Fashion & Beauty

What Lies Beneath

January 28, 2020

Tags: ,

IT WAS a mild-mannered June when Caren and I were talking about visiting our pal in Montreal. February seemed far, far away and so did cold weather.  Now as our trip approaches, reality has sunk in. As Caren cheerfully informed me, “It will be in the mid-20s when we’re there. Only frigid at night.”

So, down coat, boots, earmuffs, check. The same for gloves, scarves and warm sweaters. We made no plans for skiing or anything that would make us sweat much, but still a layer of long underwear would be a must for walking around the city. Could we stay warm without bulk, keep the chills at bay but not feel stifling hot indoors? We got objective advice from the pros at REI, as well as real-life recommendations from MyLittleBird readers.

Comfort outdoors begins with the layer next to your skin, according to REI experts. Whether you choose synthetic or natural, fabric is key. Synthetics (polyester, nylon or rayon) keep you dry and some add a finish that inhibits odors but require more frequent washing.

Thanks to its ultra-fine fibers, merino wool has mostly replaced traditional wool. Wool can also be blended with other fabrics, like spandex, for better fit and flexibility. If you sweat, it won’t keep you as dry as a synthetic fabric. On the other hand, it’s highly stink-resistant. Silk feels great and slips easily under other other layers but it’s not odor-resistant.

Then there are weight decisions. Consider both your metabolism and activity level. If you’re always “the cold one” among your friends, then go with a heavier weight. For fit, think comfortably snug.

Here’s the take from readers:

Cindy T. grew up in Buffalo, NY, skiing in blue jeans and soggy down jackets well before polar fleece was even invented. “I loved the new synthetics for a while, but I am coming around to the realization that what was old is new again. Synthetics are often added to wool, and can be superior for super-cold conditions, but merino wool is non-itchy, breathable, so lightweight that it layers well and also dries quickly. What’s more, you can buy merino with ‘stinky-proof’ treatments, making this base layer ideal for wearing more than a day or two in a row.”

Mary F.‘s sly suggestion to us about our trip to Montreal: “Stay underground.” She admits she’s always cold. “I agree that wool keeps you warmer and, of course, I love cashmere. I double it with a long-sleeve jewel neck and a cardigan. Otherwise I stay faithful to wearing Under Armour nylon shirts under a wool sweater.

Nancy G., who is always well-dressed for any occasion:  “I have no idea what it’s made of, but believe it or not, Uniqlo’s Heattech line really keeps me warm. Comes in a few weights, different necklines on the tops, and leggings. Real underwear colors or an occasional interesting color. The tops work under sweaters and sweatshirts.”

Interior designer Candace J.: “I have found that silk is the best insulation hands down!!”

Alice B., who lives in wild, wonderful West Virginia: “Silk—for the next-to-the-skin layer. Wool and actually anything fuzzy, also in layers.”
—Janet Kelly
LEFT: Under Armour’s Fitted ColdGear Mockneck Shirt ($49.99, Dick’s Sporting Goods) looks as snug and comfortable as you’d want a next-to-your-skin layer to be. CENTER: Arc’teryx is “a high-performance outdoor gear company,” founded in North Vancouver, British Columbia. This RHO Lt Bottom  ($89), is a lightweight, stretchy and easy-to-layer base, designed for cool to cold temperatures.  The fit looks flattering, good enough to wear all on its own with an oversized sweater. RIGHT: A combination of polyester and spandex, Hot Chillys’ Micro-Elite Chamois Base-Layer Tights ($65, REI) works for both outdoor sports and everyday winter dressing. These mid-weight leggings, made from the company’s micro-elite chamois, features odor control and a wide waistband for supportive fit.
LEFT: I can’t resist admiring this Hanro Woolen Silk Turtleneck Shirt ($174, Zappos), spendy though it is. First, silk and wool are a yummy combination, temperature-wise speaking; second, it looks so damn stylish that I wouldn’t hide it under anything. Maybe that justifies the price. CENTER: Icebreaker’s 175 Everyday Merino Base Layer Leggings ($84.95, Zappos) have a lot going for them—they’re odor-resistant, breathable and washable. Plus, merino wool is soft and feels good against the skin. But better to layer under something or to wear lounging around the house. They’re more see-through than a thicker legging. RIGHT: Patagonia’s Capilene Midweight Bottoms (on sale for $41 in navy) are made from 100% recycled polyester. The smooth fabric makes for easy layering, and odor control will keep you welcome among your friends.
ALSO: For sensitive souls—and bodies—who prefer silk next to their skin and like easy-on-the-wallet prices, there’s this Long Sleeve Crewneck Top in Lightweight Washable Silk, which sells for $44.99. Our own Nancy McKeon has bought the WinterSilks brand for skiing—and dog walking, too.

Uniqlo’s Heattech line offers three versions—the regular, extra warm and ultra-warm. So you can pick according to your body’s cold level. The Heattech Extra-Warm Scoop Neck T-Shirt ($24.90) with its scoop neckline and three-quarter sleeves stays hidden under an outer layer and the fitted cut won’t add bulk.

Finally, a pair of workout leggings can do the trick for ad-hoc warmth. If you have ever put jeans on over your exercise tights to quickly exit the gym, you know what I mean.


MyLittleBird often includes links to products we write about. Our editorial choices are made independently; nonetheless, a purchase made through such a link can sometimes result in MyLittleBird receiving a commission on the sale, whether through a retailer, an online store or

One thought on “What Lies Beneath

  1. Carol says:

    I wish I could wear cashmere like little bird Mary F but it would have to be below 20 degrees otherwise I would ruin it with sweat . I prefer washable fleece on cold days and a thin silk long sleeve underwear if going to be outside for a long time

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *