Suiting Up for Summer

Suiting Up for Summer
Photo/Jeff Harris

The downside of relaxed office dress codes is especially evident in the summer months, when the exigency to stay cool mistakenly leads to the over-casual boardroom T-shirts and shorts. Just because it's hot outside doesn't mean you can't suit up—especially now when fabric innovations are creating lightweight materials that come in interesting patterns.

In a different age, men had fewer choices for dressing up for summer. Out of necessity suits were limited to linens and cotton poplins, usually in solid tan hues and suitable for tropical outposts. The drawback is they wrinkle and wilt. Another choice is the laudable seersucker. Sadly, you see very little variation in that fabric. The color is typically regimented to light blue with white. The pattern is invariably pin cord—so much so that it's believed to be a defining characteristic. (The term seersucker refers to the intermittent puckered and smooth textures of the surface. The pattern can actually be anything from solid to plaid.) The navy-blue blazer was the other summer uniform alternative—admittedly not a lot of choice.

But check out the Kiton suit ($9,445) pictured. It weaves cashmere (35 percent) with cotton and silk for a breathable material that supports a windowpane pattern and color tone that are anything but drab. Cooling wools are achieved with high-twisted yarn in an open weave that allows air to pass through. Sometimes called fresco lana, light wools confer sophistication as well as wickability, meaning they absorb sweat well. Wool also travels better (i.e., doesn't wrinkle as easily). In a loose hopsack weave, it bounces back from being balled up almost immediately. In a season when you're likely to be packing your bags quite a bit, this is quite an asset.

Wool isn't the only avenue for summer suiting. Silk has been a long-time favorite as has rayon (a man-made that wrongfully gets lumped in with synthetics, but is actually generated from organic material). A new wrinkle (or actually non-wrinkle) are fabrics from bamboo and recycled paper.

Construction is also a large part of the makeup of a summer suit. Good choices are jackets that are unlined, half-lined or even have the spare shoulders of the Miami Vice look. Check the thermometer before donning three-piece or double-breasted suits. And for reasons we shan't bother to explain, avoid completely the vogue for suits with short pants.

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