Andrew Burleson hates wearing dress clothes. He also believes this cultural hangover from our distant European ancestry costs too much money, is completely illogical and ruins much of Houston's social life for about half of the year.
"In the summer if you're dressed for work and you go outside it's just murder," says Burleson, an urban designer and real estate consultant and blogger. "Then you go home and change into something that's more appropriate, it's still hot but it's not nearly as bad. So on a weekend I can enjoy going to Discovery Green or on a walk somewhere outside, but not during the week."
As we all know, Houston is famously a city where you can see lots of people not enjoying themselves downtown on a daily basis. Especially during the work week in the summer months, those few that venture on the street for any length of time end up a sweaty mess, so most don't bother. Instead, workers stick to the tunnels and skywalks and stay fast in the embrace of air-conditioned comfort. But since the tunnels close around seven, Houston's downtown empties each day at closing time, and on weekends, the whole district save for a few bars and nightclubs is a virtual ghost town.
Unthinkingly, we've sacrificed our civic center on the altar of conformity to fashions developed long ago in much cooler countries. Another of the more obvious results is very high energy bills. Houston has long been known as "the most air-conditioned city on Earth" for a reason.
Burleson points out, and research bears him out, that women feel cooler than men. Thus we have the absurdity of women needing to take sweaters to work or play with them on days when the heat index tops 100. "We'll go to the movies, church or a restaurant and she will feel like she has to take a change of clothes with her, because she'll be really hot on the way, and then we'll get to the theater or whatever and go inside and she's freezing to death," says Burleson. "She can't sit there and enjoy the movies because she's freezing so hard."
To Burleson, our attachment to dress clothes is not just costly and a pain in the ass, but utterly unreasonable: Here on the cusp of the Tropics, why must we dress as if we are beset daily by cool London fogs?
"We get our fashion sense from Northern Europe, and it comes down to the rest of the U.S.," he says. "Our seasons are linked to that. In September, they start selling sweaters here. Are you kiddin' me?"
"Let's live like it's hot 'cause it is," he says. "Let's live in the place that we're at and learn to embrace it."
Ergo "Dress For The Weather Week."
The concept of Dress For The Weather Week is simple: you go to work wearing clothes that are comfortable in the heat while retaining a semblance of professional appearance. Since it won't have to be so cold in the office, building managers/owners will be able to turn the AC up to about 78 degrees, and women won't be so cold and the savings will roll in. After work and during lunch, people wouldn't be so leery of hanging out in the elements downtown.
It's the implementation that would be tricky. Burleson knows that paddling upstream against the mighty river of centuries of Western business fashion is no easy task.
Burleson thinks the best approach is to get City Hall aboard first, along with a few of the more staid downtown corporations. That way no one company is left looking unprofessional, wacky and alone on Dress For The Weather Week.
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"[If you] get the mayor and City Hall to say it was a good idea to try it, and get everybody to try it all at once, then you sort of remove that barrier of 'Oh, we're the only one that's gonna do this and it's gonna embarrass us. We're gonna lose business because someone's gonna come see us and we'll be in shorts and they won't take us seriously,'" he says.
He also believes that it's vital to have it run for a week and not a day, so that the people who didn't get the memo by Monday will have the rest of the week to catch up and enjoy the benefits.
Burleson believes that in ten years, Houstonians might not see it as such a weird thing to live that way year-round. "After a few experiences of saving 20 percent on the electric bill...it doesn't take very many of these experiences for businesses to start saying that maybe there's something to dressing for the weather after all. They'll say, 'We saved a ton of money so we're gonna make that permanent.' So then you have that chance to get out from under the AC tax."
And that's not all. Burleson believes that the implications of Houstonians dressing for the weather could be huge and wide-ranging, from alleviating traffic to revitalizing businesses to creating whole new industries and carving out a unique niche for Houston atop a world industry. Could Houston become the Milan of the Subtropics? Could Houston at last seize the reins as a world-class something or other? Stay tuned to Hair Balls and find out in another post....