The aim of a shirt bought for summer might seem easy: to stay cool. But there are several variations here, and crossovers with styles and other functionality.

This, then, is our substantive yet focused guide to buying a shirt fabric for the warmer months.

As ever, it is not aimed at recommending specific cloths, because the mills don’t vary that much in the things discussed here – fibres, weaves and finishes.

Rather, it should enable you to know whether you want a linen, a muslin or a zephyr, and why. Then you can pick what weight and colour you want.

 

Indigo linen

So, how do you make a cool shirting fabric? Well generally you want it to be breathable – that’s the priority, rather than being lightweight.

Superfine fabrics, for example, are often lightweight. But they are also densely woven, which makes them not very breathable and so not great in warm weather. (See our Superfines article here.)

That breathability will come from three things: the fibre, the yarn or the weave.

 

Linen shirt and safari shirt

First, the fibre. Most shirtings are cotton, and this is pretty breathable and cool – certainly more than fibres like wools, cashmere or synthetics.

However, linen is better. Linen is such a strong fibre that it can be woven quite loosely, making it breathable. It is also cool to the touch, because the fibre is a good conductor. (Metal feels cool for the same reason.)

Linen wrinkles of course. For some, that’s part of the charm, but it might also make it too casual for smarter shirts.

In that situation it’s worth turning to linen/cotton mixes, which balance the sharpness of cotton and the breathability of linen.

In fact, I’d recommend linen/cotton through most of the year, because it has that breathability (but not too much) and because it looks more casual than cotton (but not too much).

And while you do often need a cooler shirt in the summer, in the winter it’s easy to just wear knitwear or heavier tailoring over the top.

 

Linen/cotton shirt under a cotton jacket

Next, the weave. In general here you want a more open, less dense weave.

So in a basic cotton, a plain weave (or broadcloth) is more open than a twill, and will breathe better.

Then there are more specialist warm-weather weaves, such as zephyr. Zephyr has a square weave construction, with an almost equal number of threads per inch in warp and weft, which makes it very breathable.

Specialist cotton yarns can also make a difference. So voile, for example, uses a high-twist yarn. This gives the yarn extra strength (like linen) and enables it to be woven more openly.

Muslin, on the other hand, uses a normal yarn but a very lightweight one. This makes it softer, but also quite liable to wrinkle, and therefore not as smart. Both voile and muslin are more commonly used in women’s clothing.

 

Muslin

The biggest problem with some of these cotton weaves and yarns is that they can become sheer, and transparent. Not good for a formal shirt, for those with a lot of dark body hair, or perhaps from a style point of view.

The best way to mitigate this is to only use them in darker colours. This is the same for lightweight pique cottons used for polo shirts, and some jerseys (though jersey isn’t usually that breathable – it’s more used for stretch and comfort).

However, dark shirts are also quite limiting in terms of style, which is a big reason linen and linen/cotton continue to be so popular.

 

Pique cotton

Two other options to throw in are seersucker, and chambray.

Seersucker is more usually seen in tailoring, but its waffley weave does make it light and breathable. The only disadvantage is style: not everyone wants a bubbly-looking shirt.

Chambray, meanwhile, isn’t necessarily light and breathable, but it can be, and it’s a good summer alternative for those that wear a lot of denim the rest of the year.

 

Chambray

Finally, finishing on shirts can help in hot weather, either in terms of reflecting UV rays or in ‘thermoregulation’.

Both are treatments that are done on the cottons – and something we covered more extensively  in our article on performance fabrics. Linens are also available with anti-wrinkle treatments.

These options should not be simply dismissed, as they have greatly increased in quality over the years and often now have the same feel and breathability as regular cottons.

But still, personally I’d use fibre or weave to remain cool, unless you particularly dislike wrinkling (an issue with anything that has any linen in it) and any suggestion of transparency.

 

Linens

Treatments can also help deal with odour, but these suggested linens and cottons are so breathable that odour isn’t usually more of a problem in the summer than the winter.

