There are lots of ways to stay warm in cold weather: curling up with a blanket, sipping warm tea in front of the fire, not traveling to the Arctic Circle for a job as a costume designer on a film. While I was lucky enough to stand off-screen, bundled head-to-toe, I was faced with a professional dilemma: How do you keep actors from freezing when they can’t wear their Canada Goose coats on-camera?
We arrived with socks, gloves, hats, hand warmers, and all manners of long underwear. Silk long underwear, wool long underwear, Heattech, Under Armor Cold Gear. We felt prepared. Our Norwegian colleagues were unimpressed. “How did you forget your net layer?” they asked. “Our what?” we asked.
After some lost-in-translation conversation (leggings with … holes?), it became clear that the local crew knew something we did not: open-weave base layers. At the lone sporting goods store in town, I inquired about this net layer. But they’d sold out that morning; apparently there was an American movie in town and the costume department didn’t know to bring mesh layers. Back on set, the actors tried on their new fishnet long underwear, a gift from the Norwegian producers. Suddenly, the old Scandinavian adage, “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothing,” made sense.
The science behind net layers is pretty simple: the open weave of mesh lets your body heat escape as a vapor, instead of sticking close to your body and turning into sweat. Sweat is the enemy of warmth. With mesh, the heat you produce gets trapped in by the next layer you’re wearing, whether that’s classic long underwear or your clothes. Mesh undergarments are generally a wool blend, which, unlike nylon fashion stockings, help your body stay dry and warm.
I didn’t get a chance to try them myself until I was back in the U.S., since the only store in town was sold out. Fortunately, they’re readily available online and I immediately ordered a pair of leggings and a long-sleeve top from Brynje, a beloved brand from (of course) Norway.
On the matrix of warmth, comfort, and fashion, net undergarments are unbeatable. Mesh leggings aren’t quite as luxurious as slipping into cashmere tights — these are, after all, functional garments — but they are perfectly comfortable. Most of the pants have an opaque section around the crotch, but I recommend finding a pair where the solid knit extends down the interior of the thigh in order to prevent chafing. As for undershirts, some have solid panels, but given how unlikely it is for the front of your chest to chafe against itself, this detail seems to be strictly about modesty. A unisex cut would probably work for most, opaque panel or not.
The weight of the mesh is thicker than a stocking, and more comparable to a thin pair of leggings. With that in mind, I suggest you err on the smaller size — if you size up, they’ll be too bulky to layer. It’s such a pain to finagle the leggings under jeans that I pretty much reserve them for extreme weather or days I know I’ll be outside for hours on end. The rest of the time, I just throw on the shirt. For maximum warmth, I’ll layer it under wool long underwear, but the net layer is so effective, I usually just wear it on its own. The high-cut crew neck sometimes pokes out, but it looks intentional — and pleasantly edgy.
As we head into a winter of outdoor dining, I feel more than prepared to fight the elements with my mesh layers. And while I briefly considered stocking up, I’m not sure I’ll need to. Given their magic ability to keep you warm without sweating, I find that I can wear them repeatedly before I drop them in my bathtub with Woolite, so one set should be enough to keep me warm through a long, cold season of alfresco socializing.
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