If you are the parent of a teenager (or perhaps a pre-teen) then you probably understand what is forthcoming in this essay. I have a 15-year-old son who wears long-sleeved hoodies in the middle of this hot Georgia summer. I recently tweeted about this on my Twitter page, and many people cathartically chimed in. I am the former president of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and a climate scientist. I know a little bit about heat so this observation has nagged at me for awhile. I decided to use my curiosity and scientific training to explore whether there is any science grounding behind why teens wear hoodies in summertime heat.
For context, the climate is warming, and summers are likely becoming hotter. I wrote a piece in Forbes detailing how temperature distributions have shifted. Extreme heat values from a few decades ago are increasingly “normal” today. Parts of Europe experienced “first of its kind in the record-keeping era” heat recently as have parts of the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projects that most of the country will experience “above-normal” temperatures most of August just as many school districts around the nation are starting sessions. I suspect that heat will not stop the hoodies, though.
As a scientist, my first inclination was to explore what is out there. My first stop was not a scholarly journal. It was an essay by Ian Lecklitner in Mel Magazine titled, “Stop Bagging on People Who Wear Hoodies During Summer.” He went on to lay out several reasons including:
- Protection from cancer-causing Ultraviolet (UV) radiation
- Armor against pesky mosquitoes
- More pockets
- Body image concerns
Frankly, these all make sense to me. My own son even says it is cold in some of his classrooms. One explanation that really caught my eye was consistent with many of the tweet explanations. Lecklitner writes, “….hoodies provide more than just physical comfort; they administer emotional comfort, too, similar to that of a weighted blanket.” Ah, this is where the scientific literature comes into play. I scurried over to the friend of every Ivory Tower academic researcher – Google Scholar. I entered the term “weighted blanket” in the search bar. Surprisingly (to me at least), there are robust and longstanding studies on the use of weighted blankets to support people on the autism spectrum, suffering from insomnia, or dealing with anxiety or hyperactivity.
Lecklitner hypothesized in his essay that perhaps hoodies serve a similar function as weighted blankets. I know this has been around for years, but I personally noticed it more after the Covid-19 pandemic. While speculative, the pandemic certainly was an emotionally-jarring stimulus for this generation.
A quick search on my favorite shopping app revealed that weighted hoodies are actually a “thing.” Who knew? There are also numerous lines of hoodies designed with lighter and breathable fabrics. Mike Benge recently wrote in Trailrunner magazine, “While summer to some is the time for “suns-out, guns-out” attire, an increasing number of trail runners are realizing the benefits of superlight, longsleeve hoodies for their sun protection, versatility and even style that crosses over seamlessly to the pub (post-corona era, of course!) post run.”
My own research has shifted my perspective on this topic, and I will stop bugging my son. If he’s comfortable (and not succumbing to heat illness), I am good to go. Hopefully, this “hoodie” generation is also helping to erode societal biases or perceptions exhibited towards youth of color wearing hoodies too.