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My not so inner textile snob/luddite notes with satisfaction that

…the old-style clothing worn in 1924 by climbers George Mallory and Sandy Irvine on their fated attempt to reach the summit of Mount Everest not only provides protection at high altitude but is also more comfortable. The outfit was recreated after a team of forensic textile experts took samples of Mallory’s clothing from his preserved body found on the north face of Everest in 1999. The layered gabardine, wool, cotton and silk garments not only provided insulation by trapping air next to the skin but were also considerably lighter than modern gear.

In fact, the gear from 1924 was judged to be 20% to 40% lighter than today’s high tech garments. Furthermore, it was more comfortable. Said Hoyland (one of the researchers):

“Like most mountaineers, I am used to synthetic outdoor clothing: polypropylene underclothes and outer fleeces which are bought pre-sized, off the shelf and never quite fit properly. “They are unforgiving in stretch, and begin to smell unpleasant if worn for more than a couple of days. There is a harsh synthetic sensation next to your skin.”

Still, fiber content wasn’t the whole story. Rather, it was ergonomic design permitting a full range of motion.

But the main difference for Hoyland was the level of movement the clothing allowed – which can mean the difference between life and death when at high altitude. “The patented Pivot sleeve of the jacket enabled me to lift my arm to full extent when cutting steps with an ice axe without displacing the warm layers of air. If you can reach above your head and climb faster, you could get to the summit before nightfall.”

Intrigued by the reference to “pivot sleeve”, I did a search. Apparently, Vanessa Anderson in the UK is trying to locate a sample (near the bottom of the page) of these which were made by Burberry. In the event you have such a jacket, you’re asked to write Philip Brown. Meggiecat is our resident archaic patent researcher; I wonder if she can help. Supposedly, this patent was granted in 1903.

Hat tip to Leonie; the complete article is here. Further discussion is here.

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  1. Rose Marie says:

    Kathleen, you always come up with interesting topics. I “googled” and came up with this photo of the “pivot sleeve.” It is not a good photo but gives a hint of what you were referring to.
    Rose Marie

  2. Alison Cummins says:

    I note that one of the big selling points of the old-style garments is that they were made to fit an individual. Meaning that no RTW tricks to let a garment fit a range of shapes and sizes needed to be used. They fit that individual just right. Even on Everest fit makes a huge difference: it’s not just for glamour.

  3. Neil says:

    Interesting post. Thanks.

    Has anyone found patterns for similar garments to Mallory’s Burberry gabardine? I’m looking for one to be used for hillwalking, because there’s nothing on the ready-made market at the moment anywhere near…

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