My Michigan winter closet: outerwear essentials

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As a Californian living in Michigan for the past three years, I like to think I’ve streamlined my winter wardrobe. This winter hasn’t dipped below 0°F too often so far (oh how far my temperature tolerance has changed), but it dropped down to around 20°F from 50-60°F within a week so I’m glad I had all my winter gear packed under my bed for convenience so I could quickly grab all the coats and jackets I needed.

When I first moved to Michigan, I was a little lost on what clothing items I needed since the coldest place most of friends lived was New York, which is cold, but a different kind of cold, compared to Michigan. My roommate during my first year of graduate school grew up in Minnesota so I asked her for tips which were really helpful. I’m hoping this post might help someone who is in a similar position I was in, or at least might be interesting to someone who’s looking for a few outerwear reviews. I have a 12 minute walk to lab and typically don’t spend more than 20 minutes walking outside in the winter.

I’ve made a personal goal that I cannot buy any new winter gear unless I sell a current clothing equivalent. After graduate school, I plan to move back to California where I won’t have much need for all this heavy-duty outerwear. So as of now, here’s my curated winter outerwear wardrobe (with a variety of Instagram/real life outfits).

1. Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket, $69.90 (wait for promotions)
similar here (save) and here (splurge)

uniqlo-down-jacket

Uniqlo down jacket layered over a sweater.

The first down purchase I ever made was from Uniqlo in the fall of my first year. I’m a person who typically runs warm/hot rather than cold, so when it’s around 20-30°F, this Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket zipped up over a light sweater is perfect. The small size fit snug in a cozy way when zipped up over just a shirt. Unfortunately, my hips are wider than the cut of the jacket; there’s no stretch to the fabric and the jacket rode up noticeably when I walked so I ended up with a medium. Overall, the medium fits slightly oversized on me but it does fit over my hips and leaves room for a sweater. I find their down products well priced (they’re often on promotion) and my jacket has washed and held up well for over two years now. Feathers to escape but not enough to de-poof the jacket. I also just throw the jacket in the washer and dryer and it comes out perfectly fine. Additionally, these jackets (not sure about the vests) come with small drawstring bags. It takes a try or two to figure out how to roll up the jacket to smoosh it down to fit into the bag, but it makes these products really great for traveling.

For even cooler temperatures, I step it up with a slightly heavier Uniqlo down-filled jacket. This jacket is my newest purchase; I received it just a few weeks ago and have already worn it several times. I needed a jacket to fill the gap between my previously mentioned lightweight down and my heavy-duty snow jacket. I often go without a beanie so having a hood is crucial to protect my ears from the cold wind. Remember to protect your extremities (feet, hands, head/ears)! This was the only winter gear purchase I made this year and it’s perfect for my needs, down to the fleece-lined zip-closure pockets and adjustable hood.

3. Uniqlo Military Hooded Parka (old, sold out)
similar here, here and here

uniqlo-parka

Uniqlo parka (in black) worn over a dress for a holiday party.

Alternatively, I have a waterproof parka also from Uniqlo (do you sense a trend here?) with a detachable faux-shearling lining. I picked it up on super sale last spring on a whim and I’m absolutely in love with it. In the winter, for not-too-cold days, I keep the faux-shearling liner in and wear the parka over a shirt and when it’s even colder, I wear it over a cashmere sweater (optional: Heattech shirt underneath).

Speaking of cashmere sweaters, I always stock up during Macy’s Black Friday sale (a tip from me to you). Charter Club (Macy’s in-house brand) crewneck (currently $32!), v-neck (currently $28!) and turtleneck cashmere sweaters (currently $40), also available in petites and plus sizes in a variety of colors, are marked down to $40-50 per sweater which is amazing. My mom has been buying them for about a decade at this point and while the quality of recent sweaters aren’t as good as past season’s, they’re still of decent quality and don’t pill as easily as my Uniqlo wool sweaters which pilled horribly in one day. The Charter Club ones do eventually pill but are easily cleaned up with a sweater-saver (or pumice stone as an alternative) but are very warm and wash well (either by hand or wash on gentle in a machine but hang dry). I’ve also asked friends who’ve purchased Everlane cashmere sweaters and they’ve found that the Everlane ones pill within a few wears similar to the Charter Club ones but are $100 instead of $40.

Lastly, when I’m running late or when I don’t feel like wearing a ton of layers, I’ll just wear a single shirt under my holy grail Marmot Montreal Coat which I normally try to reserve for below 10°F.

5. Marmot Montreal Coat, $285
certain colors on sale here, here and here

winter-outfit

Admiring my winter outfit (featuring my Marmot coat) in the elevator

Like I mentioned in the previous sentence, this Marmot Montreal Coat is single-handedly my favorite thing about winter. I got it in the olive color since green is my favorite clothing color. It’s fleece-lined in the body and pockets, feels like you’re wearing a puffy duvet/cloud and hits me mid-thigh which doesn’t constrict my walking which is important when I’m wearing snow boots trying to avoid the slippery icy spots. The removable hood, with a removable faux fur ruff, is also down-filled as well as adjustable. The pockets have zips and there’s an inner pocket as well (I usually stick my wallet or my phone in there when I don’t want to carry a bag). I have this jacket in an x-small and it’s snug in the body but I’m still able to fit a thin to medium sweater underneath. The small would be a little roomier but where there’s space, there’s cold air.

As for my decision to go with the Marmot brand, I almost bought a North Face jacket because that was the only brand of down jackets I knew of at the time. I seriously considered the North Face Arctic Down Parka before stumbling upon the Marmot Montreal Coat during my internet research.

For jackets around the same price between the two brands, I found that North Face coats averaged 550-fill power where Marmot jackets were around 700-fill power. From what I understand, the higher the fill number, the less down material is required to trap the same amount of warmth aka the Marmot jacket requires less material to provide the same amount of warmth as the North Face coat which requires more geese feathers (so the North Face jacket isn’t as economical). Additionally, at the time I was searching for coats, North Face was in the process of switching to ethically sourced down where Marmot already had ethically sourced down. I am aware of my hypocritical stance on this since I do buy items from fast-fashion brands that probably don’t ethically source their materials or have great labor practices. However, for the heavy duty coat I was planning to spend $200+ on, I wanted to buy as ethically as possible. I ended up getting the Marmot jacket on sale for around $150 where the cheapest North Face jacket I could find at the time was around $200.

I mentioned that I tend to run warm so I found I can get away with wearing fewer layers compared to most. For alternative heavy-duty coat options, one of my friends here who’s always freezing (and also a native Californian) finally turned to Canada Goose for negative temperatures because the other brands she tried (North Face, Columbia , L.L. Bean, Patagonia) just didn’t cut it, and she hasn’t looked back since. For reference on our differing temperature tolerance, she wears North Face parkas when the weather is 30-40°F when I occasionally forgo the Uniqlo light down jacket and just wear multiple layers of sweaters and hoodies because hoodies are genuinely my favorite clothing item. However, for those who realistically cannot go the Canada Goose route, taking note from the lab tech in my lab, layering multiple down layers is probably the best alternative. For instance, a Uniqlo light down vest of jacket is thin enough to layer underneath a heavy winter down coat for two layers of down insulation.

Overall, I’m happy with my collection of outerwear. Every item has its own niche in my closet and I think the “one item in, one item out” rule will work well for me and my physically-small closet.

Hope you found this post helpful or at least interesting. And because it’s worth repeating, don’t forget to keep those extremities wrapped up!