Monday, November 28, 2011

Temperature Regulation and Underlayers

Ibex, Icebreaker Wool Underlayers
From a reader's email, quoted with permission:
...not sure how to put this delicately, but when I ride my bike in the cold I inevitably end up with a sweaty bra. Even if I am not exerting myself, the bra is soaking wet by the time I get to work and The Girls are not happy spending an entire morning waiting for it to dry. I've taken to stuffing paper towels in there, but was hoping you could share a better solution. How do you deal with this? Don't tell me you only wear wool bras?
Now approaching my third winter of cycling, one of the most valuable lessons I've learned is how to dress for the cold weather. Merely piling on layers can lead to overheating, then freezing underneath the sweat-soaked clothing when stopped at red lights. This is where choice of fabric becomes important. Wool and silk not only keep me warm, but regulate my body temperature - meaning that I sweat less underneath all those layers of warmth than I do wearing cotton or synthetic fabrics. And compared to technical synthetics, wool and silk do not retain body odor. 

When choosing temperature-regulating fabrics, the key to the whole system working for me is to start from the inside out. If I am wearing a wool sweater with a cotton long-sleeve tee underneath, that cotton is going to be drenched in sweat; it's better to wear a wool baselayer and a non-wool garment on top of that. Similarly, underwear matters a great deal, since it is the first thing to contact the skin. Cotton or polyester underwear will end up soaked in sweat, causing discomfort even if every single other article of clothing I am wearing is wool.  

So yes: In response to the reader's question, I only wear bras made out of fabric that regulates my body temperature effectively, which for me means wool or silk. Wool is the more durable and somewhat more effective option. But wool bras tend to be plain and sporty looking, and not everyone likes that. Also, women with larger chests often report that these bras do not offer sufficient support. If you prefer a look and feel that is more lingiree than sportsbra, real silk bras are available with everything from decorative lace to underwire support and nylon stretch. After having tried a number of manufacturers, I have settled on Ibex for wool underwear, and on Winter Silks for some fairly inexpensive silk bras. I also like to wear Icebreaker leggings instead of stockings once it gets cold, and always Smartwool socks. There are other excellent options out there. But as long as it's wool or silk, there should be no need to stuff your bra with paper towels before cycling to work. 

47 comments:

  1. Not everyone can afford silk underwear.
    Just saying.

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  2. The Winter Silks bras I mentioned retail at under $30, and that's when they are not on sale. As far as women's lingerie goes, that's far from expensive, unless you are comparing to Walmart.

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  3. I just wear some workout gear and change when I get to work! I know this isn't possible for everyone, but I like cycling in spandex/workout wear. I tried looking for wool stockings/tights and I couldn't even find those, let alone wool undies and bras. And we are in Canada...its colder here!

    Its ironic, like the Columbia ski jacket company, who doesn't ship online to Canada (where we buy the most per capita I'm sure)...

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  4. In my experience, wool does not make me any less sweaty, neither in summer nor in winter. What it does do, however, is to make being sweaty much more pleasant, as you don't get the clammy feeling of cotton (and to a lesser degree, synthetic fabrics).

    With regard to the reader's specific problem: what about bringing a spare bra? Yesyes, I know, we shouldn't have to change just because we're riding a bike to work, but sometimes that's the easiest solution nonetheless.

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  5. Technical wool is being widely marketed this year. I just got a couple "Cresta" wool base layers from LLBean. Not cheap, less than Ibex. Not as luxurious either. Vacuums sweat from your skin. Goes through washer and dryer with no problem.
    Winter Silks is selling a technical silk but I haven't tried it yet. I've had their regular for years, it's very cozy. You feel more than just warm, it's like sitting by a fire. Until you start to crank out the serious watts and then it gets wet fast.

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  6. Any tips for finding bras with underwires? I'm not that chesty, but I still need the extra support.

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  7. I personally do not like the feel of silk against sweaty skin, and the wool bras so far don't come in any kind of style that fits me, since I have D cups.

