Alaska is commonly associated with snow and bitter cold weather in winter and very cool summer. No wonder that many people associate Alaskans with down coats and moonboots as well as fall attire in winter and summer, respectively. This post shows outfits Alaskans wear in the various months that fail to meet the perception of Alaskan gear year round.
- Facts about Fairbanks’ Fashion
- January Cold Weather Gear
- February Means Valentine Dresses, Down-coats and Down Pants
- March: Warm Outerwear, Kuspuks and Casual
- April Outerwear and Running Gear
- May Summer Outfits and Regalia
- June Style
- Old Times Costumes and Fairbanks Formal in July
- August Rain Gear Casual and Formal
- September Casual and Running Gear
- October – Oktoberfest Attire and PDF Shopping
- November Down Clothing
- December sees Santa
- Various Dress Codes for Monthly Entertainment
FYI: Terms indicated with * are explained in the High Latitude Style Glossary (see sidebar for the glossary).
Facts about Fairbanks’ Fashion
In Fairbanks, the It bag is a Coach logo fabric bag. The insider vest is a quilted North Face bought online. And everyone loves skinnies. In Interior Alaska, the It rubber boots are Bunny boots and X-Tra Tuffs even at weddings. You turn heads when you can walk in heels in Alaska.
January Cold Weather Gear
January is the coldest month in Fairbanks. Who can afford it flies out over the winter break to thaw in the Lower 48 or melt in Mexico or Hawaii. Those who stay, stay inside whenever possible when it is 40 below. Unfortunately, you still have to shop at these temperatures when you did not stock well, drive your kids to school or walk your dog(s). Many Fairbanksans just throw on their down coats and down pants over their PJs at these temperatures. There is barely someone out there and they wear the same. And (wo)man, it is 40 below!
Dancers attend the annual 40 Below Ball. It is a formal event, black tie optional. There are men showing up in tuxedos, cutaways, or white dinner-style jackets and women wearing full length evening gowns. However, the majority of women wears a knee-length or tea-length cocktail dress. A minority of the women wears maxi summer dresses. This style is especially popular among college students, while high school students wear prom dresses.
February Means Valentine Dresses, Down-coats and Down Pants
Every other year in February, a big event is the Yukon Quest when it starts in Fairbanks on the Chena River in downtown. Dress-code: down-coats and down-pants optional.
Valentine’s Day means dinner, and dances. A little red dress is optional. Most of the time, it is way too cold to dress-up in a sexy typical Valentine’s Day attire. Thus, one goes with the spirit wearing a red item (e.g. photo above) when the date is at a roadhouse, or a restaurant. Only a Valentine’s Day Ball calls for the cocktail dress, a prom dress or a maxi dress. Red is optional. More on what to wear in Alaska in February.
March: Warm Outerwear, Kuspuks and Casual
In March, the BP World Ice Art Championship is a big event. Artist – local and from all over the world – carve sculptures from single or multiple ice blogs depending on which competition they entered. They even carve fashion items! An ice coat anyone?
The Festival of Native Arts attracts fiddlers, artists, and dancers alike. The performers wear kuspuks* (see photo on the left below) and fancy gowns. The dancers wear casual clothes with Alaska style jeans (16 oz with flannel plaid lining) and flannel shirts.
More ion what to wear in March.
April Outerwear and Running Gear
April has the Arctic Man Ski and Sno-Go Classic. This is a high-speed race with snowmobiles pulling a skier between two courses. Dress-code: Outerwear when you are watching it.
April also has the Beat Beethoven 5K Race, an annual fundraiser for the Fairbanks Symphony. Participants wear normal running gear, while cheerers along the route wear casual outerwear.
The dress code of the Parka Parade in April is obvious. This event show-casts beautiful hand-made summer and winter parkas. The photo on the right shows my DIY parka. The event comes with a sled dog race downtown prior to the parka show. For everyday wear see the April lookbook.
May Summer Outfits and Regalia
May is graduation season. The University of Alaska Fairbanks has her annual commencement each year on Mother’s Day. Thus, you see many Mother’s Day outfits, mother of the graduate outfits and regalia when you happen to be in town that day.
