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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

How do you pack for a chilly destination when you live in the UAE?  

Having grown up in the Mediterranean, and then spent the last 10 years living in the UAE, I never really received basic winter wardrobe training

Chic winter street style at the Nina Ricci show in Paris this month - but those of us who live in the UAE don't often have a personal collection of the latest winter coats at hand. Sunglasses are a different story. Photo / Getty Images
Chic winter street style at the Nina Ricci show in Paris this month - but those of us who live in the UAE don't often have a personal collection of the latest winter coats at hand. Sunglasses are a different story. Photo / Getty Images

I’m trying to pack for a trip to Paris. Predicted temperatures in the French capital over the next few days range from minus 2 to 13 degrees – and I am woefully unprepared. My UAE-winter wardrobe is no match for a beast-from-the-east-battered Europe.

A colleague that travelled to Moscow last week faced similar troubles – and barely escaped with all his toes. He, much like myself, is an avid sandal wearer, but my collection of sliders, gladiators and diamante-dotted flip flips is not going to cut it over the coming days.

I’ve worn a pair of boots all of once this “winter”. They were Uggs. I pulled them on one hazy morning before work – largely because it was one of those days, and that was the closest I could get to wearing my slippers to the office. My Canadian colleagues scoffed. “Expecting snow?” one of them asked. I got their point – wearing wool-lined boots in the UAE is always a risky endeavour. The day might start out on the chilly side but, by lunchtime, you’ll likely be sweating through your socks.

Getting your winter wardrobe right when you live in the middle of the desert can be tricky – it can be hard to justify spending lots of money on warm clothes when you hardly ever wear them, plus they take up lots of already-limited closet space. So you choose to abstain, making do with those staples you already have. And you spend winter breaks looking like a homeless person.

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Having grown up in the Mediterranean, and then spent the last 10 years living in the UAE, I never really received basic winter wardrobe training. I lack that instinctual sartorial knowledge that makes other women look unfathomably elegant as they swath themselves in pastel-coloured cashmere coats coupled with tailored trousers tucked into sturdy ankle boots, or such-like. I did go to university in Manchester, but spent three years wrapped in a knee-length bomber jacket that was essentially a duvet with sleeves and made me look like the Michelin man. I was too busy fighting a constant case of the sniffles (my immune system is even less able to deal with the cold than my wardrobe) to care about how unstylish I looked.

But a trip to Paris in my mid-30s demands more (even though bomber jackets are apparently back in vogue and I still own that same one). I have decided that it is finally time to invest in some proper cold-weather staples. The secret of a UAE winter wardrobe, as I understand it, is that it needs to eschew trends. If you are going to invest in a decent coat that you’ll only get to wear a couple of times a year, it had better be fashionable for the next decade. You need to invest in solid, honest materials – fleece, cashmere, wool and so on – as any economy here is a false economy. Shoes need to be waterproof and exceedingly comfortable, so you don’t spend your next three holidays trying to break them in. But I’ll probably start with a decent pair of Marks & Spencer thermals (I believe they were the only thing that stood between the aforementioned colleague and a bad case of frostbite).