Clothes make the man in respects more vital than mere appearance and social acceptability. It is true that a slender man looks more stout in a double-breasted coat, or that suiting with a vertical stripe makes the short man look taller. But these are not especially vital factors. Research and scientific opinion are rapidly accumulating data which indicate rather definitely that clothing may almost remake the course of human history.
This newer knowledge helps one understand why we make more mistakes in summer, why usually sensible Germany has a growing number of nude societies, why the Alps are healthful, how to keep cool in summer; and it also makes us pause and wonder about man’s place in the decades to come.
White civilization at present is dominated by the male. History records numerous places, however, where women have dominated. Even now the explorers bring back to us reports from remote places where women dominate. This newer knowledge about clothes may make us wonder whether a female dominated civilization lies in the not so distant future.
For years it has been known that slightly more boy than girl babies are born. Boy babies are the more delicate, however, and there are more early deaths among them. By the time high school age is reached the ratio has been altered so that there is an excess of females. As years go on, this ratio is changed still more, industrial accidents eliminating more men than women; disease also reduces the number of men more than it aﬀects women.
Total numbers alone will not necessarily determine which sex will dominate. We see a small handful of Englishmen dominating dark-skinned India. Vitality and ability are fully as significant as mere numbers. And on this point, also, modern science would point to a change to a dominance by the so-called gentler sex.
His Majesty’s medical inspectors have just reported on thorough studies of English boys and girls who are entering industry. They report definitely that the girls are much better developed physically than the boys. It has been known for many years that although women do not usually have the muscular strength of men, they are in the long run possessed of greater physical stamina and resistance. The royal medical inspectors are inclined to attribute a large amount of this diﬀerence to the clothing which is being worn.
It is only in the last two decades that women’s clothing has diﬀered essentially from that of man; and the puny, almost neurasthenic, women typical of the 80’s seem largely to have disappeared, along with the disappearance of several square yards of woolen clothing per woman.
Fifteen pounds of clothing was the average worn by men a few years ago, and women wore “a little more,” according to the books. Men are still wearing about the same gross tonnage of clothes as ever, while women’s clothes have only about one tenth of their former weight. This means that men are still wearing about a tenth of their body weight in clothes, while a dog, which seems to stand cold weather remarkably well, carries only about one fiftieth of his weight in fur.
Man has to pay a price for this extra weight in several unusual ways. Energy has to be used, for example, to carry the extra weight around, even though the energy is not consumed in useful or productive work. This excess clothing worn by men also results in men living in a self-produced tropical climate in both summer and winter within their clothing, while women live in the atmosphere of the Alps. Tropical climates are enervating; the Alpine atmosphere is invigorating. The temperature within the clothing of the average man is 87.8 degrees, Fahrenheit; for women’s clothing it is only 80.6 degrees. The relative humidity inside men’s clothing is 70 percent, and for women it is only 55 percent. The observed consequence is that men suﬀer from heat stasis and from excessive perspiration.
A miracle of nature is the way in which the human body is kept at a uniform temperature, almost regardless of the external temperature in which it is placed. Any marked change in the external temperature throws additional work on the heat regulating mechanism and the metabolism of almost every cell of the body. Our bodies have continually to radiate heat in order to keep their temperature at the healthful constant of 96.8 degrees, Fahrenheit. When, however, the environment has a higher temperature and a higher humidity, and the air circulation is diminished by the clothing, the body cooling function is hampered. Thus, regardless of the room temperature, men’s bodily mechanisms have more difficulty in keeping the body temperature at nature’s point, due to the secondary air environment within the kind of clothing they wear.
Thus the basal metabolism is lowered, a load which may reach dangerous proportions is thrown on the sweat glands, and this aﬀects the water distribution in the body and may inﬂuence the kidneys and other vital organs.
These statements are not based simply upon scientific logic, although the logic is plain. These eﬀects have been observed by such men as Dr. E. S . Sundstroem of the University of California, who has studied not only the white population of Queensland, Australia, but also more than 700 white rats in specially equipped rooms where temperatures and humidities could be produced at will. Dr. Leonard Hill, the eminent English physiologist, has also noted these conditions and is urging radical changes in the clothing of men. Dr. E . Friedberger of the University of Griefswald recently presented the conclusions of a long study of clothing at the Berliner Gesellschaft für öﬀentliche Gesundheitspﬂege, which were essentially the same as outlined in this article.
How well sunlight could reach the bodies of men and women was given special emphasis by Herr Doctor. Professor Friedberger. Using strips of paper which were sensitive to light he discovered that much light reached the body surface of clothed women, but that the sun’s rays do not penetrate men’s ordinary clothing. Part of them will penetrate a shirt, but if it is covered with a coat, practically no light reaches the surface of the body.
The admission of air is of perhaps equal importance with that of vitalizing light rays, and in this case, also, the clothing of men extracts a penalty.
Ultra-violet light penetration through ordinary clothing materials has been studied intensively by the Bureau of Standards of the Department of Commerce. They find that rayon, batiste or nainsook cotton, and linen allow more of these rays to pass through than do pure silk or wool. When the materials are dyed or slightly yellowish with age, the passage of the ultra-violet is cut down. Woolen is only about half as transparent to these rays as is white cotton. The weave of clothing greatly aﬀects its transmitting power. Crocheted or knitted weaves allow the most light, and also air, to bring their benefits to the surface of the body.
Better than an overdose of ultra-violet, as on the seashore with its annoying first day sunburn, is a continual mild exposure, such as would be given by the correct selection of clothing. Much of the benefit from resting at the seashore comes from the ultra-violet baths taken on the beach, although this should not be overdone the first few days. Other advantages which make people erroneously think that sea air is intrinsically bracing, come from the breezes which unburden the heat-regulating machinery of the body by removing the layers of stagnant air between body surface and outer clothing. Lounging at the shore in a wet bathing suit throws too much strain on the heating plant, however.
