Cheryl Hatch poses with her winter gear on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus on Friday, Jan. 21, 2011. Photo by Lynne Snifka/UAF Journalism

Yesterday I celebrated my ability to dress for class with class while staying warm. (It was -38F and the moon was still high in the sky when I left for campus at 7:45 a.m. today.)

I like to wear skirts. I make a point of wearing skirts when I teach. Maintaining my style while maintaining my body heat has proved a challenge.

I arrived in Fairbanks in late August. I slowly began acquiring the clothing I’d need to make it through the winter. Alice Anderson helped me purchase some great gear at an outdoor sale near Anchorage in early fall. I scored a gorgeous red Mountain Hardwear puff jacket for half-price. (This has become my favorite jacket, see the photo above.) I already had a toasty wool/silk cardigan, so the layers for my torso were decent heading into winter.

Next, in September, I scored my lovely rated-to-minus-60F Sorel boots (thanks to my brother, J.) It was no fun walking the eight-miles (RT) to campus in regular shoes, even with wool socks.  As the temperatures dipped and I was prepping for my outdoor wilderness first aid class in November, I bought a pair of Mountain Hardwear leggings (longjohns, there’s some other name like, under layer, that I can never get right.)

I thought I was nearly sartorially set. Yet, as the temperatures dipped to -30F and lower in December, I discovered I’d remained in denial. I walked from my office to the post office in Constitution Hall on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, probably 100 yards, tops. My bare hands were stinging and screaming at me before I’d gone 20 yards. OK. That got my attention.

Not to mention the one time I carried a metal bowl outside the cabin and it literally seared my fingertips, the metal froze that quickly. OK, OK, I believe now.

And I wanted to learn to cross-country ski, so I needed more gear: mittens, snow pants, an undershirt. The Prospector, a great local store, had a sale with 20 percent off all merchandise, so I got a groovy ankle-length down skirt (of course!) made by a Swedish company, SKHOOP, SmartWool underlayer top, some mittens, some SmartWool glove liners and some more SmartWool socks. I was told the liners come in handy when pumping gas–tasks were you need the dexterity–as long as your hands aren’t exposed too long.

Weathering the weather here requires a lot of dressing and undressing, I’ve discovered, especially since I insist on dressing up for class.

I tried wearing my stockings with my Sorel boots. 1) the felt liners in the boots rubbed and pilled my stockings (I discovered this after I’d ruined three pair); 2) my legs would start screaming at me on those same short walks across campus. I tried wearing my heels and stockings and that’s flat-out ludicrous. My feet get cold quickly and the cold streaks up my body; plus, I slip and slide, no traction. Again, pretty silly.

So imagine my delight when I found the right solution (pictured above.) I wear my Sorel boots whenever I go out. I wear my skirt with stockings with the Mountain Hardwear longjohns on top. They keep me warm and prevent the boot liners from rubbing on my stockings. I wear my glove liners, wool hat, silk/wool cardigan and puff jacket. I’m warm and I like the way I look. When I’m in the office or the classroom, I wear my heels and stockings.

It requires many rounds of donning and doffing attire.  And it’s worth it.

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