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Thermal Underwear Comes into Vogue

April 12, 2000

Signs of spring are appearing on the Japanese archipelago, prompting people to shed their heavy winter clothing. This past winter, however, a lot of young women appeared to stay warm without donning much extra attire. On those teeth-chattering days, how did they stay comfortable in their miniskirts, mules, and sleeveless sweaters, supplemented only by arm warmers, lightweight cardigans, and short coats? To be sure, these outfits are appealing from a fashion standpoint, but they do not seem to offer much protection from the winter cold.

A Secret Weapon
But never fear, the women are not suffering. They have a hidden ally: thermal undershirts, which have been enjoying a resurgence in popularity. These undershirts--traditionally worn by middle-aged and elderly women under their winter clothes--come in colors like flesh and camel, and have a distinctly unfashionable image. They are known as baba shirts, roughly translated as "granny" shirts. Stylish young women have always shunned them, preferring to grit their teeth against the winter cold rather than risk looking frumpy.

But now young women are losing their aversion to baba shirts. When they go from their overheated offices to the much colder outdoors, they want to stay warm. But they still want to look good. So they want clothing that is lightweight, but warm. There is still the old dilemma however of not wanting to be seen in a baba shirt for fear of embarrassment.

Last year, farsighted manufacturers began coming out with undershirts that are stylish and incorporate the latest technological advances. Research has yielded a variety of new materials: fabrics made of fibers containing ceramic particles that emit infrared radiation; fabrics that generate heat by absorbing sweat; and fabrics that have air pockets inside their fibers, providing better protection against the cold. These advances in cold-weather fiber technology have produced new baba shirts that are both lightweight and very warm.

Young women are embracing not only thermal undershirts, but also thermal bottoms--another garment that has always been synonymous with elderly women. New leggings that are lighter, not stiff and heavy like the old-fashioned variety, are coming out in an array of bright patterns and colors; some are even lavishly decorated with lace. Now the style-conscious can stay warm around the legs and hips too. These updated leggings are popular mainly among young female office workers who want to avoid getting a chill on winter days while they are working.

Not Just for Women
Unwilling to let women keep such good things to themselves, retailers are also offering stylish thermal undershirts for men. A far cry from the camel-colored jiji ("old man") thermal undershirts of the past, these lightweight garments come in a rich variety of fashionable colors like blue, gray, ivory, black, navy, and brown. Most of them are either v-necked (to go with the v-neck sweaters currently in style) or round-necked. No longer is there any reason for style-conscious men to suffer the winter cold.

Some might think, "With all this great new underwear coming out, it's too bad the weather is starting to get warm." But it is possible to catch a chill even at the height of summer, thanks to today's hyper-airconditioned office environment. And one way to keep the body at a comfortable temperature is by wearing undergarments. As the weather gets warmer, demand for summer-weight undershirts is expected to increase. These summer undershirts now have added value, thanks to the development of new fabrics with antibacterial and deodorant properties.

From now on, whatever the season, the undershirt is back as an essential element in many people's wardrobes.

Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.