13 January 2015

Winter Dressing

I avoid giving fashion advice. Most of my friends and family would testify that I dress averagely. Yet, I want to share this passionate rant about winter clothing. My close friends have already heard bits and pieces of it. In a nutshell, my hypothesis is that we (we as in people in Delhi) don't dress adequately for the winter. It is not that we look horrible. In fact, we look absolutely stunning. My belief is that despite the clothes and the layers, we end up shivering and feeling cold.

The purpose of clothes

To my understanding, clothing has a two fold purpose. First is to protect from weather and terrain. Thus, you have hot pants and shorts in hot weather, coats, shawls and jackets in winters and rain coats for monsoons. 

Secondly, people use it as a tool to look good. This also includes fashion as understood in the popular sense. Thus, you have low waist jeans in a particular collection and skinny jeans in the other. I do not know if there is a functional difference between the two, but there is an appearance difference between them. 

A popular denim brand recently came out with a "commuter jeans" which has a functional difference from other jeans in the sense that it helps in mobility, safety and convenience. I have not used it, but the advertisement suggests that it has all sorts of secret pockets and that you can jump over fences wearing them (personally I believe that you can't jump in any jeans). Anyway, the said jeans is a good example of the two purposes of clothing (that is if the jeans are really effective for commuting).

In this post, my focus will be on the first purpose. 

Delhi Winter

The Delhi Tourism website describes the average minimum and maximum temperature as 5 and 25 degree celsius respectively. Generally, the weather is very cold. While most days are sunny, there are also days with no sun and sometimes there is little rain. Most homes don't have a central heating mechanism and hence even at home, one is sufficiently bundled up. There is no snow and temperatures rarely hits 0 degrees. The advised clothing is woollen, complimented with body warmers.

Source : Delhi Tourism Website

What do Delhites dress like?

I have three observations with respect to the current way of our winter dressing :

i) Cotton sweaters are useless

The various types of sweater fabrics, in the degree of least warm to most warm are :
  • Cotton
  • Acrylic - warmer than cotton, but not as much as wool
  • Wool (degree of warmth varies by wool type, you can see the various types on this eBay link)
Delhites wear many layers of clothing. That is important because it traps heat. But it is equally important that each of those layers is woollen. If the purpose is to keep warm, clothes with woollen content will keep you warmer compared to cotton ones. Perhaps two cotton layers maybe the equivalent of one woollen layer. Thus, many layers of clothing does not necessarily imply warmer clothing, especially if those layers are cotton.

I explored the men's sweater range at a few e-commerce websites. Following are some observations from one of those websites (Jabong) :

The website classified ~2200 sweaters by fabric. Of these, 43% are cotton sweaters. Assuming wool means 100% wool/primarily wool, only ~15% of the sweaters are "woollen" (wool + wool rich). 

"Blended" could mean any mix of cotton, acrylic and wool. Personally, I have two sweaters that have 20% wool and 80% wool and both may be classified as "Blended"  (the mix is often printed on the tag of the sweater - either behind the neck or on the bottom left side). Generally, the degree of wool mix is not available as a filter on e-commerce websites. Given the wide possibilities of mix and limited data, I have ignored "Blended"

Sweaters by fabric, Source : Jabong

Cotton, wool and wool rich sweaters have the following price bands respectively :

Cotton Sweaters have a wide price range. In the premium (above INR 3000) range, there were brands such as Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica and Gant. In the densest range (INR 1000 - 1500), there are brands such as Indian Terrain, Benetton, Monte Carlo, British Cross and Highlander 

Cotton Sweaters, Source : Jabong, 12 Jan 2015

Woollen sweaters had few options under INR 1000. These were all sleeveless sweaters (which are cheaper compared to full sleeves). The next range ie: INR 1000 to 1500 had brands such as Cantabill, Fabtree and Monte Carlo (sleeveless). The INR 1500 - 2000 range was predominantly Monte Carlo. The premium range, which went as high as INR 7000, had brands such as Calvin Klein and Wills Lifestyle

Wool Sweaters, Source : Jabong, 12 Jan 2015

Wool Rich sweaters seemed the most expensive of the lot. Below INR 2000, there was only one full sleeves sweater by Benetton and others were without sleeves. The next bracket had Benetton sweaters priced at INR 2500 (after discount). They had some sort of Cashmere blend (a sort of high quality wool; super soft) 

Wool Rich Sweaters, Source : Jabong, 12 Jan 2015

Woollen clothing is expensive but is more effective in keeping you warm (on a one to one basis). The above analysis shows that the cost of two cotton sweaters is the same as one woollen sweater within the same brand (say Benetton). Searches on Myntra and Snapdeal showed a similar differential between cotton and woollen sweaters.

