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Noted cultural historian and fop Tom Wolfe explains how a suit works when he examines the fine points of men’s tailoring in one of his books, perhaps The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. Wolfe points out that a custom suit is engineered to make the body of a sedentary man look like that of an athlete, while a fit man will look like a gorilla in the same gear. Wolfe adds that the set of the sleeve in a formal garment precludes raising the arm to do much of anything, while the sleeve of a workman’s jacket is set horizontally to allow a full range of motion.
Wolfe adds that, counter-intuitively, the arm is freer in a jacket whose sleeve is set in high and close to the torso. A bad fit in the shoulder inhibits movement much as sagged trousers hobble and distort the gait of the person who wears them.
Last week I casually shopped for a raincoat, and the woman who helped me mentioned that having a couple of inches to spare under the arm indicates that the coat is cut generously enough to go over a sweater. Something clicked when she said that, and I realized why deciding what to wear has been much easier since I began to layer clothing from underneath.
A more or less formal rain-proof shell works best in Seattle’s climate, and one or more layers of warmth beneath the upper garment allow one to adapt to a day’s frequent changes of condition. Fine washable wool is my under layer of choice, but there are days when one undershirt is not enough to stay comfortable outside. A third wooly layer just adds irritating bulk. One morning not long ago I grabbed the cashmere shell of a twinset and tossed it on before I put on whatever it was I had decided was going to show. That little shell turned out to be an amazing thermal workhorse, and its cotton and acetate cousins from two other black twinsets are equally useful in different weather.
I doubt I would have learned this had my wardrobe been multi-colored, but nearly everything I own is black. A monochrome collection makes it easy to design a day’s costume for the weather and the mission.
I mentioned to my partner that a sleeveless shell adds warmth without bulk under the arms, and that even though it might look like a muscle shirt, I think it’s worth a shot. He’s not conditioned to whipping into a restroom to pull off an underlayer like Superman in reverse, however, though biting cold weather in the field may make him curious someday.
-30 More after the jump.