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Dressed To Chill 

The low-power wardrobe

Wednesday, May 23 2001
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Illustration by Dana Collins

You’ve heard of power suits — well, now it’s time to consider the low-power wardrobe. Fashion has been around longer than electricity. Once upon a time, temperature-controlled malls did not exist and mothers sewed everything. There weren’t any washing machines, and people had to launder their clothes by hand. Back at the ranch, cowboys had to round up not only cattle, but also clothing. Hand-washing their filthy, stinky clothes, smelling of rawhide and manure, was part of the routine. But technology advanced, and in the early ’50s, machine-washable clothes were such a hit they were often referred to as “wonders.” So hand-washing has sort of died out, gone the way of the traditional shoot-’em-up cowboys.

Today, when the temperature heats up, the amount of clothing that a person wears drops dramatically. Shirts lose their sleeves, skirts lose their length and shoes even lose their toes. This summer it will be harder than ever to keep cool, with less air conditioning, less machine-washing and a lot more heat. But this doesn’t mean you have to dress like Britney Spears or the Destiny’s Child divas to look hot and stay cool.

Consider cotton, and blends of Lycra, nylon and spandex (this is often what bathing suits are made of). When picking your hot-weather wardrobe, try taking a look at the label and see if it’s something that you can hand-wash and hang-dry (some things the label won’t tell you — like in Minnesota it’s illegal to hang men’s and women’s undies next to each other). Busy prints and darker colors may not be the typical warm-weather choice; usually summer means bright, vibrant colors, or pale shades of yellow and blue. But by going dark, clothes will show less dirt and need washing less often. And wearing black, or chocolate brown, of course, is as much a part of L.A. culture as SigAlerts. Hide the effects of smog, and look cool too.

Reversible skirts and convertible tops and pants (these usually have zippers that take off the sleeves or legs and make them into shorts or tanks) are great for conserving wash loads when you wear them a couple of times. Items made for wet, hot, sweaty people — like fitness clothes and beachwear — can also make great additions to your everyday wardrobe. After rolling blackout number three, you’ll be glad you invested in that lightweight, quick-drying mesh-material fitness tank from Nike. (Talk about energy-efficient, this top’s made of a polyester that’s created from recycled plastic soda bottles.) Or do as the Romans did: Wear togas . . . well, maybe that’s going a little too far. ä p.42

Dresses have to be the ultimate summer item, so when the weather heats up, guys get screwed. Long or short, sleeveless or short, dresses are great in every style, shape or size. Fashion magazines have been featuring sundresses, and Carlota Espinosa, producer of a style segment on the Fox Morning News, tells us that femininity is in. Too bad, gentlemen — unless you’re daring enough to try a dress.

At the end of the day, sometimes the best thing is to go home, take off your clothes and slip into something more comfortable. But why wait until the end of the day? College kids have been seen going extra comfy and wearing their nightclothes in the daytime. In bright colors, prints and patterns, cotton pajama pants, sold sans matching tops, can be found at Target, the Gap, Victoria’s Secret and several other retail stores.

When getting dressed this summer, reflect back to a time when California was a place where cattle roamed and orange groves grew — this here was cowboy country. Forget Calvin and toss Tommy aside. A cowboy had a versatile, useful wardrobe. His hat protected him from sun or rain and also served as a water dipper. The bandanna protected his mouth from dust, strained water from the river and tied his hat on tight. His cotton or wool long-sleeved shirts were protection from the elements, and his jeans, which were often worn under leather leggings called chaps, protected his legs from brush. The cowboy dressed for necessity right down to his boots, and some still do — even in 100-degree-plus heat (unlike the one who presently lives in the White House and wears a tux with his boots).

Madonna brings the Western look back into fashion with her video for “Music,” and the energy crisis may bring back the cowboy ideals of no frills and necessity when dressing for power-free summer afternoons. And if you find yourself a nice thoroughbred, you could save some dough on gas prices, too.

Making Suds

Hand-washing one load of clothes saves about 340 kilowatt-hours of energy, or enough to blend approximately 20 pitchers of margaritas. Or at least hang-dry — it could save you from the mystery of one sock.

If hand-washing still isn’t an option, the U.S. Department of Energy has come out with some laundry tips. Wash most clothes in warm or cold water; rinse in cold. You’ll save energy and money. Use hot water only if absolutely necessary. Switching the washer temperature setting from hot to warm could reduce a load’s energy by half.

Fill washers (unless they have a small-load attachment or variable water levels), but do not overload them. In general, washing one large load is more efficient than washing two small loads.

Don’t use too much detergent. Follow the instructions on the box. Oversudsing makes your machine work harder and use more energy. Do not overwash clothes. Delicate clothes don’t need as long a wash cycle as dirty work clothes. Presoak or use a soak cycle when washing heavily soiled garments. You’ll avoid two washings and save energy.

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