Whittling down the best summer fabrics was no easy task, so I thought I’d choose them based on their utility, practicality, diversity and looks. This sounds pretty serious, but really it’s just a concerted effort to have your back (literally) and save you money. So without further ado, I give you linen, tropical wool and cotton! The drumroll preceding that announcement may have fallen on its face in comical fashion, but no matter. They are all fit to serve you with distinction, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing.
Honorable mentions go to silk, mohair and blends of natural fibers. See if you think I was right to dismiss these in the following slides.
Unless you were born yesterday, there should be no surprises with linen. It is light, airy, prone to creasing and particularly casual. Therein lies the rakish charm of linen. It floats and it drapes and takes on its own dégagé appeal that even the lightest cottons can only dream of. Of course, it needs to have room to blow in the breeze; so linen clothes need not be cut tight to the body. Similarly, avoid more formal elements of dress with linen, such as cuffs on your trousers, as they look contrived and battle against the appeal of the fabric in the first place.
Linen shirts are a summer staple, while trousers and shorts cut loosely will make a charming addition to any wardrobe. However, beware of too much linen in one ensemble. Contrasts in fabric are very important to show off the best characteristics of each. Furthermore, unless you just stand still at work, linen really isn’t a great idea for suits. A linen blend suit will thus work much better, combining the informality of linen with a more crisp fabric like worsted wool.
You really have two options here, fresco or hopsack. Their porous weaves actually makes them more breathable than linen, and their lack of body means they can be as light as 8 or 9 oz – perfect for keeping you cool. The open weave can be seen most clearly when held up against the light. Lightweight fresco and hopsack are a must, as heavy weight fresco can be worn during spring and autumn such is the density of the fabric. Wool also wicks more moisture than linen or cotton, giving you yet another reason to prefer wool tailoring to any other fabric.
It is worth nothing that generally fresco is more durable and thus your only real option for trousers and a full suit, but it can depend on the weight of the cloth. Both trousers and jackets are best unlined for the summer, as not only will the lining make the clothing less breathable but surprisingly heavier too. A jacket in tropical wool will look best with minimal structure, but a little padding in the chest and shoulders is appropriate for more formal environments. A final word on these two fabrics is a warning of snagging garments due to their open weave. However, such imperfections once re-threaded or snipped simply add to the attraction of the garment.
So as to appease the stricter style aficionados, I broke down cotton into the two best summer fabrics but acknowledged their origins from the cotton plant.
Madras is the first of the cotton fabrics I advise for summer wear. Deriving its name from the city where it was first produced, Madras was said to have come about as a result of Indian reinterpretation of Scottish tartan that was seen on their regimentary uniform. The colors together were a mix of the bold and the muted, and made for a fabulous pattern. Traditionally, madras is produced in fine cotton with a loose weave, naturally making them light and airy. Originating in India, it should be of no surprise that the fabric was made to be worn in heat that often exceeded 100°F.
The best part about madras is its vegetable dying process. When the clothing is washed, the colors run and give them a idiosyncratic, charming aesthetic. In a world of globalism and mass-production, such distinctive character is hard to find. Therefore, you should pay a bit more for madras to ensure you get a garment that is clearly very much your own.
Now the rigorous fashionista must cut me some lack, for the wonderful Internet is really just a series of potholes of misinformation. I can relay the common assertion that seersucker is made from cotton, but its origins are less clear. Indeed, if linen or a combination of linen and cotton were used initially, then that would make for a very interesting fabric indeed. Nevertheless, seersucker is distinguished by its puckered, striped appearance. The colours can range from blue – a classic – to an apple green. The boldness of the stripe dictates the casualness of the clothing; the thicker the stripe, the more casual it is.
As you would hope for from a summer fabric, it is also lightweight. Interestingly, the crinkling of seersucker is meant to improve air circulation. There are some reservations about this, but there is no doubting its suitability for summer. In fact, to encourage you to don the recently maligned fabric, you should seek inspiration from the dude above. For what it’s worth, I reckon a classic summer outfit might involve white shorts, a blue and white striped seersucker jacket, a madras tie and tonally aware handkerchief, grounded with suede bucks. If you think this look is too uniform, then experimenting with colours, accessories and shoes is the way to go.