It’s August, and even though the end of the summer is in sight, the heat seems to have no intention of backing off. When the mornings are muggy and the afternoons are just downright sweaty, it’s easy to stand in front of your closet and feel defeated before you even put any clothes on. Though you might think that the best strategy is to wear as little as possible, wearing the right clothes is a better strategy than wearing less of them. (No tank tops and cargo shorts necessary here.) The key is to choose the right fabrics, so that you can find that elusive ensemble that’s both stylish and comfortable, even during a record heatwave.
Even the most stylish man’s priorities will change when it’s 80, 90, or 100 degrees outside, and when looking for heat-friendly menswear, you should prioritize materials that are lightweight and breathable. To test how lightweight a material is, try on the piece, or at least pick it up. The last thing you want is to feel weighed down by your shirt or your trousers during a day in the hot sun. To figure out which fabrics are the most breathable, look for fine threads, loose weaves, and natural fibers, which all prevent a piece of clothing from trapping air and sweat against your skin. Additionally, you can confirm which fabrics have a loose weave by pulling a small section taut. A densely-woven cotton, like broadcloth or oxford, won’t have a lot of stretch to it, while a loose weave will stretch.
Still not sure what’s going to be the most comfortable when you venture outside the department store or your house? We have a few pointers on what materials you should look for, whether you’re shopping summer sales or shopping your own closet. These are the fabrics you’ll want to wear everyday, whether you’re at home or on vacation, to both stay cool and look cool on the hottest days of the summer.
Let’s start with the obvious: Linen has long been the quintessential summer fabric, and for good reason. It’s lightweight, very breathable, and dries quickly (whether it’s sweat, splashes from the pool, or ocean surf you’re worried about). Especially with linen, you may be tempted to go for a generously cut shirt, or pants that are looser than your regular go-to’s, but you generally shouldn’t stray too far from your usual trim, flattering silhouettes, which will keep you looking sharp either poolside or at the office.
The single drawback with linen is that it wrinkles more easily than other summer-friendly fabrics. It’s a good idea to iron your linen shirts; we know it’s a pain, but it’s definitely worth the extra time to at least make sure that the collar and placket lay flat. If you absolutely won’t go near an iron or a steamer, more tightly-woven linen sacrifices a little bit of breathability, but comes out of the dryer or your suitcase looking a little less wrinkled.
If linen isn’t for you, there are a couple of cotton fabrics that make for great summer wear. Both poplin and chambray are lightweight and breathable, and offer a different aesthetic than that classic linen look. Even though your tee shirts and jeans are also made of cotton, a poplin or chambray shirt will feel lighter and cooler than the pieces that are comfortable on a cooler day. Poplin shirts are an excellent choice for keeping cool while wearing a suit, while a light chambray shirt works with a blazer or on its own, with the sleeves rolled up for added ventilation. Additionally, another weave of cotton, seersucker, is another comfortable choice. A major plus with cotton fabrics is that they’re easy to maintain and can almost always be machine washed.
For guys who have to go to the office dressed up on one of the hottest days of the year, tropical wool is an excellent line of defense against the heat. Wool might sound like a bad idea in the middle of summer, but a suit made of tropical wool benefits from a weave that’s looser and lighter than your usual jacket and trousers thanks to thin threads specifically chosen to reduce the weight of the jacket or trousers. While you could go with a linen suit, a tropical wool suit will be much less wrinkle-prone, which is always a plus if you need to impress your boss or look sharp at a friend’s wedding.
Regardless of which specific fabrics you choose, keep in mind that covering more skin can end up being more comfortable than exposing more, since you’ll be soaking up less direct sun. (It goes without saying, we hope, that you do need to be wearing sun protection of at least SPF 30 on your face, neck, hands, and any other exposed skin everyday.) Even a long-sleeved shirt and pants in the right fabrics can be more comfortable than shorts and a short-sleeved shirt in the wrong fabrics.
That said, common sense is just as important when dressing for a heatwave as it is any other time of the year. Texture and pattern can hide wrinkles and sweat. Light chinos are going to be more portable than jeans that are heavy or tight. (Conversely, a light pair of jeans is a better choice than that heavyweight pair of military-inspired chinos you picked up last winter.) And when you can’t bear to wear multiple layers, a few smart accessories, like a quality belt, a favorite watch, and a good pair of shoes can help you look cool while everyone around you is sweating it out.