May is the onset of the summer tourist season. You immediately recognize the tourists by their long-sleeves and long pants with Birkenstocks or sneakers. The Fairbanksans wear shorts and short sleeves with flip flops or summer clothes. See the May lookbook for the Interior for everyday fashion.
June is the official onset of the fire season, but also summer solstice. The Midnight Sun Run (10 K) not only attracts serious runners, but also Alaskan costume designers. There are various competitions for the best costume. One important pre-requisite for getting the award is to actually do the run in that costume! The route of the run is just around the corner of my street. In the year, when Sarah Palin became governor there was an invasion of Sarah-Palin-look-a-likes with red blazer, black pencil skirt and 2 inch heel black pumps.
Dress code: Any sports wear and costume goes as well as casual summer wear.
June is also the season of outdoor weddings. You may see brides wearing Xtra tuffs, the Alaska Must-have rain boots.
Layering is key even in summer. Therefore, I like to put outfits together that still work when I take a layer off when it becomes too warm. This outfit of a white leather skirt, striped T-shirt and washed out jeans jacket fills that bill perfectly on a weekend. During the week, I would replace the jeans jacket with a blue blazer to look work appropriate. At work, I would wear the blazer to fight the chilliness of the AC and I would take the blazer off when going outside during the lunch break.
Want styling tips for all kind of dressing situation in midlife, buy my book How to Dress for Success in Midlife.
More in the June lookbook.
Old Times Costumes and Fairbanks Formal in July
Musicians, actors, dancers and artists of various media are excited about the annual Summer Arts Festivals at the end of July. While many of the attendees are from all over Alaska, there are lecturers from all over the world. On the stage, you will see the same high end clothing you see in performances in other places. The audience, however, wears Fairbanks Formal meaning a clean (T-)shirt and dark jeans, which for women means that it is ok to wear a fancy vacation or cocktail style dress.
At the end of July, the striking of gold in Fox near Fairbanks by Felix Predro is celebrated with the Golden Days Parade and many local dance, music, dinning and show events. You can even buy a warrant to have your travel companion, friend, spouse or kid imprisoned. You can get imprisoned yourself by not wearing the Golden Days button or stocking holder of the respective year. This events attracts people from everywhere between the Alaska and Brooks Range as well as tourists. Dress code options: Founders’ years attire, kuspuks or casual.
You will be immediately recognized as a tourist when you wear long sleeves and pants with a rain jacket and sneakers or Birkenstocks. Fairbanksans bear the rain with an umbrella or just so with short sleeves and pants.
When you happen to visit Fairbanks in the week of the Golden Days celebrations you should attend the Golden Day parade. There you will see traditional Alaskan fashion, Pioneer time clothing and sometimes even a rocket. Another great thing for dancers are the Old Times Dance events taking place that week. Even if you aren’t a dancer, just the costumes are worth seeing. Some people seem to just live for these parties with full attire bought for the early 1900s in the style of late 1890s fashion. Back in the times, it took about 2 to 3 years until the trends from the East Coast finally arrived in Alaska.
Other people like me go there for the dancing. They make the costumes themselves or have a hand-me down from the former crowd. Below some historic Gold Rush outfit inspirations from the Last Frontier in the early 1900s.
See the July lookbook.
August Rain Gear Casual and Formal
In the Interior and on the North Slope, residents get glaze in their eyes about the Tanana Valley Fair in August that provides great shopping and amusement opportunities. Dancing with the Fairbanks Stars is a big attraction like the riesenrad or the plastic bubbles that you enter and then roll with in a big water pool. For my European readers note that this fair is a combined business, trade, industrial and funfair. August is the rain season. Rain gear is key. Sunshine means shorts and shirts.
More on what to wear in Alaska in August.
September Casual and Running Gear
In September, the Equinox Marathon takes place. At that time, temperatures are often already in the 40s to 60s (5-15.6oC), but the runners wear their normal running gear and on-viewers wear jeans, shirts and a light jacket.
