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.