An ode to Montrealers' winter fashion

This is the first in a series of blog posts by the 2020 CBC Montreal/Quebec Writers' Federation writer in residence, K.B. Thors.

As I'm writing this, Montreal is a snow globe: thick flurries, wind blowing snowflakes theatrically up, down and sideways.

St-Laurent Boulevard is full of parkas as stalwart Montrealers trudge up and down the Main, locals and tourists alike passing store windows crammed with everything from chic black layers to neon vintage ski jackets.

It's been a long time since I've been in a winter like this, and the worse the weather gets, the more my heart glows with affection for the city's sub-zero accoutrements.

The challenge of winter fashion has been at the forefront of my mind since last week, when I walked by a man wearing bright orange, waterproof slip-on galoshes over his leather dress shoes. It was at a downtown crosswalk, and he was about to walk through puddles and slush.

I snapped a surreptitious pic and posted it to my Instagram story under the caption "Montreal shoe technology."

How had I never seen these during my years in Edmonton, New York or Toronto?

K.B. Thors/CBC

It wasn't long before my friend Andreas put a name to the slippers I thought were a Montreal phenomenon.

"Norwegian SWIMS!" he wrote.

Of course, my one Oslo-based lawyer friend knows what these things are called. He has a pair himself, in dark brown.

While it does make sense that Norway is responsible for such a practical invention, I like that the ones I saw in the wilds of Sherbrooke Street were orange. Montrealers aren't afraid of a little colour. Here, construction-orange is a neutral.

K.B. Thors/CBC

From one orange to the next, a recent Saturday night blizzard found my date and I at Gibeau Orange Julep, on a pilgrimage to try the storied drink.

As we waited for our order, we observed the steady stream of customers — a trio of dolled-up boys, a hungry athlete in sweats, a mom whose canary yellow salwar kameez lit up the vestibule shielding us from the storm.

Living with panache in –30 C

A couple cheeseburgers later, my date and I are at Pub Paré, returning on purpose after stumbling into the place on the first painfully cold Saturday in November.

That day, the unassuming bar helped us avoid Christmas-traffic meltdowns as we waited out rush hour with nips of rye.

This evening, I'm getting on a bar stool as a mature lady in a fur hat appears next to me. She orders a beer in French and pays her bill. Then she switches to English and starts haggling — hard — for a glass of tomato juice.

The bartender and her rhinestone shirt are unfazed. I don't know why the two orders get this kind of language treatment, but I know it's a beautiful moment.

The lady's bargaining skills are set off by luxurious aubergine lipstick. She's out by herself on a cold Saturday night, an eye-catching assortment of bracelets clattering as she gestures, making her case.

K.B. Thors/CBC

When the bartender takes a moment to serve another customer, I tell her her hat is beautiful. She's had it for 40 years, she says. It was her mother's.

Say what you will about fur, but if that hat hasn't been keeping heads warm for a century, it's awfully close.

Pub Paré is not what you'd call a ritzy establishment. This woman is here, glam as she is, because that's just how she steps out into the world, and her quotidian outing is my I-love-this-place moment.

Not every city has a culture that can celebrate going out alone, let alone as a woman, as a woman of a certain age, to a dive bar.

It's one thing to have joie de vivre in the summertime. Living with panache in –30 C is more than a coping skill — it's a culture. My transplanted self so appreciates this Québécois flair.

This woman is a hero.

If I'd known that night that I'd write this piece, I'd have asked if she wanted her photo to be included here. Instead, I hope she's having a good day, drinking free tomato juice and enjoying a small tribute to Montréal's haut, ad hoc hiver.

This is the first in a series of blog posts by the 2020 CBC/Quebec Writers' Federation writer-in-residence, K.B. Thors.

We'd love to hear your reflections on Montreal winter fashion statements. Comment below, or share your story on the CBC Montreal Facebook page

Learn more about the author: Poet K.B. Thors named CBC/QWF's writer-in-residence for 2020