Creating a climate appropriate wardrobe


Photo by HAdesigns

Both Sarai and I moved here to Portland from warmer climates. I’m originally from Alabama, which is in the southern part of America. I grew up with mild winters and humid, hot summers. My wardrobe consisted mainly of warm weather clothes such as shorts, tank tops and sandals. I owned one coat and had never worn boots before I moved to Portland! Even though I’ve lived here for almost seven years it has taken me a long time to adapt to the weather with a climate appropriate wardrobe. I still gravitate toward summery prints, lightweight dresses and cute sandals. While the summers here are very beautiful, they are also short. Most of the time it’s chilly and layering is required.

I’ve found that I really have to reign myself in when it comes to spring and summer clothing. It’s just not practical for me to spend a lot of time sewing things for such a short season. Instead, I’ve been learning to focus on what is climate appropriate for Portland and my wardrobe especially after I made about ten tank tops last year! Being honest with myself is hard because I love the sunshine and warmth. It feels like giving in to admit I need another coat or pair of pants instead of a sleeveless dress. But after I make that cold weather garment I’m always happy I did.

Sarai has written about simplifying your wardrobe and choosing basics for yourself. I feel like I’m going through that same process and learning to be more critical of my clothing choices in order to create the wardrobe I’ll really love. Since I’ve noticed my lack of shirts with any kind of sleeve, I decided to make several and in beautiful fabrics. This is a step in the right direction for my climate appropriate wardrobe!

How does your wardrobe reflect where you live? Have you moved to a different climate and experienced a similar situation?

Caitlin Clark   —  

Caitlin is the Colette Patterns design assistant. You can follow Caitlin at her blog, the story girl.

Comments 46

Paige P

To be honest it doesn’t. Cincinnati has pretty much the same weather as portland, and I own one light ill fitting coat. I should probably make something this summer to combat the cold!


I have just moved to the U.K. from Hawaii. I have a feeling it will take me a long time to adjust my wardrobe. Thank goodness summer is coming!


Alas, @popoki6, we had summer already in the UK – it was a couple of weeks ago…


In all 6 countries I lived in, winter and summer varied from one extreme to another. For a long time I lived without changing drastically my wardrobe, but, same as you, I realized how important it is in sake of my own comfort :) But I still need more summer dresses! Work in progress ;)


I live in Winnipeg where we have hot summers and cold winters. I have seasonal wardrobes, notice the “s”. Two weeks ago I put away my “winter wardrobe” because after the mild winter we had, I believed spring was here. And today, it is minus nine! The one thing about Winnipeg is change, and it is alway good to have easy access to the other wardrobe. [off to find a sweater]


I resisted doing the wardrobe switch a few weeks ago because I felt like that was just asking for the cold weather to come back. Turns out it came back on its own anyway :) I actually really look forward to switching over my wardrobe, in the spring it feels optimistic and fresh to unpack skirts and sandals, and in the winter it feels cozy to take out all of my sweaters.

Rachel W.

I moved from upstate NY to Florida last year, and I’m still adjusting my wardrobe and my attitude. Luckily, I’m a novice seamstress, so sun dresses and tank tops are exactly what I need– but when I’m out thrifting, it’s still almost impossible to stamp down the urge to buy more sweaters and scarves!

I wonder if I would acquire sewing skills faster if I lived in a climate that demanded tops with set-in sleeves and warmer jackets!

Barbara J

I am in Kuala Lumpur and it’s always hot and humid here. So I guess that would make my wardrobe planning very easy and maybe a tiny bit boring too. Cotton and linen are my staple fabrics. I still need more short sleeved shirts and Capri pants.

Adri H

I am originally from Miami, and my first move from home was to Texas so it wasn’t that big of a change, although I did require a winter coat. From there, I moved to Rhode Island where I thought my fingers were going to fall off and I acquired a down coat and winter gloves. I think I wore that coat nearly every day in the winter months. Afterward, I moved to Germany and now am in Amsterdam… I have way too many bathing suits for where I currently live. They are dragged along with me to the next place in hopes of a warmer climate, but my reality radar kicked in this year… I have been sewing jackets and coats to supplement my original down coat. It’s nice to have options.


While I have plenty of clothes for winter and summer since I live in New England, I never seem to sew any winter garments.


