The return of double-digit temperatures doesn’t necessarily mean stripping off. While it’s tempting to reduce your wardrobe to shorts and string vests, such a restrictively ‘capsule’ approach doesn’t leave room for much creativity. So keep the style and swerve the sweat with these four natural fabrics that were built for spring and summer.
Adaptable, affordable and readily available, there are few corners of your wardrobe cotton hasn’t conquered. In fact, as the most widely used natural fibre in the world, you’ve probably worn it every day this year. “Cotton makes a great fabric for warm weather due to its vast capabilities,” says Eleanor Cockrell, Technical Product Developer at Reiss. And as much as cotton’s a year-round workhorse, it’s when things really heat up that it comes into its own.
Crucially, cotton is an extremely breathable fibre. Which means it won’t trap that fug of hot, moist air between you and what you’re wearing. What’s more, its natural moisture-wicking properties will actually help to draw moisture away from your body.
It’s Soft, Lightweight & Retains Its Structure
Cotton fabrics start out as tiny puffs which look as though they’d feel like a cloud if you touched them. Luckily – when they’ve been woven beyond recognition into tees, shorts and blazers – that same soft handle lives on. It’s not all fluffy charm though. As cotton is a very fine fibre, it’s lightweight and can be transformed into weaves that are thin yet strong and structured too.
Nobody’s perfect, not even cotton. Like all overachievers, it’s got some less than desirable downsides to counteract all that sartorial brilliance.
It Wrinkles. Fast.
If yours is the kind of ironing routine that doesn’t actually involve an iron, being more a case of “It’s bound to fall out eventually!”, then cotton’s probably not going to do you any favours. Its hydrogen bonds react with water when you sweat, and when you wash it, resulting in a not-so-smooth finish.
It Won’t Perform Well Under Pressure
Cotton is the proverbial Goldilocks of fair-weather fabrics – it needs conditions that are just right. Over-dry cotton and you’ll see it shrink to a mere shadow of its former self. Leave it slightly wet – it’s notoriously bad for not drying – and it’ll accumulate mildew and damage from damp. Not cool.
Key Piece: The Neutral Cotton T-Shirt
Everybody knows linen, but do they really know linen? Like the fact that it’s not just suitable for your dad barbecuing or Simon Cowell summering on a yacht, but it has a place in your summer wardrobe too? Like cotton, linen is a natural fibre and equally adept at keeping you cool in hot weather. In short, it’s way too useful for you to ignore. (Related: Everything you need to know about linen)
It Doesn’t Get Much Cooler
Linen is old. Like really, really old – at least 4,000 years, give or take. Which means its heat-beating credentials are pretty much unimpeachable. (Why else would we still be producing it?) Its main benefit is its low thread count – considerably lower (at 80-150) than cotton (typically 200+), which means fewer fibres and more of that essential breathability you’ll need when temperatures rise. It’s the closest you’ll get to unadulterated comfort during the summer. Short of getting butt naked.
Linen has long been the victim of a PR hatchet job, often deemed too impractical and delicate for day-to-day wear. Not true. Linen might be lightweight, but its fine feel isn’t matched by a lightweight lifespan. In fact, it’s actually the world’s strongest natural fibre, so if you’re looking for a summer fabric with staying power, meet your new best friend.
Moisture Is No Match For It
As a general rule of thumb, natural fibres fare well with water (which stands to reason as they, you know, grow outdoors). Linen’s especially good in this respect; its hollow fibres are able to absorb a fifth of their weight in water before starting to feel damp. So even if you’re sweating profusely, you won’t get soaked.
It’s Like A Fine Wine
Although linen’s handfeel might be a touch sandpapery at first, give it time and it’ll reveal itself to be strokably soft. Unlike cotton (which actually gets coarser over time), washing and drying linen makes it softer by gradually breaking down its tough fibres. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Creases. So Many Creases.
The rumours are true. If you’re looking for all-day, everyday crispness, linen’s only going to give you one very epic headache. Its poor elasticity means it doesn’t spring back easily after being folded over itself, which causes all that wrinkling. There’s a workaround though. Linen’s often blended with less crumple-prone fibres like cotton to make clothes that’ll appease the wrinkle-averse.
Recommended Piece: The Linen Blazer
Tropical Weight Wool
Double taking? Stay with us. Because wool – as counterintuitive as it might sound – actually deserves a place in your fair-weather wardrobe. Several spools away from an itchy tartan blanket, tropical weight wool isn’t dense and heavy. It’s still sheared straight off a sheep’s back, but unlike other wools, it’s sourced for its lightness. A wool’s weight is measured by the yard, with heavy-duty winter wools tipping the scales at 18oz and three-season wools clocking up a lighter 10-12oz. Tropical wools weigh in even lighter – sometimes as low as 6oz – and are ideal for looking smart when the sun’s beating down.
It Means Business
One of wool’s main draws is the sense of structure it gives your silhouette. Sure, your linen suit is going to look just as cool as it feels zipping round the Riviera, but it doesn’t carry much clout in the boardroom. A suit in a tropical wool will, however, allow you to look the business without leaving you sweatier than an intern on an early morning coffee run.
It’s A Smooth Operator
Linen and cotton might have the more impressive sartorial CVs, but they’re still liable to crease under pressure. Tropical wool, though, won’t buckle as easily thanks to its sturdy, shape-retaining fibres. Job done.
It Doesn’t Like Extremes
Weathering challenging conditions isn’t one of tropical wool’s strong points. In fact, sometimes it’s downright temperamental. Water is an Achilles heel for wools (they lose around a third of their strength when wet), while excessive dryness causes wool to become brittle and develop a sheen. The good news? It’s going to take a serious amount of sweating or a sustained Saharan assault to cause proper damage, so you’ll probably be fine. Just remember: no tumble-drying.
Recommended Piece: The Light Neutral Suit
A by-word for pure, unadulterated luxury, silk probably isn’t high up on most men’s lists of practical summer fabrics, but – worn sparingly – it’s just the stuff to add some much-needed cool when the mercury rises.
You’ll Forget You’re Wearing It
We’re not going to try hoodwinking you into thinking silk is herculean in its practicality. It’s really not. But sometimes, silk just looks good (see: Louis Vuitton SS16). And while it’s far from utilitarian, this fine fabric has its advantages, like being pretty much weightless. And, you know, pretty.
It’s No Sun-Worshipper
Ironically, silk doesn’t fare too well in direct sunlight. The sun’s rays will break silk’s fibres down while the colour of dyed silk fades when exposed. Which means a silk bomber jacket or shirt is a good shout for spring, but not for any summer worth writing home about. (Although staying indoors caressing yourself is, of course, always an option.)