The temperature that morning in Beijing had dipped below zero degrees Celsius. Yet there I was sitting in a restaurant that afternoon, feeling sweat moisten my brow. I seriously contemplated taking off my heavy blue-and-gold knit sweater — once indispensible for surviving the winter in Hangzhou — which I had layered over an equally warm long-sleeved thermal shirt. I even wondered if it was overkill to have on long underwear beneath my jeans.
Clearly, I had forgotten about the indoor heating in Beijing, and how it might mean rethinking how I dress for the winter. That I might actually need to wear lighter, more layered clothing under my jacket than in Hangzhou, despite the huge difference in latitude.
This is one of the ironies of the North China versus South China divide.
Down in Hangzhou, it’s not uncommon to see people completely bundled up indoors with their coats on. In South China, you wear your coat so much in the winter that it’s almost more important than your sweater. My mother-in-law once urged me to buy more jackets, concerned that people kept seeing me wearing the same one every day. (After all, they’re less likely to get a glimpse of those nice sweaters I bought, given how cold the indoors can be at times.)
You would think the same winter dress strategy would apply up in more northerly Beijing, with people donning even warmer, heavier layers to survive those bitter winds from Siberia and the Arctic. And while I’m sure this would be true for anyone forced to spend much of the winter toiling outdoors for work, it’s not for your average person who spends most of the day indoors.
I commute between my apartment and the office buildings, each a snug oasis of warmth thanks to the plentiful heating provided here in Beijing. Of course would I never need to keep my parka on indoors in either place. But sometimes, even your average sweater feels like a little too much – just like in that restaurant. This is a world where you might need to peel off that sweater every now and then, or hug it a little closer if a cold breeze happens to sneak through that window or door.
The problem is, I’ve spent years building up a wardrobe to survive winters in more southern Hangzhou. I jettisoned many of my light cardigans in favor of more substantial sweaters I’d wear over thermal underwear. Before we moved to Beijing, I remember feeling grateful I had these sweaters to see me through the season. But that was before I realized Beijing’s heating can be so abundant that, occasionally, the word “sauna” comes to mind.
Oh, how I wish I hadn’t tossed those cardigans. Especially since it is so darned difficult to find things in my size in China. (But that’s another story…)
Eventually, I’ll adapt my clothing to Beijing winters, heating and all. I’m already halfway there with an extra-warm parka to protect me from the frigid winds.
Still, I can’t help but recall another irony of the situation — that I, a woman who grew up in northerly Cleveland, Ohio, a city with a reputation for blustery winters, am having to re-learn how to dress for winter in the North.
What’s your winter dress strategy? Have you noticed a difference between dressing for winter in North China versus South China?