There’s a certain type of man–and I include myself in this group–who sees it as a matter of principle to wear tailored clothing no matter what the weather. We’re the sort who never wear shorts except at the beach and feel naked without a jacket.
So, even when it’s pushing 90 degrees, we still wear suits or sport coats and repeatedly get asked the question “Aren’t you hot?.” Although we may treat the question as a statement and say “Thanks for the compliment!” the fact is we may indeed be sacrificing comfort and sweating for the sake of elegance. However, there are certain things we can do to stay cool (literally!) as gentlemen who love to wear tailored clothes in summer temps.
12 Ways to Stay Cool Wearing Classic Menswear in the Heat
1. Choose the Right Summer Fabrics for Your Tailoring
While a worsted wool suit is sometimes marketed as year-round wear, the fact is it is appropriate for only three seasons in most cases, and the excluded season is summer. If you must wear a suit for work, in the realm of pure wool, you can wear fresco, which looks close enough to worsted though with an open weave that allows ventilation.
Seersucker is also a popular, albeit bold, suiting option for keeping cool as its puckered texture, owed to the way the fabric is woven, keeps it away from your skin and allows air circulation. You could also opt for a suit of pure linen, which may be the coolest wearing fabric, but the wrinkling can be problematic for professional settings: if you sit for a long time, it’ll make the backs of your knees look like an accordion when you get up.
However, if you have the freedom to wear a sport coat, then linen is definitely in play. If you’re limited to suits (and for sports coats with less wrinkling) find a linen blend instead, like a cotton-linen or wool-linen-silk combination.
2. Lose the Lining
Thankfully, tailors and menswear manufacturers of off-the-rack jackets and suits understand that summer is hot and usually make their seasonal tailoring available unlined or with minimal lining: either half lined, meaning the sleeves, upper half and sides of the jacket but not the lower back; or quarter lined, meaning just the sleeves and upper back.
The latter is sometimes called “butterfly lining” since the overlapping lining looks like the open wings of a butterfly. Some jackets may be totally unlined and thus shirt-like, though the insides of the sleeves will still usually be lined to help them lie neatly on your arms. Sleeve lining also lets you put your jacket on and take it off more easily. However, you may find jackets from spring/summer collections that have full lining; these are fine for spring but be careful avoid them in truly hot weather. The ultimate summer jacket is one that also has no canvas and is thus “unconstructed.” While canvassing helps the jacket conform to your body over time, it adds another layer of material to the garment.
3. Leave Your Jacket Unbuttoned
The rule of style that you must keep your suit jacket buttoned whenever you are standing doesn’t account for situations when the temperature is scorching. If you’re in an air-conditioned office, you’re fine, but if you’re walking around in the heat, open that button. It’s summer and leaving it open appropriately reflects the casualness of the season while even injecting a bit of sprezzatura into your look.
4. Wear Summerweight Shirts
Unlike a blazer or suit, the shirt you wear under your jacket doesn’t have as many restrictions, as it is partly hidden. So, the wrinkling of linen is not as apparent, though a cotton-linen blend shirt provides the best balance of coolness and a crisp appearance. Giro inglese, also known as Airtex, is the second option. It’s essentially cotton woven with an open weave, which lets air circulate through. These shirts are quite transparent when worn on their own, but you don’t need to worry about exposing your nipples if you have a jacket on.
5. Wear a Polo Shirt
With suits and sport coats, a long-sleeve shirt is usually de rigueur, but the short sleeve polo is a possibility if your jacket is more unstructured. The more informal and shirt-like your jacket is, the less unusual it looks not to have any cuffs peeking out from under your jacket sleeves. If you dislike the idea or have a more structured jacket, there are long-sleeve polos made with cotton jersey, which is very lightweight, or cotton pique, which has a more open weave.
6. Skip the Undershirt
This seems like a no-brainer, but some men, especially in the US, swear by the undershirt, particularly as a means of protecting dress shirts from perspiration. While you will likely sweat more in hot weather, putting on an additional layer of clothing only exacerbates the problem, and you’ll probably sweat through your undershirt anyway. Just launder your shirts regularly. If you’re dead set on wearing an undershirt, there are ultra-lightweight versions available that will minimize the added weight. These are meant more to be “invisible” though than specifically to beat the heat.
