Frontlines

Fanning a hot debate

Rita Christopher July 30 1979
Frontlines

Fanning a hot debate

Rita Christopher July 30 1979

Fanning a hot debate

Frontlines

It is best seen as a warning of what the future holds for Canada—but for the United States, it’s the very real present. “We’re just sitting down here wondering whether we should strip naked,” joked a spokesman at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in mid-July, as the federal government’s oil-saving plan went into effect. (All public buildings, except hospitals, schools and hotel guest rooms, must keep their thermostats at a sticky 78°F (24°C) during the summer and a cool 65°F (17°C) during the winter.) So, while most Americans would prefer to go through summer humming along with their air conditioners, they are now learning to live without that comforting sound except in their own homes.

The regulations are likely to do a lot more than moisten a few brows. For businessmen, the guidelines are far from a laughing matter. “Obviously, I wish this hadn’t happened,” says George Kelly, president of the Chicago stores division of Marshall Field &

Company. Retailers worry not only that higher temperatures will keep people away, but that perspiration stains will discolor items tried on in the stores. Alternatively, returns might increase markedly as customers prefer to try on their purchases in the airconditioned comfort of their homes, to which the new temperature regulations do not apply. (While hotel rooms are exempted from the regulations, the public meeting rooms, ballrooms and restaurants in hotels are not.) Expense account eateries are not hoisting a dry martini to the regulations either. “When it’s 90°

(32°C) outside, nobody will stay—nobody,” said New York restaurateur John Kaperonis. “After that I don’t know what is going to happen to my business.”

Not all businessmen, however, are panicking. In Richmond, Virginia, Robert Buerlein, who owns a company that makes the kind of ceiling fans immortalized in the movie Casablanca, sees nothing but good news.

“This kind of regulation just can’t be bad for ceiling fans,” he notes. “Our business has been steadily increasing.”

Despite fears of a perspirationdrenched summer, Dr. Ralph Goldman, an expert on the effects of temperature changes on people at work, points out that 78° is far from unbearable. “It’s really the upper limit of what we call the comfort zone,” he says. “If people

dress properly, it really shouldn’t be that much of a problem.” For women, proper dress includes the scanty summer garb that is already de rigueur on most city streets, but for men a real departure from buttoned-down, Brooks Brothers’ best is in order. “If American men followed the practice in Australia of going to work tieless, in short-sleeve shirts and Bermuda shorts, they will feel the heat far less,” says Goldman.

Experts point out that men and women will react differently to the new temperature standards. “Men tend to do better in hot, wet environments and women fare a bit better in hot, dry climates,” says Goldman. He explains that men perspire more readily than women, due both to their larger body surface and to the subcutaneous layer of fat that insulates women’s bodies. But that dread layer of fat, the bane of every dieter’s existence, provides women with more protection than men against extreme cold. “There’s no doubt women defend against cold much better than they do against heat,” says Dr. Jan Stolwijk, an epidemiologist at Yale University.

Every kind of defence is going to be necessary to help adjust to winter thermostats set at 65°. “I think it’s fairly foolhardy to go that low,” says Stolwijk. He recalls an experiment in which offices were cooled to 68°. “A lot of the heat saving was negated when people just went out and bought tiny portable heaters.”

Short of portable heaters, the best suggestion is to bundle up. Men will probably be comfortable in formal business mufti of wool suit with vest and long socks, but, according to Goldman, “Women, who usually wear lighter clothing than men are going to have to put on so many layers that they’ll look like teddy bears.” Some women, that is. Elite fashion designer Bill Blass plans no real adjustments in his couture collection. “Most affluent people live where the weather is warm,” he sniffs, “or else they get out of the cold by the first of November.” Rita Christopher