The Art of Living in Australia, by Philip E. Muskett

Chapter V.

Clothing, and what to Wear.

It is worth considering somewhat minutely what are the requisites of perfect clothing, and what properties our different kinds of wearing apparel possess. Without doubt any reflection on the question of what is usually worn and what ought to be worn is not only of considerable interest generally, but of great moment likewise from a health point of view. It cannot be maintained too strongly that the question of the proper material for a suitable covering for the body takes a footing nearly equal to the very important one of diet itself. Now, there is no form of clothing which on its own account creates heat, or has the property of bestowing warmth upon the body, but the difference in it consists in its power of preventing the escape of the body heat. These qualities in the different varieties of wearing apparel will depend to a great extent upon the thickness of the materials, and also upon the varying power which they possess in detaining air within their meshes. It is this latter property of retaining the air, which is warmed by contact with the body, in their interstices, which constitutes the great difference in the various clothing materials. This is also an explanation of the well-known fact that loose garments are always warmer than tightly fitting ones, for in the former there is the layer of warm air in contact with the body, which has no opportunity for existing in the latter. In the same way two or three layers of under-garments will always be warmer than a single one, equal to their combined thickness, since there is a separate layer of air between each of the thinner ones.

All the differences in the various fabrics are due in chief part to the properties of heat. The ordinary or normal temperature of the human body is between 98 degrees and 99 degrees Fahrenheit, while that of the air will vary considerably, according to the climate and locality. Each individual, therefore, must be regarded as a material, though living, object which is enveloped in a surrounding atmosphere. As such, heat will conform to certain fixed laws in its relations to the two bodies. It is always a definite fact that when two bodies in contact with each other are of different temperatures, they tend to become of equal temperature. The warmer will part with its heat to the cooler, and the latter will in like manner reduce the temperature of the former. By covering, then, the surface of the body, it is prevented from giving its heat directly to the air, for the clothes intercept it by absorbing the heat themselves.

In the second place the clothes prevent a too rapid escape of heat from the body, and by keeping a layer of warm air in contact with the skin, they preserve the body heat. Again, the various materials used to clothe the body vary much as to the readiness with which they conduct heat; accordingly we speak of good and bad conductors of heat. A bad conductor, such as wool, will keep the heat of the body from escaping to the sir, and thus forms warm clothing, while a good conductor like cotton will lead away the heat quickly and prove cooler.

As said before, the texture of the material — that is, the size of its meshes — which allows air to pass more or less freely through it, also exercises a greater effect upon clothing. No healthy clothing is absolutely air-proof, the access of the air through it being necessary to our health and comfort. Thus oil-skin and mackintosh, which are air-tight as well as water-tight, make most people feel very uncomfortable.

In addition to their texture or permeability to air, and to their conducting or non-contracting powers, fabrics also vary according to their hygroscopic qualities. By hygroscopic is meant the power of absorbing moisture; thus a thin flannel is one of the coolest materials we can have, for it absorbs perspiration; while linen, which is non-hydroscopic, when moist allows the fluid to evaporate rapidly, and thus cools the body too quickly, and therefore dangerously. Hence flannel is a most suitable fabric in which to take exercise, as there is less danger of taking a chill.

There are four chief materials to be considered in connection with clothing, namely — cotton and linen, which belong to the vegetable kingdom, and silk and wool, which are obtained from the animal world. These four, either in their own form or else in combination with each other, such as merino, constitute most of our wearing apparel. Cotton is the fine, soft, downy material of a hairy nature which is found on the seeds of a certain plant, the cotton plant, which belongs to the mallow family. Its fibres are flattened in shape, and are twisted at intervals. The form of the fibres has an important effect in the action of cotton material on the skin. Being of a flattened shape, they have sharp edges, which in delicate skins are apt to cause irritation. Cotton wears well, it is not absorbent of moisture nearly to the same extent as linen, nor does it conduct away the heat of the body so quickly as the latter, hence it is a warmer material than linen. On the other hand, it does not retain the heat against the body like wool, and is an appropriate material for dress in hot climates. In merino there is a mixture of about one-fifth to one-half part of wool with cotton.

Linen, the other product of the vegetable kingdom, is obtained from the fibres of the common flax. Its fibres, unlike those of other fabrics, are distinguished by their roundness and their freedom from stiffness. These properties give to it that peculiar softness which makes it so agreeable to the feel, and comforting and soothing to the skin. But, on the other hand, it has certain characters which are a drawback. As was stated before, it differs from cotton in that it is cooler, but unfortunately it absorbs moisture from the body quickly, and becomes saturated with perspiration. This is removed so quickly by the action of the external air, causing rapid evaporation, that there is great danger of a chill.

