Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Layers, Layers, Layers

After a sister missionary has her call in hand, one of the challenges she faces is designing the wardrobe that is going to meet her needs for the next 18 months. It is really important that time and energy is put into gathering just the right items that fit not only personal taste and style, but the dress and grooming guidelines set apart by the Church itself. When choosing items to take, it is critical that sisters take things that are going to last, be easy to care for, and are appropriate for where they are serving. So, if you are called to serve in a place that has hot summers, and cold winters, how do you make your wardrobe work without having to pack double?

Cold Winter?
New travel weight restrictions, and limited suitcase space already require that sister missionaries pack savvy and smart. While this may seem impossible, it is not. The secret to making this work can be summed up in one word—layers. Any outdoorsman worth their salt can tell you that the best way to beat the cold is to plan layers. Skiers, hikers, boy scouts, and backpackers have known this for a very long time, and the market has developed all kinds of specialized thermals, socks, boots, and outerwear. The problem is that most of it is geared for rugged outdoor activities—not girls walking or riding bikes in inclement weather while wearing dresses. The secret is to capitalize on the best of both worlds—wear layers engineered to keep you warm and dry that you can hide under classy, polished, and appropriate outifts.

Hot Summer?

Important Questions

To begin, there are a few questions that a sister needs to answer about her mission. This information will be valuable in determing what to take, what thickness, what fibre content, and how much.

  • How cold is the coldest weather in your mission, and conversely, how hot is the hottest?
  • Does humidity play a role in how hot and cold it feels when you are out in the elements?
  • Will you be walking and using public transportation, on a bike, or in a car?
  • Are items available in your mission that will fit you and that you can afford?
  • Will your living quarters be climate controlled, or do you need to plan for a more Spartan experience in your apartment? (like bringing a down comforter or sleeping bag—usually this one is specified by the mission leadership.)

Bringing layers to wear under and over the clothing that will be worn as a missionary is the easiest and most efficient way to pack. The basic layers are as follows: baselayer—this would be what is next to your skin (over your underwear), mid-layer—this is your outfit, insulation—this is the layer that traps body heat and it's the layer most easily shed during the day when you are warm, and finally the outerlayer—this is your outerwear. Each play an important role in keeping you warm and dry.

For example, a sister could have a spring outfit that would be a basic skirt and blouse (the mid-layer). This outfit can be made warmer by wearing thermals (baselayer), and wool tights (mid-layer), layering a cardigan or sweater on top (insulation), and wearing warm, waterproof boots and outerwear (outerlayer). As the temperature changes during the day, it is easy to peel back some layers to lighten the outfit if necessary. The ease in packing comes in when instead of packing double outfits, one outfit can be made to be worn in both climates. In the summer, the outfit (mid-layer) can be worn without any layers under or over, to keep the sister cool during the toasty months.

Here are a few facts that can help when choosing clothing for all seasons.

  • Natural fibres keep warmth better than synthetic fibres. (fibres such as wool, silk, down, alpaca etc.) However, they are not as durable as synthetic fibres. So, a blend of the two is the most desireable to take advantage of the best of both fibres.
  • Cotton is not a great insulator as it looses its ability to insulate when it gets wet. (such as with wet weather conditions or sweat)
  • Wool, on the other hand, stays warm even when wet. This information matters when choosing hosiery or thermals.
  • Silk is a great fibre for baselayers because it is lightweight, but warm for the weight so you don't feel like you are padded down. It also dries quickly, and is a great all season fibre.
  • Down is generally considered the best insulator in a coat or bedding, but it also loses its ability to insulate when it is wet. It takes a long time to dry too. So if you are wearing a down coat, make sure the outer shell is waterproof.

One last consideration is whether or not the mission has “transitional” weather. This is weather that happens between seasons. In places where there are 4 seasons, this would be Fall and Spring. This is a time where it is not yet hot enough or cold enough for full blown warm summer or cold winter, so it is helpful to have a jacket that is warm enough to cut the chill, but not hot. We suggest for this time just take a lightweight outerlayer that can be removed or worn depending on the temperature.

So, when planning your outfits, it is important to think about how many months a year you will be wearing winter gear, and how many you will be wearing summer. Plan your layers—baselayer, mid-layer, insulation, and outerlayer—and you will be glad that you thought ahead!