July 30, 2021

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What Can I Wear So I Don’t Freeze in Air-Conditioned Places?

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This is one of those problems that feels lucky to have. After all, for the last 16 months we’ve been largely barred from going inside anything — restaurants, offices, stores, theaters — at least while accompanied by other people. Freezing indoors when it is hot outside was a luxury that signified a return of genuine social life, and until recently it was unclear when that would ever happen.

But it has — at least in some countries. And we should be thankful for it. As well as for the ability to complain about ridiculous air-conditioning.

One of the conversations that has been going on in the same 16 months is whether we will have learned anything from our experience with the pandemic — and if so, what it will be. Some of those presumed lessons center on sustainability and climate change, but it seems that this one didn’t quite take.

Air-conditioning is both generally bad for the environment, thanks to the energy consumption involved as well as the hydrofluorocarbons used as coolants in many developing countries, and one of our most persistent expressions of gender imbalance.

Famously, offices have been kept freezing in summer in large part because the traditional male dress code required a jacket, or at least a long-sleeved shirt, and long trousers, which in the summer months made the wearer hot and sweaty. The traditional woman’s dress code of … well, a dress, or maybe sleeveless top and skirt, did not create the same problem. But given that men were mostly in the positions of power, the shared space was cooled to their satisfaction. Female colleagues, on the other hand, were forced to keep cardigans in their desk drawers.

(Speaking as a woman who has spent years doing exactly that.)

As with offices, so with restaurants and other indoor recreational spaces! Now, apparently, as well as then.

So what to do? Anita Leclerc, our fashion editor, suggests looking at some of the new loose-weave summer knits that popped up after lockdown and allow for both aeration and movement as well as some warmth.

Karla Welch, a stylist who works with both Tracee Ellis Ross and Sarah Paulson, recommends bringing a jacket to drape over your shoulders as the best life hack. That obviates the issue of squishing full sleeves into narrow jacket sleeves, but still provides a cocoon of warmth. Check out the Frankie Shop and Cos for options.

Admittedly, there are those who may have complicated associations with this style — its most famous recent proponent was Melania Trump — but it does solve the immediate problem. As for the larger problems behind the problem, those we should keep working on.

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