We had our first snow of the winter last week. This usually happens in the third or fourth week of October so to have it in the first week came as a bit of a shock. This summer has been a wash out and with last winter having been relatively mild everyone is saying that we should expect a very cold one this year. That said people give dire warnings of very cold winters every year and they have been absolutely fine but with the snow showing its face I thought it would be about time to check on our winter coats to see if they need any repairs and to make sure that they still fit the children. At the moment and for the next few weeks we are still wearing our woollen Autumn coats although we will gradually supplement them with warmer and warmer accessories until the switch to full winter gear becomes inevitable.
A шуба or fur coat is the best option in the cold dry climate that we have here in Astana – it is warm and wind-proof. I tend to wear a long coat most days as it is the most practical option for living in the city – I can wear an ordinary thin dress underneath and still be warm enough for a long walk. Cosy lined boots a warm fur hat, scarf and lined gloves keep all extremities warm. Mink (норка) is the most popular fur – usually dyed black but sometimes left natural and seen in a stunning white tipped with grey and sometimes in brown. Fox (лиса) and beaver (бобер) are also popular and rabbit (кролик) is often used for scarves, tippets and trimming accessories.
The downside of fur is the expense.
Families here can save up for years to buy a coat and it will be handed down as an heirloom and often shared between family members. You have to be very careful with handbag straps that can wear the fur, make sure that you do not sit on the same patch of the coat for extended periods and pay for cold storage over the summer. For many expats fur brings ethical problems to the fore. It is possible to buy ethically farmed fur and some manufacturers claim that the environmental impact of real fur is much less than that of the manufacturing process for faux fur. Before we came to Kazakhstan I was adamant that I would not wear it but it really is the most practical option for keeping warm.
Sheepskin: Heavy and very warm a дубленка or sheepskin coat is a popular and a cheaper option than fur but is, if anything, even warmer. Sheepskin tends to be more durable, (women can wear a shoulder strap handbag) and does not need to be cosseted to the same extent. The downside is that a full length coat can be extremely heavy indeed and very very hot as soon as you come inside a building. Sheepskin does not seem to carry the same ethical dilemma for expats. My husband tends to wear a sheepskin coat, his is short so if he plans to be outside for a long time he needs to wear thermal leggings under his trousers.
Down and sheepskin keeps the family safe and warm.
Down: Down coats are extremely popular – much lighter than the other two options but every bit as warm because of the loft of the down. Down coats are available for as little as £100 or sometimes even less making them one of the most affordable options around. The downside is that you can look as though you are walking around in a duvet. Some of the designs are quite fetching, however, and many women's versions come with an elastic belt to help give some shape and definition. Astana is dry but of course we do get snow sometimes in the winter and down can loose its effectiveness when it is wet. Down is also very popular with children mostly because it is light, cheap and effective. Ours wear down coats with a waterproof outer so that the down is protected when they play in the snow. Salopettes, warm fur lined hats, mittens and snow boots mean that they are covered head to foot and can stay safe outdoors.
Waterproofs mean that children can play in the snow without getting the down wet.
I very rarely wear technical outdoor coats because I find it is just not effective. It also screams ‘I am an expat’ but there are times when it is necessary. This is usually when we decide to go skating or sledging outdoors. Then I swallow my pride and morph into the michelin man, wearing salopettes and a winter-weight wind-proof fleece with waterproof jacket, a warm hat and earmuffs. I usually find that I have to wear a number of layers underneath to stay comfortable and I am considering giving in and purchasing a ‘down duvet’.
Even the dog has her winter clothes - it is too cold for her to enjoy being outside for long and she needs protection for her feet as the ice can burn her pads. We have thick warm coat that covers her body and chest (most coats don't protect the chest) and some rubber booties that slide over the feet, she doesn't like the sensation of having them put on but once they are on she does not remove them. They are malleable enough that she can feel where she is putting her feet but they are protected from the worst of the cold.
Dog in Astana,Technical clothes are useful for 'playing' outside. Even the dog has to wear a coat and shoes. It may look like a thin layer of snowbut it is a recent fall sitting on a whole winter's worth of ice.
Of course in addition to coats warm accessories are a necessity. We have just about every different type available from mittens to lined gloves and wrist warmers to be worn in just about every permutation depending on the severity of the cold and the activity we are planning outside. My pride and joy is a handmade fuzzy Orenburg scarf bought on a trip to Moscow. It is incredibly warm and the yarn so strong that I can hold the whole scarf from a single fibre of fuzz. They are not elegant but I also have my eye on some валенки (traditional felt boots) which are reputed to be very very warm.
Unless you are coming from somewhere equally cold there is little point in buying winter clothing in your home country. Astana is set up for the cold weather so the stuff you buy here really works. Before we came we bought some gadgets called ‘yaktracks’ a pair for my husband and a pair (designed to fit over heeled shoes/boots) for me. Sold as an essential in the UK we have never used them here, the boots come with more than enough grip.
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