How thermals got stylish

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Yes, thermals, says Kerry Potter. Forget the baggy white vests of your childhood and think super-thin, but ultra-warm, Bretons and Scandi-chic patterns

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By Kerry Potter on

Thermals get a bad rap. They are not stylish. They are not sexy. Our nans love them. We remember how, at school, the thermal vest was a dead-cert nerd signifier. We find them a bit funny. In fact, one Christmas, I sourced some comically awful ones for my husband, after he’d requested warm long johns to go under jeans for his cycle commute. I bought two pairs in Uniqlo – skintight neon pink and luminous yellow (they don’t do them any more – can’t imagine why) – and, revelling in my wittiness, I placed them under the tree. Well, the joke was on me – five years on, he still wears the Least Sexy Items Ever, prancing around the bedroom of a morning, like Timothy Claypole from Rentaghost, bellowing, “YOU bought them for me!”

Thankfully, however, thermals have come a long way, baby, in recent times – music to the ears of anyone who spends a portion of their day on drafty station platforms, at school gates or working/exercising outside. Developments in fabric technology mean that the bulky, itchy, baggy thermals of old are long gone. “They’re much thinner now, they’re beautifully tactile and they don’t add bulk,” says Paschal Little, head of innovation and quality for womenswear, lingerie and beauty at M&S. “And now the fabrics are finer, we can play around with styles. They used to be hidden away in a multipack, but now they are a considered purchase.”

Developments in fabric technology mean that the bulky, itchy, baggy thermals of old are long gone

As you’d expect, M&S has a stonking range of thermals, with their Heatgen lightweight range especially good. I’m a big fan of the long-sleeved tops – I’ve worn this Breton one for several winters now. Who’d have thought you can style thermals but, yep, it’s possible – the new school ones are designed for layering. I wear the Breton under an oversized jumper with its sleeves rolled up, so you can see a flash of stripes. A long-sleeved thermal top can also make a flimsy summer denim shirt dress or jumpsuit winter-friendly. I’m also partial to a poloneck black thermal under a denim shirt – the fabric is delicate enough for you to wear under and not overcook.

Uniqlo’s HEATTECH range is another doozy (neons notwithstanding) – their plain white and black long-sleeved vests are barely off my back in the winter months. HEATTECH comes in three grades of warmth, so there’s something for everyone, from the hardcore skier to the coach potato who doesn’t want to put the heating on just yet. Speaking of skiing, I asked my friend Belinda, who spends a lot of time up mountains, and she raved about Sweaty Betty’s thermals. Rightly so – their current range includes stylish Scandi-chic patterns that look knitted, but are actually wonderfully slinky and lightweight. They’re too pretty to hide under salopettes – I’ll be wearing them to watch telly in on Sunday afternoon.

Finally, let’s go high and low. Hanro is the Rolls-Royce of thermals, a Swiss company that’s been making “warmwear” (they’re so posh, they don’t use the T word) for 132 years. Their merino wool/ silk-mix ones feel delicious on the skin, but don’t come cheap – expect to pay around £40 for a vest. I’m typing this wearing a Hanro vest and matching leggings and may never leave the house again. Meanwhile, bargain alert: this long-sleeved glitter black top is £12 at Sainsbury’s. I’ve been wearing it under a marl grey sweatshirt to bring a little twinkle to these dreary days. Disco thermals? Whatever next. Oh, and before I forget, if anyone’s after a pair of pink or yellow men’s thermal long johns (Condition: Used. Very Used), they are coming soon to my eBay account.

Click here for the stylish thermal edit


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Photo: Getty Images
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