    The bra I personally prefer is a moisture-wicking synthetic: http://shop.lululemon.com/products/clothes-accessories/women-sports-bras/Ta-Ta-Tamer-II-31110?cc=9733&skuId=3435123&catId=women-sports-bras (apologies for the long URL)

    It's really supportive and doesn't give the dreaded uniboob/flattening effect that so many sports bras do. In addition, despite being synthetic, it never seems to have a smell problem! Ever!

    I wore that bra most days for four months of bike touring. It still looks and feels almost new. I wore that under technical wool tops in some fairly hot and cold weather and felt great! There's only one spot that isn't wicking--where the hooks are--and I barely noticed it.

    I *still* wear that bra most days. I love that it looks like a normal bra under clothes.

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  8. Dominique: MEC sells wool stuff, one of my absolute favorite shirts is a base-layer hoodie I bought in the store in Vancouver.

    Also, I think Sock Dreams (http://sockdreams.com) ships to Canada, and they have many kinds of wool tights.

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  9. I will say that I don't have a huge chest (C cup), but I still find the wool bras to be un-supportive. I have tried a few different brands and I feel as though I am wearing little kids underwear, with my chest sagging seemingly more than it would without a bra (odd, I know). Perhaps the silk is a better way to go? Both silk and wool can be pricier fabrics, but certainly waiting for sales can make this less painful.

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  10. I bring a change of clothes. I find that it's not so heavy as to make my trip noticeably more difficult.

    My main problem is having somewhere to hang it up at work, as there is no locker/change area for staff, and even what students have is limited.

    I'm thinking of campaigning for better cycling facilities for staff for next year. Given this school has a whole lot of "green" initiatives going, it makes no sense that staff aren't encouraged to use less environmentally damaging forms of transport.

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  11. Excellent information. I agree with the silk/wool information. While I also ride in cotton a lot of the time, the temps just aren't always low enough in Seattle for me to use wool (until it dips down below 40). I do have two wool t-shirts and one wool long sleeve shirt, wool glove liners and swear by wool socks all year round. I love the idea of the silks for intimate wear. That for some reason didn't occur to me. Since I need to look at some replacements soon, I'll take a look. Do you know if Winter Silks run true to size? It looks like I am on the cusp of one size to another?

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  12. Anonymous #1, I can sort of hear what you are saying. A $30 pair of wool or silk undies are expensive compared to buying 3 packs of Fruit of the Loom cotton briefs from SuperMegaMart for $10. But you have to look at it as more an investment. Wool/silk undies will last longer so long as you take care of them. And if it doesn't make you squeamish, you can get more than one day of use out of them, something you don't want to do with cotton.

    If you're particularly thrifty, you might be able to find wool undies for cheap. I've gotten a few pairs for just $10.

    Dominique: I second what April says about MEC branded wool stuff. Got a few pairs of undies from there last year, and I like them even better than the Ibex or Icebreaker ones I have!

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  13. April said...
    "I personally do not like the feel of silk against sweaty skin"


    Do you mean the shiny slippery kind, or all silk? Some silk can feel just like cotton, or a nylon blend, or even soft wool. Check out filament silk and raw silk.

    When people hear "silk underwear" they tend to have this image of expensive, satiny boudoir stuff, but silk is actually a very practical and durable fabric that is available in many textures and at many pricepoints. I have a sportsbra that is 90% silk/ 10% spandex and no one would call it "silk underwear" just by looking at it or touching it.

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  14. Erin B said...
    "Any tips for finding bras with underwires?"


    I stopped wearing underwire bras because I used to fly a lot and it is a nightmare going through the detector.

    But here is a silk blend one on clearance for $6. Not my size unfortunately.

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  15. I stopped buying underwire bras for the same reason, don't feel like getting felt up by TSA agents every friggin time!

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  16. How does food, you know, grub, factor into the temperature reg thing? Or is it all just about fashionable apparel?

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  17. Peppy (the not-so-aero-for-the-winter cycling cat)November 28, 2011 at 5:52 PM

    Anon @ 5:46: if you eat lots of grub, you are less cold.

