With sub-zero nights, it’s time to crack out the thermals

There’s no getting away from it – it’s thermal time once again.

Oh bugger, it is that time of year again. Time to give in and get out the thermals.

I normally bung these on at the beginning of October and wear them religiously till about April, but this year we had a bit of an Indian summer (just as well, since we didn’t get a real one) and that makes your guard drop a little. 

No longer, though. We are now into frosty mornings and daytime temperatures of 7-10 degrees, and that’s officially thermal time. 

There are girlies, who shall remain nameless, who move here to rural France and simply wilt like hot-house flowers the minute winter arrives. They move from a centrally-heated flat in a city to an isolated stone pile, six times the size and with no heating, and then wonder why they’re shivering.

Few of them own so much as a decent jumper or woolly tights, because they’re used to living in temperatures of 22 degrees even in the office, so these interiors of 16-19 degrees, or even lower, throw them into a complete tailspin. You have two choices here – either return home complaining about how horrible France is (chosen by about two thirds of Brits), or toughen up and buy some thermals.

Thermals are not, any longer, the dingy waffle-knits your gran wore. They now come in all manner of colours and styles, including purple, red, pink, polka dot and leopard print. The most useful items are longjohns (far warmer than any tights you’ll ever own) and a long camisole, which you can wear under virtually anything. After that, I go for long-sleeved crew- or v-neck tees for maximum flexibility – if I wear short sleeves, I always feel that my arms are cold.

A surprising number of women in the US wear knee-length thermal knickers, and this is mainly in summer because their offices are air-conditioned to the hilt. Madness, really, and I wonder how many companies can keep up that kind of energy bill in the current climate, or continue to require daft, trouser-eschewing dress codes of their female staff. 

But I digress…

Thermal tops are long, and the reason they’re long is that it’s important to keep your kidneys warm in cold weather. The body has a massive blood supply running through here, which is probably why it’s considered the centre of the body in Chinese medicine. Some modern brands of thermal have an extra-thick section at the small of your back, sometimes in microfibre, to protect your kidneys. That way, the rest of the garment isn’t bulky and you get the warmth where it’s most needed. Good thermals should also have close-knit cuffs at leg, arm or wrist, to prevent nasty draughts from drifting up your limbs. 

As to fabric, my recommendations these days are silk, silk and more silk. I’ve tried every kind of fabric going, including thermolactyl, cotton, trevira and all the proprietary brand-name fabrics produced by different manufacturers, and I always come back to silk, which is warm, slippy, lightweight and truly pleasant to wear.

Silk blended with wool is useful if you’re a chilly person – a 70/30 blend has masses of warmth and stretch and is as light as a feather. My silk thermals come in various different weights, and I also have silk/merino blends. The lightest-weight ones also double as pyjamas.

When you wear your thermals, take care to layer them. After knickers and bra, put on your longjohns and then tuck your top into them. Then add your trousers or skirt, and on top, a sweater or tee. Your outer clothes look perfectly normal, but you’ve effectively draught-proofed yourself.

I’ve bought thermals from all over the world, including direct from China, via Damart, and from Marks and Spencer in the UK, but my favourite company is Winter Silks. This has a massive range and an easy-to-understand ‘snowflake’ system so you can work out your needs.  I’ll be reviewing them later, but for now, log on to www.wintersilks.com and have a look – you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find.


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