I Solemnly Swear To Bundle: Dressing For Cold D.C.

Woman bundled up for bitter cold i i
Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images
Woman bundled up for bitter cold
Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images

If you're one of the lucky ones, you've got a ticket to President-elect Obama's inauguration, and you're so excited you can hardly stand it. But your pleasure in watching America's first African-American president take the oath of office is going to be seriously diminished if you're freezing your tushie off. (If you plan to view from the comfort of your couch, our winter-weather tips might provide a moment of schadenfreude.)

Inauguration morning is predicted to be cold in Washington, with a small chance of light snow. And while you may be used to dressing for cold weather, this will be different. You'll be out for hours. First, you'll have to walk to The Mall or the parade route, go through several security checkpoints, wait around for everything to begin. Finally, the big moment, then the long slog home with 2 million other satisfied customers. Plenty of time to get chilled to the absolute bone.

NPR is here to help, and my co-pilot for this little bit of enlightenment will be Vermont snowboard instructor and outfitter Caitlin Kelly, who works at A J's Ski and Sports in Stowe. We'll start with the feet and move up, shall we?

Feet

Leave the dress shoes at home. You may have splurged on something fabulous, but save it for the inauguration party later. Fur boots are best. In lieu of that, lined hiking boots or sneakers will suffice. No open-toed Birkenstocks, and Kelly advises, "One pair of thick wool socks works best. And even though you think two pairs will keep your feet warmer, they won't."

Socks are porous, and all that trapped air eventually becomes ice cold. The heat from your feet can't get through the first pair of socks to the second.

Wisconsin Democrats and Badger football fans are probably bringing battery-powered socks. For the rest of us, try to find some chemical toe warmers. They're like the hand warmers you put in your pocket, only toe warmers have stickum on one side. Kelly says to stick them to the top of your socks near where your toes meet your feet. Ooh, that feels nice.

Legs

I know you're thinking, "My legs will be fine; they don't get cold." But after an hour of sitting on those freezing metal bleachers, your bum is going to start communicating just what a mistake you made when you decided not to layer your bottom half. Not feeling like such a tough guy now, are we?

Kelly up in Vermont says start with thermal underwear. Polyester is better than cotton because it wicks away sweat more effectively. A pair of tights or close-fitting sweat pants works well as a second layer, and then top it off with lined windproof pants. Ski shops, sporting good stores, outdoor outfitters, even golf shops will have what you need. Wool pants or cotton jeans will suffice if you have nothing better, but try not to get them wet. And if there is a light snow shower (20 percent chance), a blanket will really help in the keeping dry department.

Finally, do you have something to put between the bleacher and your behind? If it's light and easy to carry, bring it. Even newspaper is better than sitting on ice-cold aluminum.

Upper Torso

You probably don't need much advice here. Begin with long-sleeve thermal underwear — again, high-tech polyester is best for the first layer, so wear it if you've got it. Then a nice, substantial, long-sleeve shirt. Want to put on another? Now that expensive new fleece you got as a present. Looking good, aren't you? Finally, your thickest, warmest coat. Waterproof would be ideal, because then it would also be windproof. A big, puffy, down jacket is the No. 1 choice. Paradoxically, lots of trapped air is good in this layer (call Kelly, she'll explain it). When it comes to coats, the general rule is that longer is better than shorter.

And our intrepid Vermont snowboarder says don't forget what many people do forget: Bring a long wool scarf. Fully 113 percent of your body's heat escapes from your neck and head (I made that up, but you know what I mean). Kelly says you do want to plug up that area around your neck. And if your face gets really cold, you're going to want that scarf to be long enough to wrap around your poor, red, now-it's-really-starting-to-hurt nose.

Hands

Mittens are best — then your fingers can keep each other warm. Gloves are a distant second: Sometimes they can make your fingers cold, because each finger is isolated. Be smart. Bring two pairs of those chemical hand warmers. They last about four hours each and you can find them at Target, Wal-Mart, drugstores and, of course, outfitters and sporting goods stores. You'll be standing there with your hands in your pockets and a smile on your face as the president-elect glides by.

Head

Kelly (and your mom) know you're not thinking about going out in this weather with no head covering at all. You're not, are you? Even a baseball cap will go a long way. Best is a fur-lined cap with a bill and ear muffs. For some people, keeping their ears warm is a big part of the ballgame. Knit stocking caps are OK, but make sure they're not the cheap, thin variety. Those are practically useless.

So with our warmest regards (sorry), that's our contribution to your inauguration pleasure. Don't forget your camera, and wave to the Obama family for us.

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