With the September equinox drawing closer and only a month or so of summer left, some of us are becoming weary of the sky-high mercury levels.
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This time of year, synthetics and leather ought to remain in your closet for obvious reasons. But what should you replace them with?
What to Look for in a Summer Fabric?
Once spring’s in full swing, the trick to cooling off isn’t just avoiding the heavier materials.
Rather, thin fabrics have equal potential to trap body heat. Instead, look out for open-weave materials. Specifically, make sure you can see the gaps between the warp and the weft fibers, which then help air circulate underneath and cool your skin.
Using this logic, a heavier-weight garment with an open weave is more likely to keep you cool than synthetics or tightly woven fabrics.
Additionally, the rule you heard as a child still applies. Dark colors absorb heat, while lighter colors tend to reflect it.
For this reason, be choosy about the black, navy, and charcoal garments in your closet, and embrace the full range of white and pastel shades.
Popular Summer Fabrics
Although you won’t find 100% cotton outdoor and active garments these days, this summer fabric is the universal baseline for casual dressing in warmer weather, and it’s been that way for centuries.
Cotton naturally lets air flow through, no matter which variation you choose:
- Chambray: While it looks like denim, chambray has a higher thread count and a lighter feel, making it ideal for spring and summer wear.
- Seersucker: Although seersucker has preppy connotations, this lighter-weight cotton is literally built for hot days. A ridged, puckered stripe texture differentiates seersucker from other cotton fabrics. The texture then positions the material away from your skin, so more air can flow through. Initially produced in India using silk, seersucker is typically made with 100% cotton or a cotton/polyester blend.
- Madras: While Madras usually refers to a particular multicolored plaid pattern, it’s also a material – a plain, loose-weave fabric originating in India. You’ll come across lighter-weight varieties for shirts and heavier-weight Madras for jackets and pants.
- Poplin: Popular for button-fronts, poplin is a lighter-weight version of cotton created through mercerization. This process softens the fabric and adds just a bit more luster. As with Madras, you’ll encounter thicker-weight versions for pants and jackets, and thinner constructions for shirts.
Rayon and Viscose
Contrary to many assumptions, certain synthetics handle the heat without turning into a total moisture trap that clings to your skin. Case in point: Rayon.
It’s been the backbone of breezy Hawaiian shirts for decades. Thin, lightweight construction that drapes around your body feels silky and cool and, with the right fit, offers just enough space to handle the humidity.
As a note, though, rayon doesn’t have the natural moisture control that cotton does. Sweat may end up showing through on particularly sweltering days, especially if you’re on the move or wearing a jacket on top.
Viscose, an offshoot based on rayon’s composition, is a semi-synthetic fabric made out of cellulose. It, too, drapes well. In fact, in the late 19th century, it was developed as an artificial alternative to silk, and by the 20th century, was regularly used in fast fashion for its luxurious look with a relatively inexpensive price point.
Unlike rayon, its composition is a bit more breathable – almost cotton like – and it meshes well with other fibers. For this last point, you might come across viscose/cotton, viscose/linen, or even viscose/nylon blends – all of which blend viscose’s silky look and feel with a more breathable or abrasion-resistant fabric.
In many regards, linen is the prototypical summer fabric. Usage is said to go back to ancient Egypt, but in the more modern sense, the fabric’s a staple of spring fashion week photography. Count the number of linen suits and sprezzatura ensembles at Pitti Uomo to see what we mean.
Yet, linen’s reputation is well deserved. All fabrics – even cotton – pale in comparison where breathability is concerned.
With pure 100% linen, an open weave – made from the fibers of the flax plant – creates a lightweight, airy pathway that naturally cools your skin, no matter how thick the material is.
And, beyond just the practical aspect, a textured, clearly woven appearance makes a linen suit visible from a distance. For all-around comfort without compromising your style, consider this summer fabric in a pastel or off-white shade.
On the other hand, linen has its downsides. For one, 100% linen fabric wrinkles – and, like its weave, it’s easily noticed. For this reason, such garments fall in and out of favor – especially a full-on suit.
As a solution, opt for just a linen blazer if you plan on sitting down, or seek out a blended fabric. Linen/cotton, a popular choice, mixes two breathable materials: Linen cools your skin by default, while cotton enhances its structure and improves wrinkle resistance.
It’s neither an oxymoron nor a paradox – and, if you’ve ever worn merino socks on a summer hike, you definitely know why.
Wool, by default, is naturally moisture wicking, thus helping control perspiration. Unlike those hiking socks, however, tropical wool is extremely thin. You should be able to see through its two-ply, plainwoven composition.
As such, whether you need summer-friendly socks, a blazer, or a pair of pants, you get the best of both worlds.
The newest summer fabric on this list, Tencel is also one of the most sustainable, made out of regenerated cellulose.
A few factors have fueled its growth in popularity: It feels like cotton, including being soft and breathable, but is less likely to wrinkle.
Added to this, its composition easily mimics some forms of cotton – denim and chambray, particularly – but can also look and feel as flowy as rayon.
While it’s still relatively new, it’s a material we should all watch out for, especially as more and more consumers demand eco-friendly alternatives.