Keepin’ It All Cool

We got a nice email from our superiors the other day instructing us on how to conduct ourselves during hot weather. Okay, mainly it was all about not wasting a lot of electricity so we don’t crash our power system like Toronto did. Because then all us important government workers wouldn’t be able to do our important government work. And then the country would grind to a halt.

Anyway, after all that stuff, and apropos to nothing at all, the memo said:

Wear clothes that are comfortable and adapted to your work area.


None of us could figure out exactly what that meant. Some suggested this was a subtle way of telling us that beachwear is not acceptable work attire. But we haven’t seen anyone in the office in beachwear this summer, since we have no summer students this year.

Others suggested that it meant that, instead of complaining when the air-conditioning is too cold, we should bring sweaters and/or instead of complaining that the air-conditioning wasn’t high enough we should stop wearing 3-piece suits to the office in the summer. Most of us were just flummoxed. (Ya, you heard me, I said “flummoxed”)

In any case, there is obviously something seriously wrong with the way we’ve been dressing during this heat wave since management has broken all records in getting this memo out so quickly. Normally, we don’t get memos until at least 6 months after whatever it is they think we need to know,  is already over.

It  usually takes that long since important memos like this need to be vetted by all senior staff, all branch executives, all departmental executives and all corporate communications personnel. Then they need to be translated into all of Canada’s official and unofficial languages and dialects. Then they need to be signed off by all the executives and managers and communications “experts.” (I put that in quotation marks because there’s always at least one typo or grammatical error per paragraph in all our memos).

But getting back to the clothing problem. I decided to take it upon myself to investigate – not just around the office, no sir. I took on all of Ottawa in order to get to the bottom of this “adaptable clothing” investigation. 

You’re probably wondering what I found out, right? Okay. While I couldn’t really find anything wrong in our office with how well-adapted people’s clothing is to their work area,  I did discover that people in Ottawa generally do seem to be having a lot of trouble adapting their wardrobes to the current smoldering climate.

To me, the only really suitable thing to wear on days when the temperatures and humidity reach into the mid 40s (110ish American) is a light, loose, flowing, natural fiber muumuu thingy – knee length; preferably sleeveless; and preferably wet.  There shouldn’t be any fabric around my armpits or neck area and I want it loose enough for air to circulate under there. Ideally, it should be constructed in such a way that no undergarments are required.

I don’t actually own anything like that.  Neither does anyone else as far as I can tell. Frankly, I don’t actually anything like that exists, more’s the pity. But it should exist if we’re meant to survive this sort of weather. And it should be unisex, so everybody can be  loose and cool.

Meanwhile, people are doing their best to hobble together what they consider to be hot-weather garments. Some have succeeded. Others are failing miserably. Here’s where most of them are going wrong:

Shorts & Tank Tops: These are the second worst thing you could wear right after jeans and a hooded fleece(which I’ve actually seen someone wear this week). Or a leather jacket (which the guy from the Smoochy Couple  is still friggin’ wearing! And then he puts his hot leathery arm around his woman who is appropriately attired in a cotton sundress. I’d be having some screaming meamies if I were her. Obviously, she’s not as nervy as I am or as repulsed by hot leather on her naked skin.) Anyway, aside from that crazy stuff, shorts aren’t great because don’t allow for airflow around the body’s important “hot zones”. If the hot zones aren’t cool; you’re not cool. Tank tops are no good because they generally require foundation garments and then cling to those garments and cling to your sweaty body which feels icky. Your body’s other hot zones – over the heart –  are doubly encased in tight, constrictive clothing. It’s making me squirm just to think about it. Is there anything less comfortable in sweltery weather than a brassiere? I’d say not.

Anything Polyester/Spandex: Polyester and spandex are great for cold days because they wick up body moisture and tuck it somewhere far away from your body (no on knows where), leaving you nice and dry and warm. You don’t want that on hot days. First because polyester/spandex that’s been soaked in perspiration, will never ever smell fresh again — no matter how many times you wash it. Second, because it’s preferable to have light cotton, linen or some other natural fiber blotting your sweat (not tucking it away somewhere mysterious). Because then your garment hangs all moist around your body where it will cool in the air. That’s kind of the point of sweat.

Skanky Underwear: With the light, skimpy clothing you’re wearing it’s pretty much unavoidable that a bra strap is going to show or slip down your arm. Or maybe your bra isn’t completely covered in the back by your snazzy sun top. And your short skirt or dress will inevitably expose your panties at some point when you’re sitting and airing your damp-chaffened thighs. So, please invest in some new underwear. Grey, dingy, saggy undergarments are best kept for under thick woolen trousers and sweaters in the winter. I’ve been seeing some lovely, lovely women in the last week with beautiful, beautiful clothing. Then they flash undies and bras that are so unsightly they are good for nothing except selling to perverts on e-Bay.

