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Summer is a time of escape. We want to break free from obligations and head outside. Sartorially speaking, we want to look at ease as we open the next bottle of Chablis. We need to a strike a balance, however, because quite often we are asked to go to a wedding, an important meeting or any place where responsible adults are forced to adult against their will. All of a sudden, the madras shorts aren’t going to hack it.
One of the questions I get asked most often is: What should I wear to a summer wedding? Well, let’s consider that. My feeling is that a wedding is the last place you want to be underdressed. In general, you should have stopped trying to get away with being casual by your 15th birthday. It’s a wedding, which means a coat and tie, possibly a suit.
If you’re obsessive like I am, don a linen suit in a muted tone. Khaki, olive, tobacco, even chocolate brown — these flatter most men and look great with a pale blue or pink dress shirt (or any pastel, for that matter). It’s not always easy to find this kind of suit. You can have one made by the great New York City tailor J. Mueser, who made my favorite one. Or you can do a deep dive online at Mr Porter.
A dark blue linen sport coat is a very wonderful thing. Wear it a few times and embrace the wrinkles, which convey a sense of relaxation (which are very different from unwanted creases). This blue coat can be worn with any light-colored trousers. Cream linen has a certain patrician elegance and is very flattering.
What about other traditional summer options? I like an interesting seersucker; blue on blue is very smart, and cream and brown is also lovely. You can usually find one of these by Ralph Lauren. If there’s a classic blue and white that’s been sitting in your closet for years, break it out. If you want to wear it in a more casual way, throw it in the washer and dryer, and wear it every day for a week. Make it your uniform. It plays as well with a Lacoste shirt as it does with an oxford.
Summer is a good time to unwind and abandon structure; the last thing anyone wants in the heat is buttoned-up, form-fitting clothing. Shirts with soft collars are perfect, as opposed to the stiff collars of the dressiest dress shirts. Sports coats should have natural shoulders (leave the pads behind) and drape easily. You want to convey that you have just been on the Amalfi Coast, not at a meeting at Parliament.
The key for good summer dressing is a sense of freshness. That means a bold art deco–patterned tie with a blue and white striped shirt. I’m a longtime lover of white bucks; my favorite pair of Aldens is on the cover of my book, for goodness sake! White bucks belong on green lawns and patios. They communicate the welcome warmth of summer. But they’re not the only option. What about a great pair of Crockett & Jones cordovan loafers? Head to Martha’s Vineyard, no socks needed.
Summer also means sun, which in turn means a good straw hat — and one with a real brim. I strongly advise against a fedora unless you want people to think you’re in a boy band on a reunion tour. Better to get a proper straw hat (ideally inherited from a grandfather) and wear it to the point that it gets beaten up. If it still looks too new, tossing it in the lake for a few hours should do the trick.
Having grown up in Minneapolis, I was not an expert on warm weather, so I looked south for guidance from men who’ve mastered this art. It’s no surprise that the great men’s store Ben Silver on King Street in Charleston, South Carolina, has a wonderful array of linen sports coats, bucks, tortoiseshell sunglasses and everything else you could need for iced tea on the front porch. What about Naples, Italy, where men think nothing of wearing a mustard linen suit as they get on their Vespa? Legendary Italian tailor Rubinacci is the go-to for an unlined sports coat in a daring hue.
In the end, men in these places see the weather as a chance to express themselves. Weather happens to us all; the secret of style is not to let the heat have the last word.