I have worked with, as in at a job and saw all the photos and heard the stories, of people who did WW before dry suits. This is when the WW boats were two-piece fiberglass bullets that some guy made up from molds in their garage and tended to be held together with a lot of duct tape. The guys wore what they could find in wet suits but it wasn't much, but every one of them I know of used a layer of wool. Not the synthetic stuff you see now.
One of the interesting things about real wool is that it still can keep you warm when wet. I had occasion to test this out, by accident, when I was outdoors, got caught is a soaking thunderstorm and got well into hypothermia. Not having any brains, one of the charming aspects of advancing hypothermia, I did the nearest thing. That was to climb into a big old heavy never-would-use-it-now all wool Boy Scout sleeping bag. I was pretty wasted when I woke up but I was still around to notice it. The old time WW folks I know relied on that feature. It is cold in the northeast when the non-dam water is running, go back far enough and the controlled release stuff wasn't around either.
One note re wind and wet suits - the problem I had with that was in the typical paddling wet suit that people get because they are relatively cheap. As mentioned in one post in this thread somewhere, the surfing suits tend to have a layer that protects from wind. They also cost a good bit more - a really good one starts coming in around the price of a gently used dry suit. So it becomes a closer call on what to get - basically, which garment are you likely to get a longer time of being happy with? In Florida, or in areas off of California where temperatures are kind enough to not drop near freezing (water and air), there is a lot of wiggle room. At sub-40 degree water or air temps in the 20's, there is less margin.
1 Canoe/Kayak Trailer
YakCatcher Rod Holder
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