So It's Your First Northern Winter

    Here's our sartorial guide for Edmonton's seasons

    By Lisa Cook on November 26, 2012

    A sartorial guide to Edmonton's seasons

    Breaking out the down-filled parka every year is just habit for people who have lived in Edmonton for more than one winter. But for the international student just arriving at the University of Alberta, the winters are a very real source of concern — and of misinformation. “People would ask me ‘How will I survive? Will I make it through the winter?’ ” says Allison Sokil, who worked in the International Centre. Some students packing to come to Edmonton for the first time just couldn’t comprehend how anyone could possibly survive through -40 C. “I just reassure them it’s going to be OK. … I usually tell them that when it’s cold outside, it’s warm inside, so wear layers.”

    To further help international students dress properly for all four of Edmonton’s seasons, International Student Services puts on the Living Day to Day Fashion Show as part of the Transitions orientation program. A few of the models from the September show share their thoughts on layering, bug spray and other necessities at one of the world’s most northerly universities. (Photos: Richard Siemens)

    a student modelling winter fashions

    Allison Sokil


    Allison Sokil, Edmonton.

    Winter doesn’t faze Sokil, who says dressing in layers is just normal for someone who has grown up in Edmonton. So she was somewhat surprised at the kinds of questions she found herself answering at the International Centre. When one grad student from China asked her how to prepare for winter, she couldn’t resist having a little fun.

    “I told him to start eating a lot of food now so you can survive the winter. Like squirrels,” she said. Of course, she told the student she was just joking. Eventually.

    a student modelling winter fashions

    Ari Mastoras


    Ari Mastoras, Greece.

    Mastoras came to Edmonton 11 years ago, but still remembers his first winter. Two stand-outs from that year were waiting for the bus sub-freezing temperatures and learning the hard way about proper winter footwear.

    “My toes were frozen,” he said. But even worse than that, “I didn’t have my grandmother’s cooking.” These days he has learned how to bundle up properly, but he still has to cook for himself.

    a student modelling spring fashions

    Crystal Sakura Whitred


    Crystal Sakura Whitred, Sendai, Japan.

    Spring is perhaps the most welcome season in Edmonton, says Whitred, who came to the U of A in July 2009 to study nursing.

    “You want to come out of the cave and just go outside.” Though she hated winter before coming to Edmonton (Sendai, about 350 kilometres north of Tokyo, only reaches about -5 C at its coldest, she says), living in the North has changed her mind on the season.

    “I’ve started to like winter. It’s extremely beautiful.”

    a student modelling fall fashions

    Susie Nguyen


    Susie Nguyen, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

    For Nguyen, spring and winter in Edmonton kind of blend together. “It’s less cold, but it’s still cold,” she says.

    But the season does redeem itself on one account: “You have St. Patrick’s Day. You have to wear green or you get pinched.” At first the Irish holiday seemed a little odd but she quickly warmed to it.

    Nguyen, who spent two years in Toronto before arriving in Edmonton in fall 2011, says winters here are worse than out East. But she tells newly arrived international students not to worry: “You’ll get used to it.”

    a student modelling summer fashions

    Johanna Ibsen (left) and Wayne Gong


    Johanna Ibsen, Edmonton. In the 2012 winter that wasn’t, Ibsen discovered something. She missed the cold. “I like lots of snow. I like to go horseback riding in the snow, go on sleigh rides, go cross-country skiing.” Summer has its own outdoor attractions in the City of Festivals, says the education student, but her seasonal ensemble included the one accessory that is essential to an Edmonton summer. Tucked in her bag was a can of bug spray.

    Wayne Gong, Canton, China. Gong came prepared his first winter in Edmonton, following the time-tested advice about dressing in layers. So he wore sweat pants under his jeans on his way from his dorm to his classes, then would go to the washroom and remove the extra layer before class started. Then he found better solution to the cold. “I lived in Lister. I was only about 200 metres at the most from my class … so I realized I could just run.” Gong, who represented summer in the fashion show

    a student modelling fall fashions

    Sukun Wang


    Sukun Wang, Shanghai, China. Wang’s first winter at the U of A, in 2008, was better than expected, but only because his expectations were so low. “It’s heated in the home here. In Shanghai, there’s no heat in a home.”

    That said, there was still a lot to learn about living in such extreme cold — like the risks that come along with a bus pass. “The worst was waiting for the bus. It was so cold your jeans attached to your skin. The smallest movement tears your skin.”

    For Wang, fall is the city’s best season. “Before the snow falls, it is warm and it’s the best weather for sports.”

    a student modelling spring fashions

    Heng Gao


    Heng Gao, Cheng Du, China. Gao was only 10 days into her Canadian experience when she was asked to take part in the fashion show. Ten days in, she was enjoying the fall and Edmonton’s fresh air. But she was getting nervous about the upcoming cold season.

    “I’m afraid if I wear too many heavy clothes, I won’t be able to walk smoothly!”