New York Daily Photo Analytics

Monday, August 03, 2009

Mysteries of Science

I have seen Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn strolling on the absolute hottest days fully dressed - layered in black (or navy), even with wool hats (streimel), in what appears to be the most uncomfortable wardrobe imaginable. And on occasion, we do see Islamic women fully draped in black on hot summer days. Of course there are religious elements at work here, and when one is dealing with religion, fashion and comfort play second fiddle.

But there are many others, as shown in today's photo collage, where the appearance alone of wardrobe appears to trump cooling comfort. Even on a blistering hot and humid August day, take a walk through the East Village, and you will witness any number dressed in tight black jeans and heavy boots.

Unfortunately, the issue of black versus white clothing and heat is not as simple as the fact that black absorbs heat from sunlight and white reflects it. There are additional considerations - how tight the garments are, wind speed, and the reflection/absorption by the clothing of heat from the body. White will reflect body heat back, and black will absorb body heat, so the net effect of loose white clothing is actually less cooling.
From an article from the Straight Dope by Cecil Adams, Does black clothing keep you cooler:

Desert-dwelling nomadic people such as the Tuaregs wear loose-fitting black clothing, and have been doing so for a very, very long time. If there were an advantage to wearing white clothes, you'd certainly expect they'd have figured that out by now.

Apart from color, there is also the issue of full dress. I have also met numerous individuals, both men and women, who will not wear shorts, skirts, sandals, or any wardrobe elements that expose the legs or feet - only what summer heat requires for maximum cooling. In these cases, there is also no religious dogma; perhaps the operative factors are vanity and/or self consciousness about their bodies.

Or maybe there are some fundamental differences in human physiology. Have you ever noticed people in a wardrobe of dress clothes on a hot day who do not look the least bit uncomfortable or even show one drop of perspiration? Another mystery of science...

Photo Note: These photos were all taken in Washington Square Park on very hot days during this summer.


Anonymous said...

Recently I read an article it says darker colors: black, navy, dark green and red, block more harmful UV rays than whites or light colors. And I lived in a tropical climate country many years, I found that it was true, too.

Shawna said...


First off, I've been following this blog for about a year, since I moved to Brooklyn from the West Coast. Every morning I look forward to your pictures and your commentary - I've learned so much about this great city from you.

As someone who is more familiar with the ins and outs of the orthodox community than most, I did want to take a minute to point out that Orthodox mitzvot do forbid having their picture taken. This stems from the Torah's second commandment (first in Christian literature) "You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth." Basically, a picture is comparable to an idol because we are in the likeness of g-d.

Although these two men will likely never know their pictures are floating around on the internet, and although you are generally very respectful of your subjects' privacies, please be careful. The Orthodox Jewish communities in New York are (obviously!) very observant and we must extend every effort to be respectful of that.

Thank you, and keep up the good work!

Naomid said...


This is a really interesting comment. I never knew about these rules before. I would bet a million dollars Brian didn't either, and ment no harm.

What confuses me is all the other photos of Orthodox Jewish people I have seen. Certainly some of them most be approved. Maybe all of them are not. And what about Matisyahu, the very popular Hasidic musician? Is he making himself an idol?

Anonymous said...

I'm tall and skinny and have always been acutely self-conscious about my body. I haven't worn shorts, a short-sleeved shirt, or swim trunks since I was in junior high school....forty-six years ago. Not surprisingly, I hate heat, and summer is my least favorite season!

Mirela said...

Great photos!

As for the article, stick with lighter colors in the heat. There's a key sentence in the article which says that black only dissipates more heat when there's WIND and the clothes are loose. Another key sentence is in their disclaimer, which says to have your fingers crossed that everything is accurate :). I agree with the fact that heat convection will be higher when there's wind, but the same thing goes for any color! If we assume the materials are identical, then black clothes would get you hotter, because it converts all visible light into heat, unlike the white...

Anonymous said...

I can not speak for the others but Hasids usually have an apparatus in their shoes that flush cool air through their clothing. Jews find it funny that people ponder this question.

Anonymous said...

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