One of the key rules of style is always to dress according to the season. This means switching from linen to flannel, but do you have to reject winter’s color palette entirely in the warm weather?
How to Wear Cold Weather Colors in the Summer
Summer colors like yellow, royal blue and white take a back seat to olive, gray, and burgundy in the cool weather. However, the opposite is not necessarily true; you don’t need to confine your traditional cold weather colors to the back of your wardrobe in hot weather. Here are some tips on how to get more mileage from fall and winter hues during the summer.
Repurposing Winter Colors for Summer
When we consider the cold weather range of colors, we’re sure to include gray, brown, olive or forest green, burgundy or maroon, and rust. Some of these are meant to parallel the colors seen in nature during autumn and winter. Most of these are said to be “drab” in the most neutral sense of that term since bright hues would look out of place when the conditions you wear them in are cloudy and devoid of vegetation. Fortunately, when summer is in full bloom, color is everywhere–in the flowers and trees–enhanced by direct sunlight that shines down from a higher angle. This means you can wear your traditionally drab or muted colors with no fear that they will be overwhelming. On the contrary, they will attain a greater vibrancy in the summer sunshine.
Let’s look at which traditional winter colors you can still combine to great effect in the warmer months.
Among cold weather colors, gray is the one that most closely mirrors the overcast skies of fall and winter. However, gray is also a classic foundational color in menswear, especially in combination with blue. The first consideration when choosing a color is always the purpose. Why are you wearing what you’re wearing? If you’re dressing for business. a gray suit is appropriate in any season as “drab” colors are chosen as a rule for professional environments. Still, you’d probably want to forego dark gray or charcoal in favor of a lighter gray, the equivalent of pastel, which is always a sign of spring. Try a Prince of Wales patterned suit or jacket, which is commonly available in gray but with an additional accent color, such as blue or red, as an overplaid that brightens it for the season.
In less formal circumstances, a staple spring-summer wardrobe item is a pair of light gray wool pants, perhaps in a cool fresco fabric, the warm season equivalent of winter’s gray flannel trousers. Though the weather may invite white, beige, or colorful “go-to-hell pants,” a gray pair serves as a neutral companion for a variety of blue sports coats. As a bonus, the light color and texture of a fresco eliminate any association with the “security guard uniform” that can be suggested when pairing a blue jacket with darker gray pants.
Neckties that are in the gray family are the easiest way to incorporate the color in summer as they tend to be lighter and called silver rather than in dark tones. The texture and material of the tie also help fit it to the season and either a gray cotton knit tie, a gray linen, or an airy silver grenadine with an open Garza fina weave will fit the bill of more casual fabrics that immediately say summer.
Of all the cold weather colors under consideration, burgundy or maroon is probably the hardest to pull off in the summer because it is a strong color with equally strong winter associations; think burgundy knit vests or maroon velvet dinner jackets for the holiday season. It is, therefore, best used in the form of an accent like a tie or pocket square. The good news is that burgundy coordinates readily with gray and blue. Fabric choice is again your friend, and a raw silk such as a burgundy shantung tie is an excellent choice. The slubby texture of the raw silk gives it just the right degree of informality that you need for summer, yet shantungs also cross over easily into fall and winter, so you can use the tie year round.
Another trick that applies not just to burgundy but to all the colors under consideration is to pair them with other items and colors that are definitively summer. For example, in the image below, Ethan Wong wears a maroon blazer, yet it looks appropriate for warmer weather because he has combined it with white pants and a summery, floral white tie. Even the contrasting white buttons help enhance its status as a warm-weather piece, which dark buttons would not accomplish.
Green is already a hue that is underused in menswear. For spring, a true crayon-box green tie or pocket square can be worn for a small dose of the color alongside mid-blue tailoring. In this case, green reflects the fresh renewal of the season and growing grass; you may associate it with Easter or baseball fields. However, it is a very forceful color and not for everyone.
Olive or forest green appears much more frequently in menswear, but because they are more muted these have more in common with the faded vegetation of winter. Worn in the form of a tie with a white shirt, these colors awaken associations with pine woods in winter snow. Nonetheless, they tend to brighten up in the sunshine, especially when worn alongside other warm weather colors.
