What to wear in the European climate
A plus to living in Europe is the opportunity to participate in numerous outdoor festivals, events and activities held year-round. Then, there is the weather. Similar to that of the Pacific Northwest, the weather in Germany, the U.K. and other parts of western and northwestern Europe is wet, with bouts of snow, and cold in the winter; cool and damp in the summer; and downright unpredictable with cool (or cold), wet conditions in the spring and fall. Therefore, it’s a must to understand the conditions and dress accordingly for them. A fun time at an outdoor festival, sporting event or activity can quickly dissolve into a miserable experience, or leave you at risk for hypothermia, if you are exposed to the rain, wind and cold without proper clothing. Here is a quick guide to both the layering technique and appropriate garments so you can evaluate your wardrobe to ensure that you and your children have the apparel necessary for the cooler European climate.
When cold is dangerous
Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. This dangerous condition can occur any time of the year, whether it is in bitter cold weather, or during mild temperatures well above freezing. It also can happen quickly and catch people unaware that they are at risk. Besides cool temperatures, risk factors include improper or wet clothing, exhaustion, dehydration and lack of proper nutrition.
Alcohol consumption is also a risk factor. Although you may feel flushed or initially cozy while sipping that mug of mulled wine, it is temporary. Alcohol increases blood flow to the surface of the skin, which causes the flushed, warm feeling. However, blood flow decreases at the core, lowering the body’s core temperature and speeding up the process of hypothermia.
Layer it up
One of the most effective ways to maintain body heat is by using a specific layering technique, designed to pull moisture away from the body while trapping warm air within.
Base layer: The first, or base layer closest to your skin is designed to keep you dry. Choose thin garments made of natural fibers (wool or treated silk, but not cotton) or synthetics that wick moisture away from your skin. Wool is a fantastic fabric to use, as it is naturally water-resistant, moisture-wicking, insulating and breathable. There are many types of wool and grades, from course to fine and smooth. Those sensitive to wool should try garments made of finer weaves of wool, such as SmartWool’s products; they designed a fabric from non-itchy, hypoallergenic merino wool that comes in different weights, doesn’t shrink after a wash, is naturally moisture-wicking and regulates body heat.
Other brands that also offer moisture-wicking apparel in both natural and synthetic fabrics like Gore-tex include Capilene, Columbia, Ex-Officio, Ibex, Icebreaker, Jack Wolfskin, Marmot, Mountain Hardwear, Patagonia, REI, The North Face, Sub Sports, Timberland and Under Armour. You can find many of these brands in the sport clothing and undergarment section at your Exchange, as well as specialty stores on the economy and online. Under Armour and Bonn Bonn Baby also provide special base layers for babies. Cotton should not be used as a base layer. It actually absorbs moisture, trapping it against the skin, which aids in heat loss.
Insulation layer: This second, versatile layer should wick moisture away from the outer, or shell layer, while trapping warm air near the body to provide an additional level of warmth. This layer includes garments like sweaters, pants, jeans, skirts and so on. Garments made of wool and synthetic polyester work well, as they don’t absorb moisture. Wear wicking fabrics for sport activities like running. Mid-weight or thicker layers of wool, silk and synthetics are good for activities like fishing, hiking, walking around at festivals, etc. Remember that the more strenuously you move, the more moisture-wicking and lighter the fabric should be. Less strenuous activities require denser fabrics to help trap heat.
Shell layer: This outer layer, which includes coats and parkas, is designed to keep the weather out, while allowing your body’s natural perspiration to move and evaporate. It should block the wind, snow and rain, keeping you dry and warm. For activities that involve movement (running or sports) where extra perspiration could occur, consider a lightweight, water resistant yet breathable windbreaker over the base and insulation layers. For strenuous snow activities such as skiing and boarding, your parka, ski pants or snowsuit should be made of weatherproof, durable fabrics. Garments filled with goose down are excellent for skiing, hiking and such activities, as goose down is extremely lightweight yet provides dense warmth. For activities that require little physical exertion, such as slow-paced sightseeing, walking or sitting, coats made of wool are superb due to wool’s denseness, natural absorption and movement of moisture, and entrapment of warm air. A tailored, classic wool coat would be an excellent choice.
A German brand of outerwear that you may not have heard about is Wellensteyn. This high quality coat manufacturer offers both functional and fashionable coats and parkas with different weights and designs. A flagship store is located in Frankfurt, yet many local department stores and apparel boutiques also carry stock. Take a VAT form with you, as these coats are high quality and not cheap in price. End-of-season sales are also a good time to shop.
Accessorize for warmth
Don’t forget your feet, head and hands! Nothing hurts worse than frozen toes in soaked shoes or exposed hands while standing in the bitter wind; I speak from personal experience. Look for Gore-tex, fur (faux is fine) or shearling-lined, waterproof boots and gloves. Leather boots and gloves will work if they can be treated with a waterproofing spray. Put a warm, waterproof cap on that noggin, and a warm scarf for any exposed neck or chest areas. Covering skin surfaces is important in retaining body heat at the core. Plus, shivering will increase heat loss if you become at risk for hypothermia.
Bundle up the kids
Babywearing is a good way to keep the littlest ones warm, and there are several great wraps and carriers that offer special cold-weather coverings. You can find jackets and parkas that are specifically made for both male and female babywearers. Also remember to cover babies’ hands, feet and heads; ensure that their pants are long enough to cover their skin while in carriers. There are also several accessories that either come with or can be purchased for European and American strollers to block rain and cold, such as full stroller coats and footmuffs. Many are lined with fleece or even shearling to keep kids cozy. Locally, you can find great accessories such as these at BabyOne, Baby Walz and Toys R Us.
So, why are we discussing this cold weather stuff now, when it’s just now autumn? Well, as we said earlier, the weather is unpredictable this ime of year in this part of Europe. You need to know how to layer. And, when cold, cold weather rolls around again, you want to be prepared. Off-season is the best time to buy winter apparel for the next season. Hats, gloves, coats and undergarments are usually of timeless designs, colors and cuts. Therefore, finding them during after-season markdowns will save you a lot of money and hassle. While the local Exchange carries cold weather apparel, they don’t always have a big selection in stores when the season first turns cold, and they may not have your size. Ensure now that your wardrobe has the items you need. You don’t want to be left out in the cold.