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“Cotton Kills” and Other Old Wives’ Tales

Written by Catriona McLean
Copywriter and Editor

Why should we listen to old wives’ tales? An apple a day, counting sheep, red sky at night… Whether these tales are brilliance or bonkers, if your gran ever harped on at you about tucking in your vest, she was onto something…

Wearing a vest is the best way to keep your fingers and toes toasty this winter. What, that sleeveless, sockless garment? Absolutely. Vests are simply the best insulating layer.

"prancing around in your birthday suit and a bobble hat is just not going to cut the mustard"

The Lies About Hats

Alright, so that old myth about losing most of your body heat from your head did turn out to be wrong. In fact, the perpetuation of this myth has been traced back to a US army survival manual from 1970, which encouraged soldiers to wear hats because “40 to 45 per cent of body heat” is lost from the head. More recent studies have shown that your body loses heat fairly evenly all over: your head accounts for roughly 7% of your skin’s surface area, and it therefore accounts for roughly 7% of heat loss. Bad news for the beanies: prancing around in your birthday suit and a bobble hat is just not going to cut the mustard.
Man in wooly hat

The Truth About Vests

Why, then, are vests simply the best if the body loses heat at the same rate all over? How are they any different from putting on a hat?

It’s all about thermoregulation. Our bodies have two different temperatures; a core temperature and a skin temperature. Our core temperature is the temperature of our vital organs, brain and blood. It is crucial that this remains constant at around 36.9’C for the proper working of our bodies’ enzymes: if this fluctuates we are at risk of becoming dangerously ill, or even dying. On the other hand, our skin temperature varies more, as it is influenced by the external environment and our activity.

We “feel cold” when environmental factors (cold air, wind or water) cause our skin temperature to drop. One of our bodies’ thermoregulatory responses includes vasoconstriction, whereby the blood vessels close to the surface of our skin constrict, reducing the blood flow to the tissues under the skin. This allows less heat to escape from the blood, and redirects the body’s heat away from its extremities and towards its core, thereby preserving the vital organs for as long as possible.

This is why when we feel chilly our skin turns a little blue, and our fingers, ears, nose and toes loose feeling first: they are the furthest from our vital organs and therefore lowest in the pecking order. That’s right: not only are you freezing your nadgers off, but your body has already started sacrificing limbs.

Here’s why a vest is best: by providing an extra layer of insulation around your core, you help prevent your torso losing heat and your core temperature dropping. Your body will be able to keep warm blood flowing to your extremities for longer, and your skin temperature will remain more stable.

Not All Vests Were Created Equal

Unfortunately, there’s a little more to it than that – just any old vest won’t do. In the outdoors world, where staying warm really is a matter of life and death, there is an old saying: cotton kills. And while we’re not suggesting your drawers harbour homicidal tees, this saying really does have the final… say.

Cotton will soak up any water vapour naturally produced by your body (sweat, for example) and will stay soggy all day long. Water is an excellent conductor of heat: wearing a wet vest will lower your skin temperature and sap your body’s warmth, leaving you cold, wet and clammy. Plus, wet cotton chafes, and no one likes chafing. If you are going extreme in your outdoor activities you’ll need a synthetic base layer to wick the moisture away so you stay warm and dry.

Man in mountains

Wicking for extremes

In the office, where staying comfortable is the top priority you’ll want a natural fabric next to your skin. In this situation you could wear cotton, or could wear something even better. Introducing the Robert Owen undershirt.

Man in office

Bamboo for comfort

Simply the Best… Better Than All the Vests

Our Micro-modal and Bamboo Viscose vests are the best base layers for the office. Their soft and light-weight fabrics are perfectly balanced between absorption and breathability. Whilst the Micro-modal and Viscose fibres absorb water vapour (e.g. sweat) and stop it travelling through, or evaporating onto, your outer layer, the fabrics remain breathable: moisture is continually drawn away from your skin so that you stay feeling fresh and warm throughout the day. Moreover, unlike polyester fabrics, Micro-modal and Bamboo Viscose are cellulose-based and do not encourage the growth of smelly bacteria. A Robert Owen Undershirt will help prevent sweat patches on your outer layer and any lingering pong – all whilst helping you stay warm and dry. Neat right? We think so.

One more thing: at Robert Owen, we have taken the utmost care to specially design our undershirt so that it stays under your shirt. Our vests are silky smooth and won’t rumple even under tight tee; they are cut long so that, once tucked in, they stay put; and with a deep v-neck or crew cut, they stay hidden under your shirt whether you roll open-collared or button-up tight.

Seems too good to be true? We promise our undershirt isn’t a myth: we offer a satisfaction guarantee, because if you don’t look good, we don’t look good. Phew, that ought to keep your gran happy. At Robert Owen Undershirts, there’s something for every occasion.

(For a more in-depth discussion on the properties of different fabrics, try this thrilling read on the difference betweem viscose and polyester.

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