When the most recent polar vortex hit the United States, you may have noticed that many people—but not all—stopped working. There were a significant number of workers braving the brutal cold, working in -50F to keep public roads clear and de-ice airport runways. It seems incredible that someone could work efficiently in such extreme weather conditions, let alone survive. Yet, we do it all the time, thanks to the improvement in clothing technology.
Our modern society now relies on advancements in clothing technology to keep us functioning and on the move, regardless of extreme heat or cold. Which clothing technologies have had the greatest impact on our ability to endure extreme weather? Read on to find out.
If you’re a millennial, it’s easy to assume that moisture-wicking clothing has been around for ages. Although natural fabrics such as wool and silk have been around for thousands of years and boast moisture-wicking capabilities, the clothing technology we use today was invented from synthetic fabric in the 1990s.
Moisture-wicking clothing made from synthetic blends has proved critical to surviving both extreme cold and heat. When our bodies sweat, the moisture must evaporate from the skin, or else our skin temperature drops. This is one reason why those working in cold conditions rely on moisture-wicking base layers to keep them warm and dry for long hours in subzero temperatures.
Premium Quality Insulation
The next breakthrough in clothing technology was our significant improvements to insulated clothing. Previously, people in extremely cold regions relied on furs to trap heat and keep them nice and warm. Unfortunately, real fur poses a few problems. Besides being a point of contention among animal lovers, it’s also incredibly bulky—a deal-breaker for those who are required to stay flexible and nimble on the job. Thanks to premium-quality insulation such as Thinsulate and moveable clothing design elements like Performance-Flex, cold-weather workers can get the protection and flexibility they need to maximize their performance as they work in cold conditions. Another selling point? Synthetic insulation is hypoallergenic and extremely durable—a must for rugged hikes and outdoor work.
Durable Water Repellent Footwear
Durable water-repellent coatings were invented in 1969 and are now commonly added to clothing to enhance their waterproof exterior. However, some might argue that their biggest impact was on the footwear industry. In earlier times, footwear had suffered from poor construction, which left shoes susceptible to water permeation. As most people probably know, working with wet feet is incredibly unpleasant and can lead to frostbite or worse, including gangrene and toe amputation. Waterproof footwear has helped workers keep their feet warm and dry even through prolonged exposure to wet and cold conditions. When paired with moisture-wicking socks, your feet are fully reaping the benefits of modern clothing technology.
Enhanced Clothing Features
While the fabric itself undoubtedly plays a huge role in keeping us dry and comfortable, we’ve also managed to improve the performance of our clothing through sheer design alone. Take your pockets, for example, which can be used for more than the convenience of holding tools and valuables. In fact, many pockets are strategically designed to provide excellent ventilation to keep you cool when the mercury soars. Other pockets act as hand warmers and are reinforced with additional insulation to prevent heat from escaping.
The seams of your insulating jacket are another feature that can make or break your cold-weather gear. Seams are porous and allow heat to escape, which is why many in freezing climates choose cold weather jackets with bonded seams to seal out cold air. With each year, clothing companies find new and innovative ways to design their clothing for superior protection against the elements. From drawstrings at the bottom of coats to trap warm air inside to strategic cutouts to boost ventilation, there are now many design options that can maximize the performance of clothing.
Windproof Fabrics and Finishes
Anyone who lives in an area with strong wind gusts knows how miserable it can be without the right gear. Although the thermometer reads 15F, the temperature can feel much colder based on how fast the wind is blowing. Although insulated clothing can help keep us warm by trapping heat close to the body, wind can steal our precious heat layer by blowing it away. This is why windproof finishes and fabrics have become a common feature in outer layers. Windproof fabrics (such as those used for polyester soft shells) are made by tightly weaving fibres to prevent heat loss, effectively trapping warm air inside your insulating layers.
While smart clothing may still be relatively new, it’s on track to become mainstream. Smart clothing has numerous benefits for those enduring extreme weather conditions, one of which is their ability to adapt to the environment and the wearer’s body. Using cutting-edge technology, smart clothing can recognize when your body is too hot or cold and adjust itself to allow for more or less airflow based on the wearer’s needs.
This is huge for firefighters, police officers, outdoor workers, and athletes who need gear that performs in demanding conditions. Unfortunately, we’re still working out a few kinks with smart clothing, but, in a few years, we’ll no doubt be seeing this technology utilized in amazing ways to improve our comfort and ability to endure the most extreme weather.
It’s easy to take our moisture-wicking socks and insulated jackets for granted—but make no mistake: Our clothing tech has dramatically changed the entire world. The slow evolution from deerskin shoes and bulky fur pelts to high-performance gear has played a significant role in keeping our modern society humming along by allowing us to endure brutal weather conditions. The next time you slip on your bib overalls and insulated jacket, you’ll be amazed at how your modern clothing continues to defy Mother Nature.