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Modern clothes really
can keep you warm

January 2017

Couple hugging in the snow

It is amazing to think that the River Thames used to freeze over so hard that fairs could be held on its surface. While that was well before our time, many middle aged people plus can remember the days of bitterly cold winters and frosts that never disappeared week after week – who can remember newspaper reports of the sea freezing over in Kent?  While we haven’t had such a winter for some years, nevertheless we still get cold snaps and keeping warm is a vital factor in these chilly dark months.

The heating systems in our homes have changed enormously in recent decades, and so too has clothing.  The thermal functional performance of modern clothing designed for cold weather (or in easier terms, its heat loss and how well it keeps you warm) is now often researched by computer generated CAD systems. This allows designers to check the detailed thermal performance of clothing in response to temperature changes combined with changes in the human body. It can be an incredibly complex system but nevertheless is bringing us results that are leading to new ideas in winter clothing to increase performance and warmth.

But for most of us, we simply want to know the best way, the best fabrics and the latest tips that might make life easier and more comfortable in cold periods.

Rules for dressing in cold weather have remained fairly constant in recent years;

  1. Several layers of clothing is always better than just one heavy layer. This is because the air trapped between the layers as well as among the fibres add additional insulation.

  2. There has been some recent research that is said to disprove the fact that we lose a lot of heat from our head. Nevertheless it is important to cover the head, neck, hands and feet. The more unprotected skin that is exposed to the weather, the faster the heat loss from your body.

  3. Feet can get very cold and external cold can come up from the bottom of your shoes. However, adding several pairs of socks is not always a good idea because they can restrict blood circulation. Instead, it is better to add some type of insulation such as an extra inner sole to the shoe or boot. You can buy insulating soles now in some specialist shoe shops and pharmacies.

  4. Interestingly, mittens are better than gloves. This is because when fingers are together, they help to keep each other warm. A soft wool lining is a good idea but you need another layer of leather or a water repellent fabric outside to ensure no moisture creeps through into the wool.

  5. The more clothing the better is not always the case – it can be as bad to wear too much clothing as too little.  This is because you can overheat with too many layers, and if you are also active, you can start perspiring. When you stop moving, or remove some layers, an overheated body that has begun to perspire will begin to chill very quickly and can also cause colds, chapped skin and other problems. If you are becoming too warm while outside, loosen or remove a garment.

  6. Despite all the new developments, don’t feel you have to choose synthetic materials as natural fibres still offer some great benefits. Wool for instance will keep you warm even when wet, and natural materials tend to breathe better, letting any sweat or body moisture evaporate. That said, there are some synthetic fabrics available that are micro porous while being waterproof, allowing you to keep dry but allowing that moisture to escape. Natural down filled jackets and other clothing based on natural fibres are often still the first choice in extreme conditions.

  7. Modern clothing has been designed with comfort in mind, so it is no longer the heaviest thickest feeling item that will always give the most warmth. Fleece jackets for instance can be made with polyester velour fabric that is very lightweight, but specially constructed to retain heat and maximize the wearer’s warmth.

When you look back in history, to the colder winters, the icy houses and the basic clothing, it does make one incredibly thankful to be living today, when keeping warm and comfortable in cold weather is so much easier.



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