7. Skip the Tie Entirely, or Wear a Bow Tie
If a tie is not required, leave it at home during the height of summer and open your collar. I admit that I have a summer tie collection that I love and am loathe to give up the opportunity to make use of them. But over 85 degrees F, the tie will have to wait for another day. This is more of a possibility with a sport coat and pants combination than with a full suit, as some people find the suit with no tie look to be unsightly. However, if your suit is linen or otherwise “casual,” you can certainly pull it off better than with a worsted business suit. When you go tieless, compensate by choosing a shirt that has a pattern, perhaps stripes or a grid. Decorum and good taste demand that you open nothing lower than the second button on your shirt, however, unless you’re at the beach.
Or simply choose a bow tie instead; the lack of fabric laying on your chest will feel much cooler.
8. Unbutton Your Sleeve Cuffs
Leaving your shirt cuffs unbuttoned is a true sprezzatura move, reflecting a personal insouciance or nonchalance. Italians do it with French cuffs, leaving them open, without cufflinks, and even unfolded. But you can do the same with barrel cuffs, as it allows air to circulate better up your arms rather than having a buttoned sleeve fastened tightly around your wrists. Related to this, you can also open the small button on the forearm of your shirt as well.
9. Wear White
Put away your dark clothes, which work to absorb heat, in favor of lighter tones, but especially white. There’s a reason why people who live in equatorial nations wear a lot of white—they recognize its reflective properties.
For the practical purpose of cooling, try white pants or a white sport coat, but not at the same time unless you’re conjuring the ghost of Tom Wolfe. There are circumstances when a white suit looks good, but it can be difficult to achieve successfully. For more on the subject, check out our article on how to wear white.
10. Choose Looser Fits
Slim (and super slim) fits have been popular in recent years, particularly among younger guys (and attendees of Pitti Uomo). In summer, abandon the clinging cloth of slim shirts and trousers and opt for wider legs on pants and looser sleeves on shirts to increase airflow.
Linen trousers naturally make use of the same principle as the stiffness of the flax fibers keeps them off your skin. They do tend to bag a bit, so a cotton-linen blend is again the ideal compromise. Of course, you don’t want your legs to be so wide that they look like flags fluttering in the breeze.
11. Wear Loafers with “Invisible Socks”
Warm weather is the time for loafers, but more because they conjure an atmosphere of relaxation than for their heat-dissipating properties. For that, you can abandon longer socks in favor of so-called “no-show” or “invisible” socks (socklets?) and loafers. The ankle-cooling effect, which also transfers up your legs, cannot be underestimated. For those who absolutely refuse to give up wearing visible socks, this may be an occasion for linen socks or ones that only rise to the mid-calf. Some men swear absolutely that they will wear nothing but over-the-calf (OTC) hosiery, and I am one of those people, but only when the weather is cool enough for it. Believe me, when it’s 100 in the shade, you’ll regret having 50% more of your leg wrapped in fabric.
12. Put on a Panama hat
It’s often said that your head is the first thing you need to keep cool in the summer (and warm in the winter) to regulate your body temperature. This makes sense as your head is the highest point on your body and can get baked if the sun is directly above you. The solution is a Panama Hat: stylish, light in color and weight, with a breathable weave and a brim that also protects your eyes from glare. Read our summer hat guide for other possibilities, including the straw boater.
13. Have an Aperitivo!
Here’s a bonus tip for a “baker’s dozen.” Take your tailored self to a dimly lit bar, ideally in a Mediterranean destination like Italy or Spain. Barring that, settle for a Pimm’s cup or a G&T in the UK, where the weather (usually) doesn’t get too hot in summer anyway.
In a world where heatwaves and hottest days on record occur even when it isn’t summer, keeping cool is even more important for anyone who wants to be better dressed than wearing a t-shirt and shorts. When it’s 90 degrees, and I am not at the beach, I do sometimes, and with great reluctance, wear just a polo shirt or a long-sleeve jersey shirt with light trousers. However, I also find that covering yourself with cloth can be even better than exposing your skin to the broiling hot sun.
To some extent, there’s always the possibility that we have to compromise on our wardrobe choices, but we also need to be prepared, so we can continue to wear the tailoring we love. Ultimately, the principles behind all the tips for staying cool are 1) reducing the layers and thickness of the clothes you wear and 2) avoiding as much fabric-to-skin contact as possible, which then allows more air to circulate.
Make use of these principles to stay cool in summer to whatever extent you please, depending on your individual style–how casual or formal you are–and how much you can stand the heat.