The next material in alphabetical order is silk, and it is also the first product of the animal world to be considered. As is well known, it is obtained from the cocoon of the silk-worm. The fibres of this material are round in shape like those of linen, and they are even softer than the latter. On this account the phrase “as soft as silk” has passed into a saying. It is softer to the feel than either cotton or linen, and is a bad conductor of heat, as it has little tendency to remove the heat from the body. It is therefore a warmer material than either of them; but, on the other hand, from some peculiar action caused by the slightest friction against the skin, it seems at times to cause irritation, and draw the blood to the surface. In many instances the flow of blood is 80 severe as to set up an eruption of the skin, and there is often so much irritation and intolerable itching produced, that the garment has to be left off.

Last, but not least, of the quartette under consideration comes wool, and it is just one of those materials whose place it would be almost impossible to fill. It is obtained from the sheep, and is one of our chief productions in Australia. Unfortunately it is somewhat irritating to some skins, and many persons will declare that they cannot bear the feeling of anything woollen. Another objection may be taken to it on cosmetic grounds, and it certainly is difficult to make a flannel garment look attractive; but still, with a little taste in the way of bordering, this may be overcome to a great extent. On the other hand, it has great advantages which none of the foregoing fabrics possess, and which have been already referred to.

Having thus minutely and scientifically examined into the properties of the various clothing materials, it will clearly be seen that the one which possesses the greatest advantages with the least possible disadvantages is wool. Hence it is to be chosen in preference to all other fabrics for wearing next the skin, because it wards off all risk of a chill striking the body. Its disadvantages, as said before, are mainly two, the first being that some declare it is impossible to wear it next the skin on account of its causing irritation; this, however, can only apply to new flannel, since after two or three washings it feels as smooth as the most fastidious skin could desire. The next objection, that it cannot be made to look attractive or ornamental, is to a certain extent true; but if it is simply a question of health VERSUS appearance, those who would sacrifice the former deserve to suffer. In this matter we may learn a wrinkle from a practical class of men, namely, sailors. One will find many of them pin their faith on the virtues of an abdominal flannel bandage, reaching from the lower part of the chest well down to the hips. It thus covers the loins and abdomen, and for warding off attacks of lumbago and muscular rheumatism, and for protecting the kidneys, it certainly is valuable.

A flannel under-garment reaching from the neck well down to the hips should always be worn, and in summer it may be of a thinner material than in the cooler weather. It is better to have four made, so that two can be washed at a time. In this way two can be in use every week, changing them day by day, so that one is getting thoroughly aired while the other is being worn. The one which is being aired should be turned inside out, so that the part which has been in contact with the skin becomes thoroughly purified. It must be remembered, however, that flannel is very liable to shrink from repeated washings. This may be provided for by taking care that the under-garment, when first obtained, is several sizes too large. In fact, it can hardly be too large at first, especially in the case of the thicker one for the cooler months, which shrinks much more proportionately than does the thinner one for the hot season. This shrinking, however, can to a great extent be presented by paying attention to the following points: These woollen under-garments should be washed by themselves not with any other clothes, in only moderately hot water. Next, while they are still damp, and before becoming dry, they should be thoroughly stretched upon a table and then well ironed out.

With regard to the sleeping apparel, there is no doubt the modern pyjamas are a great improvement on the old-fashioned bedgown. They are more thoroughly protective to the skin, and keep the extremities uniformly warm, which the latter fails to do. They are better made of flannel, thin in summer and thicker in winter. Persons who are in the habit of wearing woollen material next the skin during the day should certainly keep to the same at night, otherwise the change is too great, and there is thus great risk of taking a chill. The flannel under-garment which has been worn during the day can then be taken off at night without any danger, and has the opportunity of being aired. It might hardly seem necessary to refer to this fact, namely, that the under-garment which has been worn during the day should be taken off at night. Yet I can only say that instances in which this particular garment is never taken off at all, but is worn continuously both night and day, perhaps for a whole week at a time, are not altogether so rare as they might be.

In conclusion reference may be briefly made to a subject which is probably within the experience of everyone. There ale many people who pride themselves on not requiring any extra clothing during the colder months, and evidently look upon this fact as a proof that they possess Spartan powers of endurance, and that cold is a matter of perfect indifference to them. Now, it may be that a few individuals differ essentially from the rest of humanity, and do not require any change of clothing all the year round. But the majority of people who profess this disregard to climate certainly appear as if they would be all the better for warmer material, for their faces look pinched and their hands seem nearly frozen with the cold. But the fact is that even if the want of thicker clothing is not particularly felt during the cold weather, it is always wiser to wear an extra allowance, for the heat of summer can be endured better if this principle is carried out. If a common-sense view of the matter is taken, then it will be readily apparent why it is desirable to wear plenty of warm clothing during the colder months.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58