Monday, July 4, 2016

Odds 'N Ends - Work Attire

Staying Cool During the Summer
So far, our St Louis summer has been hotter than last summer as measured by

heating-degree days. However, I am pleased to say that, while the hot weather slows my pace somewhat, I am still able to get in 9- and 10-hour days in 90+ degree weather -- weather that is made even worse by the high humidity that rises up the Mississippi River valley from the southeastern states (we are in the "hot-humid" zone that's orange on the map.)  I am pretty sure that my productivity would suffer if I hadn't learned from my elders how to dress for such weather.

"Farmer Attire"
Growing up in a small central Illinois community, I knew a lot of farmers.  Most of them, particularly the older ones, wore denim overalls, long sleeve shirts, "clod-hopper" boots and either straw hats or "gimme" hats.  (Gimme as in asking the seed or implement dealer, "Gimme one of them hats".)  Many of them also switched to cotton long underwear in summer after having worn wool in the winter.  They sometimes didn't smell so great in July but they knew how to beat the heat.

By contrast, you typically see construction workers today wearing shorts and tee shirts or no shirts.  Which do you think is more comfortable in the heat and humidity -- the farmers I knew or today's workers?   Having worked in both get-ups, I can testify that the farmers knew what they were doing.  For instance, we had one of the hottest summers on record in 2012 when the daytime highs were in the 100s for dozens of days, sometimes as high as 112 degrees.  I worked at least 8 hours a day tearing down a two story house and, if you have ever done deconstruction, you know the work is much more strenuous than most phases of construction.  I am convinced that I could never have done as much in shorts and tees due to something called evaporative cooling.

Evaporative Cooling
I have worked in "farmer attire"  -- bib overalls, long sleeve shirts and a floppy broad brimmed hat for most of my adult life.  When I hear it from my younger friends for being old-fashion, I explain the advantage my arrangement has over their flimsy clothing or bare skin in terms of evaporative cooling.  Once my clothing is ringing wet with sweat, it has a cooling effect that is not possible with thinner clothing where perspiration evaporates too rapidly for effective cooling; bare skin is even worse. The bibs on the overalls add an extra layer that helps to cool the chest.   When I come in for lunch, I change to dry clothing while inside but switch back to the wet clothing before going back out so as to benefit immediately from evaporative cooling rather than suffering from the heat while waiting for dry clothes become saturated.

Carhartt Overalls
The Carhartt overalls have some advantages over the denim "farmer type" bibs and definitely over typical pants like jeans in that the "pants" part of the bibs are held up by the shoulders.  Therefore, not only do the pants never slip down or the shirt tail rise, there is no uncomfortable pants belt pressing into the skin when overlaid by a carpenter's tool belt.  

The Carhartt bibs have other unique features that bear mentioning, aside from the fact that their duck material is tougher
and wears better than garments made from denim.  The buckles on the shoulder straps lie flat whereas most other bibs have protruding knobs on the bibs that engage the hooks on the straps.  Many of us like to wear wide suspenders on our carpenter's belt to shift the weight of the tools and fasteners in and on the belt away from the waist and onto the shoulders.  The suspenders lie on top of the shoulder straps of the overalls and press the bulky fasteners on most overalls into the skin whereas the flat fasteners on the Carhartts are comfortable under the suspenders. Unfortunately, the knobby fasteners that close the gaps of the sides at the waist are often uncomfortable when pressed into the flesh by the carpenter's belt laden with heavy tools.   Seems to me that flat fasteners of some sort instead of knobs at the waist would improve the Carhartts even more. 

Knee Pads
Another advantage to Carhartts is that they have built-in compartments in the legs for after-market knee pads that are quite effective for working on hands and knees.  They are not bulky enough for serious hands and knees work like laying flooring but are thick enough to save the knees during other kinds of construction work.  And they sure beat shorts and bare knees!

The pads are available online at or 888-4KNEEPAD for nominal cost.  The openings to the knee pad pouches in the Carhartts are at the bottom.  The pads are rolled tightly and slipped through the openings.  When a pad clears an opening, it springs open and lies flat.  They cannot easily be removed even for laundering but, when the overalls wear out, the pouches can be cut open and pads moved to another pair of Carhartts.  I work with three pairs of pads and none have shown any wear after use in several pairs of bibs each over quite a few years.