A personal favorite combination of mine is an olive green linen sports coat, which I like to wear with a muted green and white gingham shirt and white trousers. Nothing says summer like gingham, and doing the whole look in olive green makes for a unique way to stand out but not in a way that appears too bold.
An olive tie is another option, and my choice is a knit tie for added texture or again a shantung, either a solid or with alternating broad stripes of olive green and off-white. The juxtaposition of a bright companion color gives the tie the pop it needs for warm weather use. So, as a guiding principle when going with winter greens in summer, look for items that provide contrasting lightness.
Whether you call it rust, tobacco or something else, if there’s one color you’d typically associate with autumn, this is it: the color of a dead leaf, either fallen off a tree or rolled into a cigar. The subtle red tone of this shade of brown seems to be particularly suited for fall and winter, and one would, therefore, assume that rust wouldn’t work in summer. Yet the color does surprisingly well, perhaps because it shows to its best advantage in strong, direct sunlight.
Case in point is the tobacco linen suit that blew up the internet a few years back when it was pictured being worn by Italian gentlemen. It became a quintessential summer option and it still is, judging from the dozens of versions visible during the last few years of June Pitti Uomo.
Generally, sports coat and odd combinations are recommended for summer over suits because the former are less formal, and in the case of autumn colors worn in hot weather, it seems logical that less of the color would be better. Yet, the tobacco linen suit proves otherwise; there’s just something special about its versatility. I just purchased my first tobacco linen jacket, and it has rapidly become a favorite of mine, not because it’s trendy (which would be a negative in my book) but because the color just works so well with brown hair, with a range of skin tones, and with a variety of other colors. For one thing, it pairs beautifully with the aforementioned olive green ties, so you can bring two non-traditional summer colors into play at the same time.
In the summer, it’s likely you already wear some brown in the form of suede or calf loafers and a matching belt, but you can also wear larger swaths of this color. Brown linen or tropical wool sports coats; brown chinos in linen, cotton or a blend of both; brown shirts; and brown ties are all fair game. The success of brown can be attributed to how well it pairs with beiges and mid-blues, both of which are popular warm-weather colors.
For a simple casual hot weather outfit, you could wear a brown washed (or “délavé”) linen shirt with a pair of off-white pants. The relaxed nature of linen coupled with the faded treatment of a délavé makes it more summery than a deep brown would be. As a rule, with warm-season brown you want to avoid darker versions of the color, as these will tend to make you look hotter (literally, not metaphorically). With a shirt, this is particularly important as strong browns can be difficult to wear near your face, no matter what your skin tone. If your complexion is pale, it will make you look even whiter, and if you’re brown, it can clash. So, choose your shade of brown carefully.
One of my go-to combinations for summer is a brown sports coat paired with a white shirt, beige chinos and brown loafers; as simple as the outfit sounds, it looks really sharp. For added richness, try to find a brown jacket that has some beige in it as well, such as in the form of a windowpane pattern or some flecking, which will bring up the color of your pants while also lightening the shade.
Often overlooked in summer is the possibility of wearing brown pants. A muted grayish-brown fresco works great with jackets that are beige or taupe. Meanwhile. something like a chocolate brown linen-cotton chino is fantastic with sky blue jackets or the aforementioned tobacco sports coat if you want to double up your non-traditional summer tones. Add that olive tie again and you have three. In this case, the fact that you’re wearing it on your legs and not on your torso allows the deeper brown color, and, of course, you don’t need to worry about it being near your face.
To sum up, the appropriate fabric choice makes a big difference in extending the wearability of typical cold-weather colors in the summer. Cotton, linen and raw silks provide texture and a casualness that reflects the season. Selecting lighter versions of fall-winter colors or wearing them alongside brighter summer hues also disguises their drabness though the higher angle of the sun from June through August can already make them pop more. Once you imagine the possibilities and apply these techniques, you can boost your style while expanding your summertime options and your wardrobe.