Clothing physiology

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A woman wearing sports bra and boyshorts, conventionally women's sportswear, but now worn as casuals or athleisure by women in the West Keeping Fit and Connected (6635665267) (cropped).jpg
A woman wearing sports bra and boyshorts, conventionally women's sportswear, but now worn as casuals or athleisure by women in the West

Clothing physiology is a branch of science that studies the interaction between clothing and the human body, with a particular focus on how clothing affects the physiological and psychological responses of individuals to different environmental conditions. The goal of clothing physiology research is to develop a better understanding of how clothing can be designed to optimize comfort, performance, and protection for individuals in various settings, including outdoor recreation, occupational environments, and medical contexts.


Purpose of clothing

Human clothing motives are frequently oversimplified in cultural and sociological theories, with the assumption that they are solely motivated by modesty, adornment, protection, or sex. However, clothing is primarily motivated by the environment, with its form being influenced by human characteristics and traits, as well as physical and social factors such as sex relations, costume, caste, class, and religion. Ultimately, clothing must be comfortable in various environmental conditions to support physiological behavior. [1] [2] [3] The concept of clothing has been aptly characterized as a quasi-physiological system that interacts with the human body. [4]

Quasi-physiological systems

Clothing can be considered as a quasi-physiological system that interacts with the body in different ways, just like the distinct physiological systems of the human body, such as digestive system and nervous system, which can be analyzed systematically. [5]

Purpose of clothing physiology

A baby wearing many items of winter clothing: headband, cap, fur-lined coat, scarf, and sweater Well-clothed baby.jpg
A baby wearing many items of winter clothing: headband, cap, fur-lined coat, scarf, and sweater

The acceptance and perceived comfort of a garment cannot be attributed solely to its thermal properties. Rather, the sensation of comfort when wearing a garment is associated with various factors, including the fit of the garment, its moisture buffering properties, and the mechanical characteristics of the fibers and fabrics used in its construction. [6]

The field of clothing physiology concerns the complex interplay between the human body, environmental conditions, and clothing. [7] [4] Through the use of scientific methods, it is possible to accurately measure and quantify the effects of clothing on wearer comfort and overall well-being. [8] [7]

Louis Newburgh is widely recognized among thermal physiologists primarily due to his role as the editor of "Physiology of Heat Regulation and the Science of Clothing". [9] From a physiological perspective, the purpose of clothing is to shield the body from extreme temperatures, whether they be hot or cold. [10] The role of clothing in affecting the wearer's comfort can be described as the connection between the body and the surroundings. When engaged in outdoor activities, the individual's comfort level is influenced by various environmental factors, such as air temperature, humidity, solar radiation, atmospheric and ground thermal radiation. The wearer's posture, metabolic rate, sweating rate, and bodily processes such as moisture absorption, sweat evaporation, and heat loss through conduction and convection via blood, are among additional factors that also play a role in determining the individual's comfort level. [7] :285

Skin physiology

The contact between clothing and skin facilitates the regulation of body temperature through the control of blood flow and sweat evaporation in localized areas. However, the design of functional fabrics that efficiently regulate skin temperature must take into account crucial factors such as age, gender, and activity level. [11] The skin plays a vital role in safeguarding the body's homeostasis by performing a variety of crucial protective functions. Clothing and other textiles interact dynamically with the skin's functions, and the mechanical properties of the fabric, such as its surface roughness, can lead to non-specific skin reactions, such as wool intolerance or keratosis follicularis. [11]

Thermal comfort and insulation

It's common to express metabolic activity in terms of heat production. A resting adult typically generates 100 W of heat, with a significant amount dissipating through the skin. Heat production per unit area of skin, referred to as 1 met, is around 58 W/m2 for a resting individual, based on the average male European's skin surface area of approximately 1.8 m2. The average female European's skin surface area is 1.6 m2 for comparison. [12]

Skin temperatures that correspond to comfort during stationary activities range from 91.4°F to 93.2°F (33°C to 34°C), and these temperatures decrease as the level of physical activity increases. Skin temperature that exceeds 45°C or falls below 18°C induces a sensation of pain. [13] Internal temperatures increase with activity. The brain's temperature regulatory center is around 36.8°C when at rest and rises to about 37.4°C when walking and 37.9°C when jogging. A temperature below 28°C can cause fatal cardiac arrhythmia, while a temperature above 43°C can result in permanent brain damage. Thus, it's crucial to regulate body temperature carefully for both comfort and health. [13]

Clothing insulation can be denoted using the unit of measurement called clo. [13] In the absence of clothing, a thin layer of static air known as the boundary layer forms in close proximity to the skin, acting as an insulating layer that restricts heat exchange between the skin and the surrounding environment. This layer typically offers approximately 0.8 clo units of insulation in a motionless state. [12] It's difficult to apply this generalization to very thin fabric layers or underwear, as they occupy an existing static air layer of no more than 0.5 cm thickness. Consequently, these thin layers offer minimal contribution to the clothing's intrinsic insulation. [12]

The standard measure for clothing insulation is 1.57 clo·cm-1 in thickness, which is equivalent to 4 clo·inch-1. [12]


