Friday, February 18, 2011

How to be Modest AND Comfortable in the Heat

My home isn't air-conditioned. February's heat is upon us with unusual intensity and there's only one thing I can write about  -- practical ways to be modest and comfortable in the heat.

When the thermostat rises, much of the western world has one urge (apart from seeking an air-conditioned or watery spot) and that is to strip off. If you're reading this then that probably isn't an option for you. So how do you stay covered but not feel ill from the lack of air circulating over the surface of your skin?

I've spent considerable time creating a temperature-appropriate wardrobe. Each summer I'll have two or three outfits and wear-and-wash them continuously in the few weeks of real heat that our climate usually offers. The outfits don't tend to last more than a season or two, and I'm perennially struggling to keep pace with the current season, but nevertheless, sewing my own heat survival kit allows me to be comfortable and modest.  Here's what I've learned.

From long sleeves to short in a jiffy.
In the heat, this cotton top (design by BN) is brilliant and beautiful.
  1. Eschew close-fitting garments.
  2. Avoid knit fabrics, which are designed to cling. Go for cotton weaves.
  3. Look for clothing design that lends itself to modesty in a single garment.
The under-bust blouse seam allows for the addition of an inset panel. From inside, the piece looks like the front half of a singlet crop-top.
1. Eschew close-fitting garments.  This includes style and fabric. A close-fitting style will enhance the garment's perspiration-display abilities. Figure-hugging fabrics don't allow for air to pass over the surface of your skin. Have you thought of going without a bra during the worst of the heat? My mother and I do and oh, what relief!

Does that shock you? A few weeks out of harnass won't turn you into a sag bag. However, you can't just drop the bra and expect to be modest while wearing t-shirts. You need to apply Points 2 and 3, below.
Interfaced patch pockets provide the modesty,
100% cotton weave provides the comfort.
This BN shirt was designed to look good with its cuffs folded up.
2. Avoid knits. Go for cotton weaves. Cotton holds its shape, is absorbant, and if you choose the right weight and print, is opaque (meaning you can't see through it).

If you're thinking, "But I don't want to iron in the heat!" my reply is, I don't iron any of the garments you see in this post. They're washed with a slow or medium spin, then hung on an indoor rack or hanger (no peg marks!), with a judicious tug here and there to prevent creasing as they dry. These cottons are fairly crease-resistant and I don't mind starting the day with a slightly crumpled look -- after all, as soon as the fabric gets between me and a seat it'll crease anyway.
Does this outfit look warm to you? It's not. The only concession I need to make for extreme heat is to roll the cuffs up. See below for why it's so comfortable.
This patch pocket is ornamental. Modesty is obtained from two layers of fabric used at the front, forming a lining for the transparent broderie anglaise.
The back is one layer of fabric.
I've pulled the shirt against my body so you can see the join where two-layered front meets one-layered back.
It's not normally as noticable as in that photo, and probably you wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't pointed it out, but next time I do this pattern I'll make sure I have enough fabric to double the back as well as the front.
3. Design elements such as linings, bodice inset panels, or breast patch pockets mean you can be modest without needing another layer underneath. On a very hot day, do you know the comfort of a loose-fitting cotton top over a cotton-lined cotton skirt with nothing else underneath?  Sweat moistens your clothing, air passes through it, evaporation occurs, and voila, you have your own cooling tent operating with you inside it. (See The Great Shirt Hunt for more details.)
Three more things you need to know:
  1. Nobody else needs to know you're not wearing underlayers today. Be modest in manners as well as appearance.
  2. Loose doesn't have to mean shapeless. My tops are loosely tailored using darts or ties so they look attractive but maintain wearability.
  3. If you don't live in a perpetual heat zone, you may need to adjust to the concept of trickling perspiration. It's not a bad thing if you're appropriately attired. Get into the mindset (as you did to dressing modestly) and you can be comfortable!
Try these ideas and let us know how you get on!

[Boutique Narelle's comments feature is now open.]
PS  People have asked me how did I get the yellow blouse to have so many tiny gathers. In case you're wondering that too, here's the secret. The fabric was gathered in the factory long before I touched it. Above is a sample of raw fabric. Click on the image to view the amazing detail.

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