Perspiring in hot weather is a good way to keep cool, since each quart of perspiration means that the body has been relieved of about 500 calories. However, a few people do not perspire. These unfortunate few should drink hot beverages in warm weather, since extra perspiration is induced by the hot liquid. Everyone drinks more during hot weather, and adding just a pinch of ordinary table salt to the water is helpful since it replenishes the abnormally high loss of salt from the body during summer perspiring.
Thomas A. Edison always has a fan with him in hot weather. You may never have seen it in his photographs, but it is always there. His loose clothing also amounts to a fan, since it allows minute air currents to displace the overheated air near the body surface. On an especially hot day the best way to keep cool is to keep the windows closed to prevent hot outside air from entering; to pull the shades to keep out the heating sun rays; to turn on an electric fan; to keep calm; and to wear loose clothing. Food should also come into consideration. Proteins should be reduced and carbohydrates increased. Fruits, salads, green vegetables, rice, fish in moderation, fowl, and dairy produce are best.
Men will also be cooler in summer if they wear suspenders rather than a belt. However, since they should also go without a coat they may feel conspicuous if wearing suspenders. This dilemma is easily solved by wearing hidden suspenders and a very loose belt. The belt adds to one’s discomfort, not especially because it binds the blood vessels, but rather because it stops the circulation of air within the clothing. Tightly fitting garters do hamper the blood stream, as well as quickly becoming unsanitary themselves. A good grade of men’s hose does not need garters to keep it looking trim. If supporters are necessary, because of thin calves, preference should be given to those which clamp to the shirt and do not constrict the leg, and which, incidentally, keep the shirt trim and secure when the coat is sensibly left oﬀ.
Ventilated oxfords are unusually comfortable. I have worn them for years during warm weather, but have had great difficulty obtaining them in the last year or two since they seem to have gone out of fashion. I have been able to obtain them lately only from left-over and shopworn stock several seasons old. I have been told this spring that they will have to be made to order at a rather high price.
Since constriction is an important item against the garter, the same consideration should annihilate the tight fitting starched collar entirely. Collar manufactures have been having trouble finding a market, lately. Perhaps men are at last rationally revolting against this last remnant of the corset which was originated as a protection against lance and sword thrusts. The blood vessels in the neck are large but are limited to a small area. They are important vessels which carry great quantities of blood to the brain. “Whenever you suﬀer from headache,” said Dr. Royal S. Copeland, “my advice to you is to loosen the collar.” In addition to constricting the circulation of the blood the tight, stiﬀ collar prevents the free circulation of cooling or refreshing air currents over the surface of the body. Tight pajama belts aﬀect only the circulation, but that is enough to bring them into court.
The collar, garter, long underwear, and lined clothing result in only the face and hands of men being exposed to the sun and air. In the case of women, fully one third of the body surface is exposed’ more or less to sunlight and ultra-violet, while practically her entire body surface is continuously ventilated by air currents. She is much better, physically and mentally, for this. So we find Dr. Ephraim R. Mulford, president of the New Jersey Medical Society, saying: “Today our American women are in better physical condition than our men.” It was only a few decades ago that Mary Walker agitated for womens’ suﬀrage and created a sensation when she insisted also upon the right to wear men’s clothes. She may have been right about the ballot, but she was dead wrong about the clothes.
There is also the matter of cleansing clothes. In this, women again have the advantage, their light garments and underclothing being readily and frequently washed at home. It is far from a luxury for a man to invest in enough hosiery and underclothing to allow a fresh change each day. Shirts should be allowed to air alternate days. Clothes closets should be provided with ventilators which allow outside air to enter, keeping the clothing in a more sanitary condition as well as making life a bit more miserable for moths. Why people started to wear clothes has puzzled science for a long time.
Some think wearing clothes was started by women who wanted to make themselves more attractive. Whether or not this is the explanation, it is true that this tells us much about why they wear the particular clothes they do. Another theory advanced to explain the beginning of clothes was that they were adopted to keep the wearer warm. Still another theory is that clothes were adopted because people began to feel immodest about their nudity. This is difficult to accept because among isolated tropical peoples where no clothing is worn it is considered immodest to hide the body; the general principle is that any sudden change in the kind of clothing worn is considered immodest, and it is certain that, if immodesty means attracting unwarranted attention through dress, a sudden change would cause such a reaction. Another theory, recently advanced by Dr. Knight Dunlap, the psychologist, is that clothes originated in tropical regions and were shreds or rushes which served the purpose of driving ﬂies away.
Whatever the origin of clothes we can agree with Langdon-Davies who has just said “the fact that we value people by their clothes, judge them by their clothes, fall in love with them by their clothes, means that all sorts of unfortunate results might happen if our standard of judgment, the cynosure of the eye, suddenly disappeared.”
Regardless of how clothes originated or what would happen if they were suddenly redesigned, we should heed the warning provided by scientific research which indicates that clothes may ruin man unless fickle fashion or common sense bring about a change.
Women as just as intelligent as men, and are capable of doing the work of an industrial executive, as great numbers of them have shown. With their equal brain power, their dress, which adds to their mental and physical efficiency, may give them an increasing advantage over men in directing our civilization.
“By 1975,” says Dr. Walter B. Pitkin, in discussing the decline of the American mind, “the present supersalesman and high-powered executive will have gone. Some quiet spinster with a world radio telephone at her elbow and an automatic statistical computer in her office will handle more big business in a morning hour than such gentlemen get through in a week of golf and highballs at their country clubs.”
Laird, Donald A. “What Is Wrong With Men’s Clothing.” Scientific American 141, no. 2 (1929): 128-130.