Archive | Textiles RSS feed for this section

The true cost of cheap clothing

25 Apr

Canadian brand, Joe Fresh,made in the collapsed building in Bangladesh. Photo by Global News.

Remember Maya’s speech in “Sideways,” telling Miles what she thinks about each time she opens a bottle of wine? What was going on in the world during the life cycle of the grapes, what was the weather like, and the people who picked the fruit.

This is how I feel about clothing.

Consider what goes into a simple cotton shirt:

  • growing, collecting, and processing the cotton fiber
  • spinning the fibers into thread
  • weaving the threads into fabric
  • applying chemical treatments to the fiber or fabric (i.e. mercerization)
  • dyeing and/or printing the fabric
  • creating a pattern for the garment
  • cutting the fabric
  • choosing findings – thread, buttons, shaping materials (interfacing), etc.
  • physically putting the garment together

It’s amazing how much work goes into one shirt. Even more amazing is how cheap it can be to buy.

The Industrial Revolution brought machines to replace human labour and lower the costs of manufacturing, including  machines to speed the production and lower the cost of textile production in every stage: farming, spinning, weaving, and cutting, but a machine could never replace human hands for building cloth garments. This is why fires and building collapses in garment factories are so sad.

Last November, a fire broke out in a Bangladeshi garment factory, killing 112. Yesterday, a eight-story building collapsed with thousands of workers inside, killing 238 people at last count, and injuring over 2000.

Factory workers noticed a crack in the building on Tuesday and government officials sent them home. The next day when workers returned, the building manager told them not to worry and go inside. If they refused, they would not get paid or may lose their job. Less than an hour later, the building collapsed.

The Times of India reports that upon discovery of the cracks, the factories’ owners were to suspend operations. The Industrial Police asked them to do a structural inspection by engineers before resuming business, but the order was disregarded.

Mostafizur Rahman, Director of the Industrial Police said, “The owners of the Rana Plaza in Savar and the garment factories went into hiding fearing arrest, as the regulatory authorities and police filed separate cases accusing them of illegally constructing the structure and exposing the workers to the fatal accident.”

Retail responsibility

CBC’s “As It Happens” interviewed Kalpona Akter of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity a day after the collapse. Akter said the negligence by factory owners, government, and Western retailers is ongoing, and they are aware of the working conditions and state of the buildings but choose to ignore it. Retailers hire third-party auditors to tour buildings and often there is no documentation or follow up.

Scott Nova, Executive Director of the Worker’s Rights Consortium in Washington, D.C., interviewed this morning with CBC’s Metro Morning, and spoke about irresponsible retailers and cheap labour.

Bangladeshi garment workers earn 18 cents an hour for work in substandard facilities, When tragedy strikes, Nova says, “Western retailers choose not to take direct responsibility for what happens to their workers, and prefer to blame the consumer because it lets them off the hook morally. They throw up their hands and say consumers demand cheap clothing and we’re giving consumers what they want.”

Like blaming the Devil for bad behaviour.

“The reality is that there is no consumer that wants to save a few pennies on a t-shirt or dress at the expense of the lives of the men and women who make the clothes,”  Nova says.

Last November’s fire sparked a movement to petition The Gap, one of the retailers fingered in the tragedy, to add 10 cents to their retail price to bring working conditions to standard in Bangladesh. The Gap has instead chosen to create its own “corporate-controlled monitoring system that won’t be accountable to workers, consumers, or independent safety experts,” according to Sum of Us.

Ultimately, change is up to us, we that consume these “fast fashion” garments, to urge retailers to give us a choice in paying extra – up to 15 cents per garment – to pay for the assurance that factory workers would be treated well at work and in safe conditions.

Tweet Joe Fresh @JoeFresh or email Loblaw, it’s parent company to ask for a small price increase to protect Asian workers.

Cost to you

Cheap clothing is cheap partially because it consists of low-grade material. The garment may look okay on a hanger in the store, but once you wash and wear it a few times, it will lose its shape and elastic recovery if it’s a knit, often the dyes run, and ultimately you have a new rag to clean with.

Low-grade fabrics could be made of anything but are commonly cottons and cotton blends (i.e. polyester- cotton). Often, fabric manufacturers add chemical fillers (i.e. formaldehyde). but these finishes wash out, leaving your garments limp and lifeless. I often think of the environmental impact of this “disposable” clothing. (Read this post for information on what your clothes go through before you buy them.)

This is a three-way street between us, the consumers, the retailers, and the factory owners.  Retailers and factory owners and managers are ultimately dictated to by consumers.  If we continue to demand cheap clothing, we must tell retailers that we want to adopt a dime-per-garment policy to help Western clothing giants pay for safe conditions for south Asian workers.

Fashion doesn’t have to make people suffer. No one wants human life as the cost of doing business.

April showers, rubber boots, and the environment

11 Apr

Period Hessian boots.

It’s April again and if you’re lucky enough to be in a snowless spot, it could be time to get out the umbrellas and rubber boots for a change!

Rubber boots as we know them today didn’t start as rubber boots. The style of boot derives from Hessian boots, a high style from the Regency Period. These 18th century boots were made of leather with a heel and slightly pointed toe, and decorated with a coloured tassel. This is the boot from which rubber and cowboy boots derived. (Click here for further period boot reading.)

Though also worn by Beau Brummel, the most famous of dandies, the Hessian boots were adopted by the military and favoured by officers. One of these officers,  Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, modified the style and changed footwear forever. Wellesley wanted a boot tough enough for the battlefield but comfortable enough for evening wear. The resulting boot was  made of plain soft calf skin (possibly treated with wax to make them waterproof), cut closer to the leg, housing the trim stirrup trousers of the period.

Leather “Wellington” boots.

These Wellington boots became all the rage – civilians and soldiers alike wore this style to emulate their favourite war hero and statesman. It was the boot of 19th century aristocracy, synonymous with fox hunts and country life in Britain.

Rubber Revolution

According to Scientific American, rubber footwear originated with Amazonian Indians who lived amongst rubber trees in South America,  but it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that rubber boots appeared. Natural rubber is composed of long polymer chains which, when uncured, move independently, giving an unstable substance that can get sticky when warm and brittle when cold.

In the mid-19th century, Charles Goodyear discovered a process called vulcanization that linked the polymer chains, making rubber strong, elastic, and waterproof. Goodyear used his invention to make tires and Hiram Hutchinson bought the patent to manufacture footwear, and the waterproof Wellington boot was born. (See pictures of rubber boot making in France.)

Wellingtons, wellies, gummies, gum boots, or  rain boots have been worn all over the world to keep feet dry and protected in mud, rain, and slush; for mining, industry, and food processing; fishing, farming, and riding (see this detailed article if you want to learn how!)

hunter boot

The Chet by Hunter.

Remember the black rubber boots with red soles from your childhood?  They’re  still readily available at Canadian Tire, but for those who itch for a more stylish rubber boot, Hunter, the Scottish rubber boot company, makes all kinds of styles, long and short – featured here is their Chelsea-style rubber boot.

For casual dress, Sweden’s Tretorn offers cool sporty, waterproof “rain sneakers”, along with other styles and lots of colour options. Further reading. But there’ s a catch to these stylish waterproof numbers.

Environmental Considerations

Rubber decomposes, as anyone who grew up in the pre-Spandex era can tell you. I have a pair of lined, rubber Tretorn rain boots that cracked within two years. I don’t know if the lining had anything to do with it, but I can’t wear them anymore. Tretorn doesn’t have a recycling program. So what do I do with them?

Hunter sells care products with their boots to shine them up, but this doesn’t seem to affect the “long-term” ownership of these boots. I’ve looked at forums and blogs that complain about their wellies “crumbling” and “splitting” since the Scottish company moved their manufacture to China (read this blog for an excellent take on Hunter’s move to cheap labour).

A wonderful alternative to throw-away boots is Kamik‘s vegan footwear. The styles are similar to Hunters, but the boots are eco-friendly, and the Kamik waterproof footwear is vulcanized, unlike the China-made Hunters.  Kamik’s boots are recyclable and made in Canada. Kamik’s products can be found in Canadian Tire and various other locations throughout Canada and the U.S.

Find dealers. Read more about Kamik.

Rubber boots are awesome in wet weather, so feel confident to roam the streets in the rain and splash through puddles, but do be mindful of the environmental impact of your choice in wellies.

Instantly cool with a spring scarf

14 Mar

Scarves are the unsung heroes of any man’s wardrobe. They punch up the colour and flavour of any outfit and make a guy instantly stylish.

Scarves are traditionally worn in the winter to keep our necks warm, but consider a lightweight scarf in the spring for a little added warmth and a lot of style in the early days of the season.

Gentlemen, no matter how much you spend, know that you’re going to make an impact in a spring scarf.

I find that menswear in general can be harsh in colour, casting a dark light on a man’s face, and giving him a hardened look. Spring colours are much more flattering, softening a man’s features and making him look more approachable. While scouting locally owned menswear shops in Toronto for this post, I’m happy to see that this season’s colour choices in scarves are soft and powdery.

Pal Zileri linen scarf

I looked at a gorgeous, tone-on-tone striped sea green linen scarf at high-end men’s store, Via Cavour at 87 Avenue Road. Their amazingly soft, handmade, Pal Zileri 100% linen scarves come in unusual colours, and are priced from $350 to $750.

When the temperatures get warmer, linen scarves are the go-to accessory because linen is one of the lightest and coolest clothing materials – air constantly moves through linen’s weave, keeping the wearer physically and visually cool. (Read more about linen.)

Marc de Rose at Via Cavour says, “Scarves are one of the best pieces to update an outfit.”

He describes his scarves as “funky” that dress up a traditional suit. He likes to loop his scarves loosely around his neck with the ends draping over his chest, giving him a youthful, comfortable look. Draping the scarf over a suit this way “frames” the collar (and tie) beneath.

  • Style tip: Scarves are meant to look “thrown on” but they are nothing but – you’ll want to spend some time arranging the fabric

I visited philip in Hazelton Lanes, a spin-off of Nanni Couture, to look at gentleman’s cotton and silk blend scarves.

Philip no scarf

Philip in a suit

Philip scarf

Philip becomes instantly cool in a spring scarf!

Owner, Philip Zappacosta, says, “A scarf is a great investment for men to coordinate with his wardrobe, and tie everything  together.”

He showed me a large, versatile, slightly crisp, colourful, square-shaped Corneliani scarf (below), made in Italy ($295), and explained how many other colours and pieces could be worn with it.

Scarves at the philip store go well with soft-shouldered sports jackets and other more casual pieces like loose-knit spring sweaters. They can be worn wrapped around the neck to create volume around the face, and longer types can be worn European style, folded in half lengthwise and draped around the neck with the ends pulled through the loop at the front.

Here, we wrapped the fabric around Philip’s neck. Notice how the added bulk seems to bring in his shoulders and torso – a trick of optical illusion, good for larger men who want to appear smaller.

  • Style tip – Look for balance in your clothing and avoid mixing warm winter weights with lighter spring weights

Queen Street West favourite, Grreat Stuff, offers reasonable price points for men on smaller budgets who like to add some pizzazz to their wardrobe. Grreat Stuff is a grreat store for menswear oddities and interesting wardrobe pieces.

They carry long, double-sided silk English scarves in traditional patterns grreat stuff twith a natural silk fringe for $95, striped 100% gauzy cotton GEOX scarves for $60, and cotton Matinique gingham scarves in a dense weave with a dry hand for $45.

Co-owners, Frances and Adam Yalonetsky, recommend wearing cotton or silk scarves loosely with a cotton blazer or lightweight outerwear.

Adam suggests that in the cool of the early spring, fold your scarf in half lengthwise, wrap European style, then tighten the loop to bring the scarf closer in at the neck. This will give more bulk to the scarf and keep the warm air close to the throat.

Adding a scarf will get you noticed and for style-savvy men, there is scarcely a better accessory.

Having the idea to wear a stylish scarf that ties your clothes together makes you awesome. Actually doing it for real triples your awesomeness.


Uniform Series: Kevlar, the life-saving textile

23 Aug

During this uniform series, we’ve focused on firefighter and police uniforms. This final post of the series focuses on an amazingly strong and lightweight textile used in both uniforms, Kevlar.

In the mid-60s, Stephanie Kwolek, a chemist working for DuPont, invented Kevlar, opening the doors for polymer chemistry. Kevlar is an extremely strong, flexible, and tremendously flame, heat, and cut-resistant textile with a high tensile strength – five times stronger than steel, and 20 times stronger than steel when underwater. Kevlar’s superior strength lies in its hydrogen bonds that strengthen the monomer (a molecule that chemically binds to other molecules), making it into a strong polymer chain.

Kevlar is used not only in emergency services clothing and equipment, but has uses in industrial, workplace, and military safety, and is present in automotive and sports equipment, rope, and fiber optics. Many people rely on the strength of Kevlar to confidently and effectively do their jobs.

Firefighting and Kevlar

In high temperature situations, Kevlar can withstand temperatures up to 300°C and still retain its strength properties, so it is an ideal material for firefighting uniforms and equipment. Kevlar is virtually indestructible and with the exception of a few powerful acids, solvents are ineffective at damaging Kevlar. Kevlar is slightly susceptible to ultraviolet light.

Toronto firefighters wear heat and flame-resistant Kevlar bunker coats and pants, and carry oxygen tanks wrapped in Kevlar.

Toronto firefighter boots are made of heavy, thick, and waterproof rubber, insulated with felt and heat-resistant Kevlar. Bunker coats and pants of the firefighting uniform are made of Kevlar and Nomex (another DuPont flame-resistant textile) with a water barrier to keep out water and chemicals. The fabric of the outer uniforms are breathable, allowing metabolic heat to escape and reducing heat stress in the body.

“DuPont™ NOMEX® and DuPont™ KEVLAR® brand fibers will not melt, drip, or support combustion, providing a stable barrier that helps minimize burn injuries. The flame resistant properties of NOMEX® and KEVLAR® are permanent; they cannot be washed out or removed in any way. Durable DuPont™ Teflon® HT water-repellent treatments prevent water from compromising valuable air layers that provide the bulk of the garments’ thermal insulation.” (Source.)

Kevlar also in a firefighter’s SCBA, self-contained breathing apparatus. The aluminum oxygen tank is wrapped in Kevlar and strapped to the back, protecting the firefighter from the combustible gas from exploding during fire calls.

For more information about DuPont’s firefighting protective gear, please see this page of their site.

Policing and Kevlar

A thick Kevlar plate rests inside of police bullet-proof vests.

Kevlar’s lightweight ballistic and stab-resistant textile technology is used in police gear and military body armor; it is the bullet-stopping material that makes up bullet-proof vests. When I toured 51 Division in Toronto, I had a look inside of the vest to inspect the Kevlar plate within the vest. It was spongy and firm, and felt like dense foam.

The DuPont site explains Kevlar as “bullet-resistant tactical vests work by “catching” a bullet in a multilayer web of woven fabrics… Whether it’s engaging a fast-moving projectile or helping to stop the blunted bullet, body armor made with Kevlar® fiber helps offer law enforcement officers superior protection in multiple situations.”

Kevlar is such an amazing produce that many police officers owe their lives to this DuPont textile. Their website features videos of survivor stories from police officers who owe their lives to their bullet-proof Kevlar vests.

Kevlar is a major component of emergency services uniforms in Toronto and throughout the world. Kevlar marries science and clothing to form the world’s most cutting-edge protective textile, so people in dangerous jobs can feel safe and confident in their work.

Uniform series: Toronto Police Services

9 Aug

Toronto Police uniform, 1900.

Part of my training as a costume designer was studying costume history, including some military history. I found uniforms particularly fascinating because of the beautiful lines and cuts, and the brilliant and logical practicality of military gear.

I was privileged to inspect the military-like uniforms of the Toronto  Police Services (TPS) for this series and was first shown the historical police uniform displays set up on the main floor of 51 Division by Community Relations Officer, Constable Peter Cullingford.

The typical police uniform from the early 20th century consisted of a navy wool tunic with a mandarin collar and metal buttons, navy trousers, and a thick leather belt that housed a baton, offering little protection. Luckily for today’s officers, uniforms are designed with safety and ergonomics in mind. I was delighted hear about health and safety committees and a clothing committee for officers, to keep them protected and in good health.

The modern uniform

The military is about order and precision, with neat identical uniforms. TPS shares the military order and police constables receive cleaning vouchers to keep their uniforms clean. Senior officers however, must  handle the cleanings on their own. 51 Division Supervisor, John  Tanouye, impressed me because he cleans and presses his own shirts, and I must say, he does an impeccable job.

Police cadets, constables, sergeants, and staff sergeants wear stiff, twill, navy  polyester/cotton blend shirts, and senior officers wear thinner white shirts. However, during large police operations, senior officers wear  navy shirts so they blend in and don’t stand out.

Police shirts have epaulets, shoulder pieces used for insignia of rank by armed forces and other organizations. On the shirts themselves, the epaulet is made of “self” fabric (shirt fabric), but when worn on a dress uniform, the shoulder insignia – a.k.a “shoulder flashes” attaches to the jacket shoulder, displaying colour-coded symbols of their rank – silver for staff sergeants and below, gold for inspectors or above.

Navy trousers are a soft, poly-cotton fabric blend that wash-and-wear well. The red stripe down the trouser leg signifies an armed, municipal, sworn constable. Under the dark trousers are dark socks for reasons outside of proper gentleman’s dressing, as PC Cullingford explains. “White socks would look silly and at night, they would stick out like a sore thumb reducing a stealthy approach, if seen,” he says, “Dark socks have been in our rules and regulations for decades.”

Forge hat

The forge hat, worn throughout the year, has a mesh band around the crown, allowing breathability during hot weather. In cooler weather, a band of red poly-cotton braid is worn over the mesh to keep the heat in. Of course on really cold days, officers wear the heavy ear-flapped ushanka hat.

Senior officers work in offices and wear clean black lace-up shoes that they polish themselves, but constables in the community wear Canadian-made, waterproof, black ankle boots with thick soles, lined with Thinsulate and Goretex. As PC Cullingford, formerly of the mounted unit, can tell you, waterproof everything is essential when working outdoors – he explained how awful it is to sit on a horse for hours in the pouring rain during parades and protests.

Side opening reveals the zip-out lining.

The three-season, machine-washable police jacket is a short, bomber style made locally at Outdoor Outfitters in Toronto.  The jacket is lined with warm, waterproof thermoplastic polymer textiles, and the tightly-woven nylon shell keeps moisture out.

This jacket is logical, practical, and well-designed – everything about it has been meticulously planned. To stretch its use throughout the year, the lining zips out and storm cuffs at the end of the sleeve snap out. With safety in mind, reflective tape tabs can be pulled from the outside pockets, side zippers allow easy access to the belt, and expandable pleated armholes offer more movement.

This “action back” style  is reminiscent of early 20th century shooting jackets that allowed free upper body movement.  This bi-swing jacket style became popular during the 1930s, even with Hollywood actors including Clark Gable. See bi-swing jacket photos here.

Uniform safety and ergonomic updates

Police officers wear hatch gloves made of Kevlar, an extremely cut-resistant material also used to stop bullets in their bulletproof vests. The material “catches” bullets in its multilayer web of woven stronger-than-steel fibers. (The next post is dedicated to Kevlar, as it is a life-saving component of emergency uniforms.)

Because some uniform accessories “can be grabbed and yanked,” Supt. Tanouye explained, traditional pieces have been abandoned for safety’s sake. Proper long, knotted ties have been replaced with admittedly unstylish polyester clip-on ties, and the cross strap of the Sam Browne belt, worn to better balance the heavy police belt, was removed altogether.

TPS belts are  made from 3/8″ thick vinyl and carry a 4 lb gun, two magazines, first aid gear including a CPR mask and latex gloves, handcuffs, pepper spray, flashlight, and the very intimidating asp, an expanding baton made of extremely hard carbon steel that PC Cullingford shot out like a fishing rod. To collapse the thing, he had to push it into the floor by leaning his weight into it!

Without the Sam Browne cross strap however, the weight of the 14 lb belt must be taken on entirely by the pelvis and lower spine, leaving officers with sore hips, sore joints, and sometimes painful sciatica. Officers are switching to the two-belt system to balance weight via Velcro strips inside the belt and on the trouser waistband, and some  wear suspenders on their trousers for better weight distribution. Another option is to store smaller bits of belt gear in vest pockets.

Ira Janowitz, PT, CPE, an ergonomics consultant at U.C. San Francisco/Berkeley Ergonomics Program, conducted a study that explained police belt discomfort being due to the belt’s pressure and weight on the hip, pelvis, and lower back, exacerbated by the pressure of the belt’s edges and the grip of their weapon, belt stiffness, and “vertical location of the holster in relation to hip and pelvis and cant of the weapon.” (Read this excellent article about police belt ergonomics.)

Police services are attempting to combat the problems of the belt’s weight with ergonomically designed car seats for officers on the road. Flat car seats are currently used in Toronto squad cars, but Chrysler, GM, and Ford are designing cut-away seats to house the belts and take the weight off of officer’s lower body.

Clothing originally came from the need to protect against the elements and from predators, and the complex police uniform was created for the same reasons. Uniforms must be comfortable, well-designed, and made of cutting-edge textiles to protect officers from weather and from harm. Because the job can be literally life or death, the police uniform holds an enormous responsibility within its threads, but the TPS seem to be well-covered.

Thanks to Toronto Police Services 51 Division, and Constable Peter Cullingford and Superintendent John Tanouye for their help and assistance.

Uniform series: Toronto Fire Services

26 Jul

Adelaide Street Fire Hall – “the show must go on”.

When I was in university, part of my training as a costume designer was studying costume history, including military costume/uniforms. My original plan in life was to be a men’s clothing designer, so naturally I was drawn to the lines, durability, and practicality of military uniforms. Uniforms worn by emergency services like fire and police follow a very logical design for very specific purposes, with safety at top of mind.

Earlier this year, I visited the Adelaide Street Fire Hall, the busiest station in Canada, because I was interested in what pieces  make up the fire fighting uniform, what those pieces are made of, and what their purpose is. I was guided through the fire fighter uniform by Morgan Maschke, a fire fighter who impressed me with his textile knowledge – he seemed to know what materials were in every piece we looked at.

We started off by discussing “station fatigues”, the clothing worn at the fire hall and under any of the safety gear worn on fire calls. Firefighters wear shirts made of  a strong and hard-wearing fabric blend – 65% cotton and 35% polyester, with an embroidered Toronto Fire Services patch on the sleeve, and epaulets on the shoulders (epaulets are ornamental shoulder pieces used in the military for decoration or to display insignia). Navy or white t-shirts are worn under the shirts, emblazoned with a Toronto Fire Services crest.

Station trousers are made of the same poly-cotton blend, but the fabric is a thicker and harder-wearing twill weave for  long-lasting strength. Trousers are a flat front design (i.e. no pleats) and properly fitted to each firefighter. Morgan says “a good fit makes for a safer uniform”.  A webbed nylon belt is worn with the trousers with a plain buckle.

Though Morgan had me going for a minute about firefighters wearing red thongs under their trousers, we got back on track and discussed  under things – undies of the individual’s choice, and socks of an 80% cotton and 20% nylon blend – the addition of nylon strengthens the cotton. It may seem that a sock should be more substantial, given the work these men do, but as I was to find out, there is much more protection to go over this base layer.

Morgan in full firefighting gear.

Bunker pants and coats

When firefighters go out on a call, their protective clothing is already set up, very much like the way backstage quick-changes are pre-set in the theatre – they just have to step into their boots and pull up their pants, then pull on their head gear and jackets on the truck. In emergency situations, time is of the essence and firefighters have their dressing down to a well-timed science.

Once he’s down the pole, the firefighter steps into his steel-toed boots, made of heavy rubber with a nail-proof sole. These boots are insulated with felt and Kevlar, an amazing textile that is extremely strong and heat-resistant (more on Kevlar in a few weeks).

The legs of his fire pants, known as bunker pants, sit around each boot and are pulled up with suspenders. Pants have adjustable waistband buckles, close in the front with Velcro, feature cargo pockets to carry small tools, and have reflective tape stitched on for visibility in fires or at night. Firefighters are often crawling on the floor below the smoke of burning buildings, so their fire pants have thick pads made of 2 – 3 layers of Kevlar at the knees.

Once these are on, he can get on the truck and start driving. Bunker coats, helmets, and other items needed to do their job safely are stored in the cab of the fire truck. Bunker coats and pants are composed a thermal barrier of Kevlar and Nomex (another flame-resistant textile) with a water barrier,  made to measure and available in short, regular, and tall, just like a man’s suit (remember, safety in fit). The Kevlar/Nomex material is woven in a plain basket weave of rough threads with a quilted layer inside.

The sleeves contain a fitted cuff to protect the wrist and the fleshy part of the hand. Presumably, this feature also acts to secure the sleeve to the firefighter. Over these, thick suede gloves with wooly, insulated lining to withstand extreme heat are worn.

Head gear and SCBA

The first piece to go on a firefighter’s head is a rather Medieval-looking hood, made of a flame-resistant and thermally stable fiber called PBI, Polygenzimidarole. The textile is woven in a fine rib that will not burn or melt, staying intact even if it is charred. The hood is designed to cover the head, the entire neck, upper chest, upper back, with a 5″ elasticized hole for the face.

Morgan put his fire helmet on me so I could feel the weight – a firefighter must have a strong neck to hold this 5 lb piece up for long periods of time, and as I discovered, I just don’t have the build for it, but Morgan’s strong, stocky Scottish frame does well to hold up the weight of the whole uniform.

He  explained that after 911, the Toronto Fire Department joined in solidarity with the NYC Fire Department and adopted their helmet style. Each helmet is made of thick leather, completely adjustable for the individual wearer, with “jumbo” ear flaps, and is amazingly hand-made. Instead of a regal bald eagle, Toronto adopted Canada’s national emblem, the beaver, as their bronzed animal of choice affixed to the top of the helmet. A thick leather identification number sits at the front of the helmet, with a pull-down polycarbonate visor attached to the sides. Learn more about the helmets here.

Firefighters sometimes need a supply of oxygen when working in burning buildings, and for this, they wear a SCBA, self-contained breathing apparatus. The SCBA consists of an aluminum tank of compressed oxygen wrapped in Kevlar, containing  half an hour of air for normal breathing. The tank is attached to flame resistant shoulder straps and a waist belt with a seat belt-style buckle to secure it. The face piece is edged with synthetic rubber with and a clear polymer shield, and regulator clamps to both secure and fit it into place. To prevent condensation from breathing, nose and mouth caps fit inside of the face piece. Absolutely every inch of firefighter is covered.

It was a pleasure spending time at the Adelaide Fire Hall and learning about their uniforms. While I was there, I witnessed the brotherhood amongst the fire fighters – they had a pizza party that day, and a large group of them left the hall to visit one of their colleagues at a hospital who had been injured on the job. They live and work as a team; cooking, eating, and cleaning together, relying on each other for safety and efficiency in extremely dangerous conditions. Their highly-engineered uniforms help keep them safe and secure so they can confidently do one of the most dangerous jobs on earth. For more information about protective fire uniforms, see this DuPont page.

Thanks to the Toronto Fire Services South Command and special thanks to my guide, Morgan Maschke, of the Adelaide Street Fire hall. Next post will focus on uniforms of the Toronto Police Services.

The secret life of your clothes

27 Oct

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I would write a post about what your clothing goes through before you own it, and today is the day. I’ll be covering the little-known chemical finishes used in textile manufacture, and why your pockets and vents are sewn shut when you buy them, in the hopes that you will take heed and prepare your clothing before you wear it out in public – it’s all about a polished image and more than that, it can be a matter of your health!

Why are my pockets sewn shut?

Clip the stitching from your breast pocket if you like a pocket square in your breast pocket.

When you buy a new suit, sports jacket, or outdoor coat, you may notice that your pockets are not working because they’re sewn shut. This goes for coat pockets and breast pockets on the outside of the garment. Pockets are sewn shut for a few reasons. First, sewn and secured pockets are easily pressed and won’t be pulled out of shape when they are shipped from their country of origin. Second, flat pockets will look nice and smooth when on display at retail stores and retain their shape when people try them on.

Pockets are meant to be functional. When you purchase the items, your tailor or retailer might remove the stitching for you, but if not, snip out the threads that hold your pockets together on your own if you’re going to use them. Some men won’t remove the stitching from their outside suit pockets because they know they won’t be using them (perhaps the inside pockets of their jackets will suffice), and this leaves the front of the coat smooth and intact.

For men who like to have extra space for light pieces (hankies, business cards, or lip balm), the pocket stitching should be removed so they can be used. (Tip – try not to carry heavy or bulky articles in the outside pockets of your suits and sports jackets or the bulk will pull them out of shape and you may look somewhat disheveled – not a good look.)

The breast pocket is used for pocket squares, so if you wear these to polish and punctuate your jackets, open this pocket. If not, leave it.

Why are my vents sewn shut?

X stitching on jacket vents are meant to be clipped.

A vent is a slit up the back seams of your coat, breaking the hem for ease of movement. There can be a single vent at the bottom of the centre back seam, or two vents off of the back side seams. Opening your vents will give you more space to put your hands into your pockets and will allow you to sit comfortably because there won’t be anything pulling across your hips.

You may notice an X stitched over your coat vents before you buy it. This is done prior to shipping to keep the coats flat and smooth, and may be found on your sport coats, suit jackets, and topcoats. This stitching should be clipped and removed. If it is not removed, it looks odd, unprofessional, and some may say, naive, so open ‘er up, give yourself some space, and be confident that you look good and proper in your clothes!


Textiles, even those of natural origin, go through a tremendous amount of chemical treatment. You may be surprised to learn that the most common chemical resin used in textile production is formaldehyde and you’re probably surrounded by it right now.

“Textile formaldehyde resins have been used on fabrics since the mid 1920’s by the textiles industry to make wrinkle and stain resistant garments (e.g. permanent press),” says Allergy, Sensitivity & Environmental Health Association Qld Inc. (ASEHA). (Read their excellent article on this topic here.)

Looking at urea-formaldehyde, the type used in textiles, it has excellent tensile strength and low water absorption due to it being a thermoplastic resin. Materials most likely to have been treated with formaldehyde resins are:

  • Rayon
  • Blended cotton (i.e. polyester-cotton)
  • Corduroy
  • Wrinkle-resistant 100% cotton
  • Shrink-proof wool (“superwash” wool)
  • Any synthetic blended polymer (i.e. rayon, polyester-cotton)
  • Heavy stiff fabrics
  • Upholstery and craft materials

Though good, strong, and easy care, wearing formaldehyde-treated fabrics next to our skin is not necessarily a good thing, especially for those with chemical sensitivities. Luckily, some materials are not treated with formaldehyde and should not affect the sensitive. One way to recognize the absence of formaldehyde is to look for soft fabrics that will hold the wrinkles when scrunched in your hand. As listed on the ASEHA site, some fabrics not treated with formaldehyde resins are: 100% silk, 100% linen (if it wrinkles easily), 100% polyester, 100% acrylic, 100% nylon, Spandex, flannel (if soft), denim, and wool.

Remember, formaldehyde is an “anti” treatment – anti-wrinkle, anti-stain, anti-static, etc. These easy care finishes are not natural and are achieved through chemical treatment. Often, they are permanent and can cause allergic reactions in some people.

“Washing new formaldehyde resin treated clothing may reduce the levels of free formaldehyde but is not sufficient to prevent a textile resin reaction in a previously sensitized patient. Multiple washes combined with airing in the sun may reduce levels further but remember the manufacturers put in a lot of work into making these finishes ‘permanent’,” says ASEHA.

Though we know that some of the chemical finishes are not going to wash out, I always like to wash my new stuff just the same before I wear it. With any luck, the “new clothes” smell will wash out and the garment may loosen up by removing some of the undoubtedly chemical “filler”, especially if it is an inexpensive garment. (Though if it is really inexpensive, washing out the fillers will reduce the garment to a rag because that was almost all it was made up of, hence the low price you paid for it.)

When I think of formaldehyde, I think of embalming. (Believe it or not, I used to date an embalmer who explained his use of a huge syringe to suck out body fluids of the corpse, then another needle the same size to inject the formaldehyde into the body.) I found out an interesting tidbit about the embalming process during research: if the lungs of an embalmed body float after being immersed in the formaldehyde solution, “then a mortician concludes that the deceased was breathing while he passed away. If they do not float then the person was not breathing.” (Source)

Formaldehyde is all around us and apart from its use in the textiles industry, it is used as a disinfectant, in darkroom photography, as a foam insulator, fertilizer, and in wood products. I also found out that formaldehyde and sulfuric acid is used to create Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), also known as club drug, extacy, and formaldehyde is also used in drugs to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Formaldehyde is a finish that doesn’t make us work as hard (e.g. anti-wrinkle = less time ironing) but as with most blessings, there often lurks a curse.

Health problems

The thing about formaldehyde is that it is a chemical that is used liberally in manufacturing and there do not seem to be strong enforceable guidelines or rules on its use (though Japan seems to be the most compliant to standards). To some people, formaldehyde can be toxic. People prone to Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) are often affected by chemical treatments of fabrics, and are believed to be of a physiology weakened by overexposure to chemical toxins.

These people may experience conditions including dermatitis, headache, trouble concentrating, memory problems, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, dizziness, difficulty breathing, irregular heart beat, and seizures that range from mild to life-threatening.

ASEHA cited a study that found an incidence rate of 10% in men and 5% in women for formaldehyde allergy, and that more men cross-reacted to formaldehyde textile resins.

So if we can’t wash it out of our clothes and this nasty chemical is everywhere, what are we to do? The Organic Lifestyle site urges us to wear more natural fiber clothing that has been organically grown and manufactured like organic help, cotton, bamboo, and wools. The site believes that manufacturing phases are critical to producing healthy clothing, and without chemical finishes on our textiles, there may be a greater health in society in general.

The textile industry is well known to use heavy chemical treatments in production, and I for one am not too jazzed about this. However, with education comes understanding and change, and hopefully we’re moving toward clothing closer to the natural materials (the US is now developing low or non-formaldehyde finishes). Rome wasn’t built in a day, gents, so take baby steps and maybe over time we can get to a chemical-free closet. We have to start by asking for it.

Seasonal dressing

1 Sep

It’s September 1st and the bus is taking a turn down Autumn Avenue.  Toronto has had an excruciatingly hot summer this year and I for one welcome the change in season. It’s almost time to get out the woolens, add a blanket to the bed, put on a sweater in the evening, and pull on a pair of socks.

Canadians live through complex seasonal changes and our weather goes to extremes.  Canadians have seasonal wardrobes appropriate to each season, but some of us go to extremes in our dressing during transition seasons (spring, fall) – i.e. people who wear shorts on a “warm” day in March, flip-flops in November (if there isn’t any snow), or overdress in August because they’re longing for a change in temperature or perhaps a change in wardrobe. I’m not big on stripping down before the warm weather hits, but by the end of the summer, I am more than ready to change my light wardrobe to pieces more substantial and cozy.

The people who like to go to the extremes explained above and dress out-of-season look odd. At least they do to me. Why? 1) Wearing the bright colours of spring’s new growth in winter stands out and feels weird, and wearing winter’s dark, subdued colours that reflect the limited light feels weird to wear in the spring, and 2) the weight and fabric of their out-of-season garments are not suited to the temperatures – wearer will be too cold or too hot and they stand apart, but not in a particularly good way.

My goal today is to educate you gentlemen about seasonal dressing as we turn and face the fall this week, so that YOU don’t look odd.


A high energy spring/summer colour and a low-key fall/winter colour in my palette.

Let the colours of nature guide you through seasonal dressing. In the longer days of spring, bright colours are appropriate, mimicking the flowers, green grass, brightly coloured birds, and general freshness of the season. During the fall, we like to wear the mustards, browns, oranges, and rusts of the foliage around us and later, darker hues that echo the lack of light in winter. The design and retail industries understand this and cater to our need to feel comfortable in clothes suited for seasonal elements, and our desire to change with the seasons.

I’m warm and spring-coloured and find it hard to find good pieces in good colours during the winter, so during the dim season, I force myself to succumb to the darkness of my palette (cinnamons, navies, and candy colours like caramel and chocolate). Secretly though, I’m dying to trade in my brown mohair dress in for a hyacinth-coloured knitted wool dress, but I’ve never seen one. That’s because the clothing industry follows the seasonal colour changes; spring-coloured wool garments are hard to come by for the same reason you can’t find a turquoise sports jacket in winter. Perhaps because it’s natural or perhaps because we’ve been conditioned by the clothing industry to accept this colour practice, I know that even if I could find a hyacinth-coloured mohair dress, I would feel weird wearing it during the winter due to its brightness.

True spring colours are high-frequency, highly active colours that seem to take up a lot of space. A large piece like a dress in hyacinth would really stand out and practically vibrate in winter, but not in spring. Similarly, the often-seen sidewalk greys, blacks, and other drabs of winter look so hard to me in spring; without life and ill-matched to the environment. That’s why wearing out-of-season colours look odd to me. Take this chance to observe the people who try to pull this off and see what you think.


As with the colour cycle, fabrics change through the year. During the warmer months, we wear light fabrics that will keep us cool like cottons and linens, but during the fall and winter, we reach for richer, heavier fabrics to keep us dry and warm. With the exception of cruise wear that hits the racks early in the New Year, we won’t find lightweight cottons and absolutely no linens during the winter, because they just aren’t practical, as in, you’d freeze wearing them in the wrong season. Similarly, you would not find heavy woolen clothing in spring because that isn’t practical either. And you’d look weird. You might even feel weird too.

This gives Canadians two distinct wardrobes for our whole lives, and this can take up space and cost a lot of money, but sometimes we get a break. In this case, we’ve been blessed with animals who provide their hair so we can use their fleece to clothe ourselves and keep us warm. Wool is the most varied and versatile fibers on the planet and can be worn in all seasons  – yes! even summer.

Angora goats provide mohair wool.

Wool comes from sheep (Shetland, Merino), rabbits (Angora), goats (cashmere, mohair), camels, and llama-like alpacas, giving wool of different textures and differing degrees of warmth.

“The degree of thickness determines whether the finished fabric will be a fine dress material or a coarse floor covering,” says the Canadian Sheep Federation. The thickness of the fibers and the weave of the resulting fabric can produce extremely varied wools, some spun so fine that they might be mistook for cotton!

Important concepts in wool

There are some basics to understand when shopping for wool suits, trousers, coats, or jackets:

TWIST – Yarns are twisted to bind the fibers together and strengthen the yarn. With a tighter yarn twist, the harder-wearing the fabric, and the less likely to pill (rogue fibers that are not twisted into the yarn will tangle on the surface of the garment and create a pill, or a fuzzy ball). Also, the higher the twist, the higher the price – one must pay for quality, you know.

WORSTED – Worsted wool is made of even, equal length combed wool fibers that are spun into smooth, firmly twisted yarn or threads. Worsted wool is high quality and will often cost more than a carded wool due to the extra processes that give the yarns a high twist and a longer wearing garment.

WOOLEN – Wool that is carded, that is, worked though with instruments to smooth the fibers and clean vegetable matter from the fleece, varies in length and is looser, bulkier, and less regular than worsted wools. Soft garments like sweaters and other knits are made of carded wool.

Types of wool: worsted 

Wool gabardine featuring a twill weave.

Good suits and trousers are made of fine wools, often worsted, and some can be worn all year around (called all-weather wool). Suits made of all-weather wool are great investments because they’re so versatile (though I advise to keep a pair of long johns close by on cold winter days!).

GABARDINE is a fine worsted wool fabric with a twill weave, giving it a cross-wise raised texture. Wool Gabardine is a tightly woven fabric that is lightweight and often has a natural luster. Gabardine is strong, wears and drapes well, and resists wrinkling. A good wool choice for the spring and summer.

Examples of sharkskin fabric swatches.

SHARKSKIN is a smooth-textured fine wool worsted fabric with a high twist and a bit of a sheen, resembling the skin of a shark. It has a two-toned appearance because a white thread is woven with a coloured thread to produce this effect. Sharkskin is lightweight and hard-wearing. Another good wool choice for warm weather.

Types of wool: woolen

Harris Tweed in a heather-coloured herringbone pattern.

TWEED is an example of woolen fabric for gent’s coats, jackets, suits, trousers, waistcoats, and outer/sportswear. This rough, unfinished wool fabric is flexible and soft to the touch (but not meant to be worn next to the skin). Tweed is often woven into subdued “heather” colour blends, herringbone, houndstooth, or check patterns.

The most famous tweed is Harris Tweed, hand-spun and woven on the island of Harris, in the Scottish Isles. The cloth was created about 150 years ago by Harris islanders and to this day is spun and woven by hand, as far as I can make out.  Have a look at the Harris Tweed website and watch the short, charming video about the history of the fabric.

If you’ve taken this post to heart, you’ll understand the logic of seasonal dressing in terms of weight and colour:  generally, light-coloured, light weight fabrics for warm weather and dark-coloured, heavy fabrics for cool weather, with the exception of all-weather wool garments which can be worn any time. My advice is to check the weather daily and find the most comfortable and appropriate clothing for it.

PS – While I was publishing image inc., Canada’s first image quarterly for men, I did a textile series on natural fibers – you may find the wool issue of interest.

Your feet in summer

7 Jul

People seem to think that just because it’s hot outside, they have license to dress like a slob and slack off on grooming. Do you see ratty old t-shirts walking around in public? Have you ever had the misfortune of being downwind from someone who has slacked off on bathing? How about people who interpret “summer business casual” being the same thing as “cottage wear”?

Run on us, jump on us, but don't forget to clean us!

There are guys out there who wear sandals or flip-flops and whether unconsciously or perhaps out of spite, show off their filthy toes. We don’t want to see this and in fact, it’s a bone of contention with me. There is no reason not to have clean feet and this week, lads, we’ll discuss the state of your feet and how to make them not only nicer to look at, but nicer to live with. Allow me to pass on some easy and practical tips on keeping your feet neat, how to wear summer footwear, and how to tend to summer foot ailments.

Don’t be lazy – pay attention to your feet

I had a boyfriend once who never washed his feet. He insisted that the water and soap lather used to clean the top of his body was enough to clean his feet as it ran over them. The concept of cleaning in between his toes with lather was somehow preposterous, so he never did.

I’m not sure that I ever actually saw his feet; they were in beaten up Blundstones or wool socks most of the time, but if I had seen his feet, or the way I imagined his feet would have looked without cleaning between his toes for an extended period of time, I’m not sure that I could have lived with it – women are more sensitive to things like this, I find.

Anyway, the point is, please make an effort while you’re in the shower to bend over and clean the top and bottom of the whole foot, then clean between your toes, otherwise the infamous toe jam begins to collect. Toe jam, the ” grey-brown shit that accumulates between your toes. Primarily composed of dead skin cells, sock fluff and sweat.” (Urban Dictionary).

Dirty feet and the smell of dirty feet is not welcoming to anyone so please take the time to bathe and groom your feet, using the following tips to get you there:

A nail brush is an excellent grooming tool any time of year.

TIP #1: Go to the drugstore and buy a nail brush or a brush with a handle. Soap it up and give your feet a good going over  – the brush, soap, water, and friction, cleans your feet, cleans under your toenails, sloughs off dead skin cells on the surface of your feet, and it feels good! Lean against the wall, hold your foot up and do it standing up, or sit on the tub floor and reach to clean – mind, there may be some flexibility needed for this method.

TIP #2: Regularly trim your toenails with a toenail clipper – they’re wider than fingernail clippers and easier to handle.

TIP #3: Sand, yes, I said sand your heels to file down your callouses. Soak, smooth down the hard skin, and follow with a moisturizer. You could use a pumice stone or find a paddle with an actual piece of sandpaper on it – the Body Shop used to make these but they don’t seem to carry them anymore. Check the drugstore or specialty spas for items mentioned here.

TIP #4: A clean foot will not make a filthy flip-flop look better. Scrub both sides of your rubber or plastic flip-flops  (with your new nail brush if you want to) and get all of the crap out from the treads and surface texture. Do one at a time and compare – which one would you rather be seen in? Which one makes you feel better?

Summer socks 

Nothing looks more uncomfortable than a guy in shorts with mid-length calf socks on, especially if they’re dress socks. Different socks for different reasons, lads: dress socks are for dress wear (i.e. suits), and for summer, should be made of  cotton to keep the foot cool by wicking away perspiration.

Wearing ankle socks make fools look cool.

Athletic socks (usually white) are worn at the gym or with sporty clothes and convey a youthful, energetic message, but don’t really work with casual looks if you’re not wearing gym shoes, and this includes shorts.

So what kind of sock to wear with shorts and a casual shoe to avoid looking like a dork? Men’s shorty socks, of course, also known as ankle socks or low-rise socks. They really make a tremendously cool difference. Also, because you’ll only see a whisper of them outside of your shoe, it may not matter what colour they are = less to think about/easy.


With heat comes sweat. Each of our feet contain 250,000 sweat glands. Any kind of friction on moist skin will case discomfort, wear at the skin, and maybe cause a blister. These are terrible and painful and can get infected if we don’t keep them clean.

TIP #5: To keep your foot drier and reduce friction on the foot, sprinkle powder on your foot after the shower to better absorb moisture – i.e. baby powder or Gold Bond powder.

Be aware of your foot in new seasonal footwear and be mindful of pressure and anything rubbing on your foot – this is where blisters and corns are born. There are lots of ways to remedy chafe, pressure, and blisters (before they start) like adhesive bandages, blister pads, and moleskin.

Moleskin pads give comfort to blistered feet.

Moleskin? Not the real skin of moles of course, but a heavy, densely-woven cotton fabric that is sheared on one side to give a short pile, mimicking the skin of a mole. It is very durable and soft, used to make clothing (it’s windproof you know) or adhesive pads used inside of dance shoes or over blisters.

TIP #6: The moleskin is used much like an adhesive bandage roll, cut to the size you need and applied over the blister – good info here on this hiking website about how to prevent foot blisters.

Think of your foot as the state of your shoe – polished and well-kept, it reads respect – self and otherwise. I hope that makes your summer a little more comfortable and a little more stylish, fellas. Best wishes!

No need to sweat it

16 Jun

It’s June and the temperatures are rising. For some people, summer weather is something of a problem if they suffer from excess sweating, or Hyperhidrosis, which can have negative effects on their lifestyle in more ways than you might think. Not only can sweating affect a person’s self-confidence, it can be embarrassing, and it can ruin your clothes.

Humans need to sweat to keep the body at an even 37 degrees C through evaporative cooling. There are about 3 million sweat glands in the human body, located all over but concentrated in the back (64 glands /cm2), the forearm (108 glands/ cm2), and the forehead (181 glands/ cm2). The palms of the hands and the soles of the feet each contain from 600 to 700 glands / cm2 (source).

According to, an estimated 800,000 Canadians suffer from Hyperhidrosis, 60% of which are not brought to medical attention. The site estimates that 50% of Hyperhidrosis-affected people sweat excessively in their armpits. For some, this can be highly uncomfortable but there is hope!

Botox treatment

University of Toronto Academic Professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, Division of Facial Plastic Surgery, Dr. David Ellis, and I talked about Hyperhidrosis, men, and what men can do about excessive sweating of the armpits.

Dr. Ellis finds Botox to be an effective method of controlling underarm Hyperhidrosis and uses the product himself. Botox temporarily interferes with the bio-chemical reaction of producing sweat, keeping armpits dry between 9 months to 1 year. He says that the product takes a couple of weeks to kick in and has patients return after about a month to see if the injections worked in the area because “everyone’s sweat glands are a little different.”

The product is administered through a tiny needle into the underarm area (smaller than a blood-drawing needle), and larger men with a larger surface area may need more tiny pokes.

The only problem is, “Guys tend to be sucks,” as Dr. Ellis says, “Men are more scared of the initial consult, but once they have one armpit done, they see that it isn’t as bad as they thought. If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

I asked the doctor if men would still need to use deodorant if they’re using Botox for underarm sweating, and Dr. Ellis says that he does, though this just may be out of habit. According to Allergan, the company that produces Botox, women who use Botox in their underarm do not need to use deodorant as long as they wash daily. But a man isn’t a woman, and men generally sweat more than women do.

It is bacteria that produces the body odour smell and needs moisture to grow, so daily washing is necessary, though how many times a day would be a matter of experimentation with each individual. Also, as men don’t generally remove the hair from their underarms, I understand that hair traps the moisture which increases the likelihood of bacteria formation and the accompanying foul smell. For those of you so inclined, shaving or waxing under your arms is another way to help.

Dr. Ellis administers the Botox treatment for Hyperhidrosis to many professionals who work in close proximity to other people like teachers, dentists, and even sports players. Some insurance plans cover a good chunk of the Botox treatment to cover the cost of the injection technique but patients would cover the cost of the product themselves (about $400 – $500). For more information, please contact Dr. Ellis’ clinic, the Art of Facial Surgery.

Perspiration stains

While Dr. Ellis and I were chatting, he mentioned that before he used Botox, he would get yellow perspiration stains under his arms, specifically under the arms of his Brooks Brothers’ wrinkle-free shirt.

Perspiration stains are a problem for many people, especially those who choose to wear white dress shirts to work, and it often causes damage to the garment which sometimes just has to be trashed. It’s a crying shame and it isn’t necessary!

Let’s consider perspiration. Perspiration serves two purposes: to cool the body as it evaporates, and to remove waste products like ammonia and urea. Urea is a “nitrogen-containing substance normally cleared from the blood by the kidney into the urine. This is what makes some perspiration stains yellow – urea also makes urine yellow.”

Aha! Culprit #1!

Along with urea, there was another factor that I wanted to look into, the composition of Dr. Ellis’ shirt. I  looked at the wrinkle-free cotton shirts on the Brooks Brothers website and found them comprised of 100%  non-iron cotton, and here we have located our second culprit.

100% cotton or not, “non-iron” anything is not natural. To achieve a “wrinkle-free” textile, the cotton is treated with a chemical finish that may be convenient, but is not necessarily a good thing. The chemicals used in the finish may be a part of the reason that the shirt stained – synthetic elements tend to “hang on” to stains (and sometimes smells – who of you 70s children remember your stinky unbreathable polyester shirts?).

The J. Simon Shirtmaker site explains that “non-iron” garments decrease the quality and the life cycle of the shirt, and that the chemicals in the “wrinkle-free” treatment may actually be harmful to us  (one of these days I’ll write a blog explaining what the shirt you are wearing goes through before it climbs onto your back – you’ll be amazed).

