Australia plays host to a summer season that likes to play nasty. The sun beats down and makes everyone sweat to kingdom come, and this brings suffering to those who wear suits for their profession or those who just want to be able to wear one in the summer. The limited options provided by the majority of ready to wear brands here don’t help either.
The same applies to casual wear, where the majority of RTW casual garments in stores here are cotton or cotton blends. While cotton as a fabric is capable of being somewhat breathable in summer, there are certain options that will help you get the best from your summer clothing.
So what can we do to survive the summer in style?
Choose the right fabric.
This is the most important step in choosing summer garments. With the wrong fabric choice, you’re bound to melt regardless of how you do everything else.
There are a few choices you have for summer fabrics:
Linen is a great choice for a summer garment because of its breathability. It’s important to take the weight into account also; some linens are heavier and may be a tad less breathable, while lighter linens will let all of the breeze in. Note: this doesn’t mean a weightier linen isn’t a suitable summer fabric. It’s still breathable.
A heavier linen will be used for a sport jacket while a lighter one might find itself becoming a shirt. Linen will wrinkle much easier than other fabrics, but is it simply a character of the fabric and shouldn’t be avoided for this.
You can make all sorts of garments and accessories from linens, ranging from jackets, trousers, shirts, jumpers plus ties and pocket squares. You could deck yourself out in full linen if you wanted to.
Open weave Cottons:
Cotton has long been a popular choice for retailers and manufacturers to sell garments in, but the caveat is that cotton fabrics come in such a wide variety of weaves and densities that cotton isn’t a one size fits all solution to summer.
The denser the weave, the warmer it will be. So, look for open weaves and maximum breathability. There is one particular cotton fabric that is particularly useful here:
This fabric has a unique, instantly recognisable texture. It’s woven in what is essentially a stripe pattern, where one in every two has a bubbled appearance. It’s super lightweight and breathable, though you’ll be hard pressed to find any retailers selling it in Australia for some reason. If you’re wanting a RTW piece, your best bet – in my experience – is to find one from the likes of Polo – there are occasionally seersucker pieces in their Australian stores – or Brooks Brothers overseas.
Otherwise, there’s always the option of getting something made.
While seersucker is undoubtedly breathable and excellent for summer, it isn’t the most comfortable fabric; it’s rather coarse to the touch. As such, it’s probably best suited to jackets and trousers if you’re looking for a soft touch fabric.
Otherwise, try another open weave cotton such as madras:
This fabric is a brightly coloured – usually plaid patterned – cotton with an open weave, with its name originating from the place and people who brought it into the world: Madras, India (now known as Chennai).
It’s great for casual wear, with a variety of garments created from it. Madras can be obtained in shirting, trousers, jackets and accessories.
You may also come across patchwork madras clothing, which is an even bolder visual statement made from many patches of differently patterned madras fabrics into a single garment.
Acute Style on Instagram has a few choice patchwork madras garments in his collection; I’ll link one below:
A lustrous and luxurious feeling fabric, silk is known for being breathable too. It’s expensive though, and rarely will you be wearing pure silk clothing unless you’re willing to shell out a fair chunk of money or get lucky at a thrift store. However, there are plenty of summer blends featuring silk such as wool/silk mixes: more on that in the section below ‘Common Blends’.
Open weave Wool:
Wool is one of the most versatile fabrics in existence. There’s a common misconception that it is only for wearing in winter, with an association between wool and warmth.
However, wool comes in summer weights and open weaves too. The key to choosing a wool fabric for summer is to look for an open weave (as opposed to a dense weave which denotes a winter fabric) and a lighter weight. Often, these kinds of wool fabrics will be referred to as tropical weight wool.
Rayon is a fabric created by subjecting natural fibres to chemical processes, making it a semi-synthetic fabric. It’s commonly used to construct Hawaiian shirts; the ones worn by Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I. were made of rayon.
The latter is more often found in blends, where it is added to strengthen a fabric in addition to upping wrinkle resistance and colourfastness. For example, you might come across a blend of 50% wool, 30% linen and 20% Tencel in a summer jacket/trouser fabric.
Related reading: Chester Barkly Undershirt Review
Many of the aforementioned fabrics – with the exception of seersucker – often find themselves put into blends with one or more of the others. This isn’t just to reduce cost, but can also have practical or aesthetic purposes.
For example, linen and cotton are often combined in a blend. This changes the character and texture of the fabric, making it more crease-resistant and changing its visual appearance. This blend is often found in cheaper jacketing, shirting and trousers.
Another common blend is found in jackets and trousers: wool, silk and linen. This is a blend aimed purely at making summer more bearable, with open weave wool usually making up at least half of the blend. Silk and linen are then added in order to give the fabric a more luxurious feel and sheen (in the case of silk) and added breathability (in the case of linen, also silk to some degree).
More casual garments can have a cotton/silk/linen blend also.
I’ve got my eye on some ideal summer fabrics. What’s next?
Selecting a climate appropriate fabric is only one step on the road to keeping cool in your clothes during summer. There are a few other things you can look out for in addition to fabric, which I will specify in a later post.
What’s your favourite summer fabric?