Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 19.djvu/160

This page has been validated.
148
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

summer-time will find an extra shirt or a plaid and a pair of mittens a sufficient protection from almost any weather. The Indians of the Tehuantepec highlands, who work the year round in a breech-clout and a palmetto hat, ascend the icy summit regions of the Sierra Madre with a threadbare blanket as their only cover from cold winds and night frosts; and our own red-skins prefer an old-buffalo robe to the best tight-fitting garments, and invariably tear the seams of the store clothes they buy at the post-agencies—to make them "lighter," ventilate them, as it were. Nay, the post-trader of Fort Richardson, on the upper Brazos, assured me that his Kiowa customers never bought a suit of clothes without cutting the seat out of the pantaloons and slitting the coats from the armpits down to the skirts!

If an out-door laborer leaves a warm house on a cold morning, the first contact with the open air is anything but agreeable, but after half an hour's exercise the body warms up from within, and this animal caloric can make a heavy suit of clothes as oppressive in winter as in midsummer; the gaseous excretions of the skin, after saturating the confined air, are condensed and thus effectually checked—the body has to forego the benefits of cutaneous respiration. And herein consists the difference between our artificial fleece and the hairy coat of a wild beast: fur and wool retain the animal warmth but emit the cutaneous vapors; a close woven coat stops both. The process of tanning, too, stops the pores of the fur-skin, and I have often wondered why our dress-reformers have never tried to construct a fur coat on the brush-maker's plan—fastening the hair in little bunches on some strong, net-like texture. By spreading outward, the hair would present the even surface of the natural fur, and make such a porous brush coat nearly as warm as a common pelisse. Thus far the same end has been most nearly attained by the triple blouse of the Havre 'longshoremen—three linen jackets; the first and third as smooth as a shirt, but the middle one ruffled, i. e., gathered up in a series of open plaits like a mediæval lace collar. This arrangement prevents a "tight fit," and leaves a considerable space on both sides of the middle blouse, and, air being a bad conductor, the three blouses, weighing about three pounds apiece, are actually warmer than a twelve-pound overcoat of thick broadcloth, but fitting the back like the cover of a pin-cushion. On going to work, the porte-faix removes one or two of his blouses, according to the state of the weather, as the American schoolboy takes off his comforter and unbuttons his jacket before going in for a snow-ball fight.

A jacket or a short blouse is out and out more sensible than our cumbersome overcoats or the unspeakable tangle-work of frippery and flounces, cross-and-lengthwise wrappings, and intricate fastenings that still form the winter dress of a fashionable lady. The women of Scandinavia and New England (Jenny Lind, Mrs. Everett, Dr. Mary Safford-Blake, etc.) can claim the honor of having initiated the oppo-