During the warmer months of the year, many readers and viewers ask us for advice about summer suits and outfits. Interestingly, most men think about cotton or linen fabrics first.Also, the lightness of the fabrics seems to be the number one criterium, but these are only two aspects of warm weather menswear. Therefore we created this guide where we explain what to look for in hot weather clothing.
Characteristics of a Summer Suit
Although a summer suit needs more than just one characteristic in order to be worn comfortably, the most important aspect is neither weight nor the choice of material – it is breathability.
High Breathability Due to Loose Weave & Lack of Lining
When it is hot, you definitely want to feel every breeze coming your way, and the best way to do so is with an open-weave fabric. Loosely woven Panama, a basketweave fabric, is usually popular in summer and achieves the desired cooling effect.
When you hold a piece of this fabric against the light, you can see through the weave of the cloth, even it if is dark navy. If the fabric is a heavier weight, it will also keep you cooler than a featherweight cotton fabric that is tightly woven.
Use A Fan To Determine Your Suits’ Breathability
To test how breathable your suit is, stand about 3-4 yards / meters away from a fan. If you can feel the air, it’s breathable, if you can’t feel it, there is a better fabric to be found. Once you have worn a breathable garment in the wind, you know that it feels chilly in fall or early spring, but during the summer you want to feel the maximum breeze.
The more open the weave, the more patterned your fabric should be to keep it from becoming see-through. However, bear in mind that lighter colors are better than darker ones since light-colored cloth reflects the sunlight whereas dark cloth absorbs it, making you feel warmer.
Also, you want to make sure that you get at least a half-lined jacket because, again, the finer weave of the lining will decrease your garment’s ability to breathe.
Half-lined denotes that the back does not have any lining except for the top, and fully unlined usually means that there is no lining except in the sleeves.
In southern Italy, you can find suits without sleeve lining for maximum coolness. However, your sleeve may not always look as nice because your shirt sleeve sticks to the suit sleeve and can restrict movement. Hence, a sleeve lining is a good idea unless you live in tropical climates.
Light Weight Fabric
Once you have settled on an open-weave, you can turn to choosing the weight of your suiting fabric. Fortunately, modern high-quality fabrics have a beautiful finish, and although the drape is not perfect, they are still the way to go. 7 ounces (210 grams) summer fabrics usually have very open weaves and you should seek out specific summer fabrics for summer suits, because even though some fabrics may be lightweight, the weave may be too dense for summer.
Tropical Worsted Wool – The Summer Standard
A popular summer fabric choice is Tropical. Basically all big mills offer their take on it, and it is simply an open weave worsted wool fabric. It’s generally softer than fresco but also not as breathable. Overall, it is a good choice, but if you want increased air flow you have to go with something else.
Fresco – The Hot Weather Wool
Another great summer suiting fabric is the Fresco fabric, which I already described in more detail in our Fresco article.
Linen for Summer?
Linen is a classic summer fabric because of its light weight, open weave and casual fabric structure. It is usually a little coarser than fine merino wool or cotton fibers., and it wrinkles graciously. After a day wearing a linen suit, you will appear anything but dapper, although some people like this nonchalant look during the summer. In my opinion, a linen suit is ideally suited for a vacation on Capri or casual events, but it is not a good choice for office wear. If you nevertheless want to wear linen at the office, try to find some blends with cotton or even silk. They will still have a beautiful casual look and feel without the wrinkles.
After a day wearing a linen suit, you will look a bit wrinkled but in a sophisticated way. For the office, you need to be able to pull it off because many people will just think it is a wrinkled suit.
Classic linen summer suit colors include tobacco brown, beige or khaki tones, but you can also go with blue. If you go with the latter, be sure to get a lighter shade of blue than you would for a wool business suit because it underlines the summer character. If you want to do something special, you can also opt for unusual colors such as this inspired sky blue linen suit.
For most men, cotton seems to be a default choice during the summer. Now, there is a lot of cotton on the world market, but there are huge differences in terms of fiber length and thickness. In regard to summer clothing, the weave is more important. For example, khaki colored twill trousers or fine “summer” corduroy are not desirable since they impede air circulation. Instead, try to look for open weave poplin fabric.
If you cannot see through the fabric when holding it against the light, it is not well suited for warm summer weather.
However, the fabric has its roots in India. At the time the country was ruled by the Mughal, Persian was the official language at court. Consequently, a lot of Persian was integrated into the local languages and then shaped both the Urdu and Hindi languages. As such the term seersucker derives from these languages referring to the dual tonality of the colors. In fact, “sheer” means “milk” and “shukkar” means “lesser refined brown cane sugar.” Over time, the word evolved into “seersucker,” and it was first imported to Europe in the 18th century. It is not clear what material it was originally made of; some say linen, while others claim it was a blend of cotton and linen. In any case, it is a puckered fabric and its special texture is achieved by pulling certain warp yarns tightly, while others are left looser. As such, the crinkling effect is permanent and as a result, no ironing is required. Supposedly, the crinkling is supposed to help air circulation, although I doubt that.
In the US, it was first popularized in the South, and originally it was considered to be the poor man’s linen suit. However, after WWII it became socially accepted as a proper summer suit. Although the seersucker suit consisted originally of pants, a vest, and a coat, it is now generally worn without the vest. In hot climates, the extra layer of cloth is really not necessary, although it looks better.
Silk & Cashmere
Sometimes you will see blends of cashmere and silk advertised for summer clothing. Personally, I think these two fibers are better suited for cooler climates. Silk is mostly woven very tightly and has excellent insulating properties, which rules it out as a summer contender. Cashmere is also very soft but simply too warm for hot summers.
Cut of a Summer Suit
If your number one objective is to stay cool, wear single breasted coats only without a vest. If you want to be more unique, you can go for a double-breasted seersucker in pink, and if you want to be avant-garde, get a vest to go with it, and you will most likely never see anyone else wearing such an ensemble!
Summer Suit Accessories
To protect yourself from the sun and look put together despite the soaring temps, you should make sure to wear the right summer accessories with your suit. For shirts, I suggest cotton with an open weave, and while short socks may be cooler, a gentleman wears over-the-calf socks, because it is thoroughly inelegant to reveal one’s hairy calf when wearing a suit.
A Panama hat or any other straw hat such as a boater will keep your face in the shade. Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays, and if you chose polarized aviators, things around you look even prettier.
In regards to neckwear, knit ties are great because they underline the casual character of the rest of your outfit and they are more breathable than regular ties. Linen ties are an alternative but just like the suit, they will wrinkle (ironing ties is never a good idea unless you rip it apart, iron it and sew it back together).
Also, bow ties are great because they do not cover your chest. For a selection of summer ties and bow ties take a look here.
Shoes should be in lighter colors. Suede, Saddle shoes and two-tone shoes such as spectators are equally as good as loafers or canvas shoes; it all depends on the degree of elegance you are going for. Check out our summer shoes guide for more details.
What do your summer outfits look like? What is your favorite summer wardrobe staple? Let us know in the comments!