‘Summer layering’ might seem like an oxymoron as infuriating as smart-casual or happy Monday, but unless holidaying on a nudist beach for the duration of the season, you’ll still need to put some clothes on between now and September.
Fortunately, the warmer months bring with them lighter materials like linen and seersucker, both of which have different properties to their stuffy winter equivalents, so you needn’t resort to a simple shorts and T-shirt combination every day.
But how to put it all together? Here, with the help of fellow style experts, we serve up the recipe for looking (and feeling) cool in the heat.
Line Up Your Layers
There are a handful of layering rules that apply to both summer and winter, formal and 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. Plus, the shortness of most casual 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 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.”
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 inside 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.
On the flip side, fabrics like cotton or linen are so lightweight that removing the lining does make a difference, so look for visible taping on the back when shopping for a summer suit.
Turn To The Dark Side
Contrary to popular thought, lightweight linen and cotton are not only available in 50 shades of beige. Which is good news for you because it means being able to get all the cool of the fabric with none of the Colonel Sanders associations.
“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.
Seersucker is another fabric dogged by its associations, but similarly, is not 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.
Go Over And Under
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).
Construct Your Outfit Properly
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.
The pieces that you layer up with soft summer tailoring should share the same breezy – as in casual – air. A starched Jermyn Street dress shirt won’t sit right with an unstructured blazer, whereas a button-down, granddad collar or similar 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 Brit-born, Australian-based designer Christian Kimber. In other words, the sweet spot is a high-low outfit that still ties together.
Protect Ya Neck
“A linen scarf is handy for when it gets cold in the evening,” says Kimber, who suggests always stuffing one in your bag before heading ‘out-out’.
Favour loose, open-weave fibres such as cotton, linen, seersucker, silk or modal and hang it loosely around the neck for an easy (and breezy) way to lift your warm-weather style.
Release The Mankle
You might put thermoregulation down to the thickness of your bomber jacket, but socks play a surprisingly big role, affecting the temperature of the body as well as your outfit.
“Places like ankles and wrists, are where there are a lot of veins close to the surface of the skin,” says Crompton. Exposing them to the elements can, therefore, stop the blood from boiling.
Of course, going sockless doesn’t actually mean that — unless you’re wearing sandals, that is. Throwing on a pair of invisible socks with your loafers and getting some air flowing around your fibula can keep you remarkably cool.
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. “A hopsack jacket is ideal if you need to wear a blazer, as it breathes so easily,” adds Kimber.
Cream Off The Top (Or Bottom)
Choosing the right colours is key to layering success, and there are several factors to take into account such as your skin tone, the event and the outfit itself.
“Head-to-toe pale suits, for example, [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 pair of white jeans or denim jacket. Swapping in one pale-coloured piece is a relatively low-stakes way of summer-ising an outfit. Denim’s softer cousin chambray is also helpful here, as the rugged workwear connotations can help offset pale colours and fabrics.
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 Brazil BUMBUM, for that matter.) “A matte material doesn’t give as much reflection in the sun,” he says.
As is fitting of the season, versions in a wool-silk or silk-linen blend lend themselves better to being stuffed in nonchalantly — a formal newsreader fold is too stuffy for most occasions.
Equally, if a tie is required for any reason, try one in linen or slubby shantung silk rather than the traditional sheeny neckwear. Or, for something even more dressed down, opt for a knitted style finished with a flat end.