Tuesday, July 8, 2014

summer shirts

I've written a number of posts on winter gear, such as this one on layering and this one on wool shirts and this on shoes. Now that we've officially moved into summer weather (regularly above 80 F) in the northeastern US, I thought I'd address the Great T-Shirt Debate: natural (cotton) or un-natural (polyester)?

Polyester/rayon/nylon/whatever blends are generally cooler and lighter. They also dry out well. However, they don't wash well: any dirt gets pretty much ground in there permanently, and mine smell distinctly of sunscreen (and probably sweat, although the sunscreen is most noticeable) even after being washed multiple times. Also, they don't hide anything underneath, and I have to wear a distinctly, ah, supportive and thick sports bra in order to not be indecent in them, which kind of negates the "cool" part.

Cotton t-shirts tend to be heavier. They don't dry out all that well, and will stay damp for ages if you've been sweating in them. However, they're also safer if you (or a contractor you're overseeing) are doing any welding, grinding, or other hot work, because sparks that land on them may smolder and scorch them, but won't melt them to your flesh.

So what do I go with? It depends on the weather. If it's going to be brutally hot out or I know it's going to rain the whole day, I'll go with non-cotton t-shirts. If there's a chance for passing showers or I want to give the serious sports bra a rest, I'll go with cotton to prevent any issues with the shirt becoming see-through. I also think that cotton layers better, with minimal static if you have to peel something off. So when I'm in the field, I bring a few of each.

I think most of the contractors I've worked with are all-cotton, but that may be because cotton t-shirts are cheaper and are more permanently silk-screened with the appropriate company logo. If you do a lot of fieldwork, do you have a preference for one or the other?


Marciepooh said...

You wear short sleeves in the field? You must not burn as easily as I do. I can not reapply sunscreen enough for my fair skin when sweating profusely or enough bug spray keep the mosquitos off my, apparently, tasty tasty arms.

I usually wear long sleeve cotton shirts over a tank top (both tucked into my pants and pants legs tucked into my socks - suck on that ticks and chiggers). I really like Columbia's poly/nylon/whatever SPF50 shirts (can't remember their name for them off hand) too, but most of my 'field' shirts are cotton. A couple are from the thrift store even.

When I on sites with little vegetation, I'll untuck my pants from my socks, but most of my field work now (research, not environmental consulting) involves too many opportunities for blood suckers to hop on board.

Oh, and we Alabamians laugh at your 'summer weather' when it gets over 80 regularly - that starts in March around here. :)

A Life Long Scholar said...

I disagree with your hypothesis that polyester shirts are cooler. In my experience polyester doesn't breath, so I feel hotter and sweatier than when wearing cotton. As a result I won't wear polyester, ever.

Anonymous said...

Down here in Australia, we usually don't have a choice in our field gear. Leather steel-capped boots and full leg and sleeve heavy cotton twill clothing. Most sites ban rolling up sleeves. The stitching on the shirts where hi-vis plastic stripes are sewn on itches and chafes when you sweat so cotton undershirts are virtually essential. Wear that in 50C with a hard hat, gloves, goggles, ear plugs, and god knows what else to keep you 'safe'..... But the biggest risk is usually heat stroke.

You basically become exceptionally good at hydration and a connoisseur of electrolyte powders. Being drenched in sweat is just the name of the game.

But it does suck when you work underground and have to keep stopping to tip the sweat out of your steel-capped gumboots.