How to

5 January 2017

Should You Wear Your Coat Indoors?

"It's Gore-Tex"   - Img source: Reddit
Contrary to what’s apparently popular preference, I wear my coat indoors all the time. My house is cold, I’m sitting down all day, and I’m pretty sure coats are designed to counteract low body temperatures. There are, however, some negative side-effects: principally, the social isolation that comes when family and friends realise I’m wearing my Berghaus indoors. “Take that off,” they’ll pontificate, adding something to the effect of “pariah!”

But, as far as I can tell, that’s never been a convincing argument; so, for years I’ve kept my coat on, smug in the knowledge that whilst such critics may well ingratiate into their respective tribes, they’re still far too shy to start huddling together for warmth.

That is, until one day somebody gave me pause for thought: “you shouldn’t be wearing that coat inside,” they said, “else you won’t feel the benefit outdoors.” Now, I’m happy to take the slings and arrows of public shamery if it means I can be warm and brag about it. But when somebody suggests that I’m missing a trick? Well, then, the game is afoot!  

Come on guys, you're under a roof, stop being silly! - Img source: Playbuzz
Personal experience tells me that I’ve never had a problem stepping outside in a coat which I’ve worn all day. Still, that’s not really a scientific test: and, apparently, things could be even better. So, what information is out there to back me up? And indeed, is there anything that could convince me to wear less during dinner parties, weddings and time spent in the sauna?


The Evidence

Writing in the Telegraph a couple of years ago, Abigail Butcher reasoned that such myths as “you won’t feel the benefit if you wear a coat indoors” are nothing but a big fat fiction. “Putting your coat on so you are toasty before you go outside means you will feel the benefits for longer,” she wrote. “The body has to work harder to warm up once it’s cool. The only time you might not benefit is if you get so hot that you sweat, which will reduce the insulation of the clothing or cool the skin if it evaporates when you go outside.”

That seems to make sense. If you’re wearing a coat, your body temperature will be higher. The coat will trap that body heat and you’ll be able to go outside with a warmer body than if you wore nothing but a jumper until you hit the porch.

But upon closer analysis, maybe that doesn’t answer our question: after all, the thing which people seem to actually be afraid of is feeling cold rather than being cold.

As Lauchlin MacDonald explains on Quora, “Human beings don't sense temperature directly; we sense the exchange of heat between our bodies and the environment. The greater the difference between our skin temperature and the ambient temperature, the colder or warmer we feel.”

“If you have a coat on indoors, your body will be able to shed less heat, so conceivably your skin temperature on the exposed parts of your body could be slightly higher than they would be otherwise. If this is the case, then you would feel slightly colder outside than if you had removed your jacket.”

So, being warmer means feeling colder when you step outdoors. Even though MacDonald is only talking about the exposed parts of your body – hands, face and so forth – the same probably also applies to your core. That’s to say, you’ll be losing heat faster when you’re outside having worn a coat than having not worn one, simply because there’s more heat energy trying to escape – and that means you’ll feel colder.

But, to flip things once again, is that really the case all the time? Let’s take two scenarios. In the first, it’s mighty cold inside and you’re wearing a T-Shirt. You then step outside to philosophise about the transience of life on a snowy bench, donning a coat as you leave. Your body would warm up whilst you’re outside; meaning you would, indeed, “feel the benefit of the coat.”

In the second scenario, however, you’re wearing the coat all along, and you step outside to sit on the bench. You’re now losing body heat gradually, rather than gaining it; however, you’re still probably thinking, “shucks, what bitter weather – I’m glad I have a coat.”

And for that reason, wearing coats indoors still looks like a fair proposition.

Nevertheless, I will admit that whilst wearing a coat indoors is probably not going to do you much harm, there are scenarios in which it could mean you miss the opportunity to reach your maximum potential heat. It all depends upon the temperature of your surroundings.

Consider: coats don’t just block heat moving from your body outward, into the external world; they also block it from moving in the other direction. Therefore, if you’re sitting in a warm house and you want to raise your core temperature quickly, you’d do best to take off your coat, hug the radiator (not literally) and then put your coat back on to trap the heat in your body. It’s also true that things like exercise will raise your core temperature; and that you shouldn’t do such things in a coat unless you want it to absorb your sweat (which is both gross and, as Butcher explained above, inefficient in terms of staying warm).

Looking at it that way can also explain why wearing outdoor clothing indoors is considered bad etiquette. People don’t want to think they’re being inhospitable by having a cold house. Still, it does seem a little odd for them to respond to somebody’s critique of such by calling them a “coat-wearing weirdo.”


The Verdict

Wearing a coat indoors, then, can be anything from a shrewd flu-stopper, to a missed opportunity to get some more body heat. It might keep you from feeling as warm as you potentially could; but that depends upon how warm the indoors actually are. Yes, it may be socially awkward; but a health hazard? Hardly.

So, when somebody next tells you to “stop trying to be Benedict Cumberbatch, James, you’re not Sherlock and you’re not cool,” you tell them: “for your information, unspecified friend or family member, identity is a fluctuating construct…and the coat is here to stay until you turn the heating on.” 


James Stannard

James has a Bachelor’s degree in History and wrote his dissertation on beef and protest. His heroes list ranges from Adele to Noam Chomsky: inspirations he’ll be invoking next year when he begins a Master’s degree in London.