Nearly Naked: I’ve been seeing waaay too much of that during the heat wave. Sure there are some people who look great with almost nothing on; but not many. Not many at all, really. Also, exposing all that flesh on a hot sunny day will give you some serious sunburn or sun-poisoning in a short time and that shuts down or at least hampers your body’s natural cooling system and sucks all the fluids out of your body. None of that will make you feel, or indeed,  look cool.

Metal Jewelry: If you’ve worn your metal bracelets, necklaces, earrings and other piercing things on a really hot day and spent more than 20 minutes outside in the sun you’ll know why these are not a good idea. Go to a beach tomorrow and watch as the multipley-pierced discover this.

Anything Scented: Because your profuse sweating, mixed with the oils in your heady perfume, hairspray, body lotion, etc. will magnify the scent by about a million. People near you who are already on the verge of collapse and/or nausea from the heat, don’t need to be pushed over the edge by some overpowering stench. No offense. I’m sure it’s quite lovely in the winter.

Curtains: While the elderly woman I saw the other day, wrapped up in white sheer curtains (held together with a grey belt that totally did not match) was very inventive, she should probably have removed those little weights in the hem first. Also, a slip or perhaps an extra curtain strategically placed, would have been a good idea.

30 responses to “Keepin’ It All Cool

  1. Curtains-seriously?
    Poor dear!
    Maybe she planned to open up to someone. Perhaps she was weighed down with troubles and wanted to shed a little light on her problems;o)

  2. 1-I so wish you had a picture of the curtain lady.
    2-There’s nothing like an ambiguous corporate memo to make one wonder how the top brass got all those collective college degrees.
    And 3-After hearing my complaints these however many years, you are actually experiencing my normal summer heat (and oddly, we’ve been below normal). So now you at least know what the hell I was grousing about all this time.

  3. A curtain dress makes me think she recently watched the Sound of Music. Darn, I must have missed it.
    Last night we were out with a group of friends. Everyone was telling stories about wardrobe insanity at work. The curtain lady would have been a good one to share. Seems the memo you received should circulate all over the city.

  4. We had one of those memos quite a few years back. Since the plant I worked at was mostly guys and the memo was for those in the offices, it meant going from dress shirts and ties to “business casual” which basically meant any kind of shirt with a collar.

    Somehow, the memo telling us to go back to dress shirts and ties never came out. After a few years, I threw all of my ties away,

  5. I own such a mumu. The Man brought it back from Australia. He insists that it’s what they wear down there when it’s hot. I told him, leaving me for three weeks for a business trip to a Australia and bringing back a mumu was like asking for castration. He decided to go and buy me a new iPod. (They were new at the time.)

  6. You get announcements at work like that too, huh?

    Ours include tips on how to avoid heat stress. Tips on how to dress for the cold. (Wear mittens and a hat).

    How to avoid the sun. How to BBQ safely. How to avoid stress and fatigue. How to camp safely.

    How to cook safely for Thanksgiving (cook your turkey, don’t put the pots near the front of the stove where they can be knocked over)

    How to eat healthy during the holidays and not overindulge. (Stay away from greasy foods and drink more water and eat more veggies).

    At the start of every weekly meeting, announce where the fire exits are located (regardless if it’s the same people who work in the building every day)

    Oh, yeah. Don’t forget the monthly tips on how NOT to slip and fall on the ice in the winter. We had a consultant come in once and give us a 30-minute seminar!

    (Um…Don’t wear high-heels in January, grab the railings when you go down stairs, scrap the snow off the bottom of your boots when you leave the car…etc).

    I wish I was making this stuff up, but I’m not.

    Welcome to the Nanny State.

  7. We got a similar memo early in the season which was, amazingly, titled “Optional Summer Attire”. What they actually seemed to be getting at is that dress codes are relaxed in the warmer months, but instead they ended up making it sound like attire was completely optional.

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  9. He was wearing the jacket again this morning. They were arguing loudly.
    I gave up the whole clothes “thing” and went au natural today… needed a LOT of sunscreen though…

  10. Jay – Har har har. I see the heat is getting to you, too!!

    Geewits – As I mentioned in my post the other day, I grew up with summers that were usually hot and sweltery, so it’s not completely new to me. It HAS been a while though since I’ve lived in temperatures like this for such an extended (relentless) period of time. I don’t mind the heat so much now that I’m older, though I must admit I’m looking forward to a break from the humidity later today (at least that’s what they’re promising). I wish I had a picture of the curtain lady too. Alas I still don’t have those camera sunglasses so I can take inconspicuous photographs.

