Help a SoCal girl get wardrobe ready for Chi-town


Sep 7, 2013

I'm a Southern California girl. I will be moving to Chicago for grad school. Please help me with wardrobe ideas for Chicago weather. What are the essentials I need to survive there?

Thanks so much for your help!


Jan 4, 2006
You will need strong sturdy and warm snow boots, an uber-warm coat like a knee or calf-length puffer, & something to cover your head, ears, neck, and gloves. The cold and snow are really unbelievable. If you will have a car, make sure you travel with a small shovel and you may even need chains on your tires.

Of course, in the summer, it is so hot you can fry an egg on the sidewalk.


Me + Harpua
Jan 30, 2014
In The VeLVet Sea
Definitely invest in a down puffer! Also 180s ear muffs can be worn under your hair if you have long hair & leather gloves to block the wind

Layers will get you through a lot of the year. Invest in sweater tights if you like to wear dresses to carry them over to colder seasons

Summer is delightful though! It's never THAT hot or humid (I used to live in TX & laugh at Midwesterners who melt when the weather goes above 80)

And congrats on grad school! Welcome to Chicago!!

Here's two sites to get you up to speed for city life:


Feb 5, 2013
The lake is your friend! Cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
If you'll be at one of the lakefront campuses, you'll be walking a lot...and close to some good shopping destinations and great recreation. Take your time and buy what works for your new lifestyle.
Bring a bike!


May 18, 2012
It depends what time of year you'll be moving here, but I'd say don't worry about buying all of the clothing you think you need ahead of time. I'd recommend purchasing off-season items once you're here...places like Macy's do huge discounts on winter gear once it starts to warm up. A full-length down parka with a hood will become your best friend :smile: Other outerwear recommendations... a wool peacoat for when it's chilly but not freezing, a leather jacket that can be dressed up/down and accommodates layers, and a waterproof jacket/shell for the rain.

Chicago is a very walkable city, so cute (but comfortable) ankle boots/oxfords/flats are always popular. Rainboots are a must as well as the waterproof/warm snowboots that people mentioned above. And Smartwool socks!

I think an overall Chicago fashion mantra is "layers, layers, layers!" No need to sacrifice warmth at the expense of looking good, either. I go to plenty of events where girls bring a change of clothes or shoes and just stash their winter gear in coat check (myself included) :smile:


Oct 26, 2006
I'm close to Chicago and have only survived this winter thanks to my long down coats (I have one in black and one in dark brown), my Sorel boots (two pair!) and Hunter wellies.

I've been wearing tons of layers, and shapewear is my new long underwear. I don't have chains on my tires, or anything like that and I have a small vehicle, no SUV necessary. The streets are cleared quickly.


Apr 16, 2007
I moved from CA to Chicago last year and it's been very interesting to notice the sartorial differences between the two! I found that most people here are dressed quite normally, not like abominable snowmen, and your body adjusts to the temperatures pretty quickly. Pretty soon you'll be thinking 50 degrees is warm :smile:

I bought a lot of things in preparation for my move but other than a long coat, fleece-lined leggings or tights are the only things I really rely on. Also, black leather boots with good traction that you don't mind getting a little dirty will carry you through a lot of situations. But I swear by the fleece-lined leggings!!!


Nov 13, 2007
Agree again with the layers! It gets annoying in the winter, because you need all the coats and scarves and gloves to not freeze to death outside but it's often too warm inside for even a thicker sweater.

I would also like to add that Chicago is far less fashion-y than the west coast. That's not to say people don't look cute, it's just more laid back somehow. It's hard to explain, having grown up there and living out here now. I would move back in a hot minute if I could find a good job there!


Sep 26, 2006
New York City
I moved from CA to NY for law school over 3 years ago, and I created a similar thread back then! Time flies...haha.

Since relocating to NY, I've found that hats & scarves are lifesavers against the windchill. Nobody wears hats in CA for warmth, but wearing one makes a world of a difference in very cold weather. Keep in mind, it's going to be the windchill that will freeze you and not so much the bare temperature because the wind seeps into your clothing. Hence, as others have posted already, layering to minimize windchill is paramount. Afterall, you are moving to a city that is nicked named "the Windy City"!!

As for jackets, I don't own a down jacket, but I own several heavy duty wool & cashmere blend coats that all cover the bum area. If you're getting a wool jacket, make sure it's insulated (also known as thinsulate) so you'll be able to retain the heat.


May 12, 2009
Oops! My phone "butt" quoted...sorry!!!

I moved from CA to Indiana 8 years ago, and layering was and still is my best friend. The winters get easier the longer you live here, IMO. Then again, this isn't Chicago, The Windy City. I agree with others..scarves, gloves, and hats...and a fantastic mug for tea!! :smile: good luck!!!


May 12, 2009
Oh, and UGGs have been my best friend through every winter. I used to hate the way they looked when I lived in Pasadena growing up...but now they look great to me (since they keep my toes toasty, of course!).


Jul 29, 2013
South Florida
I moved from Chicago to South Florida this past summer (probably the luckiest timing ever), and I would recommend a purse with a long enough strap to go over your shoulder with your coat on. If you get a down coat, they tend to be bulky and a purse that fits perfectly normally will be difficult to get, it helps to have something decently weatherproof...