The Washington Post

Sweatiquette: the temperature is rising — but standards don’t have to fall

Street vendor Ryan Pratt during a June heat wave. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

The accomplished residents of the nation’s capital can recall historical, political and pop culture minutiae in mind-numbing detail, but when it comes to weather, most of these wise folks become amnesiacs. And so, as we once again settle into the depths of summer, a great hue and cry can be heard from the sweltering streets and alleys: Egad! It’s hot! Oh my God! I’m sweating!

Yes, just like last summer and the one before that, July and August are sticky, broiling and stifling. And this week will be especially brutal with temperatures in the 90s; promises of hot, gusty winds; and a heat index hovering around 100. Aside from those suffering souls whose work keeps them outside or whose circumstances keep them in an unventilated environment, the heat is not so much a physical burden as it is a challenge to aesthetics, decorum and professionalism. It’s not easy looking powerful and composed with sweat pouring from areas you didn’t even know had sweat glands.

In a heat wave like the one hovering over Washington — and with many more dog days to come — there really is no way to venture outside, from one air-conditioned appointment to another, without working up a generous layer of perspiration.

The best one can do is to take a few cues from another generation — a time of greater civility, a slower pace and no central air conditioning.


US President Barack Obama (Michael Reynolds/ EPA)

1. Use a handkerchief to mop your brow — and then put it away. Do not be one of those smarmy people walking around with a washcloth on top of your head. K Street is not your personal loo. And hankies are better than Kleenex, which can disintegrate on your forehead, leaving you spackled with bits of tissue.

2. Walk on the shady side of the street and do so slowly. Learn to saunter.

3. The wonders of Dri-Fit and other moisture-wicking fabrics are great if you’re heading to the gym. But for professional purposes, make cotton, linen, wool — tropical weight — your friends. Behold the shirtwaist dress. Light colors are cooler, although darker ones are less likely to show sweat stains. Sandals, yes; flip-flops, no. I won’t even discuss pantyhose.

4. Gentlemen, wear an undershirt and, hopefully, you will not sweat through to your dress shirt. Nicely tailored seersucker is classic and charming, but not with a straw boater, because you are going to the office, not floating down the Potomac on a riverboat.

5. Near nudity on city streets will not keep you cooler; you will only risk sunburning delicate body parts. If you are not basking in the afterglow of a 5k: Men, put your shirt back on; women, keep your nether regions reasonably covered.

6. Be a kind host and immediately offer hot arrivals some cold water — or better yet, lemonade — and an opportunity to freshen up.

7. To glow is human. There is no need to aspire to a perfectly matte appearance. No drugstore makeup can withstand this weather and humidity. So go easy on it, lest you look like an Edvard Munch painting. Even better, skip it. Your nude face will not scare small children — or your boss.

8. Do not crank up the air conditioning until icicles form indoors. Let your body adjust to the warmth. It’s a lot more jarring going from 65 degrees inside to 90 degrees outdoors than it is emerging from an office that holds steady at a nice energy-saving 78 degrees.

9. In polite conversation, it’s fine to comment on the weather. Then move along. Obsessing about the heat will only make you hotter.

This post has been updated, because yet again it is hot out in Washington in July.

Robin Givhan is a staff writer and the Washington Post fashion critic, covering fashion as a business, as a cultural institution and as pure pleasure.



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