    MM – Do share your wardrobe insanity stories?? Please?? The curtain lady wasn’t as resourceful as Maria VonTrapp. At least Maria made actual dresses out of the material. This woman just wrapped herself up in sheers.

    Mike – That’s interesting – they actually wanted you to dress down? How bizarre. I wonder why?

    Nat – I’ll take that muumuu if you’re not going to wear it!! At least for around the house. Those Aussies are not so dumb.

    Friar – Ha ha. They don’t usually go quite that far, but we do get memos and lectures on some of that stuff. The fire exits and washrooms are a big one at the start of any workshop or larger meeting. Also the instructions on how to enjoy ourselves over the Christmas holidays. That one always kills me. (Take some time out to relax with loved ones, blah, blah… — really? I was going to use the holidays to stress out over work and then stick my head in the oven along with the tofurkey)

    Jennifer – Har har har – I’ve always lobbied for a clothing-optional office environment. I reckon those uppity managerial types would have trouble perching on their high horse if they were buck-nekkid.

    Trashee – You were on the bus with them this morning? Nekkid? It’s probably good that I caught the early bus then. What were the Smoochies arguing about? His sweaty leather arm? Seriously – is he crazy or what? Who wears a leather jacket on a day like this?

  11. I’ve seen a bunch of guys strolling around topless downtown.They were in shape and proudly showing off their muscles, but to me, walking around topless (unless you’re at a beach) looks trashy!

  12. gotta love ambiguous HQ memos. The curtain lady could argue her case after a memo like that.

    Also, I remember thinking when I was a teenager: Clothes and swim suits can’t get any smaller. There’s no where to go. I’ll NEVER have to be the adult who thinks clothes are too small. Boy was that naive.

  13. Ideally, it should be constructed in such a way that no undergarments are required.

    I used to have a dress like that. It was basically a triangle of fabric with a cord strung through the top. ‘Twas an ugly thing (it hearkened back to the early 80s, in the era of horrible fashion), but damn was it comfortable.

    Though I wouldn’t be caught dead outside the house in it, I still regret throwing it away. It was the perfect garment for this weather. I’d have to find a dressmaker to make me another one.

  14. I used to work in an office like setting and the selection of really light clothing (as opposed to wool suits) was encouraged.
    Then I went on to work for a European company.

  15. Appropriate dress for work always amuses me.
    As a manager my appropriate outfit was a suit.
    Women managers could wear whatever they wanted to. And they did.

    I did question it one day at a meeting but the look of shock on my fellow managers faces was enough to make me realize that some things are not to be questioned..

  16. i live in government land too, but have yet to receive the clothing memo. probably stuck in the bottle neck of communications at the moment.

    i had a such a mummu type dress. i bought it at woodstock (the 25th anniversary one with the rain and the tipped over port-o-potties and the mud/shit – good times). it actually made it all the way to the closet of my current house. i finally tossed it last year. man i wish i hadn’t.

  17. Pauline – I always thought that showed a real lack of class, too – guys walking around the city topless or in undershirts – I don’t care how buff they are.

    LoLa – Ha ha – Just to clarify, the curtain lady isn’t in our office. I saw her at one of the bus stations.

    Jazz – Never throw away anything that comfortable, no matter how ugly.

    Lebowski – Snurffff.

    Dr. Monkey – Why wait?

    Glen – Women have a million more options for clothing anyway. You guys have suits, slacks and sports shirts, jeans and t-shirts or shorts and tank tops. Would they have balked if you’d worn dress pants and a golf-style shirt to work? That seems fair if women could show up in pretty much anything.

    Smothermother – That was just a departmental memo. I’m sure your department will have to come up with one of their own once they find out other departments are doing it. Didn’t the original Woodstock have rain and tipped over port-o-potties, too?

  18. I live in light cotton greek fisherman pants and tank tops in this weather. If I was in an office environment I’d wear linen dresses two sizes too big to approximate your dream beat the heat outfit.

    About the bus couple…the more I hear the more convinced I am that he must be on the autism spectrum. My ex had to be coaxed out of his long johns in this kind of weather. He was insanely attached to them.

  19. “they actually wanted you to dress down? How bizarre. I wonder why?”

    Part of it, I think, was that it was more comfortable in the power plant during the heat of the southern summer. I think the bosses wanted to dress down, too. That might have been the summer that the VP who was a stickler about dress got promoted to a new job somewhere else.

