than floor-length, coats.
"The minute snow hits a long coat, it's bad, bad, bad," she said.
The snow turns into wetness that seeps onto your inner layers and leaves you feeling like you're wearing ice.
Another difficulty of winter? Keeping track of shed clothes, says O'Neill.
"You're always losing pieces because you have to keep peeling off mitts and scarves and putting them on again all winter long."