Ottawa XPress – Shotgun – January 13, 2005

Waiting for the bus on chilly mornings, I really have to do something about the way I view presentable, professionally dressed women in winter. I fear I may be too critical of their gear. In my diligent study of women’s outdoor appearance – delightful hats, flimsy scarves, thin and fitted coats and gloves, dress pants, and elegant heeled boots – I often find my research interrupted by an abrupt, “Man, she must be cold!”

Yes, I usually skip to judging my specimen before the facts are even in. I’m sorry, but in well-below-zero weather, it seems like staying warm and being a bit dolled up at the same time is impossible. Which I guess aligns me with a dude I overheard the other day, who implied that men cope with winter better because they’re men, and they’re brave.

The guy was probably joking, but I felt it undercut my efforts in dressing appropriately for -25C temperatures. Have I been going fashionless in my Sorels – like clunkers and my Stearns parka in vain? Isn’t it brave to say the hell with looking good for the six months of winter?

It got me thinking: When it comes to handling winter, when men get to be robust bravehearts in the battle against the elements, why be just another “bravetart,” stoically forsaking warmth for the sake of style?

Am I unrealistically expecting praise for being so sensible? And am I too harsh on the female contingent that has figured out the trick to looking fantastic and staying warm? Yes and yes.

I did some investigating and found out that with places like Mountain Equipment Co-Op and a slew of others in Westboro, it’s easy for Ottawans to be warm but keep a cool image.

Go to and check out their stylish and durable Tremblant jackets and vests, Baffin Mammoth, Snogoose or Musher boots, plus mitts, hats and scarves. And it’s at Mountain Equipment that I found the answer to how my sleeker sisters do it too.

The store has these thin, discreet light- and medium-weight silk long underwear things ideal for under business slacks; thermal shirts for under blouses or thin sweaters; Wigwam Ingenius Snowsports Socks in merino wool perfect for fitted dress boots; shapely fleeces for extra insulation over blazers and under long coats; and liner gloves for dainty leather gloves. Maybe that’s what some ladies are hiding under there. It appears you don’t need bulk to be warmer.

But even with this solution to keeping cozy under business attire, am I ready to get all lady-like and look professional?

Not when I don’t have to.

They say imitation is the best form of flattery, so, faced with the choice of paying homage to the outdoorsy male to whom I seem attracted during the season, or to the female fashionistas who maintain a sense of chic on downtown Ottawa streets despite Arctic temperatures, I prefer to feel hardy (and OK, sort of ugly then) in waffle-printed old-school Irving Rivers long johns and big hats with earflaps. Every day I expect people will find me so attractive compared to the next girl because I can wade through slush and have great traction on icy sidewalks.

Truth be told, after seeing the nine-time Genie nominated film, The Snow Walker (), starring Barry Pepper, Annabella Piugattuk, and James Cromwell, I became convinced that winterized women are superior.

OK, or maybe it’s just the fact that in that extraordinary story of two people struggling to survive the unforgiving elements of the Canadian Arctic (based on Walk Well My Brother by Farley Mowat), the only chance for survival the maverick bush pilot’s got when his plane goes down is his knowledgeable female Inuit parka-passenger, Kanaalaq.

There’s something magical about a woman who is winter-ready in Ottawa. It may not transform her into a caribou hunter like Kanaalaq, but she’ll trek through stormy nights hunting top DVD rentals and gather take-out Chinese food for her boyfriend as he keeps warm by the radiators.

So, again I say: Screw looking girlie and pile on the layers. It’s time to get down with that Nanook-of-the-North practicality, with poofy coats, head wraps and big-ass boots. Fully kitted, you’ll shiver less and you’ll save your first-born, the one you keep promising to God if He’d only make the damned OC Transpo arrive on time.


Got something to say? Get paid to write and perform it at the CBC Radio Poetry Face-Off on Tuesday March 1 at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage. People across 10 cities will perform an original poem on a given theme and compete in front of a live audience who will choose a winner by secret ballot. The Ottawa winner’s poem will go on to compete over the airwaves against the nine other regional winners in April. Submit an audio sample of your poetry and a bio to CBC Ottawa Morning’s Julie Delaney by 5 p.m., Monday January 24. Submission info:, 288-6498.

Ottawa Face-Off alumni include Nth Digri, Oni The Haitian Sensation, Matt Peake, Susan McMaster, Kris Northey, Megan Butcher, Dane Swan, Melanie Noll, Jim Larwill, Anthony Baldwin Lewis, Garmamie, John Akpata, Wanda O’Connor, myself and Segun Akinlolu.

– Sylvie Hill