When I used to do a lot of swing dancing, I was forever hauling out my summer t-shirts, skirts because I got hot on the dance floor. And I live in Chicago, where it’s mostly winter. :)


Popoki6, I defy you to ever get used our weather/climate in the UK. I lived here all my life (and I’m soon to be 42) and I still can’t get used to it. Our recent very cold winters left me realising that I don’t have enough clothes for layering, and our summers can be very hit and miss, with extremes in just one week! I think for our climate, and something I am fast coming to realise, clothes that can travel across the seasons and be layered is the way to go. That said, I am currently trying to find some jersey fabric to make some short-sleeved summer dresses, which I can wear in winter with long Tee underneath, wooly tights and a longish cardigan.


Thanks Melissa for the tips. That sounds perfect as I don’t like heavy clothes. I do love it here by the way.


I know what you mean. I’ve been known to wear at least 8 layers minimum in the winter. I think I need to get a pattern for some thermals.


I tend to favor clothes that protect me from the sun. I burn easily. I also get cold easily, and my first go round with hypothermia happened on a nice warm 80F day. So good layers are really important to me. Wool breathes really well, so very fine wool is a summer staple for me. It’s unusual for me to go out in summer without having either a sweater or a jacket packed in case it gets cold or I get wet.

The only easy solution I’ve found to summery clothes is dresses. Having a few cute ones in light fabrics means I have some instant outfits.

Winter is easy. Long socks, long underwear, lots of wool, and cozy coats in bright screaming red. Two thin layers are almost always better than one thick one, but it’s definitely possible to go too thin… Madison frequently gets -10F high temperatures in winter, and it’s very windy here, so I have learned that some sorts of fabrics just don’t work well used alone.

I’d love to have a ready source of wool knit jersey fabric. It’s a wardrobe staple for me in ready to wear.


I moved from Germany to New Mexico, and I love it!!! I can wear summer dresses for most part of the year. I will make some long sleeve dresses and shirts for winter, but since summer is long I have plenty of time for that. Meanwhile I am working on three more summer dresses. The change was really easy :)


I always find that despite loving retro patterns they always seem to be made for summer…which in the UK seems to last for 2 weeks if you are lucky. lol
So I stock my wardrobe with clothes for temperate/changeable weather. Things I can layer up if its cold but wear on its own if its warm.
For example I’m currently sewing a drop waist tunic dress…but will probably wear it with opaque tights and a longsleeve top underneath.


I live in Tennessee and counted up the number of warm vs. cold months and came out with 8 to 4. I had considered starting on my Fall 2012 wardrobe but figured I needed to make a few more summer staples since it won’t get chilly until November!


I live in Scotland where the weather can be unpredictable. I find that layering is the best approach. Layering allows me to wear more of my clothes all year round and if the weather changes unexpectedly, I’m prepared.


I moved from Philadelphia to the Texas Gulf. The weather here is humid all year round and mild. Summers are hot and sticky and last for about 6-9 months out of the year. I love hot weather, so I’m not really complaining – but I love to dress for cooler weather and I love to sew for cooler weather! Sewing blazers and jackets and pants and blouses is much more satisfying to me than sewing little loose sundresses that are basically two rectangles joined together. Whats fun about sewing rectangles??!? Anyway – this year I’m going to focus on sewing more light sundresses and shorts (I only own ONE pair of shorts… ridiculous…)


Caitlin – I didn’t know you’re originally from Alabama! I was born there, and then returned there for college. I spent most of my life in Tennessee, but consider myself a ‘Bama girl at heart. ;)

Now I live in South Texas, where the summers are dry, hot, and LONG – and the winter’s are very mild and short. I’m used to the hot weather, but here in Laredo it was over 110 F for most of July and August last year – WAY too hot for comfort. Needless to say, I picked up sewing in the right climate, I think – I tried my first set-in sleeves last week, and wasn’t too successful at my first try. It’s just more practical for me to make sleeveless tops and dresses, and then throw a cardigan over my shoulders.

I’m really excited to see your new shorts pattern! I know they’ll soon become a staple in my wardrobe here…


I am currently in the process of adapting my wardrobe to the climate, actually. Having recently moved from Scandinavia to one of the warmer parts of France, I got to use my lovely winter felt hats twice this past winter, and not once have I used my (vintage) fur coat. And when we suddenly hit sun-bathing temperatures in March I realised that I own a single summer skirt.

