‘Summer layering’ might seem like an oxymoron, but unless you’re holidaying on a nudist beach for the duration of the season, you’ll still need to put some clothes on.
What’s more, the warmer months bring with them lighter materials like linen and seersucker, which have different properties to their stuffy winter equivalents.
But how to put it all together? Here, we serve up the recipe for looking cool in the heat.
Line Up Your Layers
There are a few rules of layering that apply summer or winter, formal or casual. Like the further away from your body, the thicker the layer. It used to be that hems always got longer in that direction too, but the rise of reverse layering (see Kanye and co) has turned this on its head. Besides, the shortness of most casual summer jackets renders that slightly impractical.
The trick is being consistent, whether pieces get longer, or shorter, the further away they are.
One rule that still holds sway, though, is the importance of mixing textures. “If wearing, say, a separate linen jacket and trousers, or a pure linen jacket over a pure linen shirt, it’s going to look a bit odd,” says Simon Crompton, the perennially dapper founder of the blog Permanent Style. “It’s like wearing a jacket and trousers from different suits: it looks weird when there isn’t enough contrast.”
Turn To The Dark Side
Fear not, lightweight linen and cotton are not only available in 50 shades of beige. “There are some really nice mid-brown, tobacco linens around,” says Crompton. “Deep green linen is also really nice. Both suit summer days when it’s muggy but not particularly bright.” They’re also considerably easier to pull off.
Another example would be a seersucker two-piece, which, contrary to popular thought, isn’t only available with the usual white stripes. Consider a modern all-navy option layered over other relaxed summer pieces such as a stand-collar polo or grandad shirt of the same colour.
All of the cool of the fabric with none of the Colonel Sanders associations.
Cream Off The Top (Or Bottom)
Choosing the right colours is key to layering success, and pale hues, particularly white and shades of cream, scream ‘summer’. But if the weather forecast does not, then your outfit could be shrieking out of turn.
“Head-to-toe pale suits are hard to pull off, especially in the UK where it’s not consistently sunny and they [can] have very colonial, Man from Del Monte associations,” says Crompton.
Instead, he suggests opting for a pale jacket or pair of trousers, and keeping the rest of the look relatively trans-seasonal. “With a blue shirt, navy knitwear and dark brown shoes, it doesn’t look quite so showy,” says Crompton.
The same applies with a white denim jacket or jeans. Swapping in one pale-coloured piece is a fairly low-stakes way of summer-ising an outfit without the risk of appearing stupid when the sun goes in.
Denim and its softer cousin chambray are also helpful here, as their more rugged workwear connotations can help offset pale colours and fabrics (cut-off stonewash shorts excepted).
Release The Mankle
Socks play a surprisingly big role in thermoregulation, affecting the temperature of the body as well as your ensemble. “Ankles, like wrists, are places where there are a lot of veins close to the surface,” says Crompton.
Exposing them to the elements can, therefore, stop the blood from boiling: “That’s why you run water over your wrists,” says Crompton. Hence wearing no socks, or invisible ones, can keep you remarkably cool.
Count On What’s On The Inside
Just because a layer isn’t visible doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it. On hot days, linings will cook you like a boil-in-the-bag chicken, especially those in impermeable man-made materials.
Not all unlined jackets will keep you cool, however. “You’ll get winter jackets which are unlined but there’s not really much point when the material is so heavy,” adds Crompton. “Whereas fabrics like cotton or linen are so lightweight that removing the lining does make a difference.”
Construct Your Outfit Properly
Talk of unlined jackets brings us seamlessly to the wider question of how garments are built. As a rule of thumb, coarser, matte-finish fabrics like cotton and linen are inherently less formal, as are lighter colours.
So, if you have a highly structured jacket in one of these materials and/or hues, there’s going to be a disconnect. They’ll look better in softer jackets (unstructured blazers, bombers etc.), which in turn will go better with casual chinos and jeans.
Indeed, the pieces that you layer up with soft summer tailoring should share the same breezy – as in casual – air. A starched Jermyn Street shirt with collar stays won’t sit right with an unstructured blazer, whereas a button-down, granddad collar or polo shirt will feel more comfortable (in both senses).
“I see a lot of tailoring with trainers and polo shirts; and wide, high-waisted linen trousers with T-shirts,” says Christian Kimber, the Brit-born, Australian-based footwear designer and street style regular. “Fewer ties and less formality.”
Don’t (Just) Flock To Cotton And Linen
If you thought wool was only for winter, prepare to feel sheepish: a lightweight variety can prove cooler than cotton or linen. “It breathes better, it’s better with moisture if you’re sweating into it, and it holds its shape better as well,” says Crompton.
The tailoring keywords to look out for in a summer-ready wool are ‘loose weave’ and ‘high-twist yarn’. The benefit of the former is self-explanatory – ventilation – while the latter means it has a lot of spring, so although it’s loosely woven, it’ll retain its shape. Tightly wound wools are also great for travelling because they’re resistant to creasing.
Plus, having some lightweight wool pieces in your rotation makes it easier to circumvent the head-to-toe linen fail outlined earlier. “A hopsack jacket is ideal if you need to wear a blazer, as it breathes so easily,” says Kimber.
Go Over And Under
Overshirts – more affectionately known as ‘shackets’ – are a summer layering Swiss Army knife, taking the place of a jacket when it’s hot and adding insulation when it’s not.
There’s no hard-and-fast definition, but they tend to be a little thicker than the average shirt, with classic outerwear details like multiple pockets or military-style epaulettes.
Undershirts are also underrated in the heat: they soak up sweat and prevent staining your fancy shirts. If wearing one for that purpose, you probably don’t want to advertise it: a V-neck won’t be visible under an open collar. Also, heather grey shows through less than white, and T-shirts less than vests (which give upper-body VPL).
Roll Up And Don’t Shine
Some like the contrast of a shiny silk pocket square against a linen or cotton jacket, but Kimber is not among them. (Neither is FashionBeans, for that matter.)
“I prefer a matte material that doesn’t give too much reflection in the sun,” he says. “I use a wool/silk or wool/silk/linen mix for all of our pocket squares and scarves.” These materials also tend to lend themselves better to being stuffed in nonchalantly: a formal newsreader fold is too stuffy for most occasions.
On a similar note, if a tie is required for any reason, try one in linen or slubby shantung silk rather than the normal sheeny neckwear.
Protect Ya Neck
Finally, scarves are not just for winter. “A linen scarf is handy for when it gets cold in the evening,” says Kimber. Stuff one nonchalantly in your bag before heading ‘out-out’.