    Generally speaking, more food leads to better natural insulation, but no amount of human fat will approach the silky smoothness of my luxurious furs.

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  18. Hmm... Well I suppose she could stuff her cotton/polyester blend bra with white bread and that could soak up the sweat. Seems like a hassle and a waste of food though.

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  19. ROFL Velouria!. Hear hear on the wool/silk issue. The cost is front loaded. They last a very long time. Same for my doctor ordered Dansko shoes. Going on 12 years for them averages out to about 10 dollars per year per pair. The downside, you have to pick something you like and will wear for a long time.

    I wear some of my wool in 80 degree weather as it wicks sweat away. Tis amazing.

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  20. The way to avoid sweating while cycling is to stick to a few simple rules.

    Cycle very slowly.

    Stop frequently.

    Don't go more than 5 miles.

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  21. I have a pair of silk long-john pants. I wore them strictly as pajama pants on tour because they felt nice against my skin, but if it was a warmer night I ended up wiggling out of them at some point. (I would have preferred wool leggings, but alas, I haven't been able to afford them yet, so it was the silk long-johns or my synthetic polypropylene long-johns, which were too warm for sleeping 95% of the time.) In any case, the shinier silks feel really clammy and unpleasant if I'm sweating.

    I've never seen a bra made from raw silk. That might feel kinda nice, actually.

    In general, I'm almost as anti-synthetic as you, but size 32D can sometimes be hard to find/expensive already.

    I've thought about knitting myself a bra (you can buy plastic underwires for making your own bras), but mostly for fun. I have a pattern book called Naughty Needles that has a bra pattern that might work, as long as I wasn't PMSing.

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  22. Re cost...

    I think we are getting carried away here. While I agree that a $240 silver cycling rain cape (see previous post) is expensive, I think it is disingenuous to suggest that a $20-30 bra is expensive by today's standards. I haven't been to the stores in a while, but I am pretty sure it's less than most synthetic bras cost at Victoria's Secret or Macy's or JC Penney. Also, since when do ladies docilely pay full price for nice things? There are sales and discount retailers aplenty, for both wool and silk.

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  23. Goodwill is where wool clothing goes to die. A 100% wool sweater in men's XL costs $7. YMMV.

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  24. I'll have to say that I don't have your reader's specific problem much, but I've really seen the light after spending too much on too many poorly fitting bras that are uncomfortable and unflattering.I also need a D cup, so most of the wool or unstructured silk won't work for me. I mostly buy Chantelle stuff, which retails for much more than the silk options that you linked to, but fits, is comfortable and durable, and lovely. I find that the same bras that are comfortable in very hot weather (mostly lace, mostly unlined) are comfortable in cold weather as well.

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  25. I know that Dottie at Let's Go Ride a Bike is the queen of finding luxe cashmere pieces in Chicago thrift stores. Maybe I'll suggest that she publish a "vintage wool" guide this winter.

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  26. cycler - When I lived in England in my 20s, there was this shop near my university that sold hand-sewn lingerie, and twice a year they'd have a bin sale where bras in unpopular sizes were sold at absurd discounts. There was always something in my size, and I still have these gorgeous bras 10 years later - whereas the department store stuff I'd buy would fall apart within 1-2 years. Value is indeed relative.

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  27. Am I allowed to comment here being a guy? Kind of feels like I'm eavesdropping!

    Anyway just wanted to say that my dear wife had back problems for years until she finally gave herself permission to buy a well-made bra. I am not going to say how much it cost, but it was money well spent. She feels great. But more to the point, her new bra is silk and she did mention noticing a decrease in perspiration.

    Dan

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  28. Icebreaker wool clothing does it for me.

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  29. I agree with all above concerning merino wool. I've tried Ibex and Icebreaker, but my favorite is Smartwool. $80 for a Tshirt sounds pretty steep, but I can wear it every day for maybe 10 years (!) before it becomes kinda ratty (then I wear it ratty for a few years). And it NEVER smells, unlike some poly shirts that smell on day 2, despite a washing after day 1. I wear them 12 months a year.

