Thursday, 31 October 2019
Levels of woolly
Here in England there's significant variation of wet/dry and hot/warm/cold, even over a single day. In the spring and autumn, we have times when our south-facing back garden has an entirely different temperature from our north-of-the-house wind tunnel street. You would need a cardigan to walk down the street but not to sit in the garden.
In early October, if I walk up the road for groceries I might be warm enough with a sleeveless cardigan (waistcoat, tank top, vest), but in our old Victorian house I'd need a cardigan as well if I'm holed up writing all day.
Now we're coming into November, I'm wearing a cotton shirt, with a merino vest (waistcoat not underwear), and over that a cashmere cardigan. I'm warm enough. But if I go out later, I'll swap the cashmere cardigan (which is warm but relatively light) for a sturdier lambswool knitted jacket.
What I'm calling a cashmere cardigan I bought as a "cashmere shirt". It's very versatile because it can function either as a middle layer or a top layer.
In January on the coldest days, I'll probably wear a cotton long-sleeved tee, under one of the "cashmere shirts", under my most heavy duty rare-breed-sheep-wool vest, with a lambswool jacket on top. And a hat and mittens. I have merino tights and a knitted wool skirt.
All of which means I don't need to run the central heating. If it's really cold I stay nice and toasty under the duvet with a hot water bottle.
I prefer heating the person over heating the space. I am not a believer in central heating, though I do like fires. A fire is beautiful, fragrant, cheerful, promotes air circulation, and is alive. Not so central heating; and I feel a deep suspicion of all these wires and tubes and pipes connecting me to a central grid that might be run by Mammon . . . you never know, do you, when it all just comes from "away"?
I enjoy looking at people's capsule wardrobes online, but I consider these Texan types with their short-sleeved tees and mini dresses in utter perplexity, wondering, "But . . . where are your layers?"
I've even known it snow in June in England, and there is also what our weathermen call "the wind chill factor". You set out on a lovely sunny day to sit by the sea, and when you get down onto the ocean shore it can be frrrrreezing. Or else it can be normal inland and then down by the sea in town where there's a wind blowing and no trees at all, just buildings and then the shore, the heat can be bouncing off everything creating a kind of oven in the summer — if you don't want to burn you need a hat.
And talking of hats, we lose a lot of heat through our heads because the body prioritises keeping the temperature of the brain stable over keeping limbs warm. Also, we lose heat at places where large blood vessels run near the surface (ankles, wrists, neck). So during in-between seasons where it's cold to sit on a train station but you warm up once you're walking, a hat and gloves and scarf are the first go-to, before a jacket or cardigan. If you keep your head and wrists and neck warm, you might not need a coat. Shirts and tees with collars or polo/turtle necks are handy for that. I don't have any polo-neck tops, but I do have shirts and cardigans with collars, and a couple of Indian cotton scarfs — soft and light, tuck in round my neck.
And of course — for managing temperature variation — cotton, linen, bamboo, silk and wool are your friends. Acrylic and micro-fleece are not adequately responsive to changes in heat and cold, and I can think of no useful purpose for Mademoiselle Polly Esther whatsoever.