Dr. Backsweat or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fanilla

"هات ستلا لو سمحت"

"هات ستلا لو سمحت"

As a public service, TBE is today offering a primer on how to avoid that most perfidious of summertime scourges, back sweat. Please note that most of this advice is more applicable for our gentleman readers, so if you have any tips for the fairer sex, please post them in the comments.

The number one most important word in the whole lexicon of back sweat resistance is “fanilla (فانلة)” or what the British refer to as a vest and Americans a sleeveless undershirt or, more colloquially, a wife beater. Because the term vest is apt to cause confusion, sleeveless undershirt is a rather clunky construction and wife beater is a hetero- and lesbo-normative term probably propagated by a small minority of sexual deviants who actually get off on seeing back sweat and thus impugned the integrity of its number one enemy, TBE prefers the term fanilla to all others.

There are a couple different types of fanillat (فانلات) or fana’il (فنائل) (both plurals are acceptable, though TBE just made up the latter so use it with caution).  The first is a looser version, the foremost example of which is sold at “JIL (de Paris),” which recently opened a store in Zamalek next to Mobaco on Ahmed Sabry. They also have a store downtown but TBE (scandalously) forgets where, and are sold at other fine fanilleries around the city. The JIL style is much looser than most fanillat that one might find in the United States. Due to its inherent looseness, it is unfortunately not as strong in combating back sweat, for the simple reason that it does not immediately absorb the sweat, as would a tighter fanilla, but rather lets the sweat beads roll around and gather at the bottom. If you see someone with no sweat on the mid or upper back but a small smattering on the lower back, you can bet the shirt’s wearer is sporting a JIL-style fanilla. Despite these drawbacks, JIL-style is highly recommended for light to moderate back-sweaters.

For those heavy flow days, or if you are a chronic back-sweater, the American style might be preferable. These are often ribbed, perhaps for maximum moisture absorption or for your pleasure. The drawbacks to these are obvious. They can be constricting and a pain to take off. Also they are sometimes itchy if you or your makwagi or shaghal(a) forgot to add the fabric softener. Thus they are only recommended for heavy back sweaters and those without access to the much more comfortable JIL style fanilla.

A note about linguistics:

According to the classical sources, “فانلة” refers to both undershirts and jerseys, like those worn by soccer players. In modern usage, however, there has been a movement towards continuing use of “فانلة” to refer to underclothes, while “فانيلة” (with a ي) is used for jerseys.


لبس محمد ابو تريكة نوعين الفان(ي)لة في نفس الوقت

في هذه الصورة لبس محمد ابو تريكة نوعين من الفان(ي)لة في نفس الوقت

 A note about taxis:

Taxis are possibly the number one site of back sweat formation and shirt adherence in Cairo. We interviewed TBE’s taxi correspondent on his best tips for remaining resplendently back-sweat free during those long journeys:

“IMHO, proper posture is the number one prerequisite for fighting back sweat in a taxi. In fact I credit Cairo taxi-riding with any improvements in my posture over the past year or so, and I’m a natural-born sloucher. The secret is to never let your back sink into the seat, especially in those cabs with plush, furry kinda seat fabric, like the one I’m sitting in now. Not only is this better for your long-term spinal health, but also if you think about it, slouching into the seat then back sweating means that your sweat is reactivating any dormant back sweat deposited there by previous customers, producing a mélange that could, depending on the length of your journey, then seep back through your drenched clothes. So when you’re thinking about slouching, just think to yourself, “That’s not a seat, it’s a back sweat transmission device.”

Finally, a note on aesthetics:

Some people, among them some of those who would most benefit from their back-sweat resistant properties, continue to resist the considerable charms of the fanilla. They offer a number of objections, which will be debunked one by one here:

  1. “People might think I’m a wife beater if I wear a fanilla.”  Response: “If you are worried that people think you will look like a wife beater when wearing a fanilla, you probably look like what people perceive a wife beater to look like already. A fanilla will not tip the scales against you. If you refuse to wear one due to the supposed stigma attached to this clothing item, you are an idiot full stop.“
  2. “Fanillat have working class connotations with which I am uncomfortable.” Response: “Your reactionary fashion sense points to a rather undeveloped class consciousness. Are you a Republican?” Or, in Britain, “Are you a member of the British National Party” Or, in Egypt, “أعضاء أمانة السياسات بيموتوا في الفنائل آصلآ” 
  3. “My clothes are too tight to accomodate a fanilla layer.” Response: “Many Egyptian youths wear clothes that are tighter than anything you wear, almost always with a fanilla underneath. Ergo I’m dubious.”
  4. “Fanillas distract from the clean lines and impeccable tailoring of my clothes.” Response: “Don’t front.”

More TBE summertime coverage available here.



Filed under Fashion, Health and Fitness, Special Reports

6 responses to “Dr. Backsweat or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Fanilla

  1. Poseidon

    My mother made me wear a flanella (Lebanese word for fanilla – comes from the french flanelle, a kind of fabric – when I was in elementary school in Paris. All lebanese kids wear flanella in Lebanon, but French kids don’t. During my five years of elementary school, I was stygmatized for wearing one.

    When I grew a bit older (let’s say after my first communion, just before moving on from elementary school), one of the first sign of my newly found independance was to throw away all my flanellas.

    I’ll never wear one again.

    • nottooshaabi

      Even if it clashes with TBE’s strict pro-fanilla editorial line, this is a truly heart-rending fanilla/flanella story, rich in symbolism: flanella as stigmata, communing with the church just as you excommunicate the flanella, the flanella as a symbol of Lebanese identity cast off in favor of French…

      “The coldest flanella story ever told/ How could Rhea be so heartless?”

  2. anti-fanilla; full stop

    I write from a Cairo cafe where I am shirt-sleeved and fanilla-free. I like the feel of the button-down shirt, and don’t want any secondary fabric intruding. I had some back-sweat today, but during the summer I’m embracing the sweat and letting it ride. It’s so hot that after some moments I find the sweat evaporates.

    That said, I appreciate fanilla-fanatics, and will recommend this post to afanilliados.

    • Rebecca

      I think any anti-f(l)anillians should make an exception for five-year old f(l)anilla-wearers, who must have been extremely cute in their little outfits. I hope there are pictures.

  3. propagandin

    fanilleries!? genius.

  4. Pingback: Youth Against Fashionism « THE BOURSA EXCHANGE

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