Functional Winter Fashion: How to Stay Warm and Save Money

IMG_9664.jpgWe keep our house warm in the summer and chilly in the winter. No, we’re not crazy…though some may call it that. It is far more economical to warm your body than your whole environment. Dressing practically for the weather, even indoors, helps us save energy and makes us more comfortable when we can’t control the temperature.

The Benefits:

Save money

Our single biggest motivator is the heating bill itself. Maybe you’re not ready to commit to all winter, but you’re willing to try it for a short-term monthly challenge. Anything is possible for a month, right? The thrill when you see the savings might just be addicting. Josh and I are kind of nerdy and actually get excited about our utility bills. It’s a chance to see the outcome of our efforts in convenient graph form!

It’s not that we can’t “afford” to run our heat. It’s just that we have different priorities than some people. We are truly privileged to do these kinds of lifestyle changes by choice. It’s worth noting that there’s a difference between doing something challenging and suffering. We chose 62 degrees because it was the sweet spot that was challenging for us but not miserable. That number might be different for your family, and that’s okay. Misery is never worth it.

Save resources 

Aside from the money saved, Josh and I believe in treading lightly on the planet and not using excessive resources. Every degree lower that we can tolerate adds up. Every time we choose to walk or bike rather than drive adds up. Every light bulb we change from incandescent to LED adds up. It’s awesome to not consume more than we need.


The really great thing about running the furnace less is that your body knows how to acclimate! Our family is very well-adjusted to the weather outdoors because it’s reflected in our indoor temperature. This makes camping, walks, bike rides, zoo trips, and runs to the store more comfortable year-round. It’s wonderful to embrace those changing seasons and get outside on days other than just the 70-degree and sunny ones (when everyone happens to be out, kind of defeating the calming effect.) Camping with my family in all different seasons taught me at a young age that one doesn’t have to be 100% comfortable at all times in order to have fun. Sweating can make you feel re-charged. Icy wind on your face can be exhilarating. Complete comfort is very, very overrated. 

The Details:

Leggings / thermal underwear

My secret weapon.

Fleece-lined leggings are so simple, but they make a huge difference.  Not only are they in style, they’re the answer to staying toasty all winter while running the heat as little as possible. I’ve worn them with tunics, sweaters, under dresses, and under long skirts.

And a thermal base layer isn’t just for being outdoors, hunting, and doing extreme sports. It can be worn indoors everyday under your normal clothing. It effectively traps body heat because it’s close-fitting and made from insulating but lightweight materials.

The material these base layers are made out of is important. Look for base layers that are either fleece, marino wool, or moisture-wicking synthetics. These materials are extra warm and save on electricity by not needing to go in the dryer.

I recently discovered this article by Low-Tech Magazine. I already knew that leggings and thermal undergarments kept me warmer than jeans, but I never really thought about the science behind it. It’s kind of amazing!


If long skirts are your thing, don’t stop wearing them in the winter! A good casual skirt is kind of like a blanket you don’t need to take off….and way more attractive than a Snuggie! Slip one on over what you’re already wearing for added style and warmth.

Skirts aren’t just for summer!


I’m pretty sure wool is the greatest material on the planet. My favorite wool sweater right now was actually given to me at a free clothing swap! (Yes, I’m still in the middle of a year-long ban on buying clothes. Have I been tempted by a few quality thermal and wool items in stores? Yes. Do I already have enough to get through this winter? Indeed, I do! I can be excited about these things without stuffing my closet to the point of bursting.)

Thrifted wool hats and vintage arm-warmers are worthwhile finds if you don’t already have them. I gravitate toward function over fashion, but there’s no reason your winter wardrobe can’t be both! If you know how to knit, you can make custom arm and leg-warmers that meet your unique needs and fashion preferences. 

Two thifted wool hats and one handmade!

Wool makes a great middle layer, since you probably don’t want it right next to your skin. I usually do a thermal base layer consisting of leggings and a long-sleeve shirt, then a wool sweater, wool socks, and fuzzy boots. That’s my uniform if I’m staying indoors. 


For going outside, I add a coat if it’s windy or wet, but my tolerance for cold weather has increased to the point that I often don’t need a coat for short errands. I did this recently and it wasn’t until I got in the car and looked at the temperature on the dash that I realized it was 32 degrees outside!

When I do need a coat, down is the warmest material. I got rid of several stylish but thin coats recently because they took up lots of space in the closet, and didn’t actually insulate. I invested in a nice down coat about 9 years ago. It was a good decision, as it’s still my favorite!

Warm Extremities 

I read here that women’s extremities get cold faster than men’s. I don’t know about everyone else, but I now think more deliberately about what I have on my toes and fingers.

I keep a pair of cozy fleece “driving gloves” in the car at all times because even when I don’t need a coat, I often want my fingers covered. And who says gloves are only for outside? Indoor gloves can be cute fingerless varieties, or just arm-warmers under clothes.

I wear my thrifted fuzzy boots around my house all winter. They are so much warmer than socks alone! They have rubber soles, which make it easy to run in and out of the house for things and they prolong the life of my nice wool socks. There’s all different types of boots and house-shoes out there, and they help a lot!

Cheap boots. Warm toes.

Holding something warm in your hands gets the heat going to your fingers as well. I drink lots of herbal tea when I’m home in the winter. I also carry coffee and tea around in mason jars to warm my hands when I’m out for a winter walk. I don’t recommend drinking sugary beverages to stay warm, as sugar can mess with your immune system. Vegetable soup, homemade stock, unsweetened herbal tea and unsweetened green tea are excellent ways to keep your body warm and maintain your immunity all winter. Even drinking plain hot water will keep you warm and hydrated!


Our secret to turning the heat way down at night is flannel. Flannel sheets are great, as they don’t get cold when the air hits them like normal cotton ones do. I know it’s not as minimal to have special sheets just for winter, but trust me, it’s worth it!

I love wearing my (and my husband’s) flannel shirts around the house. And I wear this upcycled flannel shirt scarf by Laura at Deliberate Hands pretty much everyday. It’s adorable, it’s not scratchy like other scarves, and it stays in place.

Best practical and cute scarf ever!

Stay active

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s totally worth mentioning! Being active around the house is SO different than sitting on the couch. When I’m up and doing laundry, cleaning, or working out, I warm up. It gets stuff done too! It’s awesome. Josh and I are huge advocates for an active lifestyle. Whatever gets you motivated and moving….do it!

In case you’re wondering…

Yes, we do raise the heat for our guests! Historic houses like ours aren’t easy to heat (the fireplace has been removed) so our closest friends know to bundle up a little when they come over and stay. But hospitality is worth it! Friends are worth it! And I have lots of coffee, tea, soup, blankets, and a cute baby to pass around if someone is still shivering.

There you have it. The secret to how I enjoy winter in the midwest without freezing…and save money on heating! What about you? What’s your cold-weather uniform?




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: