Want to keep cool? Wear more clothes

I know, I know, it’s counterintuitive, but as summer pays its annual, six-month visit to the South, it’s important to know how to dress for success.

White T-shirt collar
Showing a little white collar under a polo isn’t a sign of fashion clumsiness. It’s about keeping cool.

In an era when underclothes are getting way too much exposure for my taste, one example that is not only appropriate but expedient is men’s undershirts. In the South, it is not unusual to see the neck of a white, crew undershirt under a polo or golf shirt. It’s a secret Southern men have learned as they adapted to their humid environment.

First, let’s deal with the science. This may gross you out, but your body is secreting oils and fluids all the time. This stuff is what creates body odor and unsightly stains on your clothing, particularly the arm pits. You can avoid this mess showing up on your clothes by wearing an undershirt.

Among those aforementioned fluids is sweat. Southern summers induce sweating the way the smell of bacon induces salivating. No amount of antiperspirant can keep sweat from soaking your clothes. You need a barrier between your skin and your shirt. An undershirt not only traps moisture preventing it from soaking your outer clothes, it wicks the moisture away from your skin allowing evaporative cooling to take place. Hence, the title of today’s entry: stay cool by wearing more clothes.

Internet forums devoted to men’s fashion are divided on the topic, but as a long-time undershirt wearer, I can attest to the validity of the wicking and cooling properties of a T-shirt.

I routinely wore undershirts with my Sunday clothes as a kid and teenager, but it wasn’t until I got to college that I began wearing them under everyday casual wear. Attending school in Troy, Ala., I was exposed to what I thought at the time were pretty arcane fashion choices, one of which was undershirts with collared, knit pull-overs. In fact, I called it the “Troy Boy Look.” It consisted of a polo with white crew-neck undershirt showing through at the top, jeans, khakis or even khaki shorts with white socks and buck oxford shoes. Sounds real sporty, don’t it?

I mocked it for a while before eventually assimiliating, mostly because of an Alabama girl who gave me wardrobe “suggestions.”

While I don’t wear white socks and bucks anymore, I have kept the undershirt as all-occasion wear. It has absorbed the sweat trickling down my back at a sweltering September day game at Sanford Stadium. It has provided an extra layer of insulation when a cool breeze kicked up during a round of golf (although I can’t remember the last time I played and couldn’t find my clubs with a map.) And I always wear them under my dress shirts as any self-respecting man should.

So while everyone else in society today is showing off their underwear distastefully, I think it’s OK for a little white to be visible at the collar of a polo. I have learned that fashion sometimes gives way to practicality, and with this particular style, cultural adaptation results from prevalence.

undershirt
It’s more than a fashion statement, it’s a sign of intelligence.

I’ll admit this style is headed in a weird direction. I recently discovered that Spanx, a company that makes women’s “controlling undergarments,” has moved into the market of men’s “compression undershirts.” No, I’m not talking about athletic compression wear that shows off rippling muscles and aids in athletic performance. The new “compression undershirts” by Spanx are essentially girdles for men. I can’t vouch for their effectiveness at “holding everything in,” but they do give you the same effect of showing a little white T-shirt at your collar.

Anyone not living in the South may be a bit confused by this week’s post, but I assure you, this is an issue confronting Southern men every day. And if you want to look and smell your best during the summer, you’ll proceed to the closest Wal-Mart and get yourself a pack of Hanes crewneck undershirts.

If they’re good enough for Michael Jordan, they’re good enough for me.

What’s your take on men’s undershirts? Do they really keep you cooler or is it psychosomatic? Do you find it tacky to see a man’s undershirt at the collar of his polo? Leave a comment below to help guide the fashion impaired on this Southern style.

No matter how far away we roam

I’ll be home for after Christmas.

We’re at T-minus two days and counting until the big day. Soon, Carla’s parents will be arriving and we’ll being going to Christmas Eve services at church. The surprise and joy of Christmas morning will give way to the irritability and arguing of sleep-deprived children.

Cognitively, I know that Christmas isn’t for me. It’s for the kids. Emotionally, though, I need to have a connection with my past before I can truly feel I’ve celebrated Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong, Christmas with my wife and children in our own home is special. I treasure the traditions we are developing and enjoy building life-long memories with our boys. But for me to feel like I’ve had Christmas requires a trip to my parents’ house in Central Florida.

Since I left for Troy University in 1988, I’ve been making a pilgrimage to Lake Wales some time during the holidays. The 502-miles of pavement allow my mind to travel through time to revisit memories of previous Christmases.

Michael Jordan cardboard stand up with Lee and Lance
Lee and I measure up with Mike, circa 1994.

Like the time I gave my brother, Lee, the life-size cardboard standup Michael Jordan for Christmas. All our Christmas pictures that year had Mike wearing a Santa hat in the background.

Or the year my youngest brother Lyle ate too many helpings of Lee’s famous barbecue meatballs during an all-night Madden football video game tournament. He has since sworn off meatballs.

Like Christmas itself, now that I have kids of my own, the trips to Florida have taken on a different meaning. My children look forward to these vacations because they get to spend time with grandparents they don’t often see, and, yes, they get even more presents.

My dad’s unpredictability adds to the excitement. One year he took the boys and their cousins for a night-time hay ride through the orange groves. Not a year goes by that he doesn’t introduce them to such classic songs as “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?” and “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd.”

Paw Paw takes the grandkids on a hay ride
Paw Paw's lawn tractor and trailer entertains the grandkids with a Christmas hayride in 2009.

So like so many snowbirds over the next several weeks, we’ll load up the minivan and head down I-75. If you have to drive home for Christmas, Central Florida isn’t a bad destination. At the risk of sounding like a member of the Florida Tourism board, this is really the best time of year to visit. It’s in that narrow window of about two months when the weather isn’t unbearably hot and humid. With temperatures in the 60s and 70s, we will be packing shorts and T-shirts, ready to enjoy outdoor play in my parents’ expansive yard or at one of the nearby parks.

Central Florida also just happens to be home to a number of theme parks. This year we’ll be trying out the new Legoland Florida, which opened this fall a convenient 20 minutes up the road from my parents’ house.

There is no place like home for the holidays, even for grown ups. I look forward to making more memories with my family even while reminiscing about a few that happened before I had one of my own.

Now I’ve got to go find my shorts to pack.

It’s your turn! Where do you travel for the holidays? Do you take family vacations or do you travel great distances to see family? Are you separated from family by geography and miss out and seeing family members? Leave a comment below on how you cope with holiday travel.