Clothing as adaptive strategy

July is the coldest month in Wollongong, and we work in a poorly insulated building with no central heating or cooling (unless you are a computer lab). Even on the beautifully sunny days we’ve had lately it can get down to 10 degrees in the office.


That flushes out all kinds of interesting ways to stay warm. Catherine knits ferociously, Nick runs up Mt Keira, Michael wears polar fleece, Chris has a big woollen jacket, Leah keeps cycling. Jen does fieldwork in warm places and when she gets back has a very elegant black coat she can wear all day. My favourite adaptive strategies are the gorgeous assortments of scarves, shawls and beanies that emerge.


Having lived in Sweden, I know that our conditions are nowhere near really cold. But, as Chris Gibson mentioned in his recent post, that’s part of the problem. The greater Sydney region pretends winter is not really happening, and its buildings are not well designed for the cold we do get. In Wollongong we lose the sun behind our beautiful escarpment between early and mid-afternoon. And the westerly winds blowing from the desert are not warm.



So it would be good if they sealed the windows. It would be good if we could get rid of the inefficient and power-guzzling electric blow heaters. It would be good if our northern hemisphere visitors felt a little less chilly (even when we prepare them, they are always surprised at how cold it is). But we spend enough of the year sitting round in T-shirts. As we say goodbye to July, let’s enjoy the scarves, shawls and beanies while we can.



10 thoughts on “Clothing as adaptive strategy

  1. Some time ago, when I moved in architecture circles, I remember then Government Architect Chris Johnson saying that on the east coast we all pretend we live one climate zone north. So Wollongong and Sydney pretend we are sub-tropical; north coast NSW and Brisbane pretend they are in the tropics – and we build accordingly, which is fine in summer, but we then have to wear the consequences in winter!

  2. I highly recommend field work in warmer climes for that hit of vitamin D mid winter! – but I have to admit I also vastly underestimated how cold it can get in north-western Queensland during June – to the point where I didnt take a jacket at all and had to make a trip to the camping store to buy a jacket.

  3. I’m interested in sock choice too. I now wear ‘arctic’ socks made by a Canadian company for outdoor workers. But wear them inside in Australia! I wear them 3-4 days in a row. Not many truly warm sock options available in Oz. What socks do others wear?

  4. Well if we’re getting closer to intimate details, I should also mention Dr Atchison’s fabulous collection of merino layers in beautiful colours.

  5. 100% wool leggings under jeans = essential. Now sold cheaply at Target. Hallelujah. And i recommend staying with friends in Canberra and the Southern Highlands during winter. They are not in denial about the cold. They invest in underfloor/central heating. Sydney and Wollongong folk are living in denial about winter temperatures. It does not help that the younger generation do not seem to feel the cold and walk around in thongs (i mean the shoes people!) even in cold weather. Makes one wonder if there is something wrong with you…. but no! It is those crazy teenagers!

  6. I think clothing as adaptive strategy is brilliant. I am still surprised on my shuttle bus ride to work by the diversity of clothing worn during this season — when parkas and wooly scarfs sit beside thongs (what I think of as flip-flops) and shorts on the shuttle bus I take to work. I must admit I don’t resort to parkas or heavy sweaters here, but I went I first got to Australia I was surprised by how cold my office and apartment would get – and by the choices made in building construction. I feel funny saying this as a Canadian – raised in Northern Ontario where -25C isn’t unusual in winter – but Wollongong can feel cold.

    In the autumn, Canadians have what I think of as an informal competition over how long they can last without turning on the heat in their houses. It’s one of those conversations you overhear and participate in as small-talk — when and how you heat your home combines with the weather-of-the-day. It’s not a conversation I hear in Wollongong, where – as others have noted – the cold is addressed ambivalently with comments of ‘it’s so cold!’ coming with clothing and buildings that attempt to ignore the shivers.

    Chris – nothing beats a pair of hand-knit wooly socks!

  7. Despite multiple layers of merino (including sock brand of choice ‘Icebreaker’) my ongoing complaints of the cold apparently got to my husband, who last week ordered me an artic goose down jacket – and oh wow – I have finally thawed out. I sat around in our freezer box weatherboard house one day last week without out the heater on – perfectly toasty! Just have to work out now how much embodied energy involved in making the jacket and the flying it here from US to work out how much energy I need to save….

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