Shorts and Sleeveless Dresses in Winter

snowman, freezing, wind chill, frostbiteIt’s an old maxim that young people wear clothes that make them look cool or chic while old people dress for comfort. The saying owes its truth to two things:

  1. Old people are no longer worried about finding Mr. Right or a gorgeous trophy wife. We’ve been there, done that and now understand what’s really important.
  2. Old people are less worried about what other people think of them than of how they feel. There is a vulgar contemporary phrase for this, we “Give Zero F*^#s.

That’s right. After a certain age we just don’t care. We know who we are, what we like, and what makes us feel comfortable and we’re not about to change because another person, whom we probably don’t know and will never meet, might think were not au courant. I wrote about this a year ago in the post, “Put Some Clothes On!”

It’s Cool to be Cold 

Speaking of cool, a couple of fashion trends would indicate that global warming means never having to feel winter temperatures—right now. They are shorts and sleeveless dresses in winter. First, look at boys going to school, from middle school through college.

I first noticed this trend when I commuted past Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School. Every morning I watched the juniors and seniors hiking from the auxiliary parking lot to the front entrance. Shorts, tee shirts and flip-flops were the look of the day from the warmth of Indian Summer all the way to hard frosts. Then the girls switched to jeans and (thankfully!) to Uggs, so at least their feet were warm. The boys, however, continued to wear shorts and tee shirts, making sneakers their only concession to rapidly dropping temperatures and wind chill. No jackets, mind you, although hoodies appeared and, sometimes, a fleece vest. Forget warm hats or gloves. Forget boots, even in freezing rain or slush. So not cool.

An article in today’s Boston Globe explains this phenomenon from a physiological point of view. “Shorts in the Winter? For Some Boys It’s About Looking Cool,” by Beth Teitell explains why boys might actually not feel the cold as much as their mothers, who worry about silly things like the flu and frostbite. Fair enough. But because boys “run hotter” than girls and might not actually feel the cold as much doesn’t change the laws of nature. The colder it gets, the harder your body has to work to protect its core temperature. If you don’t help by wearing warm clothing, your body will pull heat from the extremities to conserve core warmth. That makes fingers, toes, earlobes and the tip of your nose susceptible to frostbite. On a very cold day this will happen regardless of fashion. It will happen even to the captain of the football team or the Most Popular guy in the class.

Skiiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers and other practitioners of winter sports know this. You won’t find someone cross-country skiing in a tee shirt and shorts. Of course, the teenage boys don’t stay outside anywhere near as long. It probably took those kids 10 minutes at most to walk from the auxiliary parking lot to the school. But in case you’re curious, the following chart from the National Weather Service tells you how much time an underdressed—but very hip—high-school boy has before parts of his anatomy begin turning gray:

National Weather Service Windchill Chart, NWS, Windchill, Frostbite

What About the Girls? 

A similar problem arises with the female of the species—but it affects women more than girls. If you ladies have wondered—as I have—why winter dresses now lack sleeves, the answer is in The Wall Street Journal, that bible of haute couture. “Women Like Sleeves but Designers Like the Sleeveless Look” by Christina Binkley explains that fashion designers think sleeves on dresses look “frumpy.” They also pose “design challenges” because women have come to like and expect comfortable clothes and it’s “tricky to make a flattering sleeve that is roomy enough to offer a full range of motion.”

Hello, have women’s arms changed that much? Have shoulders gotten clunky? Do our arms attach to the shoulders differently than they used to? Has quality tailoring vanished?

Basically the designers—most of whom are men—are admitting that they’re not good enough at their jobs to design a dress that women want and have that garment look good. They have no compunction, however, about charging an enormous amount of money (see list below) for dresses that they somehow can’t manage to create in a style that both warms and flatters—even though that’s what their clientele prefers. These male designers do not, of course, walk around sleeveless at any time of year. They wear nice comfy long-sleeve shirts, wool jackets and those hip scarves.

Contempt for the Customer

Michelle Obama, sleeveless dresses, sweater with sleeves,

Michelle Obama

They are also insisting that women wear what the designers like instead of what the customers want. Ms. Binkley says, “It is one of the great curiosities of fashion: Women want more sleeves, and designers love to make dresses without them.” Even Michelle Obama, who has great arms, will wear long sleeves when it’s cold. The only other business that shows such contempt for its customers is the airline industry.

My response is simple: I don’t buy sleeveless dresses in the winter simply because I’m past the age of suffering in the name of fashion. The French have a phrase for it, “Il faut souffrir pour etre belle,” which means that one must suffer to be beautiful. Thanks but no thanks. When it comes to freezing for style, I Give Zero F*^#s. If you don’t make clothes that I want, that keep me warm in the winter and that still manage to look good, I won’t buy your products. Maybe if more women tried this, the designers might change their haughty attitudes.

All the illustrations in the @WSJ article are of sleeveless dresses. Here’s the list of designers and the prices of the garments pictured:

  • Chiffon Prada: $2,410
  • Derek Lam: $2,990
  • Valentino: $4,590
  • Erdem: $4,235
  • Fendi: (Price on request) [If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.]
  • Gucci: $2,200
  • Chanel $25,550 [No, this is not a typo.]

The Fashion Challenge 

So here’s my challenge to male fashion designers who insist their ideas are more important than women’s preferences. Take off the hip scarf that’s wrapped around your neck. Take off that nice warm jacket. Take off your shirt. Next, tear the sleeves off the shirt and put it back on. No, don’t add the jacket or the scarf; leave them right there. Now walk around all day in January. How does that feel?

Even conceding that men run hotter, I think that experiment might change a few minds. What do you think?