TRIED & TESTED / Winning Combinations: Can you be stylish and warm? Our panel tests the latest thermal underwear

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The Independent Culture
Much of the thermal underwear in the shops today is a far cry from the sort of winter woollies your grandmother swore by. At least for women, warm underwear need no longer be a passion killer. We asked a panel of three men and three women, who all work out-of-doors in winter, to test some sets of thermals by wearing each for a day. A word of warning: underwear sold as 'thermal' doesn't have to be any warmer than the regular stuff, although our panel found that the items they tried were better at keeping out the chill.

THE PANEL

Dawn Loudfoot, ice steward and Michael Belsham, duty manager, Alexandra Palace ice rink, north London; Stewart Wallace, parks attendant, and Jane Harries, gardener, Glendale Industries Ltd, who both work in St James's Park, London; Paul Williams and Joanne Winter, street vendors of the Big Issue, the newspaper that enables homeless people to support themselves.

THE TEST

We asked the panel to say how much warmer the underwear was than ordinary underwear; and to give marks for comfort, style, breathability and value for money. The marks were converted into a best buy rating.

MEN'S UNDERWEAR

** DAMART - All-in-one thermolactyl combinations, pounds 39.99

A throwback to the days before central heating, these were thought by testers to be much warmer than ordinary underwear. They were also given good marks for comfort, breathability and value for money. Opinions were divided on their style:

'Stylish, and can be worn with jeans, but they could be better cut around the crotch,' said Stewart Wallace. 'Excellent for wearing in bed.' Michael Belsham, however, thought they were 'practical and effective but not attractive'. Paul Williams found they got twisted during the day but he liked them the best of all, though a 'bit pricey'. 'Good at keeping warmth in.'

* MARKS & SPENCER - Cotton, polyester and viscose mix thermal range vest pounds 8.99, long johns pounds 9.99

Although testers thought they were warm, this brand didn't score quite so well on the other criteria as did the other two sets for men. In particular, they got low marks for style. Stewart Wallace had problems with the fit. 'The top and the long johns were far too long so that they were overhanging at the waist. Hated the awkward Y-front.' Michael Belsham, on the other hand, liked them: 'Good comfort and fit. I would buy these.'

** BRITISH HOME STORES - Polyester and viscose mix thermal T-shirt vest pounds 8.99, and long johns pounds 9.99

These scored well for comfort, breathability and value for money, although the testers didn't think they were quite as warm as the Damart. Stewart Wallace found them a better fit than the Marks & Spencer while Paul Williams said: 'Very much the same as Marks & Spencer. A little less quality but excellent value for money.' Like the other thermals for men, they weren't rated highly on their style.

WOMEN'S UNDERWEAR

* HANRO - Silk long johns pounds 66.50, and long-sleeved vest pounds 72.50

Testers rated these quite well on style and breathability. But, not surprisingly in view of the price, they did badly on value for money. 'Very expensive, and uncomfortable by the end of the day,' said Joanne Winter. Jane Harries said: 'I liked the feel of the silk, though the ivory colour looked like old wool. They did not feel very warm, especially on a very cold day with a cutting wind. The most elegant of the sets, but pretty expensive.' Dawn Loudfoot found them 'very warm and comfortable'.

** DAMART - Interlock thermolactyl sleeveless vest pounds 10.99, and thigh-length pants pounds 11.99 (size 22/24 pounds 11.99 for vest, pounds 12.99 for pants)

Two of the testers thought these were much warmer than ordinary underwear, although Joanne Winter didn't notice much difference. They scored well for comfort, style and breathability. Jane Harries rated them highly: 'I liked the look, feel and warmth of these on a very cold, wet, miserable day. I would have preferred long leggings, though.' Dawn Loudfoot said:

'Very warm, they did the job they were meant to, but not a lot of thought on the fashion.'

*** MARKS & SPENCER - Polyester thermal short-sleeve vest pounds 7.99, long johns pounds 8.99

Testers gave these the highest rating of all for comfort, style, breathability and value for money. They were Joanne Winter's favourite and she gave them top marks all round: 'Very nice to wear. Very feminine and good value for money.' Dawn Loudfoot didn't find them as warm as the Damart or Hanro but felt more thought had been put into the style. Jane Harries wasn't so keen: though they were warm, the vest was an odd shape and the leggings 'a bit droopy'.

* BRITISH HOME STORES - 100 per cent cotton thermal vest with straps pounds 7.99, long johns pounds 9.99

None of the testers was enthu siastic about these thermals. They rated them below average on comfort, style and breathability and the least warm of the bunch. 'I didn't like wearing them very much. The fabric made my skin itch. I wouldn't buy any,' said Joanne Winter. Jane Harries didn't like them either: 'They went saggy very quickly.' But Dawn Loudfoot liked their looks: 'Very stylish and I liked the fact that the garments were colourful.' (The ones she tried were a wine colour.)

Stockists: Hanro silk thermal underwear available from: Dickins & Jones, Harrods, Harvey Nichols (all in London); Kendall's, Manchester; Fraser's, Glasgow; Body Talk, Harrogate; branches of Fenwick's in London, Tunbridge Wells and Newcastle. Damart available from Damart shops and by mail order, tel: 0274 510000.

(Photographs omitted)

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