The Suits of Summer (Part 1)
At least some of the wool suits that you’ve been wearing through the winter and early spring may need to be re-labeled “oppressive” if you choose to wear them when the temperature approaches (or god forbid exceeds) triple digits, especially if you add in a good measure of humidity. I realize that you probably spend a majority of your time in temperature-controlled environments, but a change in the weather suggests a change of your wardrobe.
Specifically what that change may entail would depend on how sharply and crisply turned out you want to be, the level of respectability to which you aspire, and what your work environment and personal style will allow. On the more relaxed end of the spectrum, clothing made from linen, cotton, and seersucker are popular warm-weather options.
Linen comes from the flax (linum or linon) plant and has been gracefully worn by the aristocracy and better-dressed for thousands of years. For all we know, Noah was wearing linen when he built the ark. Prized for its luster, durability, softness, and ability to keep the wearer cool in hot weather, wearing clothing made from linen has been on the rise again since the mid 1990’s. The lack of a lasting crease and the inherent tendency to wrinkle is all part linen’s particular charm and panache. Of course Gatsby wore a lot of linen, but so did Bond in Dr. No.
To address that issue several textile producers have been developing linen blend fabrics that retain some of the look and feel (and laid back attitude) of linen, but which exhibit a higher performance. For example, Holland & Sherry of London has developed a particularly enticing new cloth that is a blend of 40% wool, 45% linen, and 15% Techlana.
Is it possible that the type of cloth you wear can influence how you feel? If you want to ride a bike faster, wear Lycra and spandex. If you want to feel more relaxed, wear linen.
Cotton is the most ubiquitous summer suit fabric. Popular in shades of tan, olive, navy, and white, a cotton suit provides great versatility since it is easily worn as a full suit or as separates: the jacket with a different pant or the pants with a different jacket, such as your summer blue blazer.
Those made from poplin cloth, usually a fairly even blend of cotton and polyester, are a bit ‘crisp’ for my taste, but wrinkle less in humid climates and are most traditional. 100% cotton twill has a softer feel, but will not hold its shape as well. There’s almost always a trade-off to consider.
If you have ever wanted to live in the land of milk and honey (brown sugar to be more exact), then you should wear seersucker. First discovered by the British in India as a silk fabric, the word seersucker is derived from the Persian shir-o-shakar, meaning “milk and sugar.” Mostly woven from cotton yarns instead of silk these days, the look and texture of seersucker is created by alternating stripes of normal tension and a more relaxed weave known as slack tension (which creates the pucker of seersucker).
While the milk and sugar reference implies white and a soft brown tone, seersucker can be found in many color options today. The most common version of the cloth is that with alternating stripes of white and blue. Since shortly after the First World War, seersucker has been a warm-weather staple of men in the South and on Ivy League campuses. For many, seersucker is the symbol of summer. BTW: like most any type of cloth, seersucker can be made to look staid or hip, old or young, depending on how the garment is cut and styled and how it is worn.
Note: While full lining of the jacket provides more slippage, as well as greater durability and wrinkle resistance, many summer weight jackets are half-lined or un-lined to make them even lighter and cooler.
Note: Any one of the aforementioned options would be ideal to wear to a summer wedding in a non-urban setting. Wear linen in Cabo or Hawaii, cotton twill (or linen…I love linen) in Napa, CA, and poplin or seersucker in Sea Island, GA.
Is there a downside to these cloths?
Although beautiful, and exceedingly comfortable, they are somewhat less business-like, and also tend to wrinkle more easily than wool or wool blends. It’s what you might call an “elastic tradeoff.”
Elasticity: the ability to return to the original form after being stretched. The amount of elasticity is derived from the inherent qualities of each fiber, the twist of the yarn, and the set of the weave.
In general, natural fibers from animals (Merino sheep in particular) are far more elastic than those harvested from plant life such as linen and cotton. Plant life fibers we covered today. In the next post we will talk about how to beat the heat while wearing animal fibers.
How are you rocking your linen, cotton, or seersucker this summer? If you’re willing to share, please send a photo to: firstname.lastname@example.org. If we like it, we will include it in our album of summer style.
As several people once wrote in my middle-school yearbook: “Stay Cool!”