Views My Own

There’s Nothing Wrong With Adults Wearing Snow Pants

A recent National Post story has sparked outrage across the country due to its anti-winter weather gear bias. I cannot let this stand.
Ottawa snow
Ottawans need their snowpants. Photo by Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Last week, a National Post piece on the do’s-and-don’ts of urban winter fashion broke through our frigid Canadian politeness. Twitter exploded in a firestorm of mostly-angry tweets from people who did not take kindly to being told what they should and should not wear when it’s cold enough to make you weep, but you can’t because your tears ducts have frosted over.

If you sat down on the bus next to a stranger and said, “Hey, your hat/shoes/baby is ugly/dorky/stupid,” you’d get a reaction anywhere from horrified embarrassment to “go fuck yourself, bud.” Essentially, the article did exactly that, so it’s not surprising that a percentage of people opted for the latter response.

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Criticisms of the piece ranged from calling it shallow and frivolous, to pointing out economic and social reasons why one should dress as they wish, to calling the story “the definition of privilege.” Regardless of how you feel about snow pants, the piece seems to have unconsciously taped into a very real anger in the Canadian psyche, one directed at the haves by the have-nots.

The elite aesthetic espoused in this piece covertly rejects the working class aesthetic—’practical’ clothing, such as snow pants—as ugly and illegitimate in a white collar environment. Clunky boots—like the insulated steel-toes I myself wear—are displeasing precisely because they are affordable and pragmatic. Persons not adhering to the writer's aesthetic should be “suitably ashamed” of their “offences.” Writer Maura Forrest has other beefs too—she really hates earmuffs?—but her main complaint is with clothing concerned with practicality first and fashion second. She tells Edmontonites, for example, their “reflective, fire-retardant work coats” aren’t acceptable “just because it’s actually cold” and admonishes them to “wear a normal jacket like everybody else.” “Normal” here covertly means wear that does not denote an outdoor or trades profession, i.e., not blue collar.

To be able to dress as you wish, not in accordance with your workplace or economic constraints, is a privilege. A suit is worn by executive professions precisely because its formality denotes a person does not have to work with their hands. A person who does not have to wear snow pants—because they have the option to choose other clothing and the wealth to act on it—offends this aesthetic. It’s intentionally looking like someone of lower wealth and status, which is where the disgust—consciously or unconsciously—arises. Work wear is “ugly” precisely because it is necessary.

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What this piece touches on is a divide felt by many, but which those of privilege are hardly aware of. Most people who hold these elitist values don’t realize they have them; it’s a lens, like the colonial or the heteronormative.

I’ve worked as a farmhand, server and general labourer in some of the most affluent parts of the country—Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Whistler, Salt Spring Island—and have been employed by extremely wealthy people who not only don’t understand they are rich, but can’t fathom the socio-economic difference having wealth makes. While working as a vineyard labourer, for example, I was told never to enter the tasting room; labourers were to drink from a hot, plastic hose and use a sweltering portajohn. Patrons—well heeled Vancouverites with slick, expensive cars parked in the lot—would see me coming and going in the tremendous heat, tending the vines as they came in and out of the air-conditioned tasting room. A jug of ice water and glasses sat on the tasting room counter—I could see it through the window when I passed.

No one ever offered me a drink of that water, an act which would have cost nothing; not because they didn’t believe I should have it, but because it never occurred to them I couldn’t access it.

While this isn’t the first time I’ve taken a National Post piece to task for its Grey Poupon values, in this case I know the writer personally, as we overlapped at Yukon News. At the time I read the piece, I called it “bourgeois bullshit.” I later regretted that; Forrest was getting fragged online, including some sexist and shameful comments which were totally out of proportion. Forrest is, by any measure, a fantastically talented journalist well-known for her excellent political coverage. She also wrote this very weird feature on taxidermied squirrel art. I would have a beer with her anytime, even if we disagree on earmuffs.

Regardless of where you stand politically—or on winter wear—we should remember that everyone is human and deserving of respect. At the end of the day, all politics aside, it’s still just fucking snow pants.

Follow Lori on Twitter.

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