Sunday, June 8, 2008

Aren't You Hot In All Those Clothes?

Hands down, the question we get asked the most at a re-enactment is, "Aren't you hot in all those clothes?"'

As living historians, we emulate our 19th century ancestors. And that means we wear the same clothing that they wore. As a male citizen/civilian, I wear a long-sleeve cotton shirt buttoned all the way up with a period correct tie, braces (suspenders), wool or cotton waistcoat (vest), wool sack coat, wool (and sometimes cotton) breeches (pants), cotton (and sometimes wool) socks, and leather brogans (shoes), ankle length cotton drawers (underpants), topped off with a wide-brimmed hat.

Underneath my wife's long-sleeve, high neck, cotton dress (which is just inches from the floor), she wears drawers, a chemise, a corset, underpetticoat, a cage crinoline, an over petticoat, cotton (and sometimes wool) stockings, and leather shoes. She also wears a brooch as a neck-closure, as well as a bonnet. And white cotton gloves if we are walking into "town."

Whether the temperature is 60 degrees or 95 degrees, this is what we wear at a re-enactment.

Are we hot underneath all these layers of clothing? You betcha!

Are we as hot as you are, in your shorts and short-sleeve shirts?



Why is that? Because we are covered. Because we do not let the sun burn off our natural coolant: persperation. That's what happens when you let the hot summer sun hit your skin. Underneath all of that clothing, we are sweating, and it's the sweat that keeps us cooler. As I said, we are definitely hot on those hot, humid days. But not as hot as those of you who are nearly naked.

Here's a true story about what happened this passed Memorial Weekend at Greenfield Village:

I invited a few people that I know from where I work to come out to the Village to experience a Civil War re-enactment, and many did. One couple who took up my offer came on Memorial Monday, which happened to be an above 80 degree day. However, they ended up leaving early. Why? The woman, dressed in shorts and a short-sleeved shirt and no head covering, got sun-stroke. Now, how do you figure that? I mean, here we all are, dressed in layer upon layer of clothing, and this woman who, by the way, did make the "Aren't you hot in all those clothes?" comment, becomes ill due to the heat and sun, while those of us dressed for the 19th century are able to survive "in all those clothes."

Contrary to poplular belief, our 19th century ancestors knew more than we like to give them credit for. I think one of my next projects will be to find out and compare the rate of skin cancer deaths from 150 years ago to now.


Mike Gillett said...

Great post (as usual)... and accurate. I can almost smell my sweaty wool. Part too of why we feel relatively cool, is that the layers we wear insulate ourselves as well.

The other reason we suffer but a little... is we reenactors are trained and told to continually hydrate ourselves. Military are ordered to carry full canteens and are instructed to frequently drink... No canteen, no battle or drill or parade.

Civilians are never too far from drinking water as well. The people who ask "aren't you hot?" do so because THEY feel hot and can only assume we must be even hotter. But THEY have been walking around all afternoon, say, looking at us who have sense; doing so without a hat, in the hot sun... without drinking (or if they are, it is some caffeine loaded pop - which doesn't hydrate as well as plain water). They forget to watch for out for themselves. If you only drink when you're thirsty, we know, it is too late. When you stop sweating, you are in trouble.

We come in out the sun as often as possible... under tents or flies or in the shade of trees when not on the battlefield. We're very careful and watchful. And we also have - or know of - EMTs in our units in case of heat stroke or accidents...

Call you later, pard.

Lynn said...

Great article, as usual! And you are correct - it is important not to let our natural persperant dissipate. We were told that by the Navajo who led our Jeep tour in Monument Valley. It was 110 degrees, and he was wearing jeans and a long sleeve shirt buttoned to the top. We asked him if he was hot, and he replied that he was cooler than we were, because his natural persperant was cooling him instead of evaporating in the hot air. Who am I to argue with a Native American who lived every day of his life in that climate?!