Linen may be the world’s oldest cloth (dating to at least 8,000 B.C.) and the original regal raiment (its cost compared with cotton made it the luxury fiber of the Mesopotamian upper class), but this fabric made from the flax plant has a lot of durability. (And not just because it stayed intact while wrapping mummies for thousands of years.) Linen’s been a resilient fashion choice because it has been reinvented over the millennia.
Of course, with its loose weave and its ability to wick moisture from the body, it’s a perennial summer fabric, and as such we think of it in classic tan to white tones. (Case in point, ivory is the shade Brooks Brothers chose for its Great Gatsby Collection.) But there are always new wrinkles (pun intended, read on). Lately, linen suits, jackets and pants are available in a wide spectrum of colors. Companies like Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss and the emblematic purveyor of linen, Haspel, offer them in a riot of pastels. If you want to go staid, black and navy blue are also well-trod options. But recently, solids have not been the only option, with purveyors providing plaid patterns and checks, especially when using fabric blended with wool or silk. When it comes to linen shirts Tommy Bahama has created its own niche with a variety of different patterns and prints.
The fabric is also utterly mixable, both with contrasting linens (as seen in the Paul Stuart ensemble, pictured) and wholly different fabrics. It’s rough-hewn character pairs well with denim, and its pedigree is also agreeable with softer, more lush, material. Because of its breathability, you can layer on linen (in no other fabric would a summer three-piece suit be an option). And these sturdy garments needn’t be fully lined.
Linen’s downside—an inability to stay pressed—has long been marketed as an attribute (“guaranteed to wrinkle”), especially in the face of synthetic fabrics that never show any of that character. However, that quality may leave you a bit disheveled in more formal circumstances. Before you take iron to your linen suit, in the shower—away from the water source—try hanging the jacket on a well-formed hanger and the pants upside down from the cuffs. Turn on the water to full heat and let the steam do its magic.
But don’t forget, part of linen’s charm is unpredictability. That’s why Ermenegildo Zegna created its Techno-Linen super fabric for comfort fit; it’s sure to leave in the ability to wrinkle.
Visit brooksbrothers.com, haspel.com, paulstuart.com, ralphlauren.com, tommybahama.com and zegna.com.