The evolution of winter fashion in the U.P.

Karen Wils photo Karen Wils, second from the left, with cousins Caryl and Bill and her brother Mike, circa 1965.

ESCANABA — Winter woolies make warm memories.

Remember long johns, union suits, woolen pants, laced up boots and leather mittens lined with wool?

Some of the ladies will recall fur coats and muffs (hand warmers) scarves and cloaks with hoods to keep the snow and sleet off of rag curls and braids.

The evolution of Michigan outerwear is an interesting thing. From coats made of beaver furs or Hudson wool blankets to Mackinaw jackets and hooded parkas, winter fashions have always had to be functional.

Take a journey back in time via your oldest family photo albums. See what great grandpa wore for warmth when he worked in the woods or milked cows.

Take a gander at great aunt Bertha with her Sunday best babushka (Russian hat) and floor length coat on. Warm and snug, is how she looked ready to take on any January blizzard or below zero weather.

One winter coat is what most Yoopers had back in those days. It was well cared for, carefully mended and packed away in moth ball laden trucks for the summer months.

The men often needed a work jacket. Mail order catalogs provided buffalo plaid hunting style jackets and quilted chore coats so the fellas could be comfortable and warm out on the ice or up in the winds on top of the ore docks.

Children dressed in layers of hand-me-downs. Do you remember the old snow pants with buttons and straps (no Velcro)? Earflaps on woolen caps and earmuffs and chooks kept the frostbite from our faces. Soggy wet mittens hung by wood stoves to dry. Before nylon, Thinsulate and Gore-Tex, layers of cotton and wool was used to keep kids warm.

If you’ve ever seen the classic movie “A Christmas Story” about Ralphie, the boy who wanted a BB gun for Christmas, you will recall the scenes of mom bundling up the boys for winter weather. So many layers of thick clothing, a kid got tired just walking around holding his or her clothes up

When I was a kid nobody thought of going outside without hat gloves or boots. When I was a teen (in the 1970s) bell-bottomed blue jeans dragged in the slush and snow, short skirts and maybe a denim jacket is what cool (and I do mean cool if not darn right cold) kids wore.

Things have come full cycle, now warmer fashions are in again. It’s so good to see young people wearing floppy furry hats, Nordic style hats, scarves of all sorts, sheepskin looking puffy boots (Uggs) and recycled sweater mittens. Maybe it’s because folks are thinking “green” and turning down thermostats, or maybe it’s just a fad, but the warm look is in again.

Have a winter fashion parade at your house by old photos and old stories. If you have winter coats in your closet that you are not using, pass them down or donate them so that they can get out in the winter winds again.

Warm wishes.

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Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong north Escanaba resident. Her folksy columns appear weekly in Lifestyles.

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