ONCE UPON A TIME FASHION REIGNED SUPREME in the world. But with the fitness rage has come a certain disdain for discomfort of any kind, even beautiful discomfort. Whereas down through history people have put up with ridiculous clothing trends for fashion's sake, today we have been liberated from that tyranny (or could be, if we so chose).
Comfort can be described as softness, easy, non-binding fit, coziness, temperature-comfortable, simple-non-complicated style, and certainly includes ease of care. Comfort sooner or later al ways includes health, for the body has a way of telling us when we are doing it justice or whether we are abusing it. "Around home" wear has always allowed a sort of sloppy comfort, but men and women are now demanding the comfort of casual wear be carried over into their business dressing as well. Not only is there a trend towards more casual dressing; "proper" dressing is being pushed towards more comfortable ends. (1) One is no longer con tent to be comfortable only when walking the dog, or sitting around the fire at home. Many long for professional comfort in clothing and accessories.
What are some of the current trends and how do they measure up health-wise?
Take the shoe market for example. The spiked-heel genera tion of women has finally matured into senior citizens. And what foot problems they have brought into their old age! Women have loved high heels because feet appear smaller, ankles and calves have a stylish shape, the added height makes one feel, if not look, thinner, and the profile view adds pleasing curves and arches. But all this has matured into major health problems for regular wearers of high heels. "Women wind up with pain and deformity in their feet—to the extent of needing surgery—95% more often than men, particularly on the front of the foot, which is attributed to pointy shoes and high heels." (2)
Consistent coping with tight high heels forces the foot into habitual pain which can eventually deform the big toe, cause bun ions (outgrowths at the base of the big toe) or other problems. (3) "With each step in a high heel, the body attempts to cushion itself, and while that may mean a callus on the outside of the ball of the foot, it can also mean inferior metatarsal bursitis [painful inflammation] on the inside." (4) Habitually trying to jam a rectangular foot into a triangular "footbox" can result in hammertoes—per manently deformed, bent toes which often acquire arthritis in later years. Pinched nerves between the third and fourth toes some times cause numbness and pain from Morton's neuroma. But more than just foot problems, back and leg problems develop. Some senior citizens who have worn high heels for so long cannot even walk flatfooted any more. Their calf muscles experience a permanent contracture. (5) This in itself proves to be a challenge. The contracted muscles may make high heels necessary, but they are much trickier to balance than low-heeled walking shoes or going barefoot. (6) It is important that older, frail women not fall.
Often people do not re alize that ageing feet get bigger. The American Orthope dic Foot and Ankle Society estimates that around 90% of women surveyed wear shoes that are too small. Instead of having their feet measured each time they purchase new shoes they ask for the same size shoe that they have always worn, so, more often than not, they wear shoes that are too small. (7) it is best to shop for shoes late in the day when feet are the biggest and one should wear the exact type of stocking that will be worn with the shoes. (8)
But there is good news for health from the shoe in dustry. Even though there will always be fashion ad dicts who wear up-to-the- minute designer clothing no matter how it feels, there seems to be a rising revolt against mindless discomfort. "Now that Americans are weaning athletic shoes much of the week-end their feet are reluctant to squeeze into the instruments of torture commonly called dress shoes. Skinny, stiff leather shoes are out, roomier, gen tler shoes are in." People, except trendsetters, are not putting up with the torture vehicles of the past. (9) In fact this new trend of apply ing the athletic footwear technology to fashion styles has been highly popular. Footwear News surveyed retailers, with the following results: "Comfort shoes, which only a few years ago accounted for 20-30 percent of business for many stores, now often represents 40 to 60 percent of all sales, and in some cases, —particularly in dependents—has grabbed as much as 85 percent." (10)
What does one look for in comfortable shoes? Shock absorption and heel cushion ing greatly reduce the jarring effects of walking and standing. The shoe insert material can be very important for reducing the impact to the tibia and even the forehead. (11) One tires less with good shock absorption and heel cushioning. Ex cellent arch support is important but should not be at the expense of flexibility of the sole. A good shoe should be very stable and not allow feet to roll too far in or out. Comfortable shoes should breathe and dissipate sweat as well as be very light weight. (12) If one carefully examines one's shoes with such criteria in mind some of the old favorites might have to go but we can be thankful for current healthy fads. Five years ago one would never have thought of wear ing "hiking" boots with a dress, which is often done now; ten years ago one would never have considered Reboks and ankle socks with a business suit to be proper street wear. We've come a long way! Watch for better, comfortable dress shoes; but be willing to pay the price. Remember, a good pair of shoes will last nearly "forever." An uncomfortable pair you may wear once or twice but it will thenceforth only serve to junk up your closet. Spend a little more for really good comfortable shoes that you'll always be glad to reach for. Shoe manufacturing has been changing to provide more comfort and thus better health.
How about health aspects of other clothing? Some interesting things to watch in the near future are the new high tech fibers.
New High Tech Fibers
The 1970s brought lib eration to the women of America in even healthy ways. Double knits and poly esters did away with long hours spent slaving over ironing boards. Knit pant- suits could literally be thrown into the wash, dried, and put back on immediately Husbands' shirts needed only to be hung up after coming from the drier.
