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The Secret to Remaining Comfortable When Outdoor Temperatures Fluctuate

Until 'smart fibers' arrive, proper layering of 'the right' fabrics is important.

WILMINGTON, MA – Current laboratory research promises that, in the not too distant future, outdoor workwear will be manufactured with "smart fibers" that automatically open and close to release or retain body heat and moisture as temperatures fluctuate.

But until that "automated day" arrives, workers will have to depend on the "old fashioned" method of properly layering their workwear to maintain personal comfort while on the job.

People tend to be aware of the need to layer their clothing during colder weather, but seem to forget that doing so when the climate gets hotter is also effective, says Adam Soreff of UniFirst, a company that provides work uniforms and services to diverse industries throughout North America. "If you use the appropriate number of layers beneath your uniform — usually one or two — and select the right type of fabrics, you'll always be noticeably more comfortable no matter which direction the temperature heads."

When layering clothing beneath work apparel, particular attention should be paid to the very first layer, the one that touches the skin, Soreff says. "The inner or base layer should always be made of a tightly woven synthetic or synthetic and natural fiber blend, which protects and insulates but also wicks cold or hot sweat away from the skin. It's this kind of fabric, by the way, that's used in lots of casual and fashionable sportswear today; and I suspect their popularity is at least partially due to their wicking characteristics."

As with most rules, there are exceptions. And in the best-fabric-next-to-skin case, Soreff says there's one as well: If anyone is working in conditions where flammability risks exist, the first layering fabric should be manufactured from cotton or specially rated flame resistant fabrics—neither of which will melt like synthetics to cause additional damage to skin tissue. In threatening work environments, Soreff says layering should always be done in accordance with existing industry protective standards.

Meanwhile, under general work conditions, a second layer of protective clothing should consist of loosely woven fibers such as wool, cotton, or a synthetic mix. "Such fabrics allow air to be trapped for insulation purposes but they also absorb excessive sweat to facilitate the evaporation process," Soreff says. "In warmer work conditions, a second layer, naturally, may not be needed."

A worker's outer uniform generally serves as the outer clothing layer; it should be manufactured from a tighter weave fabric to provide maximum protection from surrounding environments. "The uniform fabric should also have some degree of stretch to accommodate body movement," Soreff says. "A good choice here is usually a cotton/polyester blend which provides comfort in concert with long-lasting durability."

Finally, in extreme cold or wet weather conditions, Soreff says a worker's uniform could become the next-to-last defense against the elements, with an insulated vest or water repellant jacket being used to ward off the elements. So, although "smart fibers" have not yet arrived, Soreff says workers who use the "old fashioned" layering technique will nonetheless be "smartly dressed."


UniFirst is a leading supplier of uniforms and work clothing to 240,000 business customers of all sizes and types throughout the U.S. and Canada. The company also provides facility services cleanliness products, such as restroom items and floor mats. For more information, contact UniFirst at 800.455.7654 or www.unifirst.com.