But, it is not just adapting to the climate. I am also adapting to a different way of living. I have never really had a “winter wardrobe”. I grew up in well-insulated environments with lots of heating. Even if it were -15°C outside, you just threw on a very thick winter coat and dressed in your year-round pretty thin cotton clothes. Now when I think about heating (costs and environment), I’d rather invest in winter woolies and wear slippers, and even invest in area rugs in my work-space to further insulate myself from the cold floor. It’s a strange way of living we have, when the difference between hot weather and cold weather is mostly the colours, not the materials.


This is a very interesting subject to me. I have always felt that climate was a huge factor in my wardrobe selections. Having retired to the gulf coast of Alabama (hi Caitlin!!) I find myself in a climate that is SO hot and humid for most of the year that I simply have to adapt my clothing to it, in a major way. To be comfortable, I would have to wear sleeveless everything, and of course shorter the better hem lengths. At my age, however, those design elements are not the most flattering. I feel to look my best, I should most definitely wear sleeves to at least elbow length and hems should be below knee for dresses/skirts and pants should be at least ankle length. In other words, I should be more covered up. This is not easy to accomplish and still stay cool. Even using cottons and linens (which I do). It’s a struggle, let me tell you. Cause gosh, ya’ll, it is really dang hot here. :)


When it comes to Gulf Coast heat, I always leant towards wearing anything comfortable versus flattering!


I’m a Londoner and I’m very serious about wrapping up properly in winter ( But my fabric stash and planned sewing projects are mostly summery – is that just because simple summer clothing is easier to sew, and the fabrics options are more plentiful and affordable?


Caitlin, where in Alabama? I am a Fairhope native and current resident.

Living on the sunny and humid Gulf Coast, I mostly have one wardrobe with just a few things that get put up during summer/winter because they are too extreme for the other season (coats and white linen pants).


I lived in a few different places in Alabama but I went to college in Mobile. So I am VERY familiar with the humidity/heat of that area. It was quite a change to move from that to cold and rainy Portland!


Ohh, where? I am a Spring Hill grad.

I have heard great things about Portland and it is on my list of places to visit :)


I grew up in Michigan, where we usually had 4 distinct seasons so I had definite fall/winter and spring/summer wardrobes, and I went to college in central NY where the weather was pretty much the same. My husband is in the military, though, and since we’ve been married I’ve lived all over the place and my wardrobe has suffered from lack of wear in turns. I’ve lived in Buffalo, NY; North Carolina; San Antonio, TX; Lawton, OK; Germany; West Virginia; Maryland and now we live in Olympia, WA. Since things wear out and need replacing, I found this year that I had quite a bit of clothing more suited for a warmer climate and a lot of sweaters. I’m trying to fill in the gaps in my wardrobe as much as I can, but right now I’m doing more sewing for my son, as he doesn’t really get hand-me-downs, being the only boy in the family. I should say that it’s good that I sew, since so much of what stores have in them right now is summer-oriented, and while it does get warm here I’m not expecting shorts weather until July, even if I did see a woman in shorts and a tank top yesterday – it was about 67 degrees. :) I guess warm is relative.


This year I’ve finally been able to implement some climate-specific wardrobe sewing that I’d started planning a few years ago. As a Canadian (cold winters, potentially blistering hot summers) my wardrobe is already divided between summer and winter. However, I discovered this wasn’t enough. I can’t wait until May/June to switch over to Spring colours, but typical styles aren’t warm enough for Canadian Springs. So this year I started making specifically Canadian Spring clothes – ie. Winter-weight clothes in spring colours! I had/have several pieces of wool fabrics in spring colours such as lemon yellow, lavendar, pale pink, light turquoise, spring green, etc. The clothes I’ve sewn from them have made me so happy! I can now dress Spring-ily, but still be warm!

Maria M.

I’m a Hollywood, CA kid now living in the sunny climes of Arizona. My general wardrobe didn’t change much, but upon entering the work force my work-wear underwent some adapting. With most buildings being air-conditioned to the upteenth degree, I find that dressing in layers is the way to go. Regardless of the outfit, I find myself reaching for my collection of vintage sweaters, jackets/dusters, scarves to wear or drape over my shoulders to get me through the day. In the evenings, with the temps still in the 100 degree range, I find myself draping a silky scarf or whisper-thin shawl over my shoulders. One, I love the look, and secondly, I’m not fond of my upper arms.

