When the five-minute walk to class feels like a trek up Mt. Everest, and it becomes commonplace not to feel your fingers or toes as you head outside, you know it’s that wonderful time of the year: It’s winterwear accessories shopping time!

It all started for me when a friend and I braved the frosty winds in search of Christmas presents for our respective boyfriends. As we breathlessly stumbled into Middle Earth, we were greeted by the familiar smell of incense, a wide assortment of gag gifts and a nice selection of animal winterwear. As a joke, I jammed a knitted leonine toque hat atop my head. The striped ears waggled up and down.

“It looks cute!” my friend assured me through her giggles. “You’d never wear it, though.”

Remember that part in “Harry Potter” when Luna Lovegood dons a colossal lion’s head in support of Gryffindor in the big Quidditch final against Slytherin? It has huge whiskers and eyes that bug out and like a gazillion brown and yellow streamers coming out from behind it. Yeah, the hat looked kind of like that, except it had a tail in the back, too.

Though neither of us was able to find a suitable present that afternoon, I walked out of the store with a newfound resolve. I would be the owner of that hat.

“I’m buying it,” I told my friend. “I’m telling you, I’m buying it.”

Purchasing a winter hat shouldn’t be such a big deal, but I am known to be obsessively picky with little things like accessories. I’ll plunk down $25, $30 for a new dress, no problem, but tell me to buy a scarf and I’ll spend hours and hours picking through the best and worst of Ann Arbor’s couture, preening at my dissatisfied reflection in the mirror. My criteria for winterwear, in particular, are enormously stringent.

Things I try to avoid at all costs: Ugg boots, or any sub-par imitation of them (I’m sure they’re warm, but wearing them over leggings kind of nullifies the purpose, doesn’t it?), The North Face because it’s out of my budget, long johns and big woolly scarves that look comfortable but when you take them off decide to fry your hair all over the place.

I’m also over pretty things that secretly make you freeze because I’ve already caught two colds since October, and we’re not even halfway through winter yet. Thanks, Forever 21, for repeatedly damaging my immune system while depleting my bank account with your stupid “return for store credit only” policy. I’m really fond of those beret-type hats that “Gossip Girl” has popularized, but I’ve always wondered what part of your head they actually protect – the back of your scalp? A few strands of your hair? In a state where the windchill impedes you from walking in a straight line, I’d say form wins over fashion, any time.

Not that it means that I condone waddling around in huge swaths of cloth. I’ve found that if I’m not completely comfortable with what I’m wearing, I won’t wear it, no matter how many colds I catch or classes I miss.

I had made a connection with the lion hat. From the second I laid eyes on my reflection, I fell in love. So what was stopping me? I guess maybe wearing an animal face on my head was too far out, too bag lady. I’m a conservative person. The greatest fashion risk I have ever taken was wearing a skirt in winter. It was cold.

Sometimes college feels like a constant battle between standing out, but not standing out too much. In a school of approximately 40,000 people, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle — even more so during winter, when every bit of skin is carefully shielded by down feathers, leather or wool.

I love to shop. But recently everything I’ve been buying has started to look the same. If you look into my closet, you’ll find hordes of cardigans, graphic t-shirts, flowered dresses and not much else. I wanted a change. I wanted to be different.

So here was a perfect opportunity to self-express. OK, sure, maybe wearing a huge lion’s head wasn’t going to get me invited to any fashion shows, but isn’t the purpose of capitalism to wear what you like? That if the demand for something exists, some producer will cater to your needs?

The next day, I charged down South University like a soldier, sprinted back into Middle Earth and flung $20 on the counter like the wild woman I was. I was now the proud owner of an alpaca wool lion hat, as the tag so cheerfully proclaimed. My ears newly warmed, I exited the store with my head up, feeling like a lion king. On the walk back to my dorm, a few people casually glanced over at me, but otherwise my so-called “big” gesture was ignored.

But I was ready to take on winter, a champion of the individual and all things downtrodden and neglected. Never mind that nobody noticed my awesome hat. Now to finding some matching gloves.

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