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  30. Any comments on bamboo fiber goods? I've recently seen bamboo socks and wondered if they were better than Coolmax or silk. Bamboo bras are available, but I know nothing about them.

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  31. I'm just going to make one more comment (probably) and step on my soapbox for a short moment: Ladies, if you have not been professionally fitted for a bra, get it done! Victoria's Secret does NOT count--they frequently put people (including me) in the wrong size.

    Many women are wearing the wrong size. If your bra is uncomfortable (and not from sweat) you are probably wearing the wrong size. If they ride up in the back, or you're using the straps to hold up your breasts (the band should do most of the work), you are wearing the wrong size. If the whole cups aren't touching your breasts or is puckering anywhere, you are wearing the wrong size. If you have to put it on any hook but the loosest when it's new, it's the wrong size.

    Nordstrom's supposedly does a good job, there are also lots of small local specialty stores for underthings that do fittings. It's worth asking around. (In Portland OR we have "Just Like a Woman" which specializes in hard-to-find sizes and women who've had mastectomies. There are a couple of other stores that mostly carry fancier pretty bras that also do professional fittings.) Most places do it for a small fee, or for free if you buy a bra from them.

    Wearing a bra that truly fits can vastly improve your comfort and self-image.

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  32. Wouldn't it be possible to stock up on a bra or two at work and just change into a dry one while the wet one dries?

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  33. April - I'm a 32D too! I have had people flat out tell me there is no such size. Those S, M, L bras either fit me around my rib cage or around the bust but never both. Have you knit anything else out of that book? Would you recommend it?

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  34. I have no comments on women's lingerie but I do like wool clothing in general. My favorite source for wool cycling jerseys is Oregon Cyclewear. Retro looking designs at the best prices I've found. No affiliation but am a satisfied customer.

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  35. This is an important topic! I'm a 34D and a wool enthusiast, but none of the wool bras are supportive enough and they don't provide separation. I have no problem spending money on bras if they work. April, thank you for the lulu lemon bra recommendation. I will look for that one.

    I'm curious about the underwire and travel issue. I travel a lot, only wear underwire bras and have never had a problem going through security. Are you sure it was your bra that was the problem?

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  36. Rona: bamboo is just a fancy term for rayon. Rayon made from cellulose that's derived from bamboo, but rayon nonetheless. If you google "rayon bamboo" you'll get lots of info.

    Erin B: Of course 32D is a real size. What the hell. I've met women who are 28F. 32D is not that unusual--there are plenty of women who are wearing 34C or D who are really 32D, but don't know it, because in most inexpensive department stores (like Target), 32 only goes up to B or C.

    I used to think I hated sports bras. Turns out that my band and cup size means that they're usually a struggle to get into! I will only wear the kind with hooks! No more wrestling myself into the stretchy kind that just give me boob loaf anyway.

    I haven't actually knit anything out of the book Naughty Needles yet, but paging through it is good for entertainment. Most of the stuff in there isn't designed to be practical...unless a hand-knit ball gag is practical for you. (If it is, more power to you!) They do have a lovely basic knee sock pattern, and a pattern for a sock garter that they point out is also good for keeping your pant leg out of your chain, as well as a pattern for beautiful lace-up armwarmers. There's also a felted corset and a leather whip, but hey.

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  37. The reader should bring a top, bra etc to change into at work if they are not into getting into wool or silk bras. Ride in whatever one feels comfortable and change at work. I change my top once I get to work partly because i am working in coolers and need to be dry. So while biking I will either wear a cotton top which gets soaked or a silk or wool top as a base layer. If I am out and about for the day and riding, I try to make sure my layers are wool/silk. I would love to get some wool or silk bras, but have little need to wear them.
    Icebreaker is the best in my opinion with Ibex rocking the wool as well. Smart wool socks contain too much synthetic content for my liking.