Enhanced moveability with Elastane Double ring leap.jpg
Enhanced moveability with Elastane

The advancements in fibers, textiles, electronics, functional finishing, and clothing physiology are anticipated to improve human life in numerous areas such as medicine, military, firefighting, extreme sports, and other apparel applications. [14] The study of clothing physiology has been prompted by the need to design effective clothing systems for various specialized environments such as space, polar regions, underwater operations, and industrial settings. [6]

Clothing comfort

Comfort is a multifaceted concept that encompasses various perceptions, including physiological, social, and psychological needs. After sustenance, clothing is one of the most vital objects that can satisfy comfort requirements. This is because clothing offers a range of benefits, including aesthetic, tactile, thermal, moisture, and pressure comfort. [15]


Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents wearing Level B hazmat suits Hazmat DEA.jpg
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents wearing Level B hazmat suits

The clothing physiology comfort of an athlete is significantly influenced by the compression effect exerted by their garments. The degree of compression load exerted by the clothing has a direct correlation with the intensity of sweating and the resulting elevation in skin temperature. Specifically, a greater compression load on the body results in a higher degree of sweating and increased skin temperature. [16]


A thermal manikin being used to test helmet padding Military helmet (3633205430).jpg
A thermal manikin being used to test helmet padding

Thermophysiological models have become a prevalent tool for forecasting human physiological reactions in varying environmental and clothing conditions. [17]

Clothing physiology can be assessed through the utilization of various advanced instruments, including: Sherlock is a thermal manikin test device developed by the Hohenstein Institutes to evaluate clothing physiology, and it is equipped with perspiration simulation capabilities. [18]

SpaceTex experiment

In the SpaceTex experiment, novel fabrics were evaluated for their ability to enhance heat transfer and manage sweat during physical activity, based on their antibacterial properties. Quick-drying T-shirts made from such fabrics would be advantageous to athletes, firefighters, miners, and military personnel. This marks the first experiment in clothing physiology conducted in microgravity, with sportswear manufacturers aiming to improve their products accordingly. In fact, a modified polyester has already been developed for use by the Swiss military. [19]

Certain precautions

The integumentary system is a significant immune organ, possessing both specific and non-specific activities related to immunity. Antimicrobial fabrics could potentially disrupt the skin's non-specific defense mechanisms such as antimicrobial peptides or the resident microflora. [11]

Social psychology of clothing

The social psychology of dress entails comprehending the interconnections that exist between attire and human conduct. [20]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Clothing</span> Object that covers a portion of the body

Clothing is any item worn on the body. Typically, clothing is made of fabrics or textiles, but over time it has included garments made from animal skin and other thin sheets of materials and natural products found in the environment, put together. The wearing of clothing is mostly restricted to human beings and is a feature of all human societies. The amount and type of clothing worn depends on gender, body type, social factors, and geographic considerations. Garments cover the body, footwear covers the feet, gloves cover the hands, while hats and headgear cover the head. Eyewear and jewelry are not generally considered items of clothing, but play an important role in fashion and clothing as costume.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Spandex</span> Synthetic fibre known for its elasticity

Spandex, Lycra, or elastane is a synthetic fiber known for its exceptional elasticity. It is a polyether-polyurea copolymer that was invented in 1958 by chemist Joseph Shivers at DuPont's Benger Laboratory in Waynesboro, Virginia, US.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Wetsuit</span> Garment for thermal insulation from water

A wetsuit is a garment worn to provide thermal protection while wet. It is usually made of foamed neoprene, and is worn by surfers, divers, windsurfers, canoeists, and others engaged in water sports and other activities in or on water. Its purpose is to provide thermal insulation and protection from abrasion, ultraviolet exposure, and stings from marine organisms. It also contributes extra buoyancy. The insulation properties of neoprene foam depend mainly on bubbles of gas enclosed within the material, which reduce its ability to conduct heat. The bubbles also give the wetsuit a low density, providing buoyancy in water.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Diving suit</span> Garment or device designed to protect a diver from the underwater environment

A diving suit is a garment or device designed to protect a diver from the underwater environment. A diving suit may also incorporate a breathing gas supply. but in most cases the term applies only to the environmental protective covering worn by the diver. The breathing gas supply is usually referred to separately. There is no generic term for the combination of suit and breathing apparatus alone. It is generally referred to as diving equipment or dive gear along with any other equipment necessary for the dive.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sportswear</span> Clothing worn for sport or physical exercise

Sportswear or activewear is clothing, including footwear, worn for sport or physical exercise. Sport-specific clothing is worn for most sports and physical exercise, for practical, comfort or safety reasons.

Thermal comfort is the condition of mind that expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment and is assessed by subjective evaluation. The human body can be viewed as a heat engine where food is the input energy. The human body will release excess heat into the environment, so the body can continue to operate. The heat transfer is proportional to temperature difference. In cold environments, the body loses more heat to the environment and in hot environments the body does not release enough heat. Both the hot and cold scenarios lead to discomfort. Maintaining this standard of thermal comfort for occupants of buildings or other enclosures is one of the important goals of HVAC design engineers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Technical textile</span> Textile product valued for its functional characteristics

A technical textile is a textile product manufactured for non-aesthetic purposes, where function is the primary criterion. Technical textiles include textiles for automotive applications, medical textiles, geotextiles, agrotextiles, and protective clothing.

