Investing Wisely II: Summer Staples
I often think that summer tailoring gets a poor deal, simply because our summers go in one of two ways. Either, they’re so uncomfortably hot that for many men, dressing in tailoring is not an enticing prospect, or alternatively the sun is conspicuous by its absence for so much of the season that the linen and summer weight wool sits wasting away in the wardrobe and seldom sees the light of day. The other problem of course is that for most relatively northern climates the summer can be an all too brief couple of months, making investing in good, but inevitably expensive summer pieces a low priority.
Nevertheless, this season in particular, I have found myself realising that the content of my summer wardrobe is woefully lacking in a few staple pieces that I know I would be wearing time and again if they were in my possession. I would hate for readers to suffer the same problematical fate, so I thought some recommendations for those staple pieces I am currently both missing and craving might be in order.
A small selection of perhaps three or four affordable pastel linen or lightweight cotton pieces – perhaps a casual linen and cotton blended suit or a blazer and a couple of pairs of trousers make for the ideal foundation for any summer capsule wardrobe, and really don’t have to break the bank. Pure cotton doesn’t always breath terribly well, but its nonetheless extremely versatile – being easy to wear in both spring and on moderate summer days – and if you can find lighter-weight cotton drill trousers they can feel surprisingly soft and airy.
Likewise, there is something undeniably chic and effortless about linen suits in soft pastel colours. Being brave and embracing some relatively unconventional pastel colours for summer casual and occasion wear is something I’ve written about at length before, but I’d highly recommend exploring soft blue, pink, gentle blue-grey or sandy tones to find easily interchangeable pieces (dusty pink and light blue really is a match made in heaven for summer) which speak of one’s confidence as a dresser and which will go anywhere and do anything.
I’ve also recently emphasised the benefits of trying to find some summer pieces cut in a blend of linen and cotton, which is always something to bear in mind – see my previous column here.
Summer jackets should be very lightly structured wherever possible and half-lined. Lightly structured tailoring will still hold its shape, but with a fraction of the density and weight of autumnal and winter garments. Likewise, do not be tempted to ever buy a summer suit destined to be worn in warm weather if it’s fully lined, try to find unlined trousers too. Not only does the lining itself add more weight than you might expect, but it also is more likely than not a synthetic viscose or polyester material which can actively prevent your jacket from breathing and stop air circulating through the garment to keep you cool.
Talking of allowing the garment to breath, for durable summer business dress or formal tailoring, there really is only one cloth to turn to; fresco. Fresco is a summer-weight pure wool (although dressier pieces may be blended with silk or mohair both of which are prized for their lightness and breathability) woven in a fine plainweave, which has an open structure, with miniscule gaps between yarns in the cloth – as can be seen when a fresco is held up to the light. This open structure is simply ideal for allowing the garment to breath, and the open nature of the weave produces a cloth which is less dense than most worsteds – the loss of body means that it has less weight and can be woven very finely to some eight or nine ounces in weight.
Wool also wicks more moisture than either linen or cotton and believe it or not, breathes around fifteen percent more efficiently than even the airiest linen fabrics. It’s the ultimate in comfort suiting, and although a lightweight wool will never be as durable as heavier worsteds worn in autumn and winter, it is by far your most durable option for summer tailoring – making it ideal to weather a few months of commuting and business meetings for a couple of months of the year.
I bought my first fresco jacket only a couple of months ago, and I’ve grown to really love it – it’s very elegant and it feels supremely light and breezy on. I’d highly recommend either formal jackets or business suiting in 8-9oz frescos for the summer months – it’s the best thing there is for hot weather.
The sole other piece that I do happen to have (but which is on its last legs) is the ubiquitous white summer two-piece. Mine is in a very fine 8-9oz linen from Moss Bros – its cheap and cheerful and I changed the buttons to cream horn from white plastic to give the illusion of its being an expensive suit (always worth doing with a high-street suit).
Often I find that linen suiting and trousers are one area of the man’s wardrobe which are really worth economising with, simply because even the most expensive linens can only be worn occasionally and inevitably don’t last more than a couple of summer seasons – so wearing a cheap and floaty plainweave linen and embracing its inevitable tendency to produce a creased, shabby-chic look is perhaps the best way to approach linen suiting. However, if you’ve already got your linen pieces sorted, white or pale-striped seersucker is perhaps the ideal alternative. The Bengal striped pattern that comprises seersucker produces a lovely duality of colour and texture in jackets and suiting and of course makes for a lightweight and breathable cloth – ideal for the transition from spring to summer. It also creases less than a pure linen.
White suiting is one of those things which is often considered a bit of a seventies cliché, but this is easily avoided through opting for a slim, modern cut and keeping lapels a contemporary shape – don’t have them too broad and never wear a black shirt with it. Keep shirting pale and soft under white to help keep the suit looking soft too.
If white isn’t to your taste, avoid a yellowy cream colour because it tends to look dated, and instead try to find a very pale whitish ivory – its a subtle distinction I know but I find it makes the difference between something which looks uninspired and something which has all the versatility and sophistication of a sharp white suit, but which is a little less obvious in colour.
A selection of the above will make for the ideal spring-to-summer capsule wardrobe, and will most likely be all you need for the vast majority of the late-spring and summer months, for those days when the temperature does actually rise.
I’d recommend one other piece however, splash out on a cream or white dinner jacket for dinner dress. I’ve never owned one, but having worn my winter dinner suit to a couple of functions recently, I’ve been seriously hot. I’d kill for a lovely raw silk or white linen dinner jacket. I admit that this piece won’t be an essential for most gentlemen, but it’s nice to treat yourself to something extravagant every now and then. Gieves & Hawkes have got a fabulous ivory raw silk dinner jacket this season and I’d kill for it.
Those are my core suggestions. As I wrote in the previous post, keep shirting simple and if you’re in the mood for expanding your shirting collection, hunt out some linen shirts or soft cotton Oxfords for the warmest days. Loafers, loafers and more loafers are the way to go with shoes; experiment with suede and tassels to mix it up a little.