Last week, my mom ranted to me on the phone about my 15-year-old brother’s insistence on wearing thin canvas running shoes on his 1.5 km trek to the school bus in -25 Celsius weather. “You’ll get frostbite for sure,” she warned him, but he swore he was warm and she shouldn’t worry. “It’s absolutely ridiculous!” she said to me. “He says he doesn’t have space to store his winter boots at school, but I called and they said there’s plenty of room in the lockers. It’s all about fashion.”
I reminded her of my grade twelve year, when I attended the same high school and left the house at 7 a.m. in the dark, carrying a flashlight and trudging that long distance through several inches of snow if the road wasn’t plowed yet. Because I’d finally discovered how to do my hair in a way I liked — styled with mousse to create curls — I absolutely refused to wear a hat because it would squish the perfect result. To make matters worse, I didn’t even use a hair dryer, so I’d head outside with wet hair when it was -25 C. In retrospect, it’s amazing I didn’t die of hypothermia.
I refused to wear hats for years, until I met a very cool Brazilian girl in Toronto named Gabi. She was dating a good friend of Jason’s and I loved her from the first time we met. She was energetic, funny, outgoing, talkative — oh, and her hair always looked great. One night, as we stood in a line outside the Biermarket on King West, she told me she can’t live without a hat in the winter. Sure enough, she was bundled up and looked comfortable in a down coat, hat, gloves, and lined knee-high boots, while I was shivering uncontrollably in a thin peacoat and high heels, with the wind whipping my hair all over the place. At that moment, I realized it was all very stupid and I never again left the house without a hat in the winter. (It helped that I got rid of that awful mousse-encrusted hairdo that left me feeling like I had a head full of dry vermicelli noodles.)
Why so many young people sacrifice comfort and warmth on the altar of style, I no longer understand. I was the queen of it, destroying my feet for days afterwards all for a night spent teetering on sky-high heels; freezing my hands, feet, and face because my winter accessories didn’t match the look I was going for; wearing thin leggings in the middle of a snowstorm; soaking my jeans and spending the rest of the day with wet hems because I wouldn’t touch snow pants; spending countless hours with numb feet because my leather boots weren’t waterproof, but there was no way in heck I’d bust out the old Sorels while living downtown.
With my conversion to hat-wearing came a steady transition to overall comfort. I added gloves and scarves to my usual look. Last winter, I invested in some quality boots and continue to revel in the constant warmth and dryness that I feel below, no matter how wet and slushy it is. This year, my husband bought me a Canada Goose jacket that makes me feel like I’m wrapped in a duvet everywhere I go, and I love it. Why I suffered for so long, I have no freaking idea.
My brother will outgrow this stage, I told my mom, but it will take a few years of unwitting misery before he succumbs. It’s tough at that age because so much of one’s self-confidence is tied up in self-image, and style is thought by teenagers to be the best way to convey “coolness.” Once a young person builds up enough internal confidence, then it’s easier to let go of the external props. (Don’t get me wrong: I still value style and refuse to dress entirely for comfort, because then I’d spend my life in sweats, but there are ways of striking the balance to satisfy both requirements.) In the meantime, I sincerely hope he doesn’t get frostbite on his long way to the bus each morning.