Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Summer in the City


With summertime fast approaching in the northern hemisphere, here's your annual reminder that if you live in a humid climate where moisture/dampness exacerbates any unpleasant temperatures (too-warm OR too-cool), cotton is the absolute WORST of all natural fibers you could wear, despite its common use in T-shirts, jeans and other summer garments.
 The problem with cotton is that it holds moisture right next to your skin. Last winter, when Texas lost electricity during an extreme cold snap, you might have seen the phrase "cotton kills" in news articles or social media posts advising how to wear layered clothes to protect against subfreezing temperatures: in such situations, the layer against your skin must NOT be made of cotton, because if you perspire at all, every bit of that wetness will be held against your skin and actually increase your risk of hypothermia.
The two best "natural" fabrics to wear in hot and humid conditions are linen and rayon, which is also sold as "viscose" or "bamboo." Linen wicks moisture away from your body rather than hold it close the way cotton does; rayon not only wicks away moisture, but many forms of it do not hold any body heat at all -- where heat-retention is concerned, wearing rayon clothing thick enough to block the sun is the same as being naked in the shade.
Both fabrics have downsides compared to cotton: linen wrinkles very easily and (at least on me) always looks a little ill-fitting even when a garment is cut to your exact size and shape. Furthermore, linen tends to be far more expensive than most other fabrics today. Rayon does not have those problems; however, it is far more prone to stretching out over time, and rayon's refusal to hoard heat makes "100% rayon" garments unsuitable to wear anyplace it would be too chilly to go nude. I've found linen/rayon blend clothes to be the best, since the two fabrics' downsides largely cancel each other out. (Though in super-high heat, 90s or above with matching relative humidity levels, I do stick with 100% rayon anytime I go outside.)
Silk is another "dry" fabric with the trait of wicking moisture away from your skin. However, it also is very efficient at hoarding body heat, so it's best avoided in high temperatures (though ideal for cooler temps where the humidity remains uncomfortably high).
That said: it is especially important that you do NOT use anti-static dryer sheets, or any other laundry treatments, on your silk, linen and rayon garments. Dryer sheets work by coating the fibers of your clothes with various substances which negate any moisture-wicking ability the textile might have, and ruins the clothes in other ways too. So ideally you shouldn't use dryer sheets at all, but you especially shouldn't use them on clothes with moisture-wicking qualities you wish to maintain. I wash and dry my rayon clothes separately from the rest of my laundry, "delicate" cycle for the washer and dryer, and store-brand Woolite detergent in the washer.
Banish all cotton from your summertime wardrobe if you live in a humid climate! This means socks and undergarments as well. Before I moved to the Deep South, when almost all my summer clothes were some form of cotton or other, I figured it was an unavoidable fact of life that "When you personally are sweaty and gross, so too are whatever clothes you are wearing, and getting undressed after a long sweaty day will always feel like peeling off a wet bathing suit" -- that's true if you wear cotton, but with linen or rayon your clothes actually stay dry even in the most miserably humid heat, and you feel drier and cooler as a result.


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