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Button up your overcoat. And leave it buttoned.

My Take | December 10, 2013 | By:

When I was a kid and we’d go to our Northern Minnesota cabin in the winter, my mom would bundle us up in woolen snow pants and jackets that she pulled out of mothballed storage trunks. We smelled mighty powerful for a bit, but a few snow angels or tumbles off the toboggan took care of that. It could be below zero, but it wasn’t any warmer inside the cabin, so we followed mother’s instruction to “go outside and run around” to warm up. By the time we were soaked with snow—and sweaty, besides—the oil burner and fireplace would have brought the cabin’s temperature well above freezing, and we could sling the dripping woolens over the rafters to dry for the next day’s romp in the snow. And it would take that long.

Years later, I learned to ski in a country where it’s a culturally ingrained activity. Norwegians, at the time, all wore heavy woolen socks and knee pants. I asked a young woman if they didn’t get wet and cold with just long underwear and socks covering part of their legs. “Wet, but not cold,” she answered.

So, I know about wool and its wonders. I also know about down, which is an amazing insulator, but a bugger when it gets wet—inside or out. I have to say that for sheer protection from the elements, fur is it, but that’s hardly a practical solution for most people working or playing outdoors.

Fortunately, the textiles industry has devised all sorts of solutions to protect us from extreme cold and keep us warm, safe and comfortable. Other technologies provide literally life-saving solutions for those exposed to extreme heat.

Textiles, in short, have become the wonder material. I ask you, what other material manufactured today can offer so much versatility or respond so readily to the dynamics inherent in technological development? It’s not just flexible in your hand, it’s just plain flexible.

In this issue, we look at some of the wonder materials—and fabric or garment systems—that protect in extreme conditions. Especially interesting, I think, are the temperature-regulating innovations that improve breathability in garments. These technologies really could be a game changer in the markets they serve. We’ve all learned the layering technique, and unbuttoning your coat when you’re too warm is obvious enough. But if your coat was so breathable that you didn’t have to open it up (which could expose your skin to potentially damaging cold), that would not only be more convenient, it would be safer, too.

Speaking of markets, many materials first developed for the military or specific industries are now available at the mall, as well, creating a growing opportunity for a variety of thermal control products.

Time’s up. So, have you thought anything yet? Me neither.

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