this thing's incredible

Heattech Has Nothing on My Favorite $19 Set of Boys’ Thermals

Photo: Erin Schwartz

There’s a saying about cold-weather dressing I’ve heard attributed both to New England and Scandinavia: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” As an always-cold person, the first time I heard this, I grumbled at it. No amount of clothing, no matter how good, could prevent me from freezing in the winter. I’d worn turtlenecks under thick sweaters, leggings under jeans, two pairs of socks to stop the cold from leaching up from the pavement into the soles of my shoes. None of it reliably worked; I believed I was always going to be cold.

Then, by chance, during a Toronto snowstorm, I ducked into a dollar store and bought a set of children’s thermals, a pink cotton waffle-knit top and leggings. These thermals quickly became indispensable. They were thin enough to fit under most clothing but trapped heat well enough to stave off that bone-deep winter chill. The set became the first thing I’d put on when I got dressed, then a pair of high socks tugged up to my knees, and I could proceed without worrying about being cold. The shirt was also cute enough to wear on its own, usually after peeling away layers of coats and sweaters in an overheated bar.

I tried to find the maker of the pink Canadian thermal set for a few weeks without success. Their name was mysteriously absent from the label, which featured an ID number that, when searched, mostly pointed me to pipe cutters. I considered deputizing someone in Toronto to buy more, then rejected the idea. It turned out to be a good thing, because it led me to Only Boys, the best waffle-knit thermal set I’ve found.

To back up a step, the thermals helped me grasp a tenet of Cold-Weather Dressing Theory: It’s not how much you wear, it’s how effectively what you wear retains body heat. (For a great breakdown of Cold-Weather Dressing Theory, see this thread by author and dog sledder Blair Braverman.) A thin layer in a fiber-dense fabric (like a waffle-knit) close to the body will do more to keep you warm than something heavier but looser; you want a snug fit that won’t give cold air any space to go. I began to think of it like vacuum-sealing my body against the elements: thermal shirt tucked into leggings tucked into socks, and on an especially cold day, a balaclava on top.

Don’t read this, Canada thermals, but the $19 Only Boys thermals I found on Amazon are both a denser fabric and a better fit for me, and thus more effective at creating the body-heat vacuum seal. I also prefer them to higher-tech options like Uniqlo’s Heattech — they’re tighter-fitting and slide around less under clothing, for one thing, with a thick cuff around the wrists and ankles that the Heattech women’s base layer lacks. The thermals are also 60 percent cotton, which makes them more breathable than a heat-retention-optimized synthetic. They’re comfortable enough to wear around the apartment, and they don’t trap so much heat that it feels like peeling off a Dune-style moisture-retention suit at the end of the day.

The set runs in kids’ sizes; a size large (12 to 14) fits me at five feet tall, and they go up to a kids’ XL (16). The Only Boys thermals are not only for boys — what a delightfully implausible name — but they will work best for kids or adults who are on the shorter side.

I’ve bought four sets so far, including a perfect off-white the shade of an Éditions Gallimard cover or artificially colored French vanilla ice cream, and keep them on constant rotation in the colder months. And although I still dread the first signs of winter, I feel a small thrill moving the stack of thermals from the closet to the dresser on the first chilly day.

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Heattech Has Nothing on My Favorite Set of Boys’ Thermals