GENERAL ARTICLES

Our Crazy Clothes

Never have so many worn so much—or so little—in the wrong places, claims an eminent Toronto doctor

GEOFFREY HEWELCKE August 1 1945
GENERAL ARTICLES

Our Crazy Clothes

Never have so many worn so much—or so little—in the wrong places, claims an eminent Toronto doctor

GEOFFREY HEWELCKE August 1 1945

Our Crazy Clothes

Never have so many worn so much—or so little—in the wrong places, claims an eminent Toronto doctor

GEOFFREY HEWELCKE

BY THIS time in the summer it’s no longer news to the average male Canadian that his clothes are uncomfortably warm; to the average Canadian woman that her feet burn and that wearing a girdle is one dickens of a way to keep her stockings up.

Most of us just shrug off these things as discomforts which must be borne. But the truth is that our clothing for both summer und winter—is more than merely uncomfortable. Actually it can be dangerous to health.

Such is the contention of Dr. Harris McPhedran, Toronto, president of the Canadian Medical Association.

The clothes we wear, says Dr. McPhedran, can cause not only disability but actual illness. And part of the job of Canada’s physicians, adds the doctor, should be to advise their patients of what they should and shouldn’t wear from the standpoint of health.

His views on clothing are quite definite: “It is

about time men adopted some modified holiday attire for everyday wear in summer; about time that they stopped sweltering in coats, collars and neckties, while in winter they increase only the weight of clothing and add an overcoat, wide open at the sleeves, often at the neck and always at the knees.

“Why not a battle dress for the winter?” the doctor asked. “Loose trousers and an o¡wn shirt for the summer and shorts.

“For the winter women are dressed in just as ridiculous a manner for out-of-doors, with their fur coats and loose wraps, silk stockings and high-heeled open-work shot» . . .

“To these things, clothes and footwear, the medical adviser to families should give some attention as it lms much to do with the prevention of disability and actual illness.”

Read those last few words again: “Disability and actual illness!” Do modern fashions actually have such results? Are they serious?

Physicians gave specific answers to the questions. “Certainly the results can be serious,” they said. “Your skin is really an automatic temperature conditioning unit—if you do not interfere with its functions. . .

“In warm weather, or if your body temperature gets too high, you perspire and the evaporation of the liquid from your skin cools you ... If it can evaporate.

“But much too often men, at any rate, wear heavy clothes which do not allow anything like a free circulation of air over the skin—and in consequence your built-in cooling system never has a chance to work. You remain hot and uncomfortable.

“If a man wears a tight collar and a tight necktie there may be an actual interference with the return of blood from his head, because of unnecessary pressure on the blood vessels which are fairly close to the surface of the throat.

“This makes the heart work harder and may increase bjood pressure.”

Who does dress sensibly? In Dr. McPnedran’s opinion ideal summer clothing for men consists of • shirts and shorts or loose trousers; the shirt open at the neck; the trousers preferably retained in position by suspenders instead of a tight belt.

Canada’s high-school youngsters of both sexes get high marks from most physicians for their present clothing vogue.

“That loose shirt, worn outside the trousers, and the trousers themselves turned up halfway to the knee may look silly to us,” one doctor said. “But actually it’s an extremely useful summer garb. It permits that circulation of air over the skin that’s valuable.

“Furthermore, collegiate girls just now have a fad for low-heeled shoes of sensible shape. Saddle shoes —they call ’em. Thank goodness for them. They’re much more sensible than the high-heeled shoes they were wearing a few years ago.”

Shoes Deform Feet

ÍN HIS speech to the CM A meeting early this year Dr. McPhedran dealt most ungently with this article of feminine attire.

“The Chinese women,” he said, “bound their feet while they were still children; our women wait till the foot is well formed and then set about to deform them, their legs, pelvic girdle and back, to the enrichment of the orthopaedist and chiropodist.”

In short, Dr. McPhedran took a dim view of women’s shoes.

“Women’s feet aren’t a bit pretty,” a physician said when asked to expand this statement. “At any rate they’re not a bit pretty when a doctor sees them, because they’re so deformed . . . Men’s feet are much better-looking. And children’s feet, of course, are best.”

He lifted a hand, back up, and cramped his thumb under the index finger. Then he crushed the other fingers together with the little finger turned under the one next to it.

“That’s about how the average woman’s foot looks,” he said. “Misshapen. Crushed by too tight shoes. Bunions and corns as well! It’s fantastic and ridiculous.—And it must be painful. In fact you know very well that it is. How many women complain every day that their feet are killing them? How many slip off their shoes when they’re in a theatre?

“Show me a properly shaped pair of shoes,” he said, *‘and I’ll show you how to abolish a great deal of foot trouble.

“And it’s not merely the idiocy of French heels— which make women walk on their toes like horses, instead of on their heels as nature designed them to do—it’s the actual shape of the shoe—male and female—that’s generally wrong, for it treats the human foot as the bow of a boat, rather than as a delicately uneven five-pronged structure for walking.

“The shoe should follow the foot’s curves, making «allowance for the long big toe and for the receding row of the other foursome. For the inner straightness and outside curve of the unhampered foot look at a child’s. A flat heel, or one not higher than 94 of an inch, should serve for rear platform support.”

“Pelvic girdle and back,” I said. “How are they affected?”

“This way,” he explained. “When a girl wears shoes with high heels her weight is thrown forward in walking. That helps to deform her cramped toes, of course. But it also throws the hips forward, and to compensate she generally has to lean back. Her whole body is out of balance

Continued on page 48

Continued from page 10

and there are strains and stresses on the skeleton and muscles for which they were never designed. Aches and pains follow.”

A well-known obstetrician added his findings.

