Style for the Ages: Simple summer fabrics help you stay cool

I recently bought a dark blue T-shirt made of a “tri-blend” fabric (a combination of cotton, polyester and rayon). It fit great, but upon stepping out into the 90-degree day, all I could think about was how much heat it trapped. Seriously, this shirt felt like it was confining every last ray of sun and emitting them into my body one blistering torch at a time.

This got me to thinking not only about how my summer clothes fit or how they looked but also what they were made out of. Fabrics, after all, ultimately determine an article of clothing’s breathability and reflective tendencies, which in the summer is extremely important.

I feel like the material construction of our clothing has taken a back seat to lots of other factors since man-made fabrics exploded onto the scene in the 1970s. Don’t get me wrong; I like polyester and rayon as much as anyone else, especially for their use in sporting apparel and shoes. But when it comes down to it, man-made materials simply aren’t as practical as natural textiles like cotton and linen during the summer months.

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A model wears a linen three-button tab collar blazer.

I’m hardly the first person to note the benefits of more breathable, lighter fabrics. Even colonial Virginians had to come to terms with the realities of the summer swelter.

One Virginian noted in 1732 that the snobby colonial fashionistas (i.e. wealthy elites) had to drop their fashionable but stifling European outfits in the summertime in exchange for “White Holland [linen]” clothes. Given, colonists hardly had the wide range of fabric choices that we do (I don’t think any of us would want to wear the coarse, flax-based “osnaburg” shirts so popular among colonial commoners), but they nonetheless realized that fabric mattered for comfort.

Trust me, it was not easy to get a colonial gentleman like Thomas Jefferson to discard his gilded, laced wardrobe. But heat will always win, I guess.

This brings me to the hot, muggy Lawrence summer of 2013. I’m not saying that man-made fabrics are evil, just that when you’re purchasing clothing meant for summer weather, you should keep an eye out for natural textiles like cotton and linen. A 100 percent cotton piece will not only last longer (clothing with man-made materials tend to stretch out and get brittle over time), but it will also breathe better and reflect rather than trap heat.

The same, of course, goes for linen. Because of its loose weave, linen is even more breathable than cotton, which makes it a great go-to for button-up, long-sleeve shirts, suits and pants.

You might also consider purchasing a summer suit made of cotton, linen or a cotton/linen blend to replace your wool one in the hot months.

In the end, then, take a closer look at the tag when you buy your next article of summer clothing. It just might make your day a little more comfortable and the summer seem a bit shorter.

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