Thursday, July 5, 2018

"Aren't You Hot Wearing All Those Clothes?"

Ah, summer. When perfect strangers start getting very "concerned" about your clothes if you dress in a tznua way ("tznius" is the most common way to say that, but that's technically the wrong grammatical form - it's about time I used it correctly on this blog). This happens to both men and women, though it's much more often aimed at women since people really feel some right to quiz women about what they wear or don't wear...but that's a different discussion. 

Look, it's not easy to dress in a "modest" way in the heat of the summer. (I hate to say "modest" because I wish there was a better word for it. I've seen women cover every inch of skin and not be modest at all, and I've seen women wear average American clothing in a very modest way. I don't mean here to advocate a certain level of clothing for either gender, just speaking about the experience for what is commonly done, whether you personally think that's right or wrong based on halacha or custom.)

But getting back to the subject...

In all honestly, it's not much harder than dressing in less clothing, in my experience. Yes, it's much harder when you start, but I think that's at least as much psychological as physical. You develop a case of the "grass is greener." I'd be so much cooler if I were wearing shorts and a tank top! And then you dwell on how sweaty you are and how hot it is, and the discomfort compounds.

But would you really be that much cooler in a tank top and shorts? Past a certain temperature, probably not. You'd still be hot and sweaty, and any difference is only a matter of degree. You can tie it to the age-old question: would you rather be hot or cold? My stock answer has always been cold, because you can always add more clothes. When you're hot, you eventually run out of things to take off.

Over time, perhaps you adjust physically. I can't be sure of this, but that's been my own experience (and yes, at least part of that is probably changed expectations). I began dressing part-time in skirts and sleeves while living in Charleston, SC...a humid subtropical climate. I went full-time while living in a hot dry climate in northern CA. I've never had a cool summer. But I wasn't cool before switching my clothing either. I worked outdoors in South Carolina, and it was brutal even in shorts. All things considered, I was cooler dressing with skirts and sleeves...because I had an indoor job.

How much time are we spending outside today? How often are we even exposed to hot temperatures in summer? Most of us only go outside between buildings and parked cars. We have air conditioning and heat inside the cars and buildings, and we're exposed to the elements a very short amount of time. That's also a different discussion, but we should be practical about how relevant this question actually is. (A different different discussion would be that most indoor environments, particularly offices, are insanely cold and women usually require jackets or sweaters even in high summer.)

While my experience is that of a woman's, I see similar concerns for men: adding tzitzit under your shirt, which some communities hold must be made of wool, is no joke. Even the cotton or linen tzitzis shirts are still a whole other layer to potentially make you hotter (or think you're hotter). 

For those of you who are outside, as I now am a great deal, I can only tell you this...you figure it out. It's not that bad, considering I'd be hot no matter what I'm wearing. You take common sense precautions that I want everyone to: stay hydrated and know the signs of heat stroke and make sure your loved ones do too. Do the best you can. You're probably going to be sweaty no matter what you do.

Fear of the heat shouldn't hold you back from making clothing changes you want to make. When in doubt, remember the big black robes of the Bedouin! If they can do it in the desert, surely I can wear full-coverage clothes in American suburbia.

So the real question is... 
What's your favorite comeback when the stranger at the post office says, "Aren't you hot in there?" 

1 comment:

  1. If you look at most really, really hot places where people live (the middle east, Africa, Southeast Asia, etc), the traditional clothing is actually pretty tznius. Long, flowing robes of some kind are usually the norm as is covering one's head, likely to help keep the sun from beating down on it.

    I agree that at some point, it gets hot enough not to really matter what you're wearing, but I find that keeping my clothes a bit more "flowy" and less form fitting as well as taking advantage of sweat-wicking fabrics wherever I can really helps a lot.

    My favorite comeback is usually, "It's hot enough now I'd be hot no matter what I was wearing." It's not very snappy, but I feel like it gets to the point.

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