by Sabine Ehgoetz
Sabine Ehgoetz currently lives in Toronto where she works as a freelance journalist, foreign correspondent, translator and fashion model. In December 2005 she celebrated her first anniversary as a Canadian resident.
“Never, ever will I wear long underwear!” I stated some years ago, back in Germany where such a garment is only acceptable when you are under the age of 10 or on top of a mountain that is higher than 2,000 metres. At that time, I followed a strict code of style ethics that included amendments like “a perfect look may require some suffering” or “looks rule over comfort”. These iron principles made me attend parties on five inch stilettos, although my orthopaedist had given me orders to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on my arches under all circumstances.
I also lived through numerous winters wearing cute miniskirts and nylons, firmly insisting on the theory that this outfit had to be warmer than proper pants because the pantyhose fit snug to my body. To be perfectly honest, during those times I often wasn’t able to feel my legs anymore out on the street, only to find them tingling and blue after I returned to a heated place.
In short, I was a lost case – to my mother who eventually gave up begging me to wear winter jackets that were long enough to cover my kidneys, as well as to my husband, who night after night had the spousal duty of warming my ice cold feet in bed because I couldn’t bring myself to buy a pair of warm, but less fashionable winter boots when I went out to social events.
Our first visit to his family in Toronto took place during the now historical winter of 1999 when the Canadian army had been called in to fight the snow chaos on the streets. At that time the relationship with my husband-to-be was still fairly fresh. Therefore I believed it necessary to impress him with my looks and at the same time convince his parents (whom I had just met) of my qualities as a strong woman and reliable partner. Those efforts came into severe conflict when I found myself shovelling snow for four hours in their driveway, during which I strictly refused to put on any of those ugly toques his mom kept offering me, because I didn’t want to ruin my hairdo.
My principles became a little shaky a few years later when our Christmas vacation brought us up North to Parry Sound, where his family (at this point already my in-laws) had decided to retire. Of course, by then there was a little less pressure to conquer my husband with ever present seductiveness. As he himself had the nerve to put a pair of neatly wrapped “long johns” under the tree, I would have had the perfect excuse to wear them, just to be polite. after all, they weren’t all that ugly. Light blue and made of that thin, silky material that probably wouldn’t even have made my legs “look big” underneath
my pants. But being stubborn by nature, I still refused to wear them and rather kept my style and stayed inside the house the entire time. It was a little bit sad to watch through the window how man and dog were having fun rolling around in the snow together. A couple years later we moved, and there I was, during what promised to be the first of many long winters in Canada. It was a brutal one and I had never experienced such cold weather before in my life. Every trip to the grocery store felt like what I imagine a journey through Alaska would be. One particular day, I was certain I was about to die on the spot, somewhere between the subway station and my home. Those six and a half minutes were hell on earth! I swore, cried and shouted in order to protect my holy principles – and finally gave in.
As soon as no one was around I dug up the baby blue underpants from the back of my closet. I felt defeated and self-conscious. Somehow I expected that people on the street would notice right away what horrible thing I wore underneath my normal pants and laugh at me. Of course, it was only later that I realized that 99 percent of Ontario’s entire population seems to own a pair and wear them faithfully as soon as the temperature drops below zero.
For the rest of my life I will remember the huge sensation of relief when I walked outside in minus 30° Celsius with strong wind chills and was still able to feel my legs. Shortly after I had been introduced to this kind of winter comfort, I went out to buy a pair of mud shoes, soon followed by thermal gloves and a wool toque. All these pieces weren’t the latest in fashion, yet they felt toasty warm. Heading to work with a second set of clothes and changing in the office washroom became the usual habit for me. I also decided to wear my hair short so it would be easier to style after I got to work and took off my hat. In addition, I extended my style code by two new amendments which are: “Never say never when it comes to certain clothing items” and “In Canada everything goes, because even vanity freezes.”