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  38. I'm allergic to wool. I can wear it on my feet (and calves, if we're talking knee socks), but any higher than that and I'm itchy and my nose is running like crazy. Can't even imagine wool undies! Oh the humanity! No animal fibers at all work for me, actually, including cashmere and angora. I've saved a lot of money that way, but I'm often sad about it. Cotton sweaters are only nice for a season, then they either shrink or get crunchy and look like crap.

    Silk doesn't warm me up enough. My silk long underwear doesn't stink, true, but my stinky poly-fleece means I can be out on the ski slope in sub-freezing temps for an hour without discomfort. Silk just doesn't cut it, even at the same weight. Wish I could wear wool, but alas, no. I keep threatening to buy down long underwear, but I haven't coughed up the money for those yet! They do exist.

    For sports bras that aren't wool, but that are sensibly sold, I suggest a company called Title 9. They have many retail stores, including one in my area, and have a great catalog service, as well as a nice website at Titlenine.com. I find their sales make very expensive products a bit more bearable, and they have a great selection of sports bras.

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  39. Thanks for a very informative post. For those of us in England, where is that bra shop?

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  40. @April Bamboo is rayon? EEEEK!! Thanks for that info..scary how retailers will make something sound organic and natural when it's really highly processed.

    hmmm... wonder if Kudzu is the next big fiber? lol

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  41. I find that in the fall and winter I don't have the sweaty bra problem, as long as I'm wearing a wool or cashmere base layer. In the summer I always change into a nice bra when I get to work. Tanks with built in bras (Patagonia and Lululemon have nice supportive ones) are perfect for the commute.

    I have two pairs of boyshort wool underwear, I think one is Ibex and one is Smartwool. One turned out to be too small for my hips and the band has no stretch at all; the other bunch up in the most uncomfortable way. So sad. Now I'm afraid to spend money on any others. I don't have experience with silk or wool bras. I guess as long as they have underwire, they would be supportive enough, but - I'm just going to say it - aren't they too thin to hide nipples? Because I can't be having that at work. I didn't see anyone else mention that in the comments, but it's the first issue I thought of. :)

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  42. I have an Ibex wool bra and find it very restrictive to pull on and off. I recently bought two I O Bio bras (www.io-bio.com/) and find them to be very comfortable. My hubbie says their wool boxers are so light it's almost like not wearing anything.
    Jan

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  43. Jan - I wore I/O Bio bras and underpants for a year but recently switched to Ibex. While I liked I/O Bio, their stuff stretched out over time until it became unwearable. Ibex seems more resistant to this, but I guess I will know for sure in a few months.

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  44. fist bump for April, my fellow 32D.

    No S-M-L sized bra will work for me. the band size fits but the cups are tiny in the small sizes. If the cups fit, the band is huge. It's a bummer. Erès used to make a knitted silk 32D. No longer, alas.

    I wish someone would make a wool bra with underwire and specific sizes.

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  45. melissatheragamuffinDecember 1, 2011 at 9:02 AM

    I'm in the change at work camp. I have panniers on my bike. It's not a big deal to stick an extra bra or a bra and shirt in there. I'm just recovering from having pneumonia. I really don't need or want my chest to be cold and wet all day.

    I would wear wool bras, but Ibex doesn't make my size. Like a couple of the other ladies here, I'm a D-cup. In regard to other clothing I also have the misfortune of being 6'1" in my bare feet, so I actually wear Ibex's men's wool cycling pants because they're longer than the ladies.

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  46. A bit late, but I ordered two of the on sale underwire 34D bras that were on super cheap sale at Winter Silks, and they don't fit. They were only $6 each, so it's not worth the cost/hassle to ship them back, but if any woman in the Boston area wants them, I'm happy to give them away. I think that they actually fit more like a 34 C, and the cups are so stretchy that they don't really have any support. Tried one on for a minute, and one in original packaging- cream color.
    email bikinginheels (at) yahoo (dot) com.

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  47. I am a base-layer-must-be-wool convert, as of this morning. Temp = 37 and windy. Stayed warm and happy the whole ride in smartwool leggings. Ordering undershirt from Icebreaker as we speak. :)

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