Dressing for warmth

Dressing for warmth

The clothes you wear are an important part of how you can stay warm in the winter months. One of the main purposes of clothing is to help maintain your body temperature, it helps to control the rate that heat flows into and out of your body. (Bloomfield, 2001).

Listed here are some general hints on keeping warm, as well as advice on how clothing can best keep you warm.

General hints on keeping warm

There are a number of things you can do to keep warm, and while choosing the right clothing plays an important part, you should also consider how your home is heated and insulated, your lifestyle, finances and the general environment.

  • It can be expensive to use your home's heating system as your sole means of keeping warm. It can also mean that the temperature is too hot for other people in the house. Grants are available through the Warm Front Scheme to help you install appropriate heating and insulation measures to your home. There are eligibility criteria for these grants. (Direct Gov, 2011)
  • At night while you sleep, your body is less able to control its temperature, and you may have your heating switched off. Warming your bed with hot water bottles or an electric blanket for a few hours before you get in will help you maintain your body temperature overnight.
  • While clothing helps you maintain your body heat, it does not generate heat for you. Getting dressed in a warm environment and keeping your clothes near a radiator can help. Some gentle exercise before getting dressed can also help, as it helps generate body heat and improves circulation. (ILC Exeter, 2002).
  • Eating warm meals can help you feel warm and maintain your body temperature. Drinking hot drinks throughout the day, and before you go to bed, will also help you stay warm. (Raynaud's and Scleroderma Association, 2010).
  • Hand warmers and heat pads are readily available, and may be a good idea to use if you are outside for a long period. They can also be used to warm up shoes before you put them on. (ILC Exeter, 2002).
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How clothing keeps you warm

Clothing keeps you warm by allowing air to act as an insulator. Heat leaving your skin warms a thin layer of air around you, however this air is constantly moved away from your skin and replaced with colder air. Being outside on a windy day worsens heat loss, as the wind quickly blows away the warm air around your skin. Clothing helps stop the warm air from being moved away from your body. (Bloomfield, 2001)

Wearing several thin layers of clothing rather than one or two thick layers will help keep you warmer, as the air trapped between the layers will help insulate your body. Heavier layers of clothes tend to trap less air as the weight of each layer pushes the air out. (Raynaud's and Scleroderma Association, 2010).

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How to dress for warmth

  • A considerable amount of body heat escapes through your head, so covering your head will help keep you warmer. (ILC Exeter, 2002), (Raynaud's and Scleroderma Association, 2010).
  • We often think covering up hands and feet makes us feel warmer, however keeping your trunk and limbs well covered will help you maintain body warmth.
  • Thermal underwear will help keep you very warm. Try to cover as much of your body as possible by wearing long sleeves, high necks and long johns/tights. Thermal underwear is available made from both natural and synthetic materials, generally natural materials like wool and silk will keep you warmer. (ILC Exeter, 2002), (Raynaud's and Scleroderma Association, 2010)
  • A wool or fleece layer is a good idea, as it will be soft and lightweight, and warm air is more easily trapped in the fibres. Fabrics with a piled, terry or textured finish will also be effective at trapping air. (ILC Exeter, 2002).
  • Scarves can help cover up areas that are exposed to the cold air, such as your face and neck. (ILC Exeter, 2002).
  • To keep your feet warm, wear a thin pair of socks or tights on your feet, followed by a thicker pair. A well fitting pair of shoes with a leather upper will also help. (ILC Exeter, 2002).
  • If you have dressed in lighter, insulating layers, you may not need a heavy winter coat on wet and windy days. A lightweight wind and waterproof jacket could be sufficient, and will be much easier to manage than a heavy winter coat.
  • The older clothing is, the less warm it tends to be. The fabric becomes compressed and heavier with age, and is less effective at keeping you warm.
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The material that clothes are made from is also important to consider when dressing for warmth.

  • Loosely woven or knitted garments are generally less effective at keeping you warm, as cold air can easily get through the spaces between the fibres.
  • Fabric with a piled, terry or textured finish is generally better at trapping the warm air against your skin. You will need to check that the fabric is tightly woven though. (ILC Exeter, 2002).
  • Jersey (knit) fabrics can be made from silk, wool, cotton or synthetic fibres. They are generally very good insulators as they trap air within their fibres, and are particularly good when layered with other garments.
  • Some manufacturers are now using textiles containing silver to make various types of clothing including socks and gloves. As well as having antibacterial properties, silver keeps you warm by reflecting your body heat back to your skin. Some silver garments are available through the Raynaud's and Scleroderma Associaton. (Raynaud's and Scleroderma Association, 2010), (The London Bullion Market Association, 2006).
  • Battery heated clothes such as gloves, socks and scarves is also available. This type of clothing usually has a heating element embedded into it, and a pocket for the battery pack. You should consult your doctor before considering this type of clothing. (ILC Exeter, 2002), (DLF, 2010).
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Further information

  • The Raynaud's and Scleroderma Association has information for people with Raynaud's or Scleroderma, as well as general information on keeping warm. They also sell a range of products including gloves and socks and heat packs.
  • The Independent Living Centre in Devon has a clothing advice service that is run by an occupational therapist. They have printed information and are also able help you over the phone, by email or in the centre if you make an appointment. Visit their website for contact information.
Advice last checked: 17 October 2014 Next check due: 17 October 2017

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
Conflict of interest statement


  1. Direct Gov 2011  Heating and insulation improvements from the Warm Front Scheme
    View reference   Last visited:  25/02/2015 Evidence type: 2