Grown-up baby boomer hippies clung to their old blue jeans and tee shirts, and love for cottons and wools. Over night, it seems, "polyester" was out, except for seniors who could not imagine why anyone in her right mind would go back to cotton. The liberated baby boomers had it figured out, however—either shirts all went to the cleaners to be professionally laundered, or because wife was CEO and at the office as late as he was, he ended up ironing his own stuff. So we've been in this natural fabric mode for a few years now as "dockers," "jeans," "tees," and "sweats" have reigned supreme. But pendulums have a way of swinging, and the current trend toward natural fabrics may swing back towards highly technical, specified (yes, synthetic) textiles. Why?
Sportswear often determines popular demand. A glance at the kinds of sports wear advocated these days (aside from the ever popular, strongly dominant cotton tee shirt and pair of jeans), one notes highly specialized, carefully researched and fab ricated clothing geared to exact climate conditions. There has been "a technological breakthrough resulting in a fiber with properties that nature never dreamed of." (13)
The newer fabrics also decrease the number of layers needed to combat cold. Instead of wearing so many layers they felt like walking cardboard, skiers and cold weather hikers now need only two or three soft, thin, lightweight differing pieces that trap body heat rather than trying to shut out the cold." (14)
A windproof outer layer that is also highly breathable keeps wind from blowing off warmth; under that are synthetic layer(s) such as polarfleece that wick moisture away from skin to the outer surface for evaporation. Cotton (the traditional underlayer) is now thought to be a no-no be cause it absorbs and retains moisture in vapor and liquid forms. Cotton cannot wick this moisture on out so it re tains it, which is apt to cause chill and hypothermia. (15)
Cotton has the reputa tion for "breathing" better than polyester. But experts now report that this is not true. "Cotton seems to breathe better because it quickly soaks up all your sweat and holds on to it. Polyester, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with your sweat. So, if your sweat condenses, you feel it there on the inside of the fabric, not getting absorbed by the fibers. If you're sweating a lot, the cotton would get soggy, while the synthetic would stay essentially dry as the moisture is wicked through it." Wool, the other traditional favorite, absorbs even more water than cotton besides causing many to itch. Some of these highly technical polypros and new polyesters and microfibers such as fleeces are allowing sports personnel to have far greater dexterity because of fewer, more comfortable, yet highly effective layers, some of these new materials are becoming available so we can dress warmly and sensibly in a health ful way.
Many styles include tight clothing. Tight underwear, tight jeans, tight sports wear—such sometimes cause the "tight clothing syndrome." Tight clothing can have health implications. It can signifi cantly restrict diaphragmatic breathing. (16) Chronic venous insufficiency has been found to be directly linked to tight cloth ing, in combination with overweight and a low-fiber diet with resultant straining. (17) other problems that have been linked to tight clothing are yeast infections and vaginitis. "Tight-fitting clothing can encour age moisture retention, promoting growth of organisms." (18)
How. tight is tight? How much does breathability and wicking of some of the newer fabrics and specialized synthetics have to do with venting off the problems that "tight clothing" has implied in the-past? Some of these questions cannot be an swered until some of these new fabrics have a more widespread usage. Some of the high-tech undergarments allow for excellent wicking, and also have anti-microbial agents manufactured right into the fabric. I could find no research to examine the results of such claims.
Even Warmth of the Whole Body
When women elect to wear dresses they have a distinct responsibility to clothe their extremities adequately. It is commonplace when in a dress or skirt of some kind to clothe the legs in mere pantyhose. (19) The latter might be fine for a warm office building or home, but often we women go out into inclement weather with bare legs in only pantyhose. Here is where we should listen to the body more carefully. If the body says "Cold!" believe it and do something about it. Don't just repress brain signals and go on with business as usual. High boots may easily be worn, but even with this extra help knees and upper legs can be thoroughly chilled. Wear leggings or warm layers of long underwear (consider the new types of cozy fleece).* One might also con sider knitting or making polartec knee covers that can be tucked into boots and extend up the legs, to be easily removed (by velcro) when boots are exchanged for shoes indoors. Boots, as well as overcoats, should be re moved indoors so the body does not overheat. If not, when one sweats then even tually goes outside, she is more likely to chill.
There is a tendency to wear less and less in the summer, when it gets hot people want to take off cloth ing. Even before it is techni cally "hot," shorts become the norm. Aside from the moral issues of showing too much flesh and hurting our fellow travelers, brief shorts have health problems to complicate them.
Shorts encourage too much exposure to sun. Not only is there is a danger of getting too much sun when wearing brief wear, people who don't have good tans look terrible wearing shorts (white, flabby legs look hor rible), so the tendency is to make sure one gets a good tan before donning the shorts. Why is it that in an age when we understand skin cancer, we still insist on burn ing ourselves? We believe cancer only hap pens to "someone else." While sun is good, one has to be careful not to get too much. Shorts demand and promote over-expo sure.
