Go-to clothing

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As winter gets a grip, I realise that I’m coming back again and again to the same items of clothing.

CelticcablethumbI was thinking the other day about my go-to items this winter.

Some of them I’ve had for years. My first thermals, for instance, I bought when doing nature photography in 1991, and I am STILL wearing one of the long-sleeved vests, although the long johns bit the dust a couple of years ago. Every few years I’ve stocked up on more thermals until I now have a set for every day of the week. 

Another big batch of warm clothes dates from 1996, when we were spending our first Christmas in France. It was the ‘winter of minus-15’ and a state of emergency was declared. With evil Siberian winds on top, the real temperatures were terrifying and after enduring two purgatorial weeks in our ‘new’ holiday home in France, during which I got chilblains (a standard winter visitor when I was growing up, but about which I had entirely forgotten) I rushed back to the January sales in London and loaded up on knitwear.

Other items, however, are new and proving their weight in gold this year, particularly my new fleeces.

What you need in winter clothing is a real feeling of protection – snugness, of texture and softness – clothes you can snuggle in and which keep you warm simply by looking at them. So if you’re looking to cosy up this winter, here are some things that have given me a lot of mileage.

LeopardprintthermalsThermals: my current faves are from Winter Silks, a US company that does a fantastic range of items, from long knickers (for those whose office code dictates hosiery) to cashmere-and-silk longjohns (yeah, I wish…). I ordered their lightest-weight items last year and they’re great – very thin, fit nicely under clothing and are comfy to sleep in. In the past, I’ve also had really good thermals from M&S, in silk and merino wool, and pure silk knits from Patra.

Trousers: the best, bar none, for warmth are my knitted merino ski pants from Adrienne Vittadini, bought in 1996. I got three pairs and they’re all still going strong. These were high-end items but ski wear of all kinds is fantastically useful stuff, even if you’re on a low budget – the modern synthetic fabrics are waterproof, comfortable and cheap. Last year I got some bog-standard padded ski trousers from my local sports shop for a mere 27 euros, and these have proved fabulously useful for walking the dog – the wind is just stopped in its tracks. On slightly warmer days, indoors, I stick to my Boden moleskins or cord pants over thermals, which have a nice feeling of winter luxury and are well styled. 

Boden cord skirtSkirts: my most-worn winter skirts are a wrap boiled-wool skirt that I bought from Dickens and Jones in Regent’s Street in 1996, and three knitted merino wool pencil skirts bought from John Lewis’s JFW label the same year. Boiled wool goes in and out of fashion, so when it’s in, snap it up – it’s incredibly useful stuff and doesn’t show its age. The merino knits have also aged very well and still look brand new – merino is more expensive than lambswool but the cost per wear can end up making it cheaper. I’m also a fan of Boden‘s skirts in moleskin, cord or velvet – for practicality I go for the longer versions to cut the drafts. They’re usually unlined, so you do need thermal tights and a warm slip underneath in cold weather, but they have the usual high Boden standard of cut and finish. 

Sweaters: cowlnecks or polonecks (what Americans might call ‘turtlenecks’) are the best because – doh – they keep your neck warm. I stick to a simple look with polonecks – just earrings and no necklace, as you can easily overdo it. Mine are nearly all vintage cashmere and cost peanuts, but if you’re buying new, go for cashmere, merino or lambswool and call it an investment. Cream, black and beige probably give you the most mileage, though my favourite sweaters are mint green and salmon pink, and you can’t go wrong with classic names such as Pringle, Ballantyne and Jaegar. M&S also do very good, moderately priced knitwear in lambswool.

Celtic sweaterThicker knitwear is best if it’s a classic Arran knit (this cable-knit sweater at left is from the Celtic Sheepskin Company), oiled wool ganzy, Fairisle or Shetland, which offers more warmth for weight than any other wool. Many of my sweaters of this type are hand-made and vintage: knitwear from the 1930s and 1940s is fabulous, as few people back then had central heating and knitwear had to keep the wearer warm, not just look good. However, my all-time favourite cardi is a Shetland jacket by Cornish artist Corinne Carr. This is feather-light, extremely warm, goes with everything (it’s in shades of black, grey and beige) and has hand-made buttons. I’ve worn it every winter for 15 years and hope to have it for the rest of my days. I’ve also had huge mileage from a massive wrap merino cardigan from K&S, and also from every piece of knitwear bought under the Linea label from House of Fraser. I usually buy these in the sales and have never yet discarded an item – they just go on for years. 

More cold-weather clothing tomorrow.

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