The limits of keeping cool

Posted by Dan Cerruti on

So how many clothing brand email lists are you guys on? I’m on approximately a thousand, and every time I unsubscribe from one I’m somehow signed up for three more, like some direct marketing hydra. It’s not to say that there’s no value in getting emails from brands (sign up for our newsletter!) because I like hearing about sales and stuff, but those companies that send you a dozen emails a week about nothing in particular? They can suck an egg. Lately I’ve been getting inundated with a particular kind of marketing blast where it seems everyone and their mom has some “revolutionary” new fabric designed to keep you cool in the summer. Oh joy, a revolution? Let me get my guillotine.

A lot of these fabrics are entirely synthetic and heavy on science, but it’s that marketing kind of science. Like when a sports drink promises that it contains 100% more “quench power” for your thirst, chock full of electrotein and nutrimites! While there may fundamentally be some value to rehydrating you the difference between those formulated tinctures and Pedialyte is negligible in the end, the only difference is that the sports drinks have marketing departments to feed. Space age fabrics these days designed for optimal moisture wicking or whatever are just polyester by any other name and expecting a “revolution” from any of them, even if they may make fine running shorts or mesh tees, is chugging snake oil.

See, a lot of the salesmanship out there now is that somehow, someway, these clothes will actually make you cooler, as if you have slipped into a suit made of pure freon. I get that desire, for I am a schvitzer and I truly wish I weren’t. It takes very little about springtime weather to turn on my sweat glands. When my tee turns into a bog by the mid afternoon I feel a mix of embarrassed and uncomfortable, even if sweating is about as natural a thing as you can do. What I wouldn’t give for my clothes to somehow, miraculously, keep me at a balmy autumnal temperature. But that fantasy will remain exactly that.

There’s no real way for your clothes to make you cooler on a hot day. There are ways to mitigate the heat, dress appropriately for the heat, withstand the heat, but at the end of the day the heat is still there. Any clothes you put on will make you warmer because that’s just how layers of fabric work. The only surefire way to be as cool as you can be is to be naked, but society frowns on your bits and pieces flopping about in the summer air.

Oh ho, you may say, this is rich coming from someone who wrote just the other week about linen and ramie and how versatile they were, especially as warm weather fabrics. Well, yeah, they’re definitely the best you can get, but those humble plants aren’t miracle workers. A linen shirt won’t make you cooler than no shirt at all. It’s just not reasonable to expect that from a fabric. Yes, air flow through the weave can be cooling, it can wick moisture, yes yes, I know, there are many reasons why linen or ramie are great for hot weather but they’re not fucking air conditioners. You will be hot. You will sweat. Some plant fibers cannot help you.

I think it’s this kind of no-holds-barred quest for “innovation” that keeps us coming back to this well. Someone, with the magic of ingenuity and capital, will figure out a way to unlock the refrigerating potential in a fabric. In a world of central air and heating we’re used to getting the exact temperature that we want, when we want it. Well, the sun doesn’t care. Heat has been an inconvenience, or worse, since we learned how to complain (human species day 1, probably) and for much of our history we worked out ways to deal with it. High windows, running water, whatever other architectural innovation to let people live in the desert comfortably enough. Now that we’re practically terraforming the planet to our own ends it’s tempting to think that we can fix the air to be what we want. Sorry, guys. Despite everything we still live in an environment that could give two shits about our personal comfort.

But hey, we’ve come a long way as a society when it comes to what we can wear. Used to be you couldn’t wear shorts, and people would sweat through summer in suit and tie. Seersucker and the like ain’t keeping you cooler than the humid air of a Mississippi summer, but it was what they were working with. So now we can just do the easiest, simplest thing- wear less. Because that’s all that’ll work in the end. It’s not like you can just add an air conditioner to your clothes.





Oh shit. Wait, I take everything back. Have you guys seen kuchofuko? Apparently Japanese workers have these jackets and pants with fans built in. So I guess fuck me. I’ll be living in these all summer and walk around town emitting a whirring buzz like a swarm of insects. Ah, nothing like increasing my personal comfort at the expense of other people’s.