Archive for Friday, July 27, 2001

The great thermostat standoff

July 27, 2001


The cold war is alive and well.

Men want the workplace cold. Women want to kill them.

Summer should be a time of hot weather and steamy outfits: gauzy tops, wispy shifts, strappy sandals.

But as a woman who works in an air-conditioned office and gets there by penguin-perfect crosstown bus I spend the season draped in more cardigans than Mister Rogers on a snowboard. The dog days of summer are here when my nose feels like a dog's: cold and wet.

It's not just me. Across the aisle right now I spy a colleague in her full-length, polka-dot raincoat. Outside it is 93 degrees.

My friend Valerie, a fashion designer, says she and her co-workers wear flannel shirts over their sundresses.

"When we go in to make a presentation, the buyers must be thinking, 'This is not a look I like!"' she laughs. "No wonder business is bad in the garment center."

Nancy, an office manager, dons layers and drinks hot cocoa. MaryAnne runs outside to warm up. Wendy, an advertising friend, keeps a fleece blanket on her couch for the freezing women who drop by.

"Every day, someone sits in my office and wraps it around," she says. "Yesterday, one girl wore it for three hours. She got up and it retained her shape! The blanket had molded to her body!"

Then a guy dropped by and said, "It feels pretty good in here."

If fashion magazines had any idea what women really need in July, they'd have cover lines like, "Summer's Sexiest Knee Socks" or "Sarah Jessica's Parka."

The problem is not air conditioning, per se. That first blast when you enter a building feels great. The problem is that clammy, all-day, tag-on-the-big-toe chill brought to us, in general, by that ever-sweating species known as guys.

"The ideal temperature is between 58 and 60," nods John Kostrey, a graphics designer in Morristown, N.J.

Ideal for lowering the bacteria count in mayonnaise, maybe.

"But my fingernails are purple!" wails Daniella Bianchinotti, his colleague.

"You can always put something on," he replies. "But if you're hot, you can't get cooler. I can't take my shirt or pants off."

Sure you can, John. We won't see you from under our scarves, anyway.

What's really frustrating about this thermostatic standoff is that either way, someone's going to be uncomfortable so why do the energy-saving ladies always lose? Don't office managers realize that women are starting to waste even more energy fighting back?

Karen Muller, a Californian who answered my "Anybody freezing?" Internet query, is one of them.

"All my female colleagues are shivering, but I have found comfort in a space heater that is cranking constantly," she writes.

"At one point, several of the women were using so much power in their area of the office that the power shorted out from the demand. One would think this would give management a clue about reducing the AC, but of course, it didn't happen."

Clearly, management's brains have frozen. So let me put it to the men still capable of rational thought: Summer comes but once a year. Would you rather see your co-workers in spaghetti straps or snowsuits?

Maybe it's time to heat things up.

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