What to Wear Over a Formal Dress When It’s Cold

Wednesday, September 07, 2022
What to Wear Over a Formal Dress When It’s Cold

‘Tis the season for holiday gatherings, festive galas, and oh-so-many cocktail parties. If you’re anything like us, you’re ready to throw on your favorite gown, grab a glass of spiced red wine, and enjoy the most wonderful time of the year.

The only part of this season we don’t love? The cold.

Somehow even when the only assignment is making it from your warm car to a friend’s front door, there are obstacles abound: treacherously icy sidewalks, biting winds, and frigid temps, all of which seem to trap us inside our homes and make leaving oh so difficult.

Braving the elements isn’t so hard when we get to layer up in a mock turtleneck and snow boots, but what about when the occasion calls for strappy heels and an evening dress?

If you’ve found yourself Googling “what to wear over a formal dress when cold?” that isn’t a shawl or faux fur wrap, you’ve come to the right place. Keep reading for our styling suggestions, tips for staying warm, and more.

First Up: Outerwear Chic, Glam Underneath

Good news for reluctant snow bunnies—you don’t have to sacrifice elegance and class to stay warm. If you’re wondering how to style a coat to go with the various dress code for weddings, or what to wear over a cocktail dress for an event, when the temperatures plunge, we have three essential things to say:

  • Winter coats that are both functional and fashionable do exist
  • It’s okay to layer a sweater, cardigan, or vest beneath your coat for extra toasty bulk
  • You can conserve body heat with the right combination of scarves, hats, and mittens

That last one is especially important for us female folk.

The extremities—or hands and feet—of women tend to run a few degrees colder than men, leaving us feeling the chill even when it’s only mildly chilly.1

This means we can benefit from knowing how to layer clothes for winter and how to protect our fingers and toes with gloves, cozy socks, and winter-friendly footwear.

Always remember: If you’re headed to a formal event with a coat check or where you can easily stash a tote, it’s perfectly acceptable to wear booties or even sneakers during the cold commute. Once inside, you can easily trade those shoes for more acceptable evening attire.

This will also protect your heels from becoming scuffed on ice or stained by salt. It’s a win-win.

Now, let’s turn our attention to what to wear over an evening dress when cold temperatures require winter wear. You can achieve a complete and finished formal outfit with the right accessories, but unsurprisingly, the perfect look begins with the proper foundation.

What we’re talking about, of course, is the coat.

#1 The Snuggly Academic Sweater Look

Headed to a school-sponsored gala, a book reading, or a Christmas dinner with the kids?

A fuzzily textured sweater coat with slouchy chicness and a structured, mid-length finish is the perfect layer to drape over your shoulders in the winter months, even when you’re wearing formal wear.

With snap closures, mitten-friendly side-slit pockets, and a high collar that blocks the wind, you’ll achieve an air of effortless 90s cool thanks to the classic camel color.

Sweater coats are especially cute with loose-fitting, flowy garments, such as:

  • Turtleneck sweaters
  • Cashmere tunics
  • Wide-legged trousers
  • Belted jumpsuits

This is an excellent choice for any time you’re bringing easy and breezy vibes to the winter party. With the right fuzzy muff to keep your hands warm and a newsboy cap or beret, you’ll look like you just came dashing out of the Louvre.

This coat can be paired with preppy throwback touches like an oversized plaid scarf, cable knit dresses, boho flowy dresses, sweaters, and anything gray or navy. Add a pair of chunky framed glasses to complete the collegial feel, then peel off these outer layers to reveal an elevated and refined style.

woman dressed for cold weather

#2 The Winter Resort Ready Puffer Jacket Look

Headed to a night of buttered rum cocktails at the ski lodge, or wish you were? We have the perfect coat for you.

A multi-season jacket that traps heat due to its individually-sealed compartments stuffed with soft plush fill, this coat can be worn over a cocktail dress with knee-high boots or a long gown with suede booties for that “fresh from a day on the slopes” vibe.