There is also the Potato Festival. It is a fundraiser of Fairbanks Festival that works on the beautification of the Fairbanks downtown area. Here the dress code is Fairbanks Formal optional which means you are a minority when you wear Fairbanks Formal*. More on what to wear in Alaska in September.
October – Oktoberfest Attire and PDF-Shopping
In October, the many local breweries in the Fairbanks area celebrate Oktoberfest all month. They totally ignore the actual time of the traditional Münchner Oktoberfest which starts in September. In October, the last summer tourists are gone. Now the locals wear long sleeves and long pants with a light jacket and sneakers or hiking boots. 😉 The bands may or may not wear lederhosen and female singers may or may not wear a dirndl.
Another big event is the International Friendship Day. Here you see traditional clothes from all over the world worn and/or presented by immigrants and Natives. You also see many dance costumes from all over the world worn by the performers as well as Fairbanks street style worn by the audience.
Many Alaskan already dream about their next get-a-way to the warm beaches of Hawaii and Mexico in October. They book these trips when the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) is paid out in October, and the PFD sales are on. The permanent fund was constitutionally established in Alaska in 1976 to set aside a given share of oil revenues to benefit current and future generations of Alaskans. In a broad nutshell, Alaska residents with US citizenship can apply for the PFD when they have lived within Alaska for a full calendar year (January 1 to December 31), and intend to remain Alaska resident indefinitely.
Around the time of the PFD payouts, so-called PFD deals exist all over Alaska. Since no one likes 30 below temperatures and colder – not even Alaskans, PFD travel deals go fast. It is nice to get a little break from seven months or more of winter. Once the vacation place is secured, and the cold weather requires Alaskans to bundle up, they start dreaming off warm beaches and running around in cut-offs and a comfy T-shirt.
On Halloween, key is to wear warm clothes underneath the costume when trick-n-treating. More on everday in the October lookbook.
November Down Clothing
In November, Fairbanks sees its first cold snaps with temperatures below -20F (-29.9oC). This time is onset of down clothes, tights, Alaska 16 oz jeans with flannel plaid lining, duck boots and/or bunny boots.
Many Fairbanksans attend the Diwali Festival organized by the Indian Student Club of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. While it is a must for Indian women to present the newest saris from their homeland, some local women wear saris too. Otherwise it is Fairbanks casual or some Fairbanks street style picking up on the theme.
November also has the Fairbanks Champs – the big fashion event in the Interior. Local clothing stores have their winter gear modeled by local fashionistas. The female audience wears cocktail dresses or evening gowns and the men wear business casual or formal attire. This dress code is quite different from what you wear at fashion shows elsewhere in the states.
More in the November lookbook.
December Sees Santa
For my money, most holiday sweaters are ugly and those that are not, are so expensive that they are not worth their money. Their name is holiday sweater for a reason which restricts their wear to about the six weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Nevertheless, given that North Pole, Alaska (a real community close to Fairbanks) is just around the corner, many go with the (commercial) spirit. Among young students Santa Claus hats are a Must-have or Must-wear in December. Girls like reindeer antlers. Among female teenagers holiday earrings are a great fashion item to don. Some women go with the spirit wearing holiday inspired outfits.
More on what to wear in Alaska in December.
Various Dress Codes for Monthly Entertainment
While there are many annual or biennial events in Fairbanks, there are also many monthly events with their own dress code. I already mentioned the large arts scene in Fairbanks in my post what to wear for First Friday. I presented one of the Fist Friday events that presented beautiful (unwearable) dresses.
Visitors of the Fairbanks Symphony or the Fairbanks Chamber Concert wear Fairbanks casual. This means they wear whatever they find in their closet being appropriate for the weather. You will only see an evening gown when they have a female guest artist playing with them. And yes, it is only her who wears a gown.
During the ice hockey season, you wear the colors of your team. There are two teams in Fairbanks, the Ice Dogs (sweater with their Ice Dog face) and the Nanooks. The latter are the team of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Here yellow and blue attire is appropriate when you don’t wear their shirt.
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Photos: G. Kramm
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