Endless summer. To many, it is as close to paradise on earth as they can get. The Exceptional Ms. E, for example, feels most at home during the dog days. Credit her upbringing in Venezuela and South American blood. In fact, the warmer it gets, the more she claims to be in the Christmas spirit.
As much as I enjoy summer’s vacations, cookouts and cracking thunderstorms, the summer months hold less enjoyment than they did when I was in school. Primarily because I don’t like to sweat unless I’m exercising.
That having been said, there are a few things that I love about the season.
I was once taught the wonderful phrase “summer rules” while at an engagement party on the Main Line. The happy couple were of an older generation, both widowed, and had decided to tie the knot. The party was wonderful, so different from what you see today. When I walked into the foyer, I was warmly greeted, led through the library (Wow!) and into the gardens. My host asked what I was drinking and handed over a cool G&T letting me know that “Summer rules apply…. I’ll mix you the first. After that, you’re free to help yourself now that you know where the bar is….” I’m not sure that I have ever been made to feel more comfortable, more quickly, at a party. I hope that they are still enjoying their slow boat to China.
But how does one stay cool at these affairs? Particularly when the typical male attire of t-shirt, cargo shorts and sneakers/flip-flops is even more out-of-place than usual?
In the past, men wore lighter colored suits and sportcoats in fabrics of looser weaves. Yes, suits or sportcoats. And they kept them on — all through the ceremonies and parties. Were they warm? Yes. But they suffered the heat with good graces (this was even before air-conditioning remember.)
Today we are under no such expectations and even fewer obligations. Most often to our collective embarrassment.
Still, there is something to be said for not surrendering one’s elegance when the “thermometer goes way up.” Consider two fabrics: seersucker and linen.
Seersucker is our interpretation of the Indian word “shir shakkar” meaning “milk and honey.” The fabric is woven in such a way that crinkled stripes alternate with smooth stripes. Yes it looks a bit wrinkle-y. But those wrinkles help the suit to stand away from your skin allowing for more air-circulation. More air-circulation, more comfort (the same principle that works in your hi-tech sweat-wicking work-out clothing.) Wear your seersucker between Easter and Labor Day. Whether or not you accessorize it with white bucks, a button-down and a bowtie or brown loafers, and a black knit tie (or even a black polo shirt with no tie for very casual affairs) is up to you.
More about being wrinkled. For real casual elegance, you can’t beat white linen trousers in my book. They (along with white tropical wool trousers and white jeans) are the staple of my summer wardrobe. Buy them in the heaviest weight that you can — they will tailor and drape better. I wear them as often as possible. Freshly pressed for a dinner party, wrinkled the next day. And even the next day, when I will roll them up a bit more and wear them with flip-flops or espadrilles. During the day pair them with a polo shirt or a butcher-stripe, open-collar dress shirts and Tod’s suede driving shoes. For the evening, black Belgian loafers, a striped t-shirt, open collar blue button down and a blue blazer looks sharp. (Don’t forget your white linen pocket square.) Yes you wrinkle, but so what? It’s summer. And if you doubt that tailored clothing can look good under some pretty rough travel, check out the boys in the photo above (from a Daily Mail article about Darfur.) I wish I had better examples of casually elegant summer wear, but for now, it’s up to you to lead the charge.