Degrees of Dressing

February has been beautiful in Berlin. January’s thick white blanket finally parted to reveal the blinding sun perched high in the clear, blue sky. And just like that it feels as if a weight has been lifted off the shoulders of the city. All around you’ll see squinting faces, soaking up the sun like lizards on a warm rock. If it weren’t for the sub-zero temperatures (thanks Hartmut), you could almost think that spring were on its way.  

The sunshine and hope for spring lure one into thinking it’s safe to venture outside with a layer less than January.

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Icy mornings on the Spree

The last six years in Germany have been one continuous learning experience. Especially when it comes to the subject of dressing. The Germans however, figured this one out a long while ago –  they’ve even got a saying for it:

“Es gibt kein schlechtes Wetter, nur schlechte Kleidung“

This says it all. There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. This is the secret to still being excited to head outdoors when its -15 outside. And why you’ll always see the Germans enjoying the outdoors – whatever the weather.

I’ve slowly managed to customise my wardrobe to better survive the seasons, of course, with many fails along the way. Here’s how I do it:

The cold months

Here I’ve learnt to distinguish between cold and freeze-your-ass-off cold. For those cold days – between 0 and 8 degrees (and little wind) – you can almost get away with a mix of the onion principle (German: das Zwiebelprinzip), a warm woollen coat and completed with gloves, a woollen scarf and a beanie. But once that temperature drops below 0, things get serious.

This is where I bring in the:

  • Thick-soled shoes. Avoid leather soles unless you want your feet to freeze!
  • Woollen inner-soles
  • Stockings under my pants: this helps with the icy wind that creeps under your skin.
  • A double pair of opaque tights (if daring to wear a skirt)
  • Thermal tank-tops: perfect for warmth without being bulky. Check the outdoor stores for a good (and even stylish) selection.
  • Natural fibres: think wool and cashmere to let your body breathe
  • Down-jacket: the quilted-jacket’s heavy-duty relative.

Putting that altogether I sound like I’d be braving the arctic poles but I exactly recall arriving to Germany with my Sydney for my first winter. Short ankle-socks, a few cardigans and a waist-length, thin woollen coat. I definitely heard the German weather gods laugh at me when I thought I’d survive the winter in this.

The transitional months

Both spring and autumn can be confusing. The morning walk to work can be a frosty 5 degrees – the evening walk home, a warm 17 degrees. I often follow the onion principle during these months. A few layers of cotton, a light jumper and perhaps a scarf. Finish with a trench coat or the alternative, the quilted jacket – a much-loved favourite amongst the Germans. Germany has mastered the quilted jacket, having found the perfect balance of filling, weight and warmth.  

The warm month(s)

We’d be lucky to be blessed with months of summer heat in Germany. For the most part however, this is usually disappointing. We’ll get a few good weeks – but it’s still got nothing on a Sydney summer. Over my first two German summers I recall only wearing a quarter of my summer wardrobe I brought from Australia. This is easily solved by pairing my favourite summer tops and dresses with cute cardigans or a light jacket.  

Functional clothing

Being in Germany, this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning functional clothing. You could say the Germans lead the pack in functional dressing. They’ve developed specialised clothing for almost every outdoor purpose. And they’re good at it. And it’s popular. Whether it be the two-in-one pants for hiking (one may get warm while hiking you know), compression socks, waterproof cycling pants (to not get wet on the way to work of course) or fleece shirts – theres something for every occasion.

And while such clothing may be perfect for the function it serves, you will often see those people who find a way to let these pieces sneak in to their everyday dress. Where’s Joan Rivers when you need her?

Ever wonder how to spot a German on holidays? Look for the windbreaker or all weather jacket – most often in a ghastly shade of mustard, burnt orange or teal. Paired with a backpack from Deuter or Lowe. 

And while I’m counting down the days to lose the bulky layers, let’s see what the next season will bring,

What are your tips for the seasons?

Frosty mornings
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Crispy evenings


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