Summer finally arrived last week in San Francisco, but while the rest of the Bay is baking, the city peaked in the mid-70s, which means you can still wear a jacket without breaking a sweat. Still, you’ll want to be comfortable, and thankfully there are certain fabrics that perform well when the mercury rises. Here’s a quick rundown of good summer fabrics for staying cool.
The most versatile suiting fabric, wool can take you from the depths of winter to the height of summer and its crease-keeping and wrinkle-shedding qualities will help to ensure you look so fresh and so clean.
One great summer option is Minnis’ Fresco, which is a high-twist open weave that allows more air to pass through, so you can still have your hot body but at least let off some steam. This is one of my go-to fabrics, as Minnis makes various weights – up to 15/16 oz – that are suitable for a variety of temperatures, and the texture and color variegation makes it visually interesting. Their 7/8 oz will keep you the coolest but some have reported that it can stretch and bag. The middle of the road 9/10 oz is best for all but the hot hot heat, retaining a sharp crease and holding its shape all day long. I have four suits in this fabric and it serves me up to the 80’s in San Francisco. The fabric is a little on the scratchy side, but the recently released Fresco III bunch is supposed to be softer, if less shape-retaining. Early reviews of the fabric can be found on the forum.
Minnis also used to offer Rangoon, a take on tropical wool. Tropical wool is very smooth and extremely comfortable, but I find it wrinkles far too easy, and not in a nice way. Rangoon is supposed to be drier and more wrinkle resistant, so if you value those qualities as I do, keep your eyes on the Buy & Sell section of the forum, as lengths of the discontinued fabric pop up from time to time.
Holland & Sherry’s Crispaire is another one of the forum’s favorite choices. Styleforum member @Kolecho says it falls between in between Fresco and tropical worsted in terms of porosity and smoothness. It runs a little warmer but has many more patterns, including a few glen plaids.
@Kolecho also recommends wool/mohair blends, which many companies manufacture. Mohair suits were often used in the past for summer or nighttime activities, as it gives off quite a bit off sheen and keeps a razor sharp crease. However, its bulletproof qualities can leave one hot, and its tight weave doesn’t allow as much freedom of movement as wool. A bit (30% or lower) of kid mohair (as opposed to the less expensive but scratchier, more brittle mohair) keeps you crisp and dry with little, if any, sheen, and the more flexible wool fabric keeps you comfortable.
Smith’s Finmeresco is a similar fabric to Minnis’ Fresco. Whereas Minnis is 2-ply (meaning 2 strands of fabric are twisted together to make a single thread), Finmeresco offers 3-ply and 4-ply, which means it’s a bit more spongy, which some prefer to the crisper hand of the Minnis option.
Some companies offer wool fabrics in a panama weave, which is kind of an open basketweave. These share similar qualities to tropical wool but with a bit of texture. Wrinkle resistance is typical for regular wool, but if you want something in wool that’s a little less “suit-y” for a sport coat, almost all makers have lightweight 8 oz fabrics in a hopsack or basketweave. These fabrics are perfect for a summer blazer in navy or lighter blue. Look for a loose weave and wonderful texture to help keep you cool and casual.
Other suiting options: Scabal Condor, London Lounge Brisa, Rubinacci London House Hopsack
Ounce for ounce, linen doesn’t hold a candle to the functional qualities of wool. It is less durable, less elastic, less absorbent, and doesn’t keep its shape longer than a few seconds. Still, nothing says summer quite like linen. The slubbiness of linen gives it undeniable aesthetic appeal, and the slightly bumpy weave helps keep the fabric away from your skin, helping to keep you cool.
Whereas the lighter stuff is too flimsy and sloppy for suiting, if you can stand the heavier stuff, or your summers hover in the low 70s, you want a good, hearty linen, starting at 12 oz and above. W. Bill of Harrisons makes a 14oz linen that might sound insensible, but some can tolerate it even in the brutal New England summer. The heavier weights are better at keeping their shape, allow for better drape, and don’t wrinkle as much as rumple. The net result is slightly disheveled yet looks all the better for it, the sartorial equivalent of bedhead.
Classic linen colors are tan and navy, but if you feel like something different, try a tobacco brown; it’s surprisingly versatile. Cream and white are also options, but only if you resign yourself to spots and Colonel Sanders cat calls. Glen plaids look great as well.
Suiting options: W Bill, Cacciopoli, Drapers, Solbiati
Dylan from Dylan and Son knows that sometimes you just have to resign yourself to the heat. “In Singapore, it can get so hot and humid, shape and drape is secondary to comfort. I wear 9oz cotton trousers a lot.” Then there’s Manton, currently putting out fires in Washington, who is more intolerant than anyone of the heat, who recommends 6/7oz cotton to cope with summer’s misery. “It wrinkles,” he admits, “but so what.” This is what you reach for when form takes a back seat to function.
Cotton suits look great in any shade of tan. Perhaps more so than linen, cotton fabric has practically no give, so consider a slightly looser fit, especially the shoulders, chest, and thighs. Also, stick to light colors: cotton fades as it wears, and this is even more apparent on darker colors.
Want to get really seasonal? Try seersucker. While verging on anachronistic, the stuff was actually created relatively recently to beat the heat in New Orleans. Like any other fabric it can look fresh and stylish when everything fits, but for a more modern take, try a seersucker in tonal blue.
Of these there are many. I have a featherweight sport coat in a Cacciopoli silk/wool/linen blend that wrinkles ever so slightly. Be aware that they will never be as cool as those weaves that are specifically woven to be porous, nor never as wrinkle-resistant and those meant to keep a sharp crease. In all but the most extreme conditions, however, they can serve as a light alternative that combine the best properties of each fabric.
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Peter works in construction, but has an extensive collection of custom suits which he gets so that he can wear suits on the weekend. Even though he lives in San Francisco, he has never used the word "impact" as a verb. He writes about classic menswear and is one fedora away from being a complete dork.