The slush was icy and ankle deep; the air hurt. But on Commonwealth Avenue, Rictor Noren was commuting in dress shoes and an open cashmere coat draped theatrically over his shoulders — and no hat.
Was he a visitor to these parts, caught unaware of Boston’s storm marathon?
“No,” said Noren, who turned out to be a professor at The Boston Conservatory. “I’m dressed out of respect for the music,” he explained, his shoes damp. “Respect for tradition.”
And so it’s been going for what feels like a lifetime, as employees grapple with this winter’s ongoing sartorial challenge: looking professional when the snow just keeps on getting higher, sidewalks are slippery, and, let’s be honest, we didn’t start out so dapper to begin with.
And then there are those growing increasingly comfortable in what could be called “storm chic” — the L.L. Bean boots, roomy jeans, and sweaters that have, in many workplaces, become acceptable attire on snowy days.
“It looks like a winter rummage sale in my office,” said Ann Peterson, an executive vice president with Marlo Marketing.
She’s been wearing a ski bib to walk the mile to her office — and then keeping the winter style going even at her desk, where she does her job in a cozy hat, fingerless gloves, and a scarf not worn for fashion reasons. “People laugh at me, but if you're freezing, you can’t work.”
But the alternative — looking professional — is getting more challenging by the storm.
“Do I need to carry dress clothes and shoes to work every day for the next three months?” asked Barbara Moran, a senior science writer at Boston University Research News. “Or do I just accept that I will look like a slob all winter?”
That’s the direction Lauren Beckham Falcone fears she’s heading. “I’ve been dressing like a lumbersexual for a week,” said Falcone, an on-air personality at WROR’s Loren & Wally Show. “I’m wondering how little I can get away with before I’m ‘spoken to.’ ”
At 43, Falcone has noticed an age-related element to stormwear: “We have a 30-year-old [at the station],” she said. “She dresses like it’s a summer day — patterned tights, little booties, a miniskirt made out of light cotton.” Falcone paused to think about her own bulky sweater and warm boots, and then practically spat out: “Young people.”
Last week, in the wake of a historic storm, and again Monday, some companies bowed — briefly — to Mother Nature and loosened dress codes. At Unidine Corporation, a Boston-based food and dining management services firm, the day after the blizzard was an official “jeans and sweater day,” and Monday was a casual day, too.
“We like to maintain a professional demeanor in the office,” Unidine spokeswoman Karen O’Neil said. “But we want to be sensitive to the realities of life.”
At the Prudential Tower, Katie McConnon, 29, of Revere said her law firm’s fashion reprieve was also temporary, and by last Thursday, in her sunny yellow cardigan, stylish polka dot blouse, and 4-inch Jessica Simpson heels, McConnon looked more spring than snowmaggedon.
“I’m going to sound like a ridiculous person,” she said, proceeding to reveal the secret to achieving a look that flies above the elements, “but I never go outside. I go from garage to garage.”
But even some workers with commutes that do involve the cruel outdoors said they want to keep up standards. “I feel more confident when I am dressed nicely,” said Ellie Foster, 25, a student and an employee at the Berklee College of Music.
Foster, of Boston, was waiting for the Green Line Thursday morning wearing L.L. Bean boots and a long black down coat, but she carried nice shoes in her bag and wore an on-trend chunky necklace around her neck. “I want to be taken seriously.”
That’s a feeling many can relate to — particularly, it turns out, elected officials. Stormwear is so crucial that when the blizzard loomed, one of the big questions circling the new governor was sartorial: What would Governor Charlie Baker wear for his first weather event? Cozy sweaters, as governor Mike Dukakis did during the blizzard of 1978? A fleece vest with the logo of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, an homage to governor Deval Patrick?
Like the new kid in school who doesn’t know the local style, Baker showed up to his pre-blizzard press conference wearing a suit, and proud of it: “This is kind of my work uniform,” he said from the emergency management bunker in Framingham.
The storm fashion police pounced, and Baker pulled a wardrobe change and donned a sweater.
Politicians aren’t the only ones hoping their clothing will telegraph an appealing message. As he rode a packed Green Line trolley Thursday morning, a hat-free David Bell, 23, said he was eager to keep his gelled hair neat before interviewing for a concierge job at a Beacon Hill hotel. “I can wing it,” he said of dealing with the cold.
Bell planned to surreptitiously change from boots into shoes in the lobby. “I want to look like the guy who doesn’t care about rain, snow, or sleet.”
Others have given up caring.
“Once you’re in the boots,” said Anthony Petro, 33, an assistant professor of religion at Boston University, as he tromped through Kenmore Square, “you’re in boots.”