Why are we the only animals that wear additional layers over our skin?
Piloerection is a reaction of humans and animals in cases of extreme emotions and extreme cold. When we find ourselves in a cold environment, certain muscles under the skin contract, affecting the hair follicle and causing the hair to stand up and away from the skin. This creates a thicker coat, providing extra insulation by trapping heated air within the layer of hair more effectively than when the hair was in its normal state.
This reaction is quite ineffectual in we humans and so we seek to emulate the effect by putting layers over our skin.
Way back when, we would use animal skins as they were much more effective at trapping this layer of heated air than our own hair. Through time we have discovered more alluring fabrics for this purpose, giving us many different options in different weather situations to the point where the function of the layers is hardly thought about, more the form that these layers take.
Many of these fabrics and garments are still made from animal materials to directly replicate their function.
From big white layers that look like you’ve stolen the fleece of a lamb and stuffed it in your jacket, to cashmere and fine Merino blends, these woven garments can make the softest of thin layers, to heavy coats that effectively trap our body heat and ward off the cutting winter winds. Wool is a quite diverse material that can take on many forms and functions.
The form of leather garments often goes beyond function. Jackets definitely do the job of stopping the transfer of heat to the outside environment, but are a more stylish way than usual to do it. Leather pants however, seem to be less about heat loss and more about body armour – or perhaps plain old fashion statement.
There are some leather garments however, that have form directly related to function, like the trusty Driza-bone.
Incredibly effective; coats, vests and jackets with this material are very popular in extremely cold climates. In these climates most indoor spaces are well heated and only one, efficient layer is required for transit between these spaces. Small pillows containing many pieces of down effectively trap heated air, these garments relying on outer materials and the formation of the pillows to make their own kind of lumpy fashion statement.
The options for the replication of the effect of piloerection really are endless; cotton, linen, wool, cashmere, silks, leather and so many besides giving us the freedom to move about more and be out in the elements.
While this new found freedom has given us many choices of form in function, it has also resulted in some interesting choices that disregard function completely, like scarves with t-shirts or wearing a beanie in summer.