Brandt Williams of Minneapolis has spent 53 years in the Upper Midwest, but hadn't worn snow pants since being zipped into a one-piece suit he described as "the iron maiden of clothing for children."
Then one day last December, while shopping at Costco, Williams spotted a snow pants display. He bought a pair on a whim, thinking they'd be less hassle than adding and removing long underwear.
During the February cold snap, Williams wore his snow pants for daily walks, outdoor reporting assignments for his job with Minnesota Public Radio, or just sitting around a fire pit.
"Having this layer of protection makes you feel like you've somehow mastered the elements," he said. "You have this feeling of invulnerability."
While snowsuits and coveralls are a staple of ice fishing, snowmobiling and other outdoorsy pursuits, the pandemic has spurred more Minnesotans to join the cozy club of adults who wear the padded pants. They're remembering childhoods spent sitting in snowbanks, undeterred by dampness or cold, and wondering why their adult selves hadn't reembraced snow pants sooner.
For some, donning snow pants has been an act of self-care in a time when so many of the usual ways we treat ourselves — from happy hours to hitting the mall — have been curtailed.
And once they've crossed over to the warmer side of winter life, snow pants converts can't stop talking about how great they are — fashion stigma be damned.
"Being warm is cool," Williams said. "It doesn't matter how you look. And plus, they're not bad-looking pants."
The snow pants gospel
For Luke LeBlanc, adopting snow pants improved his outdoor experience dramatically. The 25-year-old Minneapolis singer/songwriter admits that prior apathy about winter gear meant he was constantly underdressed; his heaviest coat was a windbreaker.
This year, anticipating he'd be spending more time outdoors, Le-Blanc invested in a big, puffy jacket and a pair of waterproof snow pants.
"I don't mean to blow it out of proportion and say it's life-changing, but you can go and do stuff outside and not be in pain the whole entire time," he said.
He's hesitated to wear his snow pants when he'd like to project some semblance of style, such as at a brewery patio. And while he showed up at the outdoor photo shoot for his new album wearing snow pants, he removed them before the camera started clicking. "But the grocery store — I don't care who sees me in snow pants," he said.
LeBlanc has also worn his new gear on walks, to an outdoor concert, deer hunting with his dad, and tinkering on his car.
"As naive as it sounds, I didn't realize I could be outside when it's 10 degrees and feel like I'm walking around inside," he said.
Now, LeBlanc regularly extols the virtues of a warm lower half.
"I've been preaching the snow pants gospel, and we'll see how many converts I get," he said.
Fueling a 'pantsdemic'
Among Minneapolis' biggest snow pants evangelists is Charlie McCarron, organizer of an outdoor activity club he calls "Snowpantsdemic."
This winter, McCarron busted out a pair of snow pants he hadn't worn since high school ("a lot of my clothes are from high school, even though I'm in my 30s," he admitted) and invited his friends to bimonthly outings, including snow kickball, sledding, and a game he invented that's a sort of cross between boot hockey and golf. (McCarron dabbles in board-game design alongside his work as a composer.)
While McCarron has been using snow pants to inspire his friends to embrace their inner child, Hannah Aderinkomi bought her new snow pants simply to stay as warm as her kids.
In the past, when Aderinkomi took her young children sledding, she'd add a base layer beneath her pants. The last time she wore snow pants was grade school. "It's almost like it didn't occur to me to buy them for myself, even though I was buying them every year for my kids," she said.
This season was different: If she was going to fully appreciate Minnesota winter, Aderinkomi wanted to be comfortable. So she ordered a pair of snow pants online and wore them on the family's next trip to the sledding hill. Her husband, Thompson Aderinkomi, then decided to upgrade from double-layering pants to his own pair of snow pants. Since then, the couple have been as cozy as their kids every time the family has played outside or gone snowshoeing.
"I'm always cold, so the fact it took me so long is sort of fascinating — I've lived here my entire adult life," Hannah Aderinkomi admitted.
In some ways, she said, buying snow pants was an unlikely form of pandemic self-care, not so different from the services that clients of her Minneapolis laser hair removal/skin-care business use to treat themselves. "Maybe adult snow pants were just something that I did for myself," she said.
In any case, Aderinkomi is happy to have embraced a new era of outdoor warmth. "We built a snowman the other day and I think old Hannah would have done that, too, but this Hannah was a bit more comfortable," she said.
Rachel Hutton • 612-673-4569