  20. Every time I get an email like that at work, I respond directly to the sender, saying something like, “If you let me forward my telephone to my home number, I can work from there more effectively than I can from here – it is cooler in summer and warmer in winter, I have better office equipment than what you have issued me, my connection to your network via the VPN is faster than my on-site network connection, and I don’t have people bothering me all the time for mundane things or water cooler chat. As well, since I am no longer on company property, I am not considered a liability for insurance purposes, which will reduce your overhead substantially, and you will no longer have to secure a space for me, nor heat and cool it. Due to the ‘miracle’ of modern technology, I can communicate via video chat securely with my colleagues anywhere on the planet, any time of day, at a cost that is much lower than the solutions the company has implemented. Finally, as I will no longer be commuting via automobile, we are doing the planet a favour by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

    Do you think I’ve ever received a positive response to a message like this?

    Since the management where I work seems to be moving towards pure Taylorism… well, you know what the answer would be, right?

    (It doesn’t matter whether I actually *do* anything while I am chained to my desk. As long as I am physically present for 7.5 hours a day, all is well in the universe according to the powers that be where I work. Never mind that I could probably accomplish more at home in about 90 minutes than I do all day long at work…)

  21. @ Brett. You still don’t seem to understand how this works. There is actually nothing to be accomplished or completed other than allowing the manager in question to explain how many people he manages to justify his salary. Repeat as necessary to the top of the food chain. allowing you to stay home makes this counting very difficult and is much more dangerous than not actually getting anything done.
    What you should do is show up to work in the track pants and pajama top yuo could wear at home. Then they might seriously consider your request.

  22. @dave1949,

    (At the risk of writing a TMI / too much information post)

    That’s a great idea, you know. I sleep buck-naked, so if I wear my “pajamas” to work, they might listen to me.

    To increase my chances for success, I could cook and eat a really large pot of garlic chili two days beforehand, and leave the air conditioning off so as to really work up a sweat at night.

    Of course, I wouldn’t be allowed back in the house, either!

  23. Pearl – Good for you. You may ignore the memo.

    Mudmama – I guess that would explain it because I can see no other reason on earth why someone would wear a black leather jacket when it’s 100 degrees out.

    Raino – Good question.

    Mike – It’s still funny that they had to tell people to dress down. That’s usually not a problem.

    Brett – Well, in my workplace, as long as you’re being paid/working for the organization – no matter where you are (at home, away at a meeting or conference or training or whatever), you are insured by them and they have to pay workman’s comp or whatever if you are injured. That’s why we have to fill out leave forms and travel forms and stuff. And if we’re working at home they even have an obligation to ensure that your home workspace is ergonomically correct as much as they would if you’re in the office. I can’t see how that could be any different in your workplace. But I do agree, with the right steps taken, people should be allowed to work from home. It makes a lot of sense and is being done by millions all over the world.

    Dave1949 – You obviously didn’t get the memo about dressing right for your work area.

  24. @XUP,

    That is most likely true for my workplace as well.

    When I joined my current workgroup in early 2008, due to the usual internal scheduling mix-ups, I arrived to an office with no furniture.

    I literally had to scrounge for a desk and chair from the surplus pile at the back of the building – stuff that had been thrown out because it was deemed unusable.

    I sat on a partially broken chair at a round meeting table for three months, until finally I had to submit an injury report for soreness in my arms and shoulders. I am not usually the type to get this kind of injury, either – I am pretty fit.

    Once OSH got involved, they jumped into action and my furniture arrived about two weeks later.

    Meanwhile… I have a $400 ergonomic office chair at home, a properly elevated desk, high quality mouse & keyboard & large LCD panel – much larger than what work ever provided to me.

    But I was not allowed to work at home.

    Last winter, the temperature was 10 degrees C in my office for about two weeks because the heat in the building was broken.

    Gotta love working for the (pseudo-)government.

    So if they want to come into my house and do an ergonomic assessment, I will be happy to oblige. Though I expect that it will be delayed by six months due to improperly completed paperwork.


  25. I dream of a heatwave. If the sun is out and I go and change into shorts or mention the word “barbecue” it angers the gods.

    Who’d live in Scotland, eh? Still I would interpret that letter as giving you all carte blanche to wear whatever outfit you could justify as suiting your personal conditions. I’d go dressed as a cowgirl for sure.

  26. Brett – Can’t you do up a business case for telecommuting? People like that understand business cases.

    MisssyM – Scotland weather sounds just like Nova Scotia — I guess that’s where they got the name. Also, I think a cowgirl outfit would be really warm with those big boots and the hat and the long sleeved checked shirt and all. I may just go for the muumuu.