Susan (in UK)

What an apposite post! I spent yesterday (cold/rainy/bank holiday) pulling all my spring/summer clothes out of the wardrobe. I wanted to see what gaps there were, to plan my sewing properly. I only have three summer dresses but am not planning anymore unless the forecast is a lot better than the last two summers. On the other hand I am planning to knit at least two more cardigans and make another jersey one.
I’m starting to feel like my mother and grandmother who only removed a layer if the temperature rose above 25deg C!
Even so I seem to have more light clothes than I do winter ones. I’ve been living in the same few items for months( Note to self- start winter planning in August!)


as a UK resident I am a fan of layering! It really works, only you have to have a big bag to put clothing in should the sun come out for a little while. I think I should seriously get better at knitting though.


Hooray, another cool person from Alabama! I’m originally from a little tiny town called Opp just above the Florida border, but I’ve lived in Dothan, Birmingham, and Daphne (hey, Fairhope gal above!). You’re probably smart to be in Portland now. I migrated to Gainesville, FL and discovered that yes, it actually is possible to be more hot, humid, and miserable than south Alabama! I pretty much hibernate during the summers now. Other than that, I’ve chosen to only sew my summer clothes out of lightweight cottons, no poly blends or anything else that doesn’t breathe! Oh, and lots of Sorbettos (the food kind and the pattern kind).


I’ve been to Opp before–my aunt lived there when I was a kid and I spent a week with her once during the Rattlesnake Rodeo. What a terrifying experience for a little scared-y cat :)


What a wonderful and timely post!! I’m Bay Area transplant, going on my 4th year in Seattle. This past weekend, I “rotated my closet.” (WHAT?!) When I said this out-loud to someone, the Californian in me just had to laugh. It’s still such a novel idea to me…switching out wool sweaters for summer dresses…”finding” things in the closet that have been forgotten under 9 months of PNW gray skies…

That being said, I love experiencing such disparate climates and needing a diverse wardrobe. So many changes take place when the seasons change in the Northwest – weather, attitudes, wardrobes, activities, skin color :) Yay for Spring! (And here’s to hoping we have a legitimate Summer this year!)


I definitely have a 4-season wardrobe–in the mid-Atlantic, we tend to have hot, humid summers and damp, chilly winters. Spring and fall can go either way! And since I tend to wear lighter, brighter colors in the spring and warmer earth tones in the fall, rotating the wardrobe seems to be a way of life for me. Spring, summer and fall are pretty easy for me to sew for, especially since I wear separates a lot more than dresses and I can always use tops. Winter is the challenge, especially since I get cold very easily and have a pretty bad sensitivity to wool– I can’t touch it for more than 30 seconds without my skin getting all prickly! It’s a good thing I love sewing complicated lined jackets (I’ve made 3 already this year!) I’m about 16 months into the process of teaching myself to knit so I can have more me-made sweaters, since reaching for one of those is my first instinct on a cold day and it’s hard to find nice ones in a fiber I can actually wear, and my other goal for this year is to master pants and jeans. I generally don’t even want to think about exposing my legs to the elements via a skirt or dress in the winter, even under tights!

As much as I hate being cold, as Jaynie said, I do enjoy needing that diversity in my wardrobe. Of course, that means that my wardrobe is rather huge!


Could the shorts easily be turned into pants? I don’t dare wear shorts anymore but summer pants sound great.
thanks and congratulations on the new patterns.


I spent most of my life in Southern NJ, but moved to Central New York nearly 2 years ago. You wouldn’t think there would be much of a difference, but winters are so much longer, drier, colder and snowier than what I’m used to. Because I live near a finger lake, my town gets as much rain as Seattle. Since walking is a preferred method of travel in some areas, raincoat or umbrella and rubber boots are an absolute must! I started to make a heavy winter coat last year for this past winter which turned out so mild, I never bothered to finish it (and since I’ve lost nearly 30lbs, it’s probably too big).

