Monday, December 9, 2013

It's Hot Because It's Warm

Late last week, the temperatures here in Chicago took a drastic nosedive into a meteorological category I like to call, "stupid cold." After picking up EJ from school, and peeling off my hat, scarf, gloves, wool coat, and fleece shell, she looked up at me, tiny fashionista that she is these days, and said,

"Oh, Mom!  I love your new shirt! I like the little bit of black coming out from underneath the pink!"

I told her I sincerely hoped that she liked it, because it wasn't a new shirt, it was just my silk long underwear peeking out at the neck and the sleeves, and she'd be seeing a lot of it for the next few months.

She was thrilled. She had started wearing her white silk long underwear a few weeks before, even before it got really beastly outside, simply because she'd tried it on and fell in love with how comfortable it was. By the time I put mine on, she had worn hers enough under short-sleeved versions of her navy and white school uniform that the wrists had developed the "brown with flecks of primary color" kid stain that comes from dragging arms continually across pencil, crayon, glue, and sandwiches that contain jelly.

She'd told her friends in carpool the other day that she was wearing long underwear, and then all of them laughed, herself included, because she had said, "underwear." Then I heard her scramble to try to explain it, how awesome it was, how it wasn't like underwear at all, except that it was under your clothes, etc. You can't explain it, I'm afraid, you just have to wear it.

A few years after Mike and I moved to Chicago, one of my aunts suggested I find some long underwear, given that I was absolutely freezing all the time, and had not yet re-acclimatized to a bitter cold Great Lakes winter, after living almost a decade in Washington, DC, and Arlington, Virginia. All I could think of at the time was of the bumpy, thick, long underwear we had as kids, the stuff you avoided at all costs, because it made you sweat under your snowsuit, and then you would feel itchy and uncomfortable; feeling cold was always preferable. Then she told me about how silk is a great material for long underwear; it is smooth, lightweight, really breathable, clothes glide on over it, and most importantly, it is very, very warm.

I got online, scraped up what was then a big chunk of our discretionary funds (on a graduate student budget), and bought some. The description of it implied it was so comfortable, the purchaser of it might find they wear it all day and all night, even using it to replace regular pajamas during the winter months. That's a lot of hype for a pair of long johns, I imagined, but they weren't exaggerating. My aunt and the online catalog were right: I wore and washed my first pair so often, I wore it out. The next year, I used my birthday money to buy two pair, before they ran out of stock.

What my kid has realized this year, and I figured out a few years ago, is that silk long underwear—the fanciest and most expensive underwear I now own—is nearly magical. Yes, when it is cold outside, wear down, wool, or fleece, or a combination of the three. Cover your head, your face, and your hands. Wear warm boots, preferably something lined and/or waterproof. But if you want to stay really, toasty warm, even when the wind hits, the answer is what lies beneath: silk long underwear.

The only thing that could make this stuff completely magical in fighting off the "stupid cold" would be if, by putting it on, the temperature outside instantly became 40 or 50 degrees warmer, or, better yet, if I was teleported to a warmer climate—someplace with palm trees—to forgo the stupid entirely. Given that clothing does not have that kind of control over time, space, and barometric pressure, I'll take it for what it is: cozy.

Long underwear, by virtue of the old-timey, folky imagery it can evoke—an old man in his pre-electricity cabin wearing a giant onesie with a buttoned flap on the backside—as well as our own personal experiences with it as kids running around in the snow, sweating and scratching and wondering why we were forced to put it on in the first place, is a hard sell. There is nothing sexy or sassy about the term, "long underwear," as opposed to the word underwear, itself, which retail giants like Victoria Secret have devoted a hot-pink fantasy world to promoting.

But I argue this: silk long underwear, made out of one of the world's finest materials, and so soft and luxurious that it makes you feel fantastic when you wear it, literally fights off frigidity. Can any other lacy or satiny underwear out there on the market make that claim? I don't think so. Silk long underwear is hot: it's hot because it's warm.

If I am ever able to move away from a climate where "stupid cold" is a regular part of the calendar, and I become delightfully soft about temperature, finding 50 degrees "really chilly," I won't have to worry. Sure, I'll have donated my down and wool coats, only keeping a fleece or two at the back of the closet, just in case. I'll never give up that silk long underwear, though, so tiny to store and lovely to wear, just ready and able to take the icy chill out of anything below 60 degrees.

With a 20 degree temperature currently outside, and wind chills predicted later that will bring things down to the single digits, a girl can dream.

Coffee going inside, silk long underwear on the outside.
Winter-fighting magic.


  1. My mom swears by that very same long underwear, and I've been planning on getting some for myself. Now I am even more motivated!

  2. The house I live in is cold a lot of the time, even though the brothers (who were also previous tenets) re-insulated the whole house when they put up new siding. Thank the Lord. But I still find myself with a scarf, wool socks, a jacket, and fingerless gloves. I'm and clicking your link for these magical underwear RIGHT NOW