Breaking Out of a Winter Style Rut

How to break a winter style rut
If you live in the northern hemi – and especially if you live in the northern reaches of the northern hemi – you know that winter is like a marathon. Enduring cold temps and oppressive darkness for several months before December even arrives, then entering the true long haul at the beginning of January. The holidays are over, spring seems eons away, and there’s not much between here and there but loooooong stretches of grouchy shivering.

And this, my friends, is when most of us tend to start pulling out the same black slacks and gray sweater every single day. We feel sluggish and uninspired, cold and resentful, and we don’t want to invest any energy into … well, anything. But CERTAINLY not anything as frivolous as style. Eating heavy casseroles and watching “Pride and Prejudice” marathons, OK, but anything that taps our creativity can seem overwhelming.

But now may be the most important time of the year to keep your style spirits up! SAD is a very real thing, and what better way to fend it off than by dressing yourself in items that inspire energy and joy for wearer and observer alike?

  1. COLOR: I am a devotee of black and have a habit of snapping up any and everything funky and midnight-hued that comes across my radar. But while I’ll happily don chiaroscuro ensembles through the beginning of January, it’s around this time that I start tinkering with color-centric outfit guidelines. No more than one colorless outfit per week. Aim for outfits that have at LEAST two bright, non-neutral colors and colorful shoes should be worn as often as possible.
  2. SHINE: Rhinestones, hammered silver, sequins, bright chains, faceted gems, and all things sparkly are ideal for this time of year. Anything that catches and reflects light will help its wearer feel lighter and more energetic.
  3. SOUND: Jangling bangles will prevent their wearer from falling into a wintry stupor. Musical corduroy pants give you a cheerful little soundtrack when you walk. Rustling petticoats or stiff silk skirts make you aware of your outfit, your posture, your lovely physical self. Choose something that talks back when you choose your daily wear.
  4. TEXTURE: Layering is an art form, and incorporating texture into a heavily layered winter ensemble can seem daunting. But just a splash of floral or geometric pattern here and there – on a scarf or blouse or pair of tights – adds the illusion of movement to an outfit. A tweedy blazer or vest gives flat cottons dimension, and a ruffled shirt lends depth to any outfit.
  5. SMELL: Say what? Oh yes, smell can play a part in perking you up when you dress for the doldrums of winter. A scented lip gloss, spritz of your favorite perfume, fragranced hand lotion, or deliciously pungent hair product will keep you alert and engaged.

And that covers all of the senses minus taste, because munching on your wool sweaters might cause them to shrink and felt. But seriously, folks, do your utmost to dress energetically during dark, cold times of the year and you’ll be amazed at the difference in how you feel.

Originally posted 2010-01-07 06:38:00.

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45 Responses to “Breaking Out of a Winter Style Rut”

  1. Kelly

    Yeah, it's definitely the most difficult time of the year to feel motivated to dress well. Add being pregnant onto that and it makes it even more difficult, as the only thing you really want to wear is sweats!

    I would add to your list though, to have hair and makeup done nicely. Even though I am a SAHM and in these temps leave the house only if absolutely necessary, I feel a lot better if my hair and makeup is done, even if I am just wearing sub-casual clothing all day.

  2. Meli22

    love these tips!!

    I myself am enforcing similar rules, because I was getting stuck into a rut myself. The outfits were so depressing I didn't even bother posting them! But, hopefully that will change and be better now!

  3. MP

    Funny that you should add scent into the mix. I just broke out my summery scent yesterday and was pleasantly sniffing myself all day. It was a great little boost! Thanks for a great list of doldrum busting ideas!

  4. Magatha-May

    I completely agree with the smell one. I insist on wearing lime lip balm all throughout winter just because it reminds me of sunshine, I also won't leave the house without a slather of coconut body butter and a spritz of light fruity perfume. Every time I feel kinda crap throughout the day I just close my eyes and inhale and it feels just like summer.

  5. Jordie

    awesome tips!
    I could have used them a few months ago down my way though 🙂

  6. evanadine

    ive never before considered sound when selecting an outfit, but now that you point it out, its true! i remember when i was younger and just starting to wear high heels how much i LOVED the click-click-clicking i made when walking down a hallway. and jangling bracelets and necklaces really can lift your spirits. i dont often wear long dangly earrings, when when i hear their little windchime sound in my ear, it always makes me feel a little bit like a rockstar.

    thanks for pointing that one out sal!

