The 411 on Heat Wave Wares

Those of us broke and/or idiotic enough to spend July in NYC are all too familiar with the cons of summering in the city. A ubiquitous aroma of sun-baked sewage. The inevitable appearance of sticky black grime on the bottom of one’s sandal-clad feet after a measly two block walk. Sporadic power outages. Con Ed’s continual ineptitude re: addressing/remedying said power outages (“Turn off your air conditioner” isn’t what I want to hear, assbags. It’s not like I’m abusing my customer privileges; I keep the temp at 75 – 78 degrees, as per your recommendation. If I’m paying astronomical monthly bills, I expect to be able to keep the air on. GET IT TOGETHER. But I digress).

All the above is par for the NYC summer course. What’s not? 103 degrees. That’s another way of saying it’s HOT AS BALLS. This year’s record-breaking heat and humidity obvs begs one crucial question: How the eff are we supposed to get dressed?

Walking the streets in a wet bathing suit might be an option, if we weren’t talking about a city with a highly concentrated male creep factor. I’m in no mood to fend off cat calls and leers from sweaty onlookers, particularly when I’m already pissed at the weather – I might do something rash, like preemptively pull the trigger on my pepper spray.

So, if we want to dress for ludicrous heat without looking like we’ve stepped out of an American Apparel ad, what do we wear? eHow’s How to Dress for a Heat Wave has some decent suggestions, one of which we’ve all heard before: Wear light colors.

Light-colored clothing reflects the sun, which keeps heat away from the body, while dark colors absorb the heat and make you feel even hotter.

Related anecdote: My parents just got back from a trip to Israel – a trip that included daily desert treks. Dad wore light colored shirts on said treks, which did nada to minimize body heat. Sick of schvitzing his face off, Dad did something bonkers: On the final trek, he took a cue from the locals, and wore black instead. He found that he wasn’t just comfortable; he barely broke a sweat.

RIDDLE ME THIS: Why does a heat-absorbing color (black) cool the body more effectively than a heat-reflective color (white)?

Answering the above required a bit of geekery, and by that I mean I browsed an array of Physics Forums to figure it out. You’re welcome. After sifting through much scientific mumbo jumbo, I happened upon a question similar to my own: Why do Bedouins wear black robes? (Bedouins are a predominantly desert-dwelling Arab group, FYI, and yes, I had to google that too.)

Black clothing absorbs sunlight and the heat radiating from your body, but if it is loose-fitting, and there is wind, the wind convects the heat away faster than it is absorbed. White clothing reflects sunlight, but also reflects internal heat back towards your body, so the net effect under identical conditions is less cooling than if you wore black. Desert-dwelling nomadic people such as the Tuaregs wear loose-fitting black clothing, and have been doing so for a very, very long time. If there were an advantage to wearing white clothes, you’d certainly expect they’d have figured that out by now.

A quirky conversational exchange accompanied and further explained the above answer.

If you are packing for a trip to the desert would it be better to pack light or dark clothes? The answer is not a simple as you might think, as Don and Yael discuss.

D: Hey, Yael, check out my new white linen suit. It’s going to keep me cool on my vacation to the Mojave desert.

Y: That is one snazzy suit, Don.

D: Oh, I’m stylin’. Plus, everyone knows that white reflects heat and black absorbs it. Yes, if you’re out in the sun, you’re better off wearing white.

Y: Not always, Don. After all, Bedouins, the nomadic people who spend their entire lives in the desert, wear black robes.

D: But that doesn’t make sense. Dark surfaces get warmer in the sun than light surfaces. You’d think the Bedouins would have figured that out by now.

Y: Don, Don, Don. Things are never that simple. You’re right that the air underneath black fabric warms up faster than the air underneath white fabric. At the same time, though, black fabric provides more shade than white fabric, and this decreases the amount of light that directly reaches the skin. Plus, a lot depends on the type of clothing you’re wearing. You see, warm air rises. And when it does, it’s replaced by cool air. And if you happen to be wearing a robe, all that movement of the warm air creates a breeze that sucks up cooler air from the bottom of the robe and pushes it out the top.

D: So wearing a black robe is like having a suit with a built in fan.

Y: Exactly. But again, the key is that the robe is loose-fitting. Otherwise, there isn’t enough room for the air to circulate.

Hilarious, adorable AND educational – if I’d had a text book like this, maybe I wouldn’t have gotten a C- in Physics. Bygones. Now, NYC doesn’t exactly have desert-esque winds, so I can’t honestly speak to whether or not loose-fitting black clothing trumps loose-fitting white clothing in this climate. But it seems as though white – what with its tendency to reflect heat back onto your body and all – is not the only answer. A loose-fitting black garment coupled with an occasional breeze might be a preferable alternative, methinks.

To test the aforementioned theory, I’m heading to Goodwill in search of a black linen maternity dress or derivation thereof. Function trumps Fashion in temps like these.

Smoking update: Eleven days, NO CIGGIES. The first three days were a bitch and a half, what with my body withdrawing from chemicals and all. On the fourth day, I started feeling like myself again. And on the sixth day, I did something I hadn’t done in two solid years: I went for a run. Two and a half miles later, I was fully sold on quitting for good.

To those of you who’ve written in cheerleading my efforts: I can’t thank you enough. To those of you who still smoke: I get it, and I won’t bullshit you on how hard it is to stop. I will tell you it’s worth it. Gear yourself up to quit, and email me for moral support.

Kumbaya, beotches. :P


  1. says

    Hooray for fashion-related physics geekery! This is something I’ve always wondered about (why do people who live in deserts wear dark colors when light colors are supposed to keep you cooler?), and never bothered to do the research to find out. Good to know!

    And way to go on the quitting! Just be careful about how much you drink for a while until you’re really used to being a non-smoker again. Not only does alcohol lower inhibitions, there have been studies done that suggest that nicotine reduces the effects of alcohol on our systems, so when we’ve had a few drinks, cigarettes become even more tempting as our bodies attempt to find chemical equilibrium. Although in this weather, a few gin and tonics are a Not Bad Idea…

  2. Emily says

    I wish you the best of luck quitting! That’s so great that you’ve come so far already, considering the first few days are apparently the most difficult!

  3. Emily says

    keep up the good work! i know you can keep it up!!! also loved the info after dark clothes in the summer

  4. Marie says

    Congrats on quitting! You can do it. I love the physics lesson. You’re right, maybe they should use more examples like this in school…

  5. Ana says

    Congrats on trying to quit! I quit about a year ago, with a cigarette thrown in here and there in my weaker (drunk) moments. It will get easier with time. I tried the patch and switched over to Nicorette gum. It really helps, because it gives you something else to focus on, and provides you with a low dose of nicotine. Much like you, I quit for superficial reasons. Basically, I was watching an episode of America’s most wanted, and one of the witnesses featured was the most haggard woman I have ever seen, who just looked like she smoked at least three packs a day. I was like, is that what I have to look forward to in my forties? So the next day, I got the patch.
    Anyway, I wish you luck, and cannot wait for the book to come out!

  6. says

    Excellent post!

    So, you’re eleven days without cigarettes, you’ve spent the day sifting trough Physics forums, and now you’re consciously shopping for a black maternity dress? I got so much respect for you right now. For reals.

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