Style is very different here, too. Whenever I go “home” I am struck by the differences: people vary to looking polish to downright blingy and garish in NJ, but in Ithaca, relaxed fashions, hippie and hipster styles are king. Scarves of all materials are popular year-round and many ladies wear their flowly summer skirts in the dead of winter (with tights and warm boots underneath). Heels in Ithaca will get you dirty looks (I’m sorry, Danskos and Birkies are ugly, you can pry my heels off my cold, dead feet!). One thing I love is the gorgeous but short summers we have; every woman and girl wears sundresses and shorts and glorious summer outfits. I have a list of sundresses to make for this summer!


I moved to Washington State, the SeaTac area, 11 years ago from Oklahoma. It was right at the end of one of the longest, most miserable summers I remember in a long time. It was truly culture shock as far as my clothing was concerned! I did have a coat and boots, snow happens in OK and it can be fierce at times. I learned to add several light coats and wear my sleeveless tops as undershirts very quickly. I like being able to add or shed as my body temp and the weather changes. I now live on the other side of the state and have weather similar to what I grew up with., except that it still gets cool enough at night that I need a light jacket in the hottest days of summer. Gotta love that!


I live in Alabama and this past year we had almost no winter. With pretty cardigans being so in fashion, I have some sweaters that I havn’t even been able to wear. Forget about the neck scarfs seen in all the magazines, it’s just too hot.


I’ve lived in Finland all my life (if you don’t count 6 months in the Netherlands) and my wardrobe still doesn’t match the weather. We’ve had three superwinters in a row and that has made me think carefully how it would be possible to dress well even if it’s -20°C and 1 meter of snow outdoors for 3-6 months in a year. Because you can’t really spend your life waiting for July, can you?

I know I’m stocked for summer months so this year I’m going to focus my sewing and knitting energy on fall, winter and this super annoying slow spring. (When I left for work this morning it was snowing.) That’ll mean a lot of cardigans, coats, sweaters, pants and wool socks.


I’ve just moved to New Zealand from the UK and although many say the weather is similar, it’s not. So far it’s been milder and funnily enough for Wellington, windier! Unfortunately I love fifties style dresses with fitted bodices and full skirts, not the best for here! Layers seem the be the norm here too. Many people seem to wear lots of thinner layers unlike the UK where we either wear thick layers or really unsuitable clothes. I’m going to have fun sewing a new wardrobe full!

LindaC loiteringthroughlife

I live in Atlanta, Georgia, which is in the northeastern part of the state. In the summer it is very hot and humid, in the winter it can be very cold and humid ( which is or feels much colder at a higher temperature than when it is cold and dry. I have a down coat which I wear a lot in the winter plushatm mittens and boots- essentials. Also longjohns are needed. I live in a on old large drafty house and have been known to sit before my computer wrapped in a blanket in winter.

Of course, in summer, always take some sort of wrap anywhere you go because of AC. Grocery stores can be one of the biggest offenders. I do think that dresses or skirts are coolest to wear in summer.

As to needs, this past winter, I found I need some good looking wool pants, not only for work but also for comfort at home. For summer I need some longer shorts – it seem like the ones that fit a few years ago have gotten shorter. I also need a suit, probably navy. I have a tweed one my husband gave me for Christmas a few years ago which has a skirt and pants. That would be a nice touch. I finally put my favorite navy pants suit in the giveaway bag. I don’t think the alterations lady can help. I think I got the wrong size originally – I know now petite fits better. I need to go through the stash. My favorite summer gown is thread bare. I need to either toss all the crew necks or cut them down. Do you all keep hanging on to things because you like the color or there is a certain semtimental value?


I am exactly in the same spot! We moved from Hawaii to Utah. That was a huge climate adjustment! My kids didn’t even own jeans or shoes- they lived in shorts and flip-flops. lol I went to a thrift store and bought bags full of sweaters just so we wouldn’t FREEZE our first year, but I really want to build a thoughtful wardrobe and not waste money.


I’ve lived in Northern California all but 4 years of my life, and wear cotton knits and lightweight layers most of the year. I’m close to the coast, so even in the summer it cools off at night. What I miss is fall and winter…there is hardly any chance to wear the beautiful vintage wool coats I have collected over the years, but I hate to get rid of them ! I wish I lived in a more diverse climate so I could sew with wools and corderoys. We are thinking of moving to Portland, WA when we retire in a couple of years, and I’m already dreaming of the new wardrobe I will get to create !

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