  7. K.Line

    Excellent post! I have a winter dressing post coming up tomorrow. It's very different – in as much as it offers no advice about how to feel better about this time of year 🙂 but we appear to have the same concerns. Not surprising!

  8. Erin

    hahaha, I'll refrain from munching my clothes.
    Good point, one of my resolutions is to try and incorporate color more. IT'S SO HARD!! but it does make me feel more cheery.
    I tend to go with a nice smelling perfume and red lipstick. That always makes me feel perked up.

  9. ranksubjugation

    My perfume comes out whenever I feel depressed in general — winter or no. Great post, Sal 🙂

  10. Jenny

    One problem is that stores are starting in on their spring lines – I would rather they did a Winter #2 selection so that I get inspired to keep dressing for winter, which is what I have to do anyway. This is about the time of year when I get serious about buying turtlenecks and warm things, and everyone's attention seems to have already moved on. It's so annoying.

  11. Sal

    Jenny: I hear ya … but believe me, the thrift stores are still PACKED with coats and turtlenecks and wool skirts!

  12. Katie

    Speaking as someone who has done absolutely all of her work for today from the comfort and warmth of her bed in the comfort and warmth of her pyjamas(it's SO cold!) I really needed to hear that.

    Keep it coming, Sal.

    Katie @

  13. Cupcakes and Cashmere

    if i ever move someplace cold, i'm certainly going to be referring to this post. so informative and insightful!

  14. Denise

    Nice post. I agree with Kelly in that I feel a lot better when I'm at home, no matter what I'm wearing, if I do my hair and makeup. Jenny's right, too: winter is long enough without seeing all the spring things in stores. And I would add that you seriously consider a great color for your winter coat. Nothing like red to cheer you up on these arctic days! P.S. Sal, I'm in the Twin Cities, too.

  15. the freelancer's fashionblog

    Yes it's always the time after Christmas that's the worst – the holidays are in one way or another something to look forwards too and therefor makes the darkness less dark. But then afterwards we're in for months of snow and cold that never seem to end. At least up here we always get a bit of what cant' really be translated, taka talvi – "back winter, behind winter", which means that just as things start turning green and you grab your spring jacket it starts snowing again.

    Well anyway, I also tend to reach for the blacks so easily. Everyone should remember to add colour and a little bling to get trough winter!

  16. Rebecca

    "Dress energetically." I like those words and the inspiration they provide. Thanks!

  17. Elissa

    Musical corduroy pants!!!! The funniest!!! I might go to the Build A Bear factory, pick out a couple of squeakers and sew them into the inner thighs of my pants!! Oh the music that would ensue!!!

    Now that I have succeeded in cracking myself up with your help, I will tell you that I love this list. I am succumbing to winter shit-dressing and fast. I think a trip to the thrift is highly in order!

  18. futurelint

    Very good tips Sal! And good call on the sequined shiny things… I have quite a few laying around my closet I haven't worn yet this winter… next week I'll aspire to dress like I'm in a drag show all week! So excited!

    Psst, and by "casseroles," you mean "hot dish," right?

  19. Elissa

    PS that is a hawt outfit!!! I love it– perfect antidote to the winter blahs!

  20. WendyB

    Don't remind me that winter has just started…I want to run away!

  21. Mrs.M in MI

    The winter doldrums is why I have challenged myself this year to wear color everyday; no black-on-black or black-on-grey outfits allowed. (Black and white outfits make me feel French so they're permitted.)

    My trick is to save a little Christmas money for some frivolous shopping in February. There's nothing like a few new warm sweaters and wool skirts to inspire me when I'm tired of winter clothes.

    My other trick is to hit the gym hard during the winter. It warms me up and makes me feel damn good in my clothes!

  22. Dream Sequins

    I really do feel a bit sad and all my grey and black winter clothes aren't helping a bit. Wonderful tips. BTW, I love the pattern on your pink dress.

  23. angie

    Sally! In the light of my post yesterday, you are ready for Spring!

    However, Spring can come in Winter and I wholeheartedly agree with what you wrote. I wore my neon pink turtle neck yesterday and I’m about to pop on a bright red something today. There is nothing quite as cheerful as wearing a blindingly bright wardrobe item in the dead of Winter. It feeds the soul.

  24. Anna

    Thanks for the tips on using scent. I hadn't thought of it, but I'm wearing nice perfume today, and it really does make me feel better!

    One thing that really helps me is to wear a bright coat and scarf. That way, even if I'm wearing all black underneath, I still feel cheerful when I got out in the cold.

