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FASHION Arctic chic shows winter isn't over yet



Published: Tue, March 4, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Some people would rather be warm than stylish.

By ELLEN WARREN

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

CHICAGO -- Two intrepid journalists -- camera and notebook in hand -- took to the tundra of Chicago's Michigan Avenue at rush hour on a brutally cold day to determine if it is humanly possible to stay warm and look good at the same time in March.

Here's what they found:

UPeople claiming to be toasty in their fashionable outfits but we suspect were lying and were actually freezing.

UA bunch of pedestrians who didn't care how they looked as long as they weren't miserable.

UChicagoans who looked great and were also warm.

USeveral uncomplaining transplants who, remarkably, moved here from milder climates -- Brazil and California to name two.

URemarkably congenial men and women willing to stop in the bitter cold and talk to us -- outdoors -- and pose for pictures.

Sans boots

"I don't do boots," Jeanine Amilowski told us. The ex-New Yorker was insistent that despite snow, slush, salt and single-digit temperatures, she doesn't need boots in Chicago. She was wearing black Italian leather flats, with cute socks, and despite our best investigative efforts she stuck with her story. Boots, she insists, "are not necessary."

By contrast, she was wearing a Cossack-style hat that looked Siberia-worthy. The headwear, purchased 6 or 7 years ago at a department store, is a real fashion statement and has become her winter trademark.

"Everyone knows me in this hat," she said, pointing out that she once was actually scolded by a real Russian who told her that it is not cold enough in the United States to wear such a furry marvel.

We respectfully disagree with the Russian. And we also disagree with Amilowski's views on boots. Not necessary? Please.

Fixated on the boots question, we snagged Keri Culhane to ask her about her handsome tan footwear. They're the Australia-made Ugg boots, considered by many to be the gold standard of warm footwear.

Think of a sheep. Now, turn it inside out. Then put it on your feet with that thick curly, woolly coat caressing your tootsies. That's Uggs.

Culhane is a Chicagoan now but in her previous life she was an extra on TV shows in California where, oddly, she learned about Uggs. Air-conditioned sets, she informed us, are so cold that stars wear Uggs when their feet are not going to be in the picture.

Both Culhane and Amilowski were style standouts but both admitted that beneath their cloth coats they were wearing plenty of layers, including long johns, or the silk equivalent.

While her navy cloth coat looked good, Amilowski acknowledged "it's not that warm, actually."

Matter of fur

Which brings us to the matter of fur. Enveloped in luxurious longhaired coyote, Charles Johnson was heading to the train station and onward to his home in Gary, Ind.

He was looking sharp and he knew it. He told us he completely disagreed with those who say you can't look great and stay warm simultaneously. A lifelong Midwesterner, Johnson said he bought his hip-length coyote coat several winters ago because (1.) it looks terrific and (2.) fur is warmer than fabric. In that order.

In addition to the coat, Johnson said he pays a lot of attention to picking a winter hat because "I'm baldheaded." Removing a handsome red-and-blue Tommy Hilfiger fleece cap, he proved the point: His shaved head was as smooth as at a snake's belly.

Johnson's co-worker, Carl Sylvester, in a silvery Ecko down jacket, has a wintertime aphorism.

"There's an old saying and I got this from my uncle, that 'I'd rather be a warm bunny than a cool fool."' In other words, dress for warmth, not looks.

What is most important to his look, Sylvester says, he said, is his $5 navy-and-gray stocking cap. "This hat has been with me since I bought it at a flea market in 1989. October. I remember the date."

To the untrained eye it is not a particularly noteworthy garment but it's important to Sylvester -- and, incidentally, it does keep his head warm.

At the polar opposite of the mummy look of Sylvester was Harry Bauer. We found him sauntering along in a skimpy leather jacket. No gloves. No hat. No sense? "I like the cold," said the severely under-dressed Bauer, a pilot for Lufthansa currently living in (sunny) Spain.

His excuse for dressing for a balmy spring day was, "I don't want to bring too much stuff" in his regular work commute from southwest suburban Frankfort to Chicago.

When he starts to get chilly, Bauer said his strategy is to duck into a store or a coffee shop to drive his body temp up before he braves the elements again.

Expert

As luck would have it, the very next person we stopped on the street was an expert on cold weather wear.

Sixty-nine-year-old Alden Cohen teaches cold survival courses as a Red Cross volunteer. Like a little kid, Cohen even clips his gloves to his coat to make sure he doesn't lose them.

"Didn't your mother ever do that for you?" he asked. Well, yes but not after about second grade.

"Layers," bellowed Cohen from deep within his white Santa beard. "Earmuffs!" he ordered pointing to his own black ones. "Because your ears and the tip of your nose and fingertips are the first to get cold."

For a coat, he suggests down or fur. "Air is still the cheapest insulation. Fur is warm because the hairs trap the air. Down does the same thing."

For maximum hand warmth, he recommends gloves, covered by mittens.

What, we asked, would prompt someone to venture out without gloves in single-digit cold. "It's that Spanish word," Cohen said, "macho."




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