Home ARTICLES Breaking Down Your Layers By: Olivia Gudaniec
Breaking Down Your Layers By: Olivia Gudaniec

Breaking Down Your Layers By: Olivia Gudaniec


For those of us who do not live in a warm climate three hundred and sixty-five days of the year, the winter months can be excruciating. That is why layering up to maximize one’s heat with the right clothes is a vital necessity. When exposed to harsh climates, especially if your job requires you to be outside for a prolonged period of time, the last thing you want to agonize over is if you have enough layers on. From my own experience working as a crew member in the film industry, having the proper outdoor gear is a must.

You never know where the scene will take you and how long you will be there for. Whether you work in film or another trade do not let the chilly weather affect your livelihood. By living and shooting in Canada, the winter months are cold and can be quite unpleasant. That is why for the past few years I have been experimenting with various types of thermal wear to use when I am outside working on set for hours on end. What better way to get some honest feedback then from your peers and coworkers? I truly value word of mouth and referrals as it is my go-to when trying new items. Within a couple of minutes, I had discovered that the most commonly used thermal fabrics that people at work sported were synthetic and merino wool. The thought to question my base layer never came to mind until one day I got fed up. I have spent thousands of dollars on thermal wear, why am I still shivering? It baffled me that I was working outside and trembling with an undershirt, long sleeved shirt, a sweater, a vest and a Canada Goose jacket on top. What more could I possibly do other then move to the Caribbean? And yes, the thought to relocate did cross my mind. So naturally I began to examine my layers. It was a task I did not take lightly. Every morning, like clockwork I put on my cotton undershirt. Then I added the thickest sweaters I could find and topped it off with the warmest and longest jacket that was available to purchase.

Ironically, after a few clicks on google I found that cotton is the worst thing to start with when seeking warmth. Who knew? I just assumed more layers equaled more heat. Big mistake. Mountainwarehouse.com gives readers a valuable tip by emphasizing that: “cotton is unsuitable for a technical base layer as the fabric soaks up moisture and draws heat away from the body leaving the wearer cold and uncomfortable” (2014). Yes we are layering up to protect our skin, but the goal is keeping sweat away from the body to maintain optimal body temperature when out in the cold. You want to be dry and warm and I was unintentionally doing the opposite by incorporating cotton as my base. Moreover, the base layer should be fixed to your figure, so skin to garment fitted contact is ideal. I found this acted as padding or insulation as it trapped air next to the body. Then you can add extra coats depending on the temperature. A coworker mentioned merino wool to me last year and I decided to give it a go. After all, I will try anything to keep myself warm when those cold bursts of wind and snow appear. Luckily, around my city we have an outlet shopping mall that holds Icebreaker, a shop dedicated to all things merino wool.

When glancing through the store, I was taken aback when I saw the soaring prices. As I browsed through several pieces of clothing, they all looked so thin and fragile that it almost appeared like the manufacturer was scrapping for material. A sweater ranged from two hundred to four hundred dollars, whereas t-shirts and long sleeved shirts were around the one hundred dollar mark. “How could this keep me warm?” I thought as I delicately tried on garments in the fitting room. I understand that these clothes are natural with minimal impact on the environment but will they really work? I was still skeptical even after being reassured by my friends and store clerks, so I confirmed multiple times that I could return my items if they failed me. I purchased both a long sleeved shirt and a sweater to test out in the great outdoors. Surprisingly, months later, I am a firm supporter of merino wool and it’s benefits. In addition, I cannot put a price tag on having my core warm when I am planning on being outside for twelve hours or more at a time. Comfort has always been a major factor for me. So what can one expect when buying merino wool? Along with its breathability, merino wool happens to be exceptionally lightweight with no itchiness associated with it. Traditional wool, on the other hand, also provides plenty of heat but when my mom purchased some wool socks for me a few weeks ago, I could barely put them on as the mere touch was repelling. Due to its coarse fibers I could not understand why someone would wear these extremely itchy and harsh socks when we now have access to merino wool. So why is it that only recently I have been introduced to this soft and light fabric? Why don’t more people know about it? From the Southern Alps of New Zealand to Spain and Australia, merino wool has been around for decades and has successfully extended its life to the fashion industry. This highly resilient natural fabric is ideal for my line of work but is not limited to be just used as a utilitarian item. Furthermore, additional benefits include minimal to no odor. You can wear the same shirt or sweater for days on end and not worry about the smell. Sounds crazy, right? This is something I had to try to believe. Rei.com confirms that: “wool is naturally antibacterial” (2014) and by having delicate fibers moisture evaporates quickly. Plus, many people have even incorporated merino wool into their exercise regime and loungewear. The most appealing thing to me about synthetic layers are the price. For less then forty dollars you can purchase a decent quality long sleeved shirt that will keep you warm. These wrinkle resistant thermals are exceptionally soft and are generally made up of polyester. I never worry about shrinkage or how I treat it. The low maintenance of the fabric, with its easy to care for instructions makes it machine washable too. Yet, synthetic garments are prone to staining and odor if not washed regularly. My solution was to stick to black fabrics when going synthetic and I was aware that this item will not last me a lifetime. Plus, for the low price I am paying, I am content with that. Rei.com highlights that if you choose synthetic the: “Nonabsorbent fibers transport moisture away from skin, spreading it over the garment’s outer surface to speed evaporation” (2014). Another pro in regards to synthetic fibers is its ultimate drying time. However, please be careful if you are ever near a fire as the fabric is extremely flammable.

I doubt you will want to get that warm. Haha! Still on the fence as to what to choose? Both synthetic and merino wool removes moisture away from the body so it can evaporate quickly. As I get cold easily, I add more and more layers. The great thing about merino wool is that it is thinner then even I expected. So if you choose to go that way expect less bulk. Essentially the item should work so you do not have to layer as much as you originally would have had too. In addition, merino wool garments will require more care. For the amount of money that will be spent, rest assured you are buying quality items that are built to last. If you treat it delicately, you can keep it looking brand new throughout its lifespan. When washing, always close all zippers, turn your shirt/sweater inside out, forgo the softener and wash in cold temperatures with like colors. Most of my merino wool items have remained in pristine condition, with the exception of one long sleeved shirt, which now has tiny little frills around it. Most merino wool garments do come with a lifetime guarantee so double check if the store you purchased from enforces that regulation. Lastly, if I can stress anything with the care instructions its to NOT put your merino wool in the drier or it WILL shrink. Overall, whether you are going synthetic or paying the big bucks for merino wool, having your largest organ covered prevents it from drying up and cracking. Wool is a classic element that has been incorporated into many timeless pieces and yet synthetic is practical and affordable. However, make no mistake ordinary synthetics do not breathe as well as natural fibers. There are many types of materials that perform different functions so test out various base layers and see what works for you. On the whole, I hope I shed some light on how to properly layer and you are more informed and aware of the pros and cons of the basic base layers. Stay warm wherever you may be. Copyright © 2015 Olivia Gudaniec

  • Model:Olivia Gudaniec
  • Photographer: Sarah Angela Nacario