Wool sweater, skinny cords, flat boots. This is what I am wearing today. This will be my uniform for the next 180 days known as The Russian Winter. What will vary from day to day will be the color and thickness of these items, the amount of undergarments that I will layer underneath to stay warm as the temperatures dip to subhuman levels, and, of course, the coat that goes over the whole bundle.
Skirts, blouses, dresses, slacks, even suits – they can all take a vacation. Ditto flats and pumps. Garments I called ‘sweaters’ back in the States – knits with a ¾ sleeve and a deep V-neck – have been put away along with the rest of summer-wear in favor of thick and itchy full-coverage iterations.
In the nearly two years since I moved to Russia, my proper sweater collection has at least quadrupled. Two pairs of walking boots (one for the rain, one for the snow and both lasting me years) have become 10. Two pairs of skinny cords became seven, with bonus 3 pairs of skinny jeans.
Why so many skinny pants, you ask? Because all pants must tuck into boots, of course!
No, you can’t just pop on a nice pair of wool trousers with some sensible flats. They will get ruined by the elements. It doesn’t matter if there’s no precipitation. It doesn’t matter if you’re just running out to the corner store. Once summer ends, Moscow becomes Dirty.
I am not even talking about the oceans of slush that invade the streets from the first snowfall (we had our THIRD flurries of the season this morning, by the way) through May holidays.
This is a special kind of Russia-only dirt that is pervasive and insidious, that coats road banks in 5-meter-wide strips even a hundred miles outside of the city, and splatters your garments at least knee-high no matter how much care you take.
Which is why one must always wear skinny pants tucked into tall boots – and preferably some industrial-strength protective gear on top of it all.
In New York I was a ‘dress and tufli*’ kind of girl, year-round. In the winter that meant simply donning a pair of tights under said dress, and throwing on a mink coat over it. Yes, like a good Russian woman making Motherland proud, I wore a fur coat in NYC, from October through March.
I almost never wear this coat in Moscow. It’s too nice, and Moscow is too dirty. Here, dirt – not even temperature – is my main sartorial consideration for 8 months out of a year. As long as the temperatures stay above -20C, I stick to my vaguely dirt-colored shearling. Dirt is far less apparent on this shearling. And it comes off more easily.
And those dresses and tufli? Sorry, summer-only. I can wear a different outfit every day during the warm months, and this would still leave at least half of my formerly good-year-round items untouched. Because from now until May Day it’s all about sweaters, skinnies and boots.
*Tufli is a great Russian word for ‘nice shoes’ – pumps and sandals, heels and flats. Just not sneakers, boots (even nice ones), Keds, flip-flops, and so forth.