How can one stay cool and not go the shorts way? The coolest way is to use loose, non-restricting clothing that covers. Easy-care (i.e. not needing ironing) cotton is an excellent fabric for summer, because in summer one wants absorption of sweat, and if the cotton gets wet all the better for cooling purposes—that's what sweating is for! Ultraviolet protection is sometimes warranted and some new fabrics are meant to be cool, yet block out the sun.
Health has more than one aspect. Our consideration of healthful dress would be incomplete without dealing with spiritual, moral, and social health. What about the unisex clothing code? Women and men are wearing more and more of the same cloth ing. Catalogues show items for both men and women. Styles are the same, except that women's have a different cut to ac commodate their curves more comfortably. Fashion and clothing are an art form that merely express tangibly the current philosophy of the times. Women's liberation has assured this generation that she can wear anything he can, although the reverse is still not "true except for hairstyles.
But the Bible clearly calls for a distinct difference between men's and women's clothing. (Deuteronomy 22:5) Christians need to stand up responsibly against the tide towards androgyny by wearing distinctly women's and men's clothing. It has been shown that the gender-types of clothing, toys, and activities of children do make a significant difference in adult sexual orientation regardless of the cultural context in which those behaviors emerge. (20) Unless we as Christians want to be part of a society that can be described in Romans 1, we need to stand now.
Thankfully we live in an age when consumers are beginning to demand com fort, which is often synonymous with healthy. We do need to listen more to what our bodies tell us about our own clothing. If it is tight or hurts, believe your body and loosen up! If you feel cold, don't endure it, put on another layer. If you are hot, take it easy, drink some water, catch a breeze and choose loose, breeze-encouraging clothes. So many new options are opening in our technological age, we need to experiment and see what is comfortable and most healthful.
There is a time for everything, we are told. There is a time to be warm and a time to be cool, a time to be dressed up, and a time to be casual. Appropriateness means there is a time to dress according to the expectations of others according to situation, yet health demands we listen to our bodies while being appropriate. Let's realize that dressing is a matter of common sense and be free from fashion expectations of others. Let's be sensible and appropriate.
- * Most sporting goods catalogues now have many types of "leggings" used to layer under sporting outfits. Some can be considered to keep extremities more warm. Some of my favorite companies are L. L. Bean (1-800-221-4221). Land's End (1-800-356-4444), and Early Winters (1-800-821-1286, this company offers a wonderful education on the new fibers as well), if one enjoys sewing, some of the leggings can be made for a fraction of the cost and serged up in one half hour or so. Some of these new cozy high tech fabrics can be obtained from Outdoor Wil derness Fabric (1-208-466-1602) and Seattle Fab rics (1-206-632-6022). The later ones also sell patterns. Such items can be expensive but last a long time if well cared for.
The Journal of Health & Healing Volume 20, Number 1 For more information on healthful dress feel free to write the EDITOR—Dr. Marjorie Baldwin.
HEALTH IN DRESS is of VITAL IMPORTANCE
1. Salmon, J. Why worry about pleat pull and sloppy socks? Corporate casual gets complicated.Answered, volume 128, n. 14, p 5 I. September 30,1996.
2. Schemed, W. Walking Tall. Vogue, p 252, December 1994.
3. Feet hurt, lady? Blame your shoes. USA •today, v. 122, n. 2586, p 10, March 1994.
4. Schemed, W. Walking Tall. Vogue, p 252, December 1994.
6. Sir, Lord & Baseboard, Gem., Shoe charac teristics and balance in older women. journal of American Geriatric Society, p 429- 433, April 1996.
7. Berkeley Wellness Letter, v. 10, n. 11, University of California, 1994.
8. Shoes for comfort and style. Consumer Reports, p 61, January 1995.
9. Ibid, p 59.
10. Beardsley, E. The quest for happy feet. Saturday Evening Post, p 110, April 1991.
11. Forner, A., ef al. Properties of shoe insert materials related to shock wave transmis sion during gait. Foot-Ankle-lnt., p 778-786, December 16,1995.
12. Shoes for comfort and style. Consumer Reports, p 59-61, January 1995.
13. Levine, J. Fiber fever. Forbes, p 103, March 4,1991.
14. Lerman J. Layer craft. Skiing, p 92, January 1996.
16. MacHose, M., and Peper, E., The effect of clothing on inhalation volume. Biofeed- back-Self-Regul, p 261-265, September 1991.
17. Carpentier, P., and Priollet, P. Epidemiology of chronic venous insufficiency. Presse-Med, p 197-201, February 10,1994.
18. Austin, P., Thrash, A., and Thrash, C. Natural Remedies, p 218.
19. Bassinet, D. The panties market is in a bind.American Demographics, p 17, April 1994, Although according to one report I read, the "numbers of women regularly wearing panty hose has declined due to the increasingly popularity of a more casual life-style, with the result that the hosiery market is shrinking. Roper Starch Worldwide reports that in 1992, only 26% of women wore panty hose each day."
20. Whitman, F.L. and Mathy, R.M. Childhood cross-gender behavior of homosexual females In Brazil, Peru, the Philippines, and the United States. Arch-Sex-Behav., p 151 - 170, April 1991.