A bigger issue is longevity: being lighter and more open, a lot of these fabrics are more delicate.

But again, that’s an area where linen comes into its own. Being such a strong fibre, it should last better than almost any cotton, and doesn’t pill.

Linen also takes colour well, particularly natural and earthy colours – which can be an aim with summer shirts.

 

Cotton/linen mixes

Overall, I’d say cotton/linen is the best general option for a versatile summer shirt, but it’s worth having some shirts in other fibres for particular situations.

Linen is beautiful when freshly ironed, and perhaps best for holiday and other casual occasions. A weave like Giro Inglese is amazingly lightweight and suited to those that really suffer from the heat, or humidity. And zephyr can be both breathable and unusual.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
60 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Anonymous

Wrong post but I see the Armoury are stealing your terminology with “How great things age”…

https://thearmoury.com/pages/how-great-things-age-with-ortus

Small things but I noticed!

Chancellor

You mention Giro Inglese at the end, without discussing it earlier. Or is it just another name for voile?

p lewis

Hi,

Are there any plans for a Permanent Style linen shirt, as with the denim / oxford examples?

Thanks

Anonymous

Good Linen / Chambray mix would be nice (RTW) and a good linen cotton Button down (without pocket)

Jason

Although I don’t see a ‘PS’ niche for summer shirting (I think the usual suspects cover it well and A&S in particular have a great selection of linens) , I do think there is a great Autumn/Winter opportunity for ‘PS’ to develop the perfect grey flannel shirt in absolutely the correct shade of grey.
I bought exactly this specimen many years ago from ‘Dunhill’ and found it indispensable. Great with jeans, cords, sweaters and jackets of all descriptions. A truly versatile piece that is now at the end of its tether and which I’m finding impossible to replace.
Go to it ‘PS’ no self respecting flaneur should be without the grey flannel!

David

Simon,
Jason is right. The perfect grey flannel shirt would make for a great ‘PS’ project.
Cut in the same style as your ‘Everyday Denim’ it would be a killer and as for the correct shade of grey, may I suggest the same as the most recent ‘Friday Polo’. That would be perfect.
Flannel for the flaneurs seems to be the cri de coeur!
Congratulations on your fabulous site – my ‘PS’ trench continues to be one of the most admired pieces in my wardrobe.

JH

Is zephyr used for linens and cotton/linen mixes as well as cottons?

What is it that gives some linen fabrics that slubby texture (and actually I notice it on the muslin image as well)? Is it the fibre or weave or …?

Jeff from Chicago

Informative piece. I had always thought that as long as the fabric was lightweight – you were good for the hotter weather. Not so it seems. This article nicely explained the factors that one should consider for warmer weather shirting.

This expands things for me.

Anonymous

Could you describe what you are wearing in the first picture in this post? looks great

Alec

Any particular recommendations on cotton/linen fabric bunches?
I’m a fan. I find the stiffness of the linen helps keep the collar standing even when the collar is open.

FIDELIO

What would you say is the right linen/cotton mix so the shirts are appropriate for office wear? I find the end result is very different depending on the mix.
Thanks,

Anonymous

Simon

Any experience of cellulare?

AJ

Personally I never really think of linen as exceptionally wrinkly. I mean, a linen shirt will wrinkle, but so too does a cotton one, unless in a heftier weight, which is less likely in the summer.

A shirt made with good quality 100% linen will still look pretty smart, along with whatever wrinkles it has, in all but the most formal environments, I’d think.

Anonymous

Simon
I know there is so little of it and it is almost impossible to buy but it would be fascinating to have an article on sea slik

Anonymous

Hi Simon,

I like the tobacco safari shirt, did you purchase it ready-made or made bespoke? If bespoke, may I know the fabric manufacturer and swatch number.

Cheers
James

David G

Never considered muslin to be a shirting fabric. It’s a cheap option most frequently used to set a pattern.