If we believe that two cotton sweaters have the same effectiveness as one woollen sweater, then I would prefer the one woollen sweater. It would be lighter and more convenient. On the other hand, the two cotton sweaters will give you more colours, designs and options. Functionally, woollen sweaters have an advantage as they will be lighter. Through the lens of fashion, cotton sweaters will have an advantage.

My suggestion would be to purchase woollen sweaters. You can check the composition of wool on the label attached to the sweater or on the back of the neck or on the bottom left side. These sweaters are lighter, softer and warmer.

ii) Thicker the better

That's what she said? My second hypothesis is that consumers tend to mistake thicker garments as warmer garments. That is again not true. What matters is the filing of the jacket/main material used. A thick cotton jacket might have the same warmth as a thin and lightweight polyester jacket (same cotton and woollen sweater logic).

A good example to show this is the change in the use of "Razais". Earlier, the Razais used in my home were thick and bulky and I would die a warm death under their weight. However, there has been an advent of newer and lighter quilts that are equally warm and far more convenient to use and store. This shows that what matters is the filling and not the weight.

This website explains the various types of insulated outerwear. Not all are available in India. For example, down jackets are extremely warm and light weight (one recent user described them as smokin' hot). The water resistant versions are often used in times of snow. The same are not available in India (probably because of their limited usage or perhaps it is an untapped market). 

According to an overview of e-commerce websites, common materials used in jackets are cotton, nylon and polyester (excluding blended versions). Even though cotton is not warm or as warm as polyester, yet their quantity on e-commerce portals is roughly the same :

Source : E-commerce websites, 12 Jan 2015

Functionally speaking, please buy polyester jackets. They are thinner and warmer. Price differentials between cotton and polyester exist. But if you are going to spend about INR 2000 on a jacket, then might as well spend a little more and get something better. If you go abroad, buy a down jacket. For a down jacket that is suited to Delhi weather, you might find something that is cheaper than a polyester jacket (as priced in Delhi) but manifold warmer. 

iii) Sasta bhi ho, acha bhi ho (should be cheap, should be good)

My final hypothesis has no evidence. Based on my unsubstantiated beliefs on the Indian consumer, I feel that the following summarises winter shopping :

The Indian consumer (middle class?) is increasingly brand conscious. She enters a branded store to purchase winter clothing. But she is also price sensitive. Hence, she ends up purchasing the cheapest branded winter clothing which is often a cotton product. 

Considerations are given to colour and design, followed by available size and fit. However, the warmth of the garment is not a part of the evaluation criteria at any stage.

I would urge you to prioritise the functional aspect of clothing especially when it comes to winter clothing. Summer clothing is easier because most of the stuff is cotton. Functionally efficient winter clothes may or may not be dashing, but they will keep you warm.

Limitations in the analysis

  • Geographically, India is a diverse country. The degree of winter varies from one region to another. Thus, woollen clothes might work in Delhi but they might not be as useful in Bangalore (where single digit temperatures are rare). Online shopping portals cater to the whole country. Hence, conclusions with respect to the winter preferences of a region cannot be made based on the national stock of an online portal. The portal will accommodate both cotton and polyester choices for the different temperatures in India. Ideally, the sample set should be the collection in local Delhi stores
  • The analysis conspicuously misses out the various types of Indian consumers. The major group that it misses out are those who mostly buy unbranded products. Most unbranded products do not carry information on the make/material used. In such cases, various layers of clothing and thick jackets are legitimate biases. Given the brands mentioned in the analysis, the focus of the study seems to be on the relatively wealthier class of consumers
  • The third hypothesis is a tautological. If the focus of the analysis is on consumers that buy branded products, then by definition they will be brand conscious. Additionally, it is a bit unsettling to imagine that brand conscious consumers will also be price sensitive. The presence of the former usually implies the absence of the latter (at least to a certain extent)

Despite these limitations, I hope that the analysis raised/answered some questions for you. Thank you so much for reading. If you have any feedback, please do share!

In the upcoming winter sale season, I hope that smart deals come your way and that this post proves to be useful.

Happy Lohri! :D

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