J. Simon, that happens to be a supplier to Brooks Brothers, says, “The truth is, the word “genius” is used too often. What is “genius” is that wrinkle-free has proven to be a great marketing hook that many are using. But for the customer that really appreciates 100% cotton, it doesn’t deliver. Next time, buy a classic cotton shirt, deal with the ironing, and leave the wrinkle-free for the sale racks.”

Treating perspiration stains

So now we know why Dr. Ellis’ shirt stained, but what can the good doctor do about it?  I reached for my trusty Fabric Reference text book to find out:

Option 1: Work undiluted liquid detergent into the stain to penetrate. I suggest that it might be even better if the garment is damp when you apply the detergent. I found an excellent site that suggests to lay the garment out in the sun after you’ve worked in the soap and leave it out for an afternoon.

Option 2: Wash with an enzyme pre-soak or enzyme detergent (a detergent to break down starch, protein, and fat).

Option 3: Wash in water as hot as is safe for that garment. 

I found other good information online about preventing and treating perspiration stains, from lemon juice to baking powder (also good for ring-around-the-collar).  Though I don’t usually give much weight to information found on random online forums, I did find this Yahoo! Answers to perspiration stains fairly good.

Alternatives to Botox and stain-removal

1. Dress shields

Wonderful, discreet, shirt-saving ovals that you will wonder how you lived without. We used to pin these into the armholes of costumes in Theatre school for the comfort of the warm actors under the hot lights and to save the costumes. Dress shields can easily be made from unbleached cotton muslin and pinned in the sleeve seam with safety pins, hand-washed, and reused over and over.

Dress shields can also be ordered online. Avardi does fantastic adhesive dress shields and other garment-saving underthings like t-shirts with built-in dress shields (wonderful for the winter) and collar protectors (“White Collar Grime” collar strips – love it).

2. Natural alternatives

Along with mentioning dress shields (they call them “sweat pads”), this site explains some natural ways to deal with sweating.

3.  Stop sweating and start living

In my online travels, I came across an e-book with a 100% money-back guarantee that promises “All-natural techniques for fast & safe relief from excessive perspiration!” The testimonials rave about the process. “The Stop Sweating and Start Living remedy is a practical and unique treatment that permanently gets rid of your underarm sweat problem – naturally and without side effects,” it promises.

The site explains that Hyperhidrosis can “drain your self-esteem, kill your self-confidence, and cause you to waste time and energy worrying about your problem.” Notes on the site mention people wearing baggy black clothing to hide their wetness (works for hefty types too – I hid in baggy black clothing when I was 30 lbs overweight and I know that dressing this way does NOTHING for the soul nor the self-esteem).

It’s sad that something so natural can weigh so heavily on our day-to-day living, but thank goodness we’re moving farther away from afflictions that threaten to topple our confidence. It’s nice to have a choice of treatment from natural relief to periodic injections that can get a handle on the sweat and help us get on with it. Whew!

Tyvek, a decades-old textile you’ve never heard of

2 Jun

I took a stroll along Danforth Avenue last week and popped into a cute little gift shop to buy the leopard print umbrella in the window. As I wandered around the store, I spied an extremely cool men’s accessory that prompted this week’s post. Gents, this week I bring you tales of an old, largely unknown textile that has many uses,  a little number called Tyvek.

What the feck is Tyvek?

Look for “Tyvek” on the white sheet surrounding buildings under construction.

Tyvek is a durable, lightweight synthetic textile created by DuPont in 1955. It is a highly breathable, water-resistant material made of high-density polyethylene fibres that water vapor can pass through. It’s a material that may sound foreign to you, but I’m willing to bet you’ve already experienced it in some form or another.

Tyvek is used for products like courier and mailing envelopes, car covers, protective clothing, labels, wristbands, graphics, packaging, and house wrap, used in construction as “a weather-resistant barrier… [to] combat water, moisture and air infiltration that are any structure’s worst enemies. Allowed to penetrate behind siding, wind-driven rain and moisture can saturate walls, creating a breeding ground for mould, mildew and wood rot. The properties of DuPont™ Tyvek® do not support the growth of mould or mildew” (from the DuPont website).

How Tyvek is like felted wool

Polyethylene fibres of Tyvek

I reckon that Tyvek is the chemical alternative to felt in that it is made in a similar way. Felt is made of wool fibres compressed with heat, steam, and pressure and made into a usable textile. Similarly, Tyvek is made by the same process but with polyethylene fibres. To bring the fibres to a near-inpenetratable bond, Tyvek is created through a process called Spunbonding – polyethylene  filament is extruded through a spinneret, then heat is applied to fuse the fibres together. Neither felt nor Tyvek is woven – felted wool is not very strong and can be pulled apart, but Tyvek cannot be ripped or torn – it is virtually indestructible unless you take a blade to it.

Can you recycle it?

I certainly hope so. It’s made of petrochemicals and it will be around longer than I will be so I think it’s a good idea to be able to deal with it responsibly. I started looking around and the information I found on the web complained of recycling with DuPont only if you were hip to shelling out for postage, but these sites are a few years old and the DuPont website insists that users can order their Waste Management Recycle Kit that comes with a prepaid return envelope.

Sounds great, but you have to pay $15 to order the kit. If you’re a conscious consumer and like to take environmental responsibility for products you use, you just might order the kit because $15 won’t break the bank and you can send back up to 250 square feet of Tyvek products – a good move for busy offices. Interested? Find out about the DuPont kit here.

Wearing Tyvek

Tyvek can also be made into clothing. Tyvek is used for protective clothing for people who might work with hazardous materials and chemicals, but did you know that those thin, blue hospital  shoe coverings are also made of Tyvek?

During the 80s, people gave Tyvek clothing a go, but it didn’t really pan out: somewhere around 1987 or 88, I was working in the Eaton’s casual menswear department at the same time the Beach Boys were making a comeback of some sort. One summer day while unpacking the stock for the Regina SK store as selected by Toronto ON buyers,  I pulled out six blue bomber-style jackets with ribbed cuffs and waistbands out of Tyvek with Beach Boys graphics all over them. Hard on the eyes and in a foreign, soft papery-plastic material that just felt plain weird, these jackets didn’t go over very well and I think I remember almost having to give those suckers away at the end of the season clearance.

I think Tyvek has to find the right people and the right people have to find Tyvek. In the late 1970s, this age of plastic material found its soul mate. New Wave syth-geek band, Devo, moved on stage like robots in their notorious two piece Tyvek suits topped by those kooky, stepped red hats. No one else could have pulled it off.

(For anyone interested, I found a concert video of Pearl Jam performing Whip It in full-on Devo costume!)

A super cool Tyvek accessory 

Devo immortalized in a Tyvek Dynomighty wallet

What caught my attention in the store were the most fun, lightweight, indestructible, $15 hipster wallets made of Tyvek by Dynomighty. These wallets have no glue or thread to hold them together – they’re folded. And they expand to cater to all of the crap that you know you’re going to stuff in there and you can keep on cramming because the textile won’t rip. Bonus!

You’ll have a hard time choosing a favourite with so many graphics available – will it be the map of the London Underground? The Campbell’s soup cans? The U.S.S. Enterprise? The sheet music? Or the Fonz? If you’re in Toronto, you can find Dynomighty wallets live an in person at Drysdale & Co. on the south side of Danforth and Broadview or online and global at

Another cool feature of the Dynomighty wallet is that it is recyclable, or at least that’s what their product videos say. This is a great website that discusses the wallets from a responsible ecological point of view and features the Dynomighty wallet video for your information.