Tim

I find breathability trumps all other factors, even the oft-touted cotton vs linen debate. A thin, tightly woven broadcloth is murder in heat and humidity. What I do with any fabric to test its breathability is cover my mouth with it, leaving one hand behind the fabric. Then I gently exhale, like fogging a mirror. If I feel my breath bouncing back, it’s no good for summer. Rather, if my breath goes through as if nothing’s impeding, that’s a shirt I can wear in the summer.

Anonymous

Do you see chambray as primarily a spring/summer material, or also suitable for fall/winter?

Anonymous

What do you think about Emma Willis shirts Simon?

Thomas

Hi Simon,

do you have any experience with Acorn Fabrics from the UK and would recommend them?
Their Barbados (Linen & bamboo 50/50) and Cambridge (3ply open weave cotton) fabrics seem to be ideal for summer shirts.

Best regards
Thomas

Keith Taylor

I find linen fairly unforgiving when it comes to sizing. Maybe it’s something to do with the fineness of the fabric, or perhaps its lack of stretch, but as I’m in the middle of nowhere and have to order my clothes online linen shirting is always a crap shoot. I’ve had at least 5 shirts that were completely unwearable because they either gaped at the buttons in the chest or billowed like a circus tent, and the difference between the two can be little more than a fraction of an inch. It’s infuriating (and expensive).

Fortunately my father-in-law isn’t as fussy about fit as I am, so he gets my rejects. He’s the best dressed nomad on the Mongolian steppe 🙂

Iqbal Qureshi

Very commendable post. thanks for sharing. keep up the good work

R Abbott

Do you have any experience with merino shirts?

R Abbott

Actually those are the ones I was wondering about. Naturally wrinkle free and odor resistant. And in thin material that can be worn outside winter time. But cannot be made in white color.

R Abbott

I was thinking that it might be a good travel option but given the sheen probably not suitable for business wear 🙁

Anyhow, will probably order one just to try.

R Abbott

E.g., Proper Cloth offers MTM shirts with cloth by Reda. Mostly in darker colors (like slate blue or navy blue), however.

https://propercloth.com/merino-shirts

Anonymous

Simon

Any guidance on fabric weight for summer? I need a shirting fabric to accompany a more formal suit during the height of summer in Southern Europe. Would poplin be my best choice? I could go with a linen/cotton mix but my concern is it will look too casual with a fresco fabric suit.

Anonymous

Morning. It’s for a wedding, so quite formal. The suit will be an unlined navy fresco suit. Would you still recommend a linen(60)/cotton(40) mix? I’ve seen a royal oxford at 160g and 120/2. Do you think this would be too warm? Any weight range that I should concentrate on?

Thanks in advance.

Ian

Simon

Would it ever be possible to list the stockists/manufacturers/colours of the material pictured in your articles. I’m primarily thinking of shirting here, and I know you do it occasionally, but its a great source of inspiration.

ian sollors

Thanks Simon

Its actually the fabrics in the header image to summer shirt fabrics

Simon

I was wondering if I could ask some advice. I read your guidance about summer shirt fabrics and also your post about the Budd safari jacket. I have also used Luca Avitabile a bit in the past. I’m interested in getting some ‘safari’ shirts made with pockets on the chest. Ideally I would like them made of airtex/aertex. I think that pique might be too stretchy and too delicate, as I may wish to use the pockets and may wear the shirts in jungle etc. Would Luca be able to source this fabric? If not, which alternative fabric would you use. And who else might you use?

Noel

Hi Simon,

What do you think about bamboo both as a shorting fabric but also for tailoring (usually blended with something else)?

Anonymous

Do you think cotton/linen is too casual for work?

William

Specifically, in regards to linen shirting, is there a specific fabric weight range (or thread count) that you ought to stick to?

William

Thanks so much!

Nik K

Hi Simon,

Fresco has a very “dry” (maybe a bit rough) but in my opinion “summery” feel to it. Is there something equivalent to that in shirt fabrics?