I have a lifelong love/hate relationship with stocking caps.
Like many petulant 6-year-olds, I spent my formative years fighting headwear, especially the Dickensian kind with the ball on the end. Perfectly acceptable hats (to anyone but an image-conscious kid) were accidentally-on-purpose left on buses, stuck on snowmen at a friend’s house or buried unceremoniously in the bottom of the garbage.
Unfortunately, I had a mother with an endless supply of stocking caps, each more grotesque and unflattering than the last. Like “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins,” every time I got rid of one, another took its place — sometimes brown and orange for the sports team I was supposed to promote, sometimes orange and black for my future alma mater, sometimes affixed with a label for a grain or horse-food company from my dad’s job. Hats were everywhere in Casa Schillig — except on my head.
Mom even resorted to an unethical appeal to authority to coerce my compliance. At times when I was especially uncooperative — usually any day that ended in a “y” — she picked up the phone and dialed her accomplice.
“Hello, Time and Temperature? Yes, this is Chris’s mom. Should he wear a hat today? Uh-huh. Yes, it IS very cold. OK, I’ll tell him. Goodbye.”
“What did he say? What did he say?”
“He said to wear a hat. Do you want to call back and ask him yourself?”
I never did. It didn’t occur to me that Mom would lie — or that time and temperature was a pre-recorded message with nothing to say about headwear preferences of gullible children.
So much for hat hate. Later in life, I reversed myself and started wearing one, maybe about the same time that I switched from Republican to Democrat, a decision that some say proves my head was unprotected for too many years.
Key to this change of heart (hat, not political party) is the often-repeated assertion that 70 percent of body heat escapes through the head.
So when I take the dog for his morning and evening winter constitutional, my uniform includes a blue stocking cap pulled down so far that it practically blocks my vision, making me the Arch Avenue equivalent of Nanook of the North. When I go to work or run errands, I likewise don my headgear.
My niece, who works at Dunkin Donuts, says the hat makes me look like a thug in the drive-thru; my wife says it, coupled with my scraggly beard, makes me a candidate for post-office bulletin boards. Yet I persist because I like looking vaguely unsavory and because I want to support the U.S. mail system.
So imagine my chagrin when a study out of the University of Michigan said the 70-percent statistic is a myth. According to Andrew Maynard, whose research was summarized in a Huffington Post article, you lose no more heat through your noggin than through any other body part.
I tried to forget Maynard’s research as soon as possible, but no such luck: The next day, as the dog pulled me along unshoveled walks (the unofficial status symbol of Alliance winter), I felt colder, as though that 70 percent body heat had been held inside by force of my belief. The next day, I stopped wearing the hat.
Fast forward to Sunday morning. As I was writing this column, I reread Maynard’s research, which has something to do with how much warmer a stocking cap makes you when you dance naked in the snow. (Ah, these academics and their tax-funded research.)
Apparently, escaping body heat has everything to do with how much skin is exposed. Those nude dancers have hats that cover about 10 percent of their body, meaning they are 10 percent warmer than those who dance naked without hats.
For a guy like me who doesn’t dance naked in the snow — at least not while walking the dog — it means that if my head is the only exposed part, then that’s where my most significant body-heat loss will occur, so the hat really does help, just not at the 70-percent level.
This clarification turned the mental trick, because when I walked the dog after reading it, I felt warmer with my hat than I did when I thought it wasn’t helping.
Which proves that warmth has less to do with what’s on our heads than what’s in them, something Mom must have known when she made those bogus calls to time and temperature.
@cschillig on Twitter
Originally published Jan. 10, 2013 in The Alliance Review.