For many, summer is a season of sartorial setbacks. The temperatures are not appropriate for beloved heavy suits or jackets, grey flannels are out of the question and the beautifully tailored overcoat must remain in the wardrobe. But the season can ofter some pleasure for the aficionado of tailored clothes – it’s the time to order new outfits for autumn and winter, and also the chance to finally wear the summer garments that arrived in spring.
LINEN, A LIGHTER CUT
The summer wardrobe is basically a lighter version of the classics that are worn between October and may:dark city suits, country suits in shades of brown and green, sports jackets, trousers and evening wear, identical in cut style but tailored in lighter fabric woven from twisted yarns.
In addition, there is one garment that has no direct counterpart in winter:the linen summer suits.
This is fairly recent addition to the wardrobe of the northern and mid-European gentleman, and its roots can be found in the US and southern Europe. Elsewhere, there has not been any real utility in an off-white linen suits, because summers were always considered a fairly uncomfortable but short season. No real need was seen for investing in clothing for three or four warm months; nevertheless, a linen suit has always been considered extremely elegant.
To see the linen suit in its natural surroundings, a summer trip to Naples, Italy, is recommended. You might be lucky enough to see some well-cut, magnificently tailored examples sported by gentlemen of Italian or other origin; chances are that the suits will have been made by one of the famous tailoring houses that have fitted out some of the world’s best-dressed men since the 1920s. These tailors are famous for their unlined, unconstructed linen suits in white, blue or tobacco.
Although linen is notorious for creasing and losing its shape very quickly, it depends on the material’s weight as to how quickly this process will set in. Linen is surprisingly heavy compared with woolen suits; 300 to 400 grammes per metre is not unusual. Lighter examples are available, but they will crease much more and may also appear too transparent.
Naples tailors are well known for suits that feel more like a shirt than a jacket. As hardly any padding can be used, the cut is of great importance as it is the only way to give a good line to the garment. Despite the natural shoulders and the soft drape on the chest, these suits enhance the male shape beautifully, while retaining the impression of lightness and softhess.
Many gentlemen will hesiate before wearing a linen suit. It is a matter of colour rather than material as to whether a linen suit will look out of place on the summer streets of New York, London, Tokyo or Bogota, A blue linen suit would be suitable in all of these towns, just like a garment in darker colors such as tan or tobacco. Only the white linen suit might look a little out of place, particularly for office wear.
In New York, one can fine another classic summer suit that’s almost invisible elsewhere. The American answer to the linen suit is the single- breasted seersucker: Named after the cloth from which it is made, its typical wrinkled effect is created by stretching the base threads while leaving the weft threads looser. Seersucker is one of the best everyday cotton fabrics; it hardly wrinkles, because it is wrinkled from the start. The image of the cloth suffered a little during the 1970s, when synthetic fibres were added to create a machine-washable quality. Thus, Seersucker suits were very popular with travelling sales reps but the real all-cottton fabric has remained the basis for a very stylish summer wardrobe. The classic style is unlined, self-lined or half-lined. It is recommended that the sleeves be lined on all styles, because otherwise it is hand to pull the lackey over the shirtsleeve. Natural shoulders, patch pockets and vents would be in keeping with the unlined construction and the rather informal look. A double-breasted seersucker suit is an unusual choice but a very stylish alternative – it was very popular in the 1940s. If you find a complete suit made of seersucker a bit much, you can always use the cloth for separate jackets and trousers.
Most men think of weaves such as twill or cotton gabardine when cotton is mentioned, yet there is another type of cotton cloth appropriate for summer wear. Fine corduroy is a rather unusual choice but, in the right colour and weight, it is very wearable and offers achieved with any other fabric. Why not off-white baby corduroy with a lining of is the season for sartorial freedom and anything that might look totally out of place in fall can be just right for sitting in the sun while enjoying your coffee.
The ultimate luxury suit for summer is made of silk. Long-recognised as the fabric of kings and noblemen but, since the french Revolution, its use in menswear has been reduced mainly to ties, pocket handkerchiefs, fancy waistcoats and evening wear. Summer seems to be the only season that permits a gentleman to choose silk for a suit. There are a wide variety of colours, weights and finishes. For summer, one can opt for the classic shades of cream, brown blue or elephant grey. If one does not want to draw attention to the fact that silk is being worn, you can always find silk suitings that resemble fine cotton or even wool. Thus, it is considered the height of understated elegance to show up in a navy silk suit that looks like worsted to anyone but the connoisseur.
Despite linen’s beauty, cotton, silk or wool remains the best material for an everyday summer suit. Today weavers offer weights that men could only dream of in the 1960s. Some tailors are not so fond of extremely lightweight cloths because they have to be handled with the utmost care. Heavier fabrics can be shaped with the iron to an extreme degree while lightweights are limited in this respect. When choosing a cloth for a summer suit, one should look not only at the actual weight of a fabric but also the tightness of the weave.
PADDING THE JOB
Other important influences on a summer suit’s feel are the interlining, padding and linings. Southern Europeans love unlined or half-lined suits, while men in middle and northern Europe tend to find the inside of an unlined suit to look untidy or only half-finished. One may argue about the actual difference that the linings will make but, on a really hot day every additional layer will make you uncomfortable. Thus I strongly recommend trying an unlined construction for summer suits; the air will pass through the fabric much more easily. Most customers do usually not discuss the interlinings and padding but it is highly advisable to ask the tailor about the types that he will use. Old-fashioned continental tailors sometimes tend to use heavy interlinings and too much padding because that was how jackets were made when they first learned their trade and cloths were much heavier.
A growing number of men work in surroundings that allow for less formal clothes. Usually they will opt for a combination of a jacket or blazer with slacks. An unlined navy blazer made from a midweight hopsack cloth would be a perfect choice for warn summer days. Despite the actual weight of the fabric that might amount to 230 grammes per metre, the garment will not feel warm: the cloth will breathe because of its open construction.
Trousers would usually be grey or tan but why not try a dusty pink or light blue? Cotton is the more comfortable choice on hot days but a light wool gabardine will stay in shape much better. Sports jackets are not rated as appropriate for office wear in England but in continental Europe, rules are less strict. The patterns for summery jacketings are based on traditional checks but in general colours are lighter and brighter. They also differ in the type of fibers used; typical are mixtures of wool, linen and silk.
In order to put as little weight on the wearer’s shoulders, Italian tailors, who are masters of legerezza, might choose a shirt-like construction for summer blazers or jackets. This means that they don’t use any shoulder pads, just light linen canvas. The sleeves are inserted in the same way as in a shirt, creating a rounded, slightly sloping shoulder line. This gives the giacca camicia a relaxed elegance that perfectly complements the season.
Summer is the season of great possibilities in terms of fabrics and styles – after all, it is the only time of the year when we can display our suits and jackets freely, as in winter they are usually hidden under overcoats. And what could feel better than strolling down the street in a personalised suit that perfectly fits both body and mind?