The summer months promise bright days, warm nights and some of the year’s most memorable events. What do you pack for a destination wedding, garden party or general shindig as the mercury rises? Looking sharp instead of sweaty requires the right garments and fabrics, but sun-drenched days are also an opportunity to rest the usual navy or charcoal two-piece and enjoy easy-going summer tailoring with color, pattern and playfulness.
For the most formal events, the choice is simple. Despite the annual announcements of its death, the suit remains king. Guys sometimes find tailoring to be stifling in the summer months, but the real culprit is often the fabric. Wool might bring to mind winter sweaters, but specialist high-twist summer wools, spun and woven to be light and airy, are crisper and lighter than linen, travel well and remain pristine even after a long day. So long as they’re not sized so tight they cling to your body, these cloths allow air to pass through so you catch every breeze.
Most fabric mills produce a summer or “tropical” wool book—Minnis Fresco, Holland & Sherry’s Crispaire and Fox Brothers’ “Fox Air” all offer excellent choices. While they’re standard options at all good tailors, specialist summer cloths can be trickier to find in ready-to-wear, but some notable options include No Man Walks Alone’s exclusive Sartoria Carrara models, Cavour’s summery mid-blue Fox Brothers option and Ring Jacket’s in-house balloon fabric. Wool, silk and linen blends are also a great choice, giving you the dry hand of linen with added lightness and wrinkle resistance.
High contrast looks create the most impact: there’s a reason that the gray suit, white shirt and navy tie combo is a perennial go-to. Especially for daytime affairs, though, mid-blues and lighter greys work just as well and have more character. And if you want something a little more unusual (and we say: go for it), summer is the season to color outside the lines. So long as the cut is modern, a tan suit worn for formal events isn’t nearly the faux pas you might think.
Instead of taking a typical wool business suit, opt for an atypical color, such as tailoring-aficionados’ favorite Solaro with its telltale red sheen (like this option from Neapolitan master Attolini). For something truly eye-catching, cream or off-white is second to none in warmer climes—this double-breasted Brioni number is exemplary. When it comes to shirts, Kieran Wright, head of retail at storied British shirtmaker Budd, recommends Giro Inglese fabrics. “The open weave and high-quality cotton offer great breathability and simple but clean lines,” he explains.
For relaxed, celebratory affairs like rehearsal dinners, more casual suiting options and colors beckon. “You can’t go wrong with a khaki cotton, linen or linen-blend suit worn with a white shirt unbuttoned at the neck and a light-colored loafer,” Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman & Neiman Marcus, says of a foolproof summer celebration combo. “These are great, breathable fabrications for warm weather locations, be it the beach or the countryside, and have just the right amount of polish for the occasion.” Consider this buttery golden tan or an earthier khaki cotton. Pure linen, such as this off-white option from Cucinelli, has a kind of slouchy charm that only gets better as it creases and works perfectly with a denim shirt and suede loafers.
One old-school fabric having a moment in the sun again is seersucker. Beloved by Kentucky Derby attendees in its traditional white-and-blue stripe version, it’s appearing this season in sharper, tonal iterations, such as this navy-on-navy version by Beams and this innovative wool-and-cotton version from Richard James in navy or candy stripe pink. It’s also a savvy choice for shirting, advises Wright: “Linen is always a safe bet when it comes to the heat, but some feel it becomes a little too casual. A self-stripe seersucker is a great option, as its puckered weave means it sits away from the skin, keeping you super cool while the tonal design brings a more contemporary and smarter edge.”
For casual gatherings and when vacationing, the right piece of tailored clothing can telegraph both relaxed elegance and fun. In summer’s sunshine, brighter, lighter colors appear more muted, while paler tones tend to wash out. If you’ve ever had the urge, there’s no better time to wear loud plaids and punchy hues. If you do, put yourself in the hands of native Southerner Sid Mashburn, who’s offering sage seersucker and rose linen this season as well as more pedestrian options in brown and navy high-twist. With any bright jacket, a white linen shirt and neutral trousers are the way to go. Or if you’re going sans jacket, lightweight tailored linen or fresco wool trousers in gray or cream with a knitted polo and unlined loafers, driving mocs or Belgian shoes make for an easy off-duty semi-tailored look.
Lastly, a couple of accessories which are practically health requirements: your favorite shades and a good all-purpose hat, suitable with everything from suits to swim trunks. Yes, it’s that simple to look sharp even when it swelters.