The Third Layer: Light, warm essential

Here's a useful French adjective: frileux. It means "sensitive to cold", which describes the state of most of my post-50 friends, from early fall through late spring.

When hot flashes abate, the other end of the body-temp spectrum kicks in, assisted by air conditioning or blasts of wind. 

The shirt you'd hoped to wear three seasons is suddenly limited to a month. And travel! If ever caught touring when your thin cotton sweater might as well be transparent, you will welcome  the Third Layer, an underlayer that adds warmth, not bulk.

The new microfibers

I have collected a supply of camisoles and lingerie tanks in Montréal, a famously frigid city, so when Adea offered me a test of one of their Italian-milled microfiber pieces, I accepted. (This is the only piece in the post that I did not buy myself.)

They sent a black spaghetti-strap cami ($49), which I wore for several weeks, testing it against similar ones already in my drawer: a poly-stretch cami (about $15 on sale from Lord & Taylor), a Cuddl Duds "climatesmart" (polyester) tank ($26 from The Bay), and a Hanro Touch-feeling microfiber ($90 from Garnet Hill). 

The last two, along with the Adea, market themselves as "breathable" microfiber, wicking moisture away from the skin.

While the L&T cami will bathe me in clammy sweat if I walk too quickly, the other products calmly adjust; I've worn them both indoors and out, in temperatures from 39F (4C) to about 70F (21C).

Adea spaghetti-strap cami
If one can apply the term "plush" to microfiber, Adea's Italian-milled fabric was the soft, snuggly embodiment. 

The hand was springier and more velvety than the L&T piece, no surprise, and as beautifully finished as the Hanro, but a touch thicker. Hands-down nicer than Cuddl Duds, which pilled at the underarm. 

Normally I prefer natural fibers, but Adea and Hanro are clearly the sleek new generation of synthetics.

If the tee styles peeked from under a sweater or jacket, it won't look like my underwear is showing.

Many of Adea's camis, tanks and layering pieces are made in a dazzling range of colour; in the dead of winter, chiffon (a soft yellow) or rose red deliver a distinct lift. They offer the neutrals, too, in Italian hues like espresso and butercream.

The 3/4 sleeve scoopneck layering top would travel from airline cabin to bistro dinner. Price, $74. (The 3/4 sleeve V-neck layering top is $20 more. Why?) And since it breathes, you could even sleep in one!

A luxurious Third Layer is a thoughtful gift, and, in an unexpected shade like eggplant (shown above) makes a piquant surprise for une femme frileuse.

Sizing ranges from 2 (US 0-4) to 3x (US 20-22); see the size chart on the site,  here. Adea provide a 30-day return policy and free shipping to Canada and the US.

Other fibers


Silk insulates, breathes and washes well, so I wear and recommend Lands' End's silk pointelle; price for a sleeveless tank, $40. My LE top is not as huggy as the microfibers, nor is the colour as fast; the black fades over time.

Hanro's  70% wool/30 & 30 % silk blend Warmwear is terrific too, but at $110 for a short-sleeved v-neck, a premium-priced chill chaser.

Fine merino

I also have a couple of fine merino base layers, similar to MacPac's merino cami; price, about $39. This is a sportier piece, useful for cycling, climbing or skating, but a little heavy once you get indoors. On the road, you need at least a full overnight to dry them after handwashing.

In summary, the high-quality microfibers are versatile and launder beautifully, drying in a few hours. The merinos are good for sports—some are treated to resist odor-causing microbes—but may be too casual for other occasions. Fine silk knit is a good light insulator, especially if you don't tolerate wool, but the colour range is limited to neutrals and pastels, and when it shows, it looks exactly like what it is, your underwear.

I'd take the microfibers on a trip, hands down; their usefulness makes the cost bearable.

Have you found your sensitivity to cold has changed? How do you manage?


Cornelia said…
I, too have recentyly upgraded my camisoles buying Hanro and Calida in microfiber. Yes, they are a bit pricey, but my goodness, they relegated my cotton camisoles to the bottom of the pile. I'm not sure why I am surprised, though. My Patagonia long johns (all made from manmade fibers) have kept me comfortable for many years.
Susan B said…
I've *always* been sensitive to cold, so tend to wear more (more layers, longer sleeves) than everyone around me. I just acquired my third Adea piece (a mock turtleneck this time) that I'm planning to test drive this week. I really love their fabric.
Northmoon said…
I'm definitely more sensitive to the cold than I used to be. I'm already wearing my cashmere sweaters in Toronto, what will I do in January? These microfibre layers might be the solution. I'd go for the scoop neck 3/4 sleeve version; my arms get very cold first. The prices don't look too bad to me either, I hate seeing thin fashion T-shirts for $160 and up so $75 = reasonable. Thank you for posting this!
barbara said…
Always have been a Frostbeule, exept during Menopause.
Love Bodysuits (Wolford) b/c of protection of the kidneys and no visible lines under my clothes.
Falke does a fine Bodysuit Collection this Season (long Sleeves and deep neckline) in great Colors.
I googled for Adea already last Winter, unfortunately can't get it in EU.
LPC said…
I think I'm still in the "Everything makes me hot stage:)." Except air conditioning, which I hate.

I am sure my day will come.
materfamilias said…
Like Sue, I've always been sensitive to cold, and have a few fine, fine merino pieces for under-layering as well as silk. Haven't tried the micro-fibres yet but I'll watch for these although I do get warm inside, so I'm wary . . . .
In a skirt today and it's freezing out today (literally) -- thinking someone should make a slip out of a heat-preserving fabric. I'd buy it! (and yes, I do have a stock of wool tights, but wouldn't mind a slip instead sometimes, with boots and regular tights)
Eleanorjane said…
I think I must've always been sensitive to cold too, 'cos I've been wearing wooly singlets every day all winter since my teens (and this was in New Zealand when it barely even frosts and doesn't snow!).

I was never one of those crazy girls running around town in a tiny dress and no coat in the middle of winter.

Getting back to underlayers - my current ones are merino wool and I also have some 'heat tech' fabric long sleeved tops (which I don't actually find very warm).

I've just bought some tights with merino and cashmere to wear under skirts. With those and knee length boots I can stave off the winter chill. Also nubbly wool skirts. And wool cardigans... basically I'm all about the wool.
Duchesse said…
Cornelia: It's time to invest in our comfort. I have Patagonia longjohns too but they are too heavy for indoor, all day wear.

une femme: Sometimes when I see your WIW posts, I am amazed how warmly you are dressed for LA (where yes, I know it can get cool- have been there quite a bit[ but not like here.) So, clearly some of us are more sensitive to cool temps, yet don't want to wear thick sweaters. The third layer is a lifesaver.

LPC: Maybe your body will grow more sensitive, but maybe not. However, sudden climactic shifts while traveling are probably going to happen, and I remember being mighty chilly in San Francisco.

mater: I also find merino very good for that "temperature float" quality, but fine merino does wear through at the friction points more quickly than micofibers.

Eleanor Jane: I just saw a young woman in sheer over-the-knee stockings stockings and a good foot of bare thigh before her skirt more or less appeared, topped with a tiny waist-length jacket (of course unzipped), and I thought, "Oh, I remember those days!"

northmooon: When lived in Toronto, got into cashmere (some is lighter than others) by the beginning of October. The temperatures can be in the teens but the the wind off the lake makes it feel much colder, especially out of the sun. You'll be surprised how much warmer wool is when that other layer creates an air pocket b/t it and your skin.
Rita said…
Thanks for this article, Duchesse. I've always been cold, but I think its worse now. I sometimes find myself feeling too cold one minute, then too warm the next. So a fabric that breathes is a good thing. I used to love cuddlduds, but the quality isn't what it used to be. I'm looking at Land's End, they have a nice selection. And I may spring for that eggplant top!
I've always been frileuse (I'm a cat, after all). I never had a single "hot flash" - I think there were a few times I was mercifully warm. From teens to not far from 60, it doesn't really seem to have changed, though of course I remember walking around in an unlined deerskin jacket and tights in the snow, with a sort-of mini-skirt (not the ultra-minis of today).

Wonder if any of these are available in bricks-and-mortar shops? I hate ordering online unless I know what size really fits me. I have big boobs and little shoulders.

And a seasonal reminder, please, if you have warm stuff like this you don't wear, give it to a charity shop! Mine here is Le Chaînon, which supports a centre and emergency lodging for women in crisis.

I've found several work-worthy things at their thrift shop, perhaps good karma as I've taken them many bags and granny carts of good quality items.

I'm looking for really warm leggings and tights, but nothing like cashmere, more microfibres.
LauraH said…
I hate being cold so last year I bought a number of cotton camisoles from LLBean, They have a bit of spandex so fit close to the body, essentially hugging you, which seems to provide the right touch of added comfort. The colours are nice too, it gives me a lift to choose something cheery on a dull winter day.

Thanks for sharing your experience with some brands that I've been wondering about - will probably try the Adea line for the travel factor.
Susan said…
I am finally over a decades long hot flash, but haven't yet become sensitive to cold. Perhaps it is because I live in such a warm climate and don't see cold weather very often. I don't own a single cami, but could use a few for tops that are a bit too transparent for me. When I buy one, I'll definitely refer back to this post.
LauraH said…
Just as important as the third layer is the question of what works to keep the bottom half warm in the Canadian winter, especially for those of us who walk and take transit. Tights alone don't seem nearly enough, a layer under pants sounds too warm once you get inside and awkward to remove. I have been using a pull on ski-type pant that I can take off when necessary but it condemns me to an all black winter.

I'ld love to hear your ideas and experiences and same from your other readers.
Duchesse said…
Susan: For your travel, perhaps?

LauraH: Absolutely! I wear Lands' End silk pointelle long underwear and those fleece-lined knee-length socks under pants and jeans. The silk is just fine indoors. For really cold outdoor treks I have Patagonia long underwear.

I only wear tights with skirts; I walk so much I go through the toes. I also found fleece-lined tights!

barbara: Falke and certainly Woldford are wonderful, but too costly for me for everyday wear as I walk through the toes of everything.

lagatta: Online stores do have size charts and usualy someone to talk to. I have not seen Adea in any stores here.

Rita: LE silk is good but I have not tried other fabric. You are right about CuddlDuds, used to be much better, now feels cheap.
frugalscholar said…
It was a happy day for me when I discovered merino tank tops (about 30 yrs ago and hard to find in US then.)

I'm hoping to see your ideas for the TOP layer--shawls, etc. Your picks are always so beautiful and unexpected.
Je vis blotti sur le tapis devant un grand feu, car tu me sais frileux comme un chat (Mallarmé, Corresp.,1864, p. 106)
MJ said…
I am wearing the 3/4 sleeve scoop-neck Adea in black today, having worn the same style top in beige yesterday. They are my wardrobe staples, albeit usually as one of two rather than one of three layers.

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