Page last updated at 11:28 GMT, Sunday, 27 December 2009

Dressing for the big freeze in New York

When winter's full force hits New York, temperatures dip well below zero. And when the city freezes, New Yorkers ditch their stylish outfits for the "Michelin man" look, as Matthew Price explains.

New Yorkers in winter
New Yorkers swap style for practicality when snow and ice hit the city

To be honest, I don't think I ever saw this moment coming.

OK, so it had taken some time to get to this stage, but it still crept up on me.

The tipping point came as I stepped out of the splendidly ornate Woolworth Building in Lower Manhattan the other day, just as the sun was dipping beneath the skyscrapers.

That act removed the rare patches of light (and therefore warmth) which occasionally strike the pavement and help make a winter's day here something approaching bearable.

The wind whacked me smack in the face, burning my lips and my ears. I pulled up my scarf. Tightened my collar. Out came the woolly hat. Still no good. So I ducked into a bank and got dressed in the foyer. Gloves on. Zips closed. Buttons fastened. Scarf and hat adjusted. Jacket hood pulled up over the lot.

Thank God for the long-johns I had put on that morning.

Back outside and I could not hear a thing through the layers but the Manhattan winter had been successfully shut out. And I looked like a "Michelin man".

Fashion ditched

Sartorially elegant it was not. But after three winters here, I have learnt the hard, stone-cold-frozen way that elegance is not what a New York freeze calls for.

Take my advice, if you are coming over for a weekend break, bring the moon-boots

The first year I was based here, I strode around in what I thought was a nice fashionable coat, knees knocking and me cursing myself for forgetting to stick a hat in my bag that morning.

One friend looked me up and down and dismissively told me it was not going to be warm enough.

"Oh, it's just fine, thanks," I replied. "Worked a treat back in London." Little did I know.

Still I struggled around, teeth chattering because, well, if you are an Englishman in New York you need to dress properly, don't you?

By the second year I had learnt something. I bought an extra layer to go under the coat.

View from the Empire State
When the cold is accompanied by snow, New York is the place to be

But come one day in February, I realised my school-boy error. I stood out on a mid-town pier on the Hudson River on one of those perfect New York days. The Sun shone fiercely down from a cloudless, deep blue sky, but it made no difference.

I knew I was in trouble when my Australian colleague, one of those tougher than tough guys who spend most of the year in just a T-shirt, said in his understated manner: "I think we'd better get inside."

His lips were blue. It was -16C with wind-chill.

Wrapping up

It is funny what winter does to a city. New Yorkers are a stylish lot, of course. But come the cold, they go all practical as well.

I have never seen so many men in ear-muffs in my life. So many women sporting full length duvet-style coats. So many ski-outfits not actually on the ski-slopes.

And yes, this year mine will come out on the super-cold days. You can spot the tourists a mile off. They are the ones in the flimsy jackets.

I used to think they looked good in comparison, until I realised they looked silly. Arms tightly folded in against the cold, noses running, trousers flapping around barely covered ankles.

Central Park, New York
Cross-country skiers and pole-aided walkers take to the snowy streets

Take my advice, if you are coming over for a weekend break, bring the moon-boots. And a pencil. It is the time of year when reporters ditch pens. The ink freezes.

Of course, you do get remarkably used to it. Last winter, I remember stepping out of my front door into what felt like a perfectly balmy spring day.

It actually turned out to be just a degree above freezing but, after a week during which the temperature had stayed well below, I left the hat at home.

Winter wonderland

And when the cold is accompanied by snow, New York is the place to be.

Unlike the big freeze in London in early 2009, when an entire city ground to a halt, New York still functions well.

The snow ploughs clear the avenues, the subways still run and the city looks wonderful. Like a snapshot from an old movie, it turns grey and white.

Brilliant white flakes swirl past the Statue of Liberty, rise up over the Empire State and settle down with an elegant curtsey in Central Park.

The snow muffles the noise of a city that rarely sleeps. Everything here, for once, feels calm.

And in the hip and gritty Lower East Side, in amongst the dive bars and graffiti, come the cross-country skiers.

Gliding down Rivington and heading north up Norfolk.

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