Our puffer jacket features a drawstring adjuster hemline for wind-blocking warmth and styling options that give a little more tailored cool and a little less “sleeping bag.” It can be paired with styling touches such as:

  • A knit beanie and tall boots for a bit of urban edge
  • A cashmere scarf and silver hoop earrings for a touch of suburban sophistication
  • Gold rings, bangles, and chains for a dressed-down yet elevated look

While puffer coats offer plenty of warmth, desperate times may call for additional layers. Don’t be afraid to throw on a sweater that adds bulk—after all, this is one time where you’re not necessarily trying to achieve a slimming profile. Peel those clothes off once you reach your event, and you’ll have completed a swanlike transformation to cocktail hour readiness.

woman wearing puffer jacket

#2 Turn Heads with a Classic Herringbone Coat

A variant of twill with a history that dates back to ancient times, herringbone fabric is the ultimate example of a time-honored fabric.2 These days, it’s a staple in any women's winter jackets collection that is pleasingly textured and perfectly posh.

Our herringbone coat is made with a cotton, polyester, and wool black and cream blend with a thick-cut front-clasping button and a structured silhouette. Luckily, these are some of the best fabrics for cold weather. It hangs nicely when opened, so be sure to try this one when it’s a little warmer so your formal dress can peek out and steal a little bit of the spotlight.

As an office-friendly pattern, herringbone is specially polished when worn with more fitted, tailored clothing such as:

  • Women’s pantsuits
  • Neutral colors
  • Black leather handbags and accessories

It also feels totally ‘70s when paired with oversized eyeglasses, á la Audrey Hepburn. If you’re still feeling chilly, you can include a thin puffer vest beneath for a sporty look that’s right at home in the hunting lodge.

So what do you wear to complement it?

Cocktail attire, when cold outside, pairs gorgeously with sleek herringbone. Add a pair of sheer black stockings and your favorite gold earrings and bracelets, and you’ll be set to wow, whether you’re headed to drinks with clients or a night out at the symphony.

#3 Radiate Sophistication and Charm with a Dependable Suede Jacket

A suede jacket is the ultimate chic jacket and cold weather staple, and our eco-friendly faux option is soft, sheeny, and the height of winter sophistication.

Suede is a wonderful outwear option because it is:

  • Thick and durable
  • Easy to clean
  • Snug-fitting

Suede can also feel formal thanks to its impressive surface, reminiscent of both leather and silk, so it’s the perfect thing to throw on over a cocktail dress or evening gown. And our faux suede jacket comes in glossy light stone color and can be cinched with a waist-defining belt.

Suede is also the domain of former hippies and ex-bohemians, so don’t be afraid to accessorize with long, beaded necklaces, oversized gemstones like turquoise and jade, and wide-brimmed hats. Or grab a pair of understated cowboy boots, add a boyfriend-style flannel over your dress for extra warmth on the commute, and finish with an extra-big belt buckle for a girly take on western winter wear.

#4 Dress for the Nightlife with a Shiny, Sequin Jacket

Whether it’s drinks with the gals or an evening celebrating out on the town, you can jazz things up with a touch of sparkle and a dash of midnight mystique by donning our sequin jacket.

Here, you’ll want to go for a style that’s a little less formal and a little more nightclub, so go ahead and wear this with pieces such as:

  • Nude stockings
  • 4-inch stilettos
  • Your favorite diamond or pearl necklace
  • Tinted eyeshadow
  • A deep shade of lipstick

This outfit may leave you feeling the chill, so don’t forget to layer up with mittens and an oversized scarf. If your feet tend to get cold or there’s just too much snow on the sidewalk, swap those heels for a pair of waterproof combat boots. You can also add leg warmers for a “just left the studio” vibe.

Shiny, Sequin Jacket

Stay Warm and in Style With Karen Kane

The chilly winter months are the perfect time to gather with friends and family, raise a glass to recent successes, and look forward to the coming year ahead.

Many of these occasions call for a more formal dress code, which can be fiendishly difficult to style and stay warm when it’s freezing outside. But no outfit should leave you stranded at home when the snow flurries start to fall.

At Karen Kane, we believe women should feel beautiful and comfortable in any outfit they don. We craft our products to create clothing with an incredible fit and feel. That means that when it comes to looking your best and conserving heat, we’re here for you.

If you’re curious to learn more, browse our outerwear, sweaters, and dresses, or keep reading our blog to discover styling tips, recipes, and travel secrets from Karen.


  1. Glamour. Why Are Women Always Cold? There's a Scientific Reason.
  2. Dropping Knowledge: Herringbone.
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