With the sun finally looking to make good on its promise to make an appearance this summer, it’s time for me to finish off our ‘Spring/Summer Essential Fabrics’ series with a double-header: madras and tropical wools.
In the warmer months of the year I feel that it’s important to embrace one of menswear’s innermost beliefs: be comfortable in what you wear. Because, as we all know, with comfort comes confidence – the one thing that all great looks require. Part of being comfortable during the summer months is staying cool and sweat-free.
If you are to stand a chance of beating the sweat this summer, then you need to start thinking about seasonal dressing. Once the sun puts his hat on, it means thinking not only smarter but lighter too. Do away with those thick, heavy weaves such as tweed, corduroy and wool and start looking into pieces that feature open weaves and are lightweight in nature.
In part one we discussed the benefits of linen, and in part two we detailed why you should be looking to get in on the emerging seersucker trend. Finally, we’re going to talk about madras and, a new personal favourite of mine, tropical wools.
Why Madras & Tropical Wools?
Madras is a lightweight cotton fabric with typically patterned texture and plaid design, used primarily for summer clothing such as trousers, shorts, dresses, and jackets. It is particularly popular with our American cousins and takes pride of place in many preppy wardrobes once the weather starts to pick up. It comes available in plaids, stripes and patchwork and can be a great way of introducing a statement piece into your wardrobe whilst helping you stay light and breezy in the summer sun.
Tropical wool performs a similar job to madras but in a slightly different way. Although it keeps you cool, because it is made from the sturdy fabric that is wool it doesn’t crease and fold as easily as madras and linen do. Madras and linen are susceptible to creasing due to their thin fabric, whereas tropical wool (ideally a wool that is less than 10oz) has an open weave that allows ventilation whilst maintaining its drape and structure. Menswear is all about silhouettes after all.
But what sort of items should you be looking for when it comes to these two summer fabrics?
Madras: Key Pieces
The Masters: GANT
GANT, along with their GANT Rugger and GANT By Michael Bastian sub-lines, are a brand that utilises madras within each and every spring/summer collection. Whether in the form of a preppy madras shirt, statement madras shorts or that Michael Bastian designed sports coat, no one does it better:
Think of these as the new neutral – they will go with absolutely everything. I agree that they can be a bold statement but I believe that summer is all about experimenting with brighter colours, patterns and prints anyway.
If in doubt you can always go for a subtler madras in a navy or olive – but where’s the fun in that? Either let the shorts do all the talking by pairing with simple monochromatic colours (like a navy polo or a grey chambray shirt) or pick out one of the colours in the weave and wear something in the same hue.
- He By Mango Madras Check Bermuda Shorts
- He By Mango Madras Check Bermuda Shorts
- Gant Rugger Madras-check Cotton Shorts
- Polo Ralph Lauren Golf Barrow Fit Madras Chino Shorts
- Polo Ralph Lauren Madras Checked Short
- Lyle And Scott Vintage Mens Madras Shorts Natural
- Plain-front Madras Shorts
- Plain-front Madras Bermuda Shorts
- Madras Plaid Short
My favourite piece of the bunch, and it has been since Michael Bastian started making the perfect fitting one for GANT.
Nothing says summer party like a madras blazer. It’s great for BBQs, weddings or a late night drinking session on the balcony and thanks to the casual nature of the fabric it means you never feel overdressed nor overlooked.
Again, the key is to keep everything else as simple as possible. For a wedding I would go with a pair of beige chinos, white Oxford shirt and navy bow tie (full on prep) and for more casual occasions try a white polo and navy shorts.
- Gant Casual Madras Blazer
- Heritage Madras Linen Blazer
- Beams Plus Check Cotton Blazer
- Fitzgerald Fit Two-button Madras Sport Coat
- Madison Fit Vintage Madras Sport Coat
- Cambridge Fit Three-button Madras Sack Sport Coat
- John W. Nordstrom® Madras Cotton Sportcoat
- Club Room Jacket Patchwork Madras Blaze
- B Store Bert Blazer
I’m talking both short sleeve and long, depending on which side of the debate you fall.
I use them as the ideal layering piece – something that adds an interesting shot of pattern and depth to a layered look whilst still allowing me to breathe, no matter what I wear over them.
- Ben Sherman Madras Check Shirt
- Polo Ralph Lauren Shirt In Slim Fit Madras Check
- Fred Perry Shirt With Madras Check
- J.crew Nelson Madras-check Cotton Shirt
- Nn.07 Derek Madras-check Cotton Shirt
- Beams Plus Short-sleeved Madras-check Cotton Shirt
- Uniqlo Men Linen Cotton Madras Check Short Sleeve Shirt B
- Uniqlo Men Linen Cotton Madras Check Short Sleeve Shirt E
- He By Mango Madras Check Slim-fit Shirt
- Gant Long Sleeve Madras Shirt
- Mango Slim-fit Madras Check Shirt
- Gant Madras Check Shirt
Tropical Wool: The Suit
My suggestion here is to do the same as you would with linen and purchase yourself a suit. This way you can wear it to the office without any concern of sweat during the commute and utilise them as separates on the evenings and at the weekend.
It won’t crease as much as linen, so why not allow yourself to purchase a more interesting and engaging colour such as tobacco brown, emerald green or French blue? Any of these colours would work just as well in a work environment as they would at a bar.
What I tend to do during those really hot days when I still want to look smart is swap out my jeans for the suit trousers. Denim gets too hot, sticky and constricting in the heat whilst a perfectly tailored pair of lightweight tropical wool trousers can do the same job without any of the unpleasantness.
[Note: We haven't included product picks or lookbook examples in this section as many online retailers do not specify the weight of their wools. If in doubt, try checking the labels in store or emailing the customer service department before you buy.]
So there you have it, a complete run down of the fabrics that you should consider incorporating into your wardrobe this summer. Albeit a short and sweet summer, no doubt. There really is no smarter choice when it comes to staying stylish, sweat-free and comfortable from June through to September.
But as always, I want to know what you guys think. Have I missed a fabric out of this series that deserved a mention? In what ways do you intend to incorporate these materials? Let me know in the comments section.