building a winter wardrobe, from scratch

how to build a winter wardrobe

how to build a winter wardrobe

When I first arrived in New York this past October, I knew I had some serious purchases to make. Winter was approaching and this Florida girl did not have the right duds, as you can imagine.

For about two months, I was on a serious mission to find the perfect coat to get me through this first winter. It wasn’t an easy one. I can’t tell you why, maybe I’m picky, but I did not find most coats to be cute. At all. I found most to be atrocious. And the thing about this is … yes, I get that a coat is supposed to keep you warm first and foremost, so maybe that should be the focus … and well, no. It can’t be just about that. You have to love your coat – the way it looks – because you’re going to be seeing it on yourself more than anything else in your closet. For months.

And so, an obsession began. Temperatures were dropping and the awkwardly short black J. Crew peacoat I’d bought in college was not going to cut it. Lucky for me, I have some amazing girlfriends, who didn’t mind the compulsive text messages of photos of me from the Bloomie’s dressing room and emails filled with links to different coats with coordinating questions and thoughts for each. They all played along, and in the end, helped me to find my perfect coat (pictured above!) – among many other things.

{the list}

  • The investment coat: A long coat that you can wear out at night as well as during the day (black is good for this reason – versatile). It needs to be long so you can wear it with dresses and tights, longer sweaters and tops, etc. – and mostly, to keep you warm. This is the coat I bought and I love it (also snagged for 20% off during Bloomie’s Friends + Family!).
  • A puffer coat: Kind of optional, kind of not. Puffer coats are super-warm; although I originally bought mine for the gym, I now wear it all the time. Pretty sure I got mine for $89 at Uniqlo (TY, Shar, for that recommendation!) – can’t beat that! If I were doing it again, I’d probably go longer, maybe mid-thigh length. I’ve heard you need an ankle-length puffer for when it’s really cold, but I disagree. I’m sure it’s nice to have but I have survived without. Invest in the first coat, and get the puffer cheap.
  • Flat, tall boots: They will keep you warm, and are a must for everyday trucking around in the city. I like black, but you can certainly go brown if that’s more your style. I made an investment in these babies, and I’m 100% in love with them. They are over-the-knee, so they help keep you even warmer, and they look super-sleek. (Look at for 20% off coupons on Piperlime!)
  • Rain boots: For rain and snow. Hunter is the go-to; mine are red and they make me happy. Snow boots would also be nice, but if you’re building from the ground up like I am, they can wait until next season.
  • Heeled boot: For going out. I have a black wedge boot I love because they’re still really comfortable, so you can walk a few blocks (or 10) without wanting to die.
  • Tanks and tees, both long and short-sleeved: For layering! Make sure you have a tight fit. I love these from Gap Body – they’re inexpensive and comfortable … I am living in them in black and white.
  • Sweaters: First, cashmere. It really does keep you warm, in addition to feeling good. Get a couple of basic cashmere sweaters when they’re on sale at Bloomingdales, J. Crew. They are an investment you’ll wear over and over again. (Just layer those tanks and tees underneath when it gets really cold…) Also, a couple really thick-knit, longer sweaters you can wear over leggings/skinny jeans and layer with stuff when it’s really cold. I have two from BCBG that have gotten me through this season.
  • Leggings: I live in black legging-style pants from Zara, but you can also do thinner leggings and wear them under your jeans when it gets super-cold. Uniqlo makes these – made with a special fabric that’s supposed to keep you warm – but clearly, you can buy leggings anywhere. 🙂
  • Scarf, gloves, hat: I’m really into the beanie, personally – but go for what you like. Just keep something on the head – it’s the most crucial part of keeping you warm. Gloves are obvious, but it’s up to you whether you want to make an investment. Cashmere-lined leather is the warmest, but if you’re a person that tends to lose things, just buy them cheap on the street. For scarf, I like cashmere as well. (Pay attention to J. Crew online – they often do stuff like 20% off sitewide.)

Another key part about building a winter wardrobe, and in particular a wardrobe for living in New York City, is that your style is probably going to change. Flowy shapes and bright colors that felt right in Florida just don’t work here. New York-living calls for a much more practical way of dressing, and it’s a little harder – at least that’s what’s gone down in my wardrobe.

If you’ve got tips for dressing warm, please share below!



building a winter wardrobe, from scratch

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  1. Molly says:

    Girl, I am in Chicago so I FEEL you. Poor boyfriend is from Florida. Get real on that winter coat is my only tip. He still thinks the things they sell as “winter” coats in Florida count. Layer it up and look forward to spring! Love the coat in the picture!

  2. Logan says:

    This is so random, but I must tell you, I’m rooting for you on The Taste and had to pause the TV when your gorgeous wedding ring flashed on the screen. My boyfriend and I both aw’d at it for a few minutes. It’s the perfect ring for a gold girl, (like myself). I’d love to know who makes it and to see more of it. (I’m also dying to make your blue cheese grits with BBQ bourbon shrimp!) =)

    • sarah ashley says:

      Thank you! I am actually not engaged anymore, but yes, it was a gorgeous ring! My ex had designed it, but it was fairly simple. I’m a gold girl, too. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and saying hi!

      • Logan says:

        Shit, I’m sorry. Everything happens for a reason though, right? I finally got around to making your bourban shrimp and blue cheese grits and it was SO good.. I could not stop eating the grits while they were resting. Anyway, thank you for your response and keep doin what you’re doin. P.S. A taco is totally a mexican sandwich.

  3. Karna says:

    I’m moving to NYC from ATL this Feb. since you’ve been there a year now, any additional tips for building a new winter wardrobe from scratch? Any thoughts on best cute shoes and bags for the subway commute to work? Thx. This post was super helpful.