Cold weather sucks. It sucks all the time no matter what winter sports enthusiasts and / or Scandinavians might tell you. This particularly sucks during a pandemic, when the safest option for socializing is to stay outside, exposed to the disgusting elements. Last weekend, even though it was hovering just above freezing in New York City, a few friends came over to hang out on my porch. Despite the cold conditions, we sat six feet apart and talked for several hours, ignoring our visible breathing and the fact that being outside when it’s 35 degrees is objectively worse than d ‘to be inside. It was partly because we had been starved for human contact, and partly because I had brought out my secret weapons: an arsenal of heated clothing.
Heated clothing is exactly what it sounds like: battery-powered or electrically powered clothing with heating elements woven throughout. Since this fall, every time the temperature drops, I have packed myself with an assortment of heated gear to make my time outdoors more enjoyable. I put on a heated vest and hopped on a moped to run errands on the really cold first day in November. On New Years Eve I wore heated glove guards as impromptu paw warmers for our puppy while we had afternoon beers at the picnic table in a microbrewery. (Full Disclosure: All of these garments were review units loaned to me by three companies: Ororo, Venture Heat, and the Warming Store.) The heated garments look like regular clothing except for their buttons. feed, which glow red when full. explosion. They give off an electric blanket-like level of heat, which is as delicious as it sounds, and most have several different temperature options. When I walk the dog, the heated clothes are unusual enough to prompt questions from strangers – usually, What are these? and Where can I get them?– but I dream of a world where heated equipment is a staple rather than a novelty. He reigns.
It also has a longer history than one might expect – one dating back to another global pandemic. During World War I, the French army developed rudimentary electrically heated flight suits; the United States built their own prototypes based on these models. It was a revolutionary idea, but the execution left much to be desired. “The ‘electric suits’ of 1918 consisted mainly of a ‘harness’ of cables attached to the suits and connected both to copper heating pads on the knees, shoulders, etc.,” wrote military historian CG Sweeting. in his 1984 book. Combat Flight Clothing: Air Force Clothing in WWII. These suits were notoriously unreliable and often shorted in mid-flight, leaving pilots shivering. In World War II, General Electric was making more sophisticated heated flight suits.
But while heated clothing originates from military aviation, the versions you can buy today have their roots in the motorcycle world. “Heated clothing as we know it was invented in the mid-1970s in Washington by a man named Gordon Gerbing,” says Justin Silverman, co-founder of The Warming Store. Although Gerbing did not ride a motorcycle himself, he worked in an aircraft machine shop with a large number of motorcycle workers. After noticing how cold they were after going to work, he put together a prototype by deconstructing an electric blanket and wiring it through a jacket and a motorcycle. Gerbing was so pleased with his results that he created a side business making coats for local bikers, launching the modern warming clothing market as a passionate project.
In the 1980s, Gerbing was selling his equipment full time at motorcycle rallies, where it proved to be extremely popular. “Almost every rider has heard of heated equipment,” says Andria Yu, motorcycle trainer and communications director for the Motorcycle Industry Council. “It has definitely been a game changer.” Gerbing is still one of the best-known heated clothing brands, although the Gerbing family is no longer involved. Instead, they operate another heated clothing brand called Gordon’s Family Clothing and have pointed out that Gerbing is no longer a family business. (If anyone has any further information about the internal conflicts of the heated garment world, please contact us.)