My father gave me a good bit of advice before the onset of the cold weather. “Son,” he told me, “get yourself a pair of thermal underwear.” His business demands a lot of time spent outdoors, which generally isn’t a problem in the summer, as long as one looks out for dehydration, but the winter gets uncomfortable quickly. Layering clothes helps quite a bit to stay warm, but I cringed at the thought of wearing thermal underwear.
Russell’s Law of Thermal Dynamics #1: Clothing that grandmothers want you to wear are lame, nerdy, uncomfortable clothes.
My grandmother always told me to wear thermal underwear, t-shirts under my t-shirts, scarves, gloves, knit hats, and heavy winter jackets as soon as the temperature fell below 62° (16° C for my Canadian friends). Grandma liked button-down shirts with starchy collars, ties, shoes instead of sneakers, non-tube socks; although she’d buy me a bunch of tube socks every birthday for the upcoming school season. In short, when I was 5 until, let’s say, 27, I hated all of the clothing that my grandmother would have liked to see me in. But then something happened.
Russell’s Law of Thermal Dynamics #2: When you can buy your own lame, nerdy clothes, at least you can make sure they’re comfortable.
Correlation to Law #2: Grandparents buy uncomfortable clothes for their grandkids.
What happened was I got a job that required “business casual” attire. Despite my insistence that blue jeans and a relatively clean Pink Floyd t-shirt qualified, the dress code required the expansion of my wardrobe into old, undisturbed realms that I had not visited since my Confirmation. I had to wear ties and Oxford shirts and something called Dockers and shoes that had no swish nor rhymed with “bok.” I quickly discovered that spending just a little more money for these dreadful clothes afforded me comfort when I wore them. I swear, the first time I wore dress shoes that didn’t make my toes feel like they were being crushed, I thought the whole square-toed, stiff-shoed experiences from my childhood were some kind of ritualistic foot-binding that my relatives thought could bring in more money for my dowry. Not only were the shoes I was wearing comfortable, but, as I began to pay attention to my sneaker-clad peers, they were actually pretty good looking.
Russell’s Law of Thermal Dynamics #3: Man makes the clothing. You look as cool as you are willing to spend, in money and time.
Pretty much overnight my entire outlook towards clothing changed. T-shirts under dress shirts made sense, because the t-shirt was softer and prevented chaffing of the sensitive parts of a man’s chest. Boxers were so much better than briefs, because, well, let me just assure you that the binding feeling I got with those childhood shoes had nothing on the binding feeling that jockey’s give me. Dress socks were another genuine surprise. The thin elastic ones that you can see through were big hits a couple of generations ago, and, as noted, are purchased exclusively now to punish grandkids. But there are thick, cushiony socks in every imaginable earth-tone, and they look better in those comfy dress shoes, too. Nothing screams “I live with my mother” more than a grown man in Dockers, loafers, and tube socks. I learned to coordinate and accessorize. Ties still bothered me, and will forever. I can’t tie them correctly, and no matter what the knot or fabric, ties are meant to be noosed around the throat without a gap between the collar and the tie knot. I did buy ties that looked good, but I have never appreciated them like I have the socks, shoes, belts, etc.
Russell’s Law of Thermal Dynamics #4: What comes around goes around. Soon you too will wear what your grandmother wanted you to.
But winter clothes were still stuck in my mind as things for four year-olds. So when my father suggested thermal underwear to keep warm this season, I silently scoffed. And bought a pair. As soon as I put them on, I noted the similarity to comfy flannel pajamas. Flannel pajamas are another thing that Grandma would give to me on holidays. I resisted wearing them until one particularly cold winter, and now I look forward to getting them every Christmas. Getting back to the thermals, they just work. I’ve been outside in freezing weather for hours at a time, and my nose gets a little frosty, but that’s about it. I’m about to invest in several other pairs. I wear two layers of shirts, which means a t-shirt under a t-shirt. I wear gloves. I’m not wearing a knit hat, but I’m not opposed to it at this point. Even my dorky winter jacket is a comfort to me. I’m not ready for a scarf. Not yet. It must be something about the neck. And yet, every day I go out for work, I think to myself that this is how my grandmother wanted me to look when I went out to the bus stop, but I insisted that I was comfortable in just my denim jacket and blue jeans with the hole in the knee. What a stupid kid I was.