“In the past 10 years childbirth by Caesarean section has increased,” he said. “1 don’t want to be too positive about this, hut it does seem to me that more girls in their formative years had . been wearing high-heeled shoes just prior to this period than did before.”

“Girdles and corsets,” another physician said, “are two more articles of attire that can do damage. If too tight they crowd the pelvic organs and I squeeze the intestines. Thank goodness most young women are no longer wearing corsets. Girdles are much better for them. But still better are exercises for abdominal muscles to keep them in trim not forgetting the important one of pushing back from the table if you’re over 40. I think girdles should not be worn except on the physician’s advice usually when support is necessary after childbirth. Brassieres, on the other hand, are definitely useful.”

Canada’s armed forces have during tin* past few years been carrying out extensive experiments in clothing which will permit men the greatest freedom of action.

In their researches they settled upon a simple principle. Under Arcticconditions it is important to preserve the heat of the body. So, as architects in cloth, they designet! a flexible house around the body—a house which is nothing but insulation. And they used the architects’ method of insulating a house, which is to trap as many layers of still air as possible.

In exercises completed early this spring in the far north they found it most efficient to give the soldier a very coarse string vest something like a fish net to wear next to his skin. The net provided the first series of pockets of still air when woollen underwear was donned over it. Next came an opencollared shirt and regulation battle dress. Over these came wind and waterproof cotton trousers, fastened about the ankles, and a windproof jacket, similar to a ski jacket. A ski cap and padded ski mitts of waterproof cotton with a tight gauntlet cuff completed the outfit. There was no overcoat and the soldiers remained warm and active in weather down to o0 deg. below zero.

To regulate body temperature the clothing architects provided a flue with a damper on it. The flue was the open-collared shirt. The damper was a neckcloth knotted around the throat about the collar. If the soldier was too warm he loosened his neckcloth. If he

felt cold he tightened it and kept body heat from leaking out. It was as simple as that.

If the temperature soared above freezing point the soldiers took off their cotton outer garments. They weighed only a few ounces and folded into a space incomparably smaller than a regulation great coat.

The typical Canadian male’s winter garb is considered definitely inefficient by both Army and Medical standards. Trousers open at the bottom permit feet and ankles to be chilled. Air warmed by contact with the body leaks out around the collar and through the shirt front, which is often unprotected even by a muffler. The insulating value of the overcoat is much reduced because it is open at the bottom, open at the sleeves and open at the top.

Women’s winter clothing is even more senseless. Fur coats are small protection against the cold if they are worn as most women insist on wearing them, without a tightly buttoned collar. Ski costumes are, however, becoming more and more popular— with medical blessing—for wear in extremely cold or snowy weather. Ina more general use of these lies the answer to winter street comfort for women, according to physicians.

Generally physicians agree that it is time that men broke with the extreme traditionalism of their clothes to wear garments which are designed to meet the needs of this modern age. Women have already made this break—except that they insist on following fashions which in some respects are just as foolish as the traditions which set the form of men’s clothes.

How Did Men Get That Way?

How did men’s clothes take their present shape?

Believe it or not, the most conservative banker of Montreal or Toronto is wearing clothes today which started out as a revolutionary protest; as a sign of sympathy with the ragged French revolutionaries who guillotined Louis XVI and most of his court.

In those days, in England as well as in Continental Europe, an aristocrat wore breeches. Traditionally they marked him as a horseman; as someone superior to the common people, who were either tradesmen, workmen or peasants.

When the French “sans-culottes”— the men “without breeches”—ragged peasantry and workers who wore trousers—chopped the heads off those who wore breeches, liberal thinkers in Britain and elsewhere adopted the trousers as a mark of sympathy.

The crease in the smartly dressed man’s trousers did not exist until one day the valet of King Edward VII— then still Prince of Wales—accidentally pressed a pair of royal pants in this manner—and so set a fashion which has remained.

Similarly men’s jackets of today also express the sympathy of the wearer with the “common man.” Prior to the days of the French Revolution, tail coats, divided at the rear so that they could be worn comfortably while riding a horse, were the accepted standard for the man above the laboring class. After the French Revolution London tailors turned to the short coat of the farm laborer in England for political inspiration, and so the lounge suit was born.

It seems, therefore, to take nothing less than a social revolution to make any great change in men’s fashions.

Something of this sort was admitted by Perce Cohen, president of the Toronto Clothing Designer’s Club.

He agreed wholeheartedly with all Dr. McPhedran says about loose clothing. But—“Evolution in men’s clothing has to come very, very slowly,” he said. “The reason for it is that the male animal is basically conservative. He dresses as the pack dresses. He doesn’t want to wear something so different from his friends that he’d be looked upon as a freak.

“If I were to create a new and beautiful style—something entirely different from what is worn today—I could put it in our main store window and lots of men would look at it and perhaps like it. But would they buy it?— Definitely no! —Not until every other tailor’s window along the street featured the same model.

“A woman’s attitude is entirely different from a man’s,” said Mr. Cohen. “When a man meets a friend who is wearing exactly the same suit he is not at all upset. Indeed he is slightly gratified. He feels that his own good taste in picking that cloth and that particular style has been confirmed. So does his friend. They approve of each other.

“We think that young men coming out of the armed forces will want battle dress comfort in their civilian suits,” he said. “Therefore the loosely tailored lounge suits being marketed now will have a great appeal for them.

“I don’t think, however, that they will want to keep the actual battle dress for everyday wear.—Men are conservative in dress.”

“Do you see much chance of clothing reform coming about?” I asked him.

Mr. Cohen grinned disarmingly.

“Not a chance,” he said. “Clothing evolves slowly. With men particularly it means that ideas have to be widely accepted before they will make any changes. Any radically different design just doesn’t stand a chance . . .”

So it looks as if men will swelter for a good many summers yet; while women will probably continue to freeze in the winter.