Tux Challenge Day 7: The Physiology of Formal Wear

A totally unposed, candid picture of me reading a newspaper
A totally unposed, candid picture of me reading a newspaper in the office kitchen

I want to take a nap. Badly. That’s what I’ve noticed. Part of this could be explained by my habit of staying up to watch Olympics coverage, but I think the tux has something to do with it, too. Being a few degrees too warm seems to take a toll. When you’re cold, your body begins to shiver as a way to generate heat. That process is taxing and will leave you feeling exhausted in short order. Can a tux do the same thing to you, even a handsome tux from Al’s Formal Wear? I put the question to Professor George Havenith, professor of environmental physiology and ergonomics Loughborough University, in Leicestershire. I had heard Havenith interviewed on NPR and figured he’d have an answer. That he did:

You are right that in the cold you use extra energy for shivering, and that will contribute to tiredness. In the heat, though less extreme, you also use more energy. The first response of your body at mild heat exposure (you in the office, wearing a thick tux) is to increase the blood flow to the skin. This warms the skin and will help to lose more heat. For this you will see an increase in heart rate that will also lead to an increased energy use. If in your office, that is not too much, but each time you go out (and probably for a while after coming back in) you will show a much stronger response, including sweating. This all contributes to your energy use and thus will cause some fatigue, too.

Then there is the general effect of discomfort on our body and psychology. Feeling uncomfortable (warm) does affect people’s productivity, and even only moderate shifts in thermal comfort have been shown to affect productivity.

So, though the physiological effects of mild heat (too much clothing does the same and exacerbates the heat) is not that massive, it all adds up to your fatigue.

This differs quite a bit between people, and it is actually difficult to predict who is affected most.

Here is the key phrase: “even only moderate shifts in thermal comfort have been shown to affect productivity.” We just finished producing our September issue. Can I promise you that I read everything carefully and gave each story the love and care it required before going to print? No, I cannot promise you that.


  • Daniel

    Tim, I’d be very curious to see how you described your current situation to the good professor from Loughborough…

    • @Daniel: Before I asked him the question, I gave him this context: “First, a little background. I’m the editor of the city magazine of Dallas. It’s called ‘D Magazine.’ On a dare from a co-coworker, I am attempting to wear a tuxedo every day, all day long, for the entire month of August. (If I am successful, my reward will be a free bespoke tuxedo.) It is very hot in Dallas right now. Daytime high was about 107 F today. Tough time to wear a tux.”

      In this post, I cut out the first sentence of his response. It was: “Interesting challenge!” The good professor seemed to get it right away.

  • RAB

    You look kind of like Steve Jobs in this shot (mid-cancer, before it got really bad). Or how Steve Jobs would look if he never co-founded Apple and was on break as a caterer at an office party.

  • Amy S

    On the bright side, September will seem positively frigid once the tux is gone.

  • towski

    @Amy S – that’s exactly right. This is like high altitude training for runners. Think about how much more Tim will enjoy September and October. He will be the Kenyans of early fall comfort.

  • Wick’s Accountant

    I’m noticing a trend. Since the Tux challenge started, we have yet to see a picture of you actually working. Reading, yes. Mugging, yes. Drinking, of course. Was this a requirement?

  • If Tim was in the suburbs where roofs are replaced with regularity he would notice that the men doing the actual work wear up to keep from wearing down. Yup, it’s counter yuppy intuitive but the guys doing the hottest work on the hottest days wear more clothes than yuppies do during a cold snap in late fall. They wear sweat shirts along with towels over their heads during the heat of the day and no, their production doesn’t vary.

    Interesting note, like writers they prefer piece work to hourly wages.

  • Good stuff to keep in mind for next year’s tuxedo challenge.