This summer, did you spend a few minutes longer staring at your wardrobe, wondering what you could wear that would make you perspire just a little less?
Click start to play today’s Spell It, where we realise we may have ‘bungled’ up our efforts in finding ways to stay cool in the heat – merely through our wardrobe choices.
It makes sense that the clothing we wear is vital to how we stay cool, especially during heatwaves and global warming-induced rising temperatures. Most people think white is the ideal colour for summer, since it reflects the sun’s rays, rather than absorbs it, like black does.
But this theory gets a little complex when you take into consideration the thickness and fit of clothing. Heat comes not just from the sun, but from our bodies too. So, when our internal heat hits our white clothing, it gets reflected back at us.
A January 1980 report in the journal Nature studied the clothing of Bedouins in the Arabian Peninsula. The study found that those who wore black robes in the desert experienced the same heat exposure as those who wore white – there was essentially no difference because of colour. It’s because black coloured fabrics are excellent radiators of heat, so they absorb heat from our bodies and expel it, allowing our bodies to cool down. The Bedouins’ secret though, was to wear loose-fitting black clothing, especially if it was windy. It created space between the fabric and the skin, allowing an upward air current to provide cool relief.
The fit of the clothes you wear, then, is even more important than the colour. According to an August 2023 report in UK-based news website BBC Future, if you prefer wearing tight-fitting clothing, you should opt for white.
Just like fit, the fabric you wear matters, too. Lightweight woven fabrics, like cotton, are better at hanging loosely than knitwear. In humid climes, this helps immensely, since the air around you is saturated with water vapour, and the sweat soaked up by your clothes has nowhere to go. So, materials that allow water vapour to pass through have a better chance of sweat evaporation.
Nylon and polyester are used in activewear for this reason – they wick moisture and dry rapidly. But they do retain odour. Cotton and linen absorb moisture and are breathable materials, but are slow to dry, so they’re uncomfortable to wear when you’re perspiring. Merino wool is commonly worn by outdoor enthusiasts because it doesn’t just wick moisture, it does it without retaining odour.
With temperatures climbing every year, sports companies like Nike and Adidas are now designing smart fabrics to radiate heat away from the body more effectively. Scientists are also developing synthetic fibres with coatings that change structure, based on outside temperatures, allowing the release of more heat as the mercury rises.