  25. Make Do Style

    Way to go! Great colour and I do like your paint colour on wall too xx

  26. Mandy in CO

    "Musical courdaroy pants" made me laugh. Love it, and love them. I combine color with cords-I have a red pair, teal pair, and mustard yellow pair (along with black, brown and navy). Now I want more colorful warm shoes! 🙂

  27. Nina (Femme Rationale)

    i love adding splashes of color to my colder weather wardrobe. altho…it's been feeling like spring here lately.

    hope you're over your flu, sal!

  28. Peldyn

    I am laying in bed in my pjs right now and refuse to get up! I will dress tomorrow in something colourful, I swear! *sniffle, sneeze, hack* Curses on this cold! hand me over some hot tea and a tissue? *snuggles back under the covers*

  29. What Would a Nerd Wear

    SO wonderful, sal! i totally feel you on the winter dressing doldrums. i've been lucky to be roosting in california for the past few weeks where it's warm enough to feel inspired again, but as soon as i go back to the midwest, i know it'll be a struggle to put on anything besides fleece leggings and thermals every day.
    what good ideas!! keep 'em coming!

  30. Hanako66

    these are awesome tips! i only wish that i had this problem…it is almost hot here today..ick!

  31. Patricia

    There are some great tips here. I love the outfit but wish there was a close-up view. Dressing like that will not only make you feel more alive during this dark, cold time of year, but also perk up everyone around you. It might be contagious!

  32. crispybenfranklin

    These are really good tips. If everyone and everything around you is depressing and colorless, at least YOU can look happy!

  33. pretty face

    Tomorrow I am going to step up to this challenge. It is going to be DIFFICULT at 6.30 AM but I will manage. There will be colour, sound and smell aplenty. x

  34. fleur_delicious

    Oh, Sal, I wholeheartedly agree! In fact, because I'm a doctoral student, and I work as a TA, I feel it's extra-important to pull out the brights, the patterns, the fun accessories. For those on the quarter system, winter quarter is both dark and gloomy AND shorter – and while this may sound like a good thing, it isn't, if you consider you need to do the same amount of work, but have less time to do it in. Winter quarter can be awful in academia and I am determined that my wardrobe do its part to keep energy up in my class. Today was a good one for me: pattern mixing with polka dot tights and geometric skirt, both in navy and white. Simple brown brogues, white top and black cotton beret, but I sported a Masai wedding necklace, red lipstick and a freshly-dyed burgundy bob.

    And I'd never thought about sound. Usually, it's something I think of as unanticipated side effects of dressing – and therefore embarassing. This paean to fashion music might just turn me around – thanks!

  35. lisa

    Haha I'd say dressing with more colour and sparkle would have been a spectacular feat for me today! I'm in jeans and a drapey black cardigan belted with a blue belt just at my ribs. Nothing too spectacular, but I'm working from home today and it made me feel spectacularly dressed up to put on normal clothes instead of wearing my pajamas all day long.

  36. Sonja

    Wow, that pink looks stunning on you. I need to break out something more colorful. I definitely tend to blend into the winterscape. 🙂

  37. gina

    Your opening paragraph made me want to start singing "it's only just beguuuun…"

    Awesome dress!

  38. Audi

    Oh man, I remember that awful feeling of dread that would creep in as soon as we had the first cold snap. Living in the midwest was bad, bad, bad for me. These are great tips for anyone really, but especially for those in the colder climes. I hadn't thought about sound as a pick-me-up, but you're totally right.

  39. Vix

    Love the blast o' pink! [Though since I'm catching up, I'll say I actually love the periwinkle/purple from 1.7 more.]

    I can't get personally get behind incorporating sound (I have a few jangling jewelry pieces that work my last nerve, but that's just me) but yes yes YES to the color.

    I do a lot of crap to try to mitigate my SAD, and last year I realized wearing "real" color helped. And that I needed more than just a colorful scarf, necklace etc.

    As I skew coal miner/nun in the winter I knew I'd have to make big closet changes, so this September I did a closet analysis. Then I started planning a move away from my closet's natural Fall/Winter habitat–aging wool separates and ho-hum knits in black, brown, and grey–and toward more chipper horizons.

    It has DEFINITELY helped my mood. Of course I relapse, but my incandescent striped sweater and other colorful new friends are only a drawer away when I come to my senses….

  40. E and O

    Good advice. 🙂 I wanted to give another vote for introducing more color in the winter. I've found that bright colored sweaters and bright or wild patterned tights really do help make all the bundling up more bearable. 🙂