Linen Trousers

In fashion, it often seems that the oldest things are the coolest. That's the case in this summer's clothing segment, where no style is more seriously retro or literally cool than linen trousers. While the venerable fabric has been taking the heat off men almost since time began, a hot new color palette has pants made of linen looking like the latest thing this season.

Casual yet elegant linen trousers have been a wardrobe mainstay for years, but the color spectrum was muted down to whites and beiges. This year, look for a veritable rainbow of options as well as a choice of textures. Ermenegildo Zegna ( brings on a riot of pastels from the light blue to the violet to the orange sherbet trousers pictured here. Canali ( checks in with a navy blue pair. Vestimenta ( adds a hint of cream to the classic beige. Gianluca Isaia, Napoli ( goes more sporty with beige pants cut as jeans in a rough-hewn weave.

Today, we prize linen as the perfect summer trouser fabric when shorts don't fit the social agenda, but it's found many uses in a history that's spanned millennia. The spun and woven fiber of the flax plant, linen is the oldest textile made from plants in the world. Found in prehistoric dwellings in Switzerland that date from 8,000 B.C., the long-lasting fabric has never gone out of style. The ancient Egyptians reserved it for dressing nobility and wrapping the mummies of pharaohs. That linens found in King Tut's tomb are still soft and supple is a clue to its durability. People have worn it, cleaned with it, written and painted on it. The Shroud of Turin? Yep, linen.

All manner of armies as well as Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery have used the cloth for their summer pants. That is because linen, while stronger than cotton and more resistant to bacteria, absorbs moisture and lets cooling air through to the skin. Other reasons to bring it on your summer campaign include resistance to fading in the sun and quick drying times on a clothesline. If there's a knock on linen, it's that it is "guaranteed to wrinkle," a promise thought up by a droll copywriter in the no-iron dark days of Dacron. But what could be more natural than developing a few wrinkles?