Layered clothing is a fashion technique that is utilized by dressing many garments that are worn on top of each other. Flexible clothing can be worn to suit the requirements of each situation by adding or removing layers, or by changing one layer and leaving the others. Two thin layers can be warmer yet lighter than one thick layer, because the air trapped between layers serves as thermal insulation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">PrimaLoft</span>

PrimaLoft® is a brand of patented synthetic microfiber thermal insulation material that was developed for the United States Army in the 1980s. PrimaLoft is a registered trademark of PrimaLoft, Inc., the brand's parent company.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Heated clothing</span> Functional clothing

Most heated clothing is designed for cold-weather sports and activities, such as motorcycle riding, downhill skiing, diving, winter biking, and snowmobiling, trekking and for outdoor workers such as construction workers and carpenters. Since the London Olympics, heated clothing has also been used by athletes to keep their muscles warm between the warm-up and the race.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Comfort</span> Sense of physical or psychological ease

Comfort is a sense of physical or psychological ease, often characterized as a lack of hardship. Persons who are lacking in comfort are uncomfortable, or experiencing discomfort. A degree of psychological comfort can be achieved by recreating experiences that are associated with pleasant memories, such as engaging in familiar activities, maintaining the presence of familiar objects, and consumption of comfort foods. Comfort is a particular concern in health care, as providing comfort to the sick and injured is one goal of healthcare, and can facilitate recovery. Persons who are surrounded with things that provide psychological comfort may be described as being "in their comfort zone". Because of the personal nature of positive associations, psychological comfort is highly subjective.

Clothing insulation is the thermal insulation provided by clothing.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thermal manikin</span> A human model designed for scientific testing of thermal environments

The thermal manikin is a human model designed for scientific testing of thermal environments without the risk or inaccuracies inherent in human subject testing. Thermal manikins are primarily used in automotive, indoor environment, outdoor environment, military and clothing research. The first thermal manikins in the 1940s were developed by the US Army and consisted of one whole-body sampling zone. Modern-day manikins can have over 30 individually controlled zones. Each zone contains a heating element and temperature sensors within the “skin” of the manikin. This allows the control software to heat the manikin to a normal human body temperature, while logging the amount of power necessary to do so in each zone and the temperature of that zone.

ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 55: Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy is an American National Standard published by ASHRAE that establishes the ranges of indoor environmental conditions to achieve acceptable thermal comfort for occupants of buildings. It was first published in 1966, and since 2004 has been updated every three to six years. The most recent version of the standard was published in 2020.

As in other mammals, thermoregulation in humans is an important aspect of homeostasis. In thermoregulation, body heat is generated mostly in the deep organs, especially the liver, brain, and heart, and in contraction of skeletal muscles. Humans have been able to adapt to a great diversity of climates, including hot humid and hot arid. High temperatures pose serious stress for the human body, placing it in great danger of injury or even death. For humans, adaptation to varying climatic conditions includes both physiological mechanisms resulting from evolution and behavioural mechanisms resulting from conscious cultural adaptations.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Skin temperature</span> Temperature at the outer surface of a living body

Skin temperature is the temperature of the outermost surface of the body. Normal human skin temperature on the trunk of the body varies between 33.5 and 36.9 °C, though the skin's temperature is lower over protruding parts, like the nose, and higher over muscles and active organs. Recording skin temperature presents extensive difficulties. Although it is not a clear indicator of internal body temperature, skin temperature is significant in assessing the healthy function of skin. Some experts believe the physiological significance of skin temperature has been overlooked, because clinical analysis has favoured measuring temperatures of the mouth, armpit, and/or rectum. Temperatures of these parts typically are consistent with internal body temperature.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hand feel</span> Feel of the fabrics to the skin or hand

Hand feel is the property of fabrics related to the touch that expresses sensory comfort. It refers to the way fabrics feel against the skin or in the hand and conveys information about the cloth's softness and smoothness. Hand feel is an estimated and subjective property of different fabrics, but nowadays, hand feel could be measured and assessed statistically.

Moisture management or moisture-wicking is a functional property in fabrics that enables them to absorb moisture from the skin, spreading it over a large surface area, helps in drying quickly.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Textile performance</span> Fitness for purpose of textiles

Textile performance, also known as fitness for purpose, is a textile's capacity to withstand various conditions, environments, and hazards, qualifying it for particular uses. The performance of textile products influences their appearance, comfort, durability, and protection. Different textile applications require a different set of performance parameters. As a result, the specifications determine the level of performance of a textile product. Textile testing certifies the product's conformity to buying specification. It describes product manufactured for non-aesthetic purposes, where fitness for purpose is the primary criterion. Engineering of high performance fabrics presents a unique set of challenges.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Textile testing</span> Process of measuring the properties and performance of textiles

Textile testing is the process of measuring the properties and performance of textile materials—textile testing includes physical and chemical testing of raw materials to finished products.


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