Mid-summer is almost upon us. And honestly, who wants to roast away like a jacket potato in the family’s oven on Christmas day? The sun is relentless and looks to be ferociously hot again this season, so the summer wardrobe must be ready for extreme heat. Linen ready, that is. But what is the deal with linen clothes for men?
From shirting to suiting to the tailored trouser pant, this breathable piece of godsend is the stylish gent’s summer fabric friend. Made hot by Cary Grant, Leonardo DiCaprio and more recently, David Gandy, linen is literally the coolest piece of cloth to rock – for work, rest and play – in 2015.
The Lowdown: Linen Clothes For Men
Linen’s roots are luxurious and expensive. Linen cloth was first woven eight thousand years ago – used for the mummification of the pharaohs of Egypt, and made for soft bed sheets and royal gowns for the kingdom’s rulers.
But it was the turn of the 20th century when linen made its mark on menswear, starting with the lounge suit. At the time, the lounge suit was worn dapperly in tweed, worsted and flannel. All three were made from wool, which was far too heavy to wear come summer. Linen was soon tried and tested by tailors and became the warmer season must-have suit for men.
From there, our style forefathers didn’t look back, adopting linen colours based on social class: browns and navy for the blue-collar labourer to hide the dirt and grime, and stark white or beige for the wealthy aristocrat who never had to toil a day in his life. But it was post-WWII men who took linen into the sixties as a daily fashion fabric, creating a bond between linen suits and summertime for men.
Linen fabric is made from the fibres of the flax plant. After threshing and draining all the moisture from the stalks, the plant is then dry enough to be woven into cloth. Linen’s coolness in hot weather makes it superior to synthetic fabrics, like polyester, when it comes to breathability. Linen is durable and very strong, as well as super comfortable and light to wear. Added bonus? It is environmentally friendly.
Finally, linen is designed to resist stretching and won’t be easily torn by abrasive surfaces like silk is. But linen has a very low elasticity, which means it crushes easily when worn. If you zoom in on linen, the fabric boasts an irregularity of fibre, which in turn adds aesthetic character and depth to the fabric and gives it its signature casual look – texturised.
Linen is a friend to other fabrics too. If wrinkles produced by pure linen are downright offensive to your style-eye then consider cotton-linen blends, which are far sturdier and resistant to creasing. But honestly, it is the occasional crinkle that makes linen so imperfectly relaxed and brilliant. The last design positive of linen – it holds its shape well – makes it a true investment piece that will get plenty of summer wear over the months and years to come.
When To Wear
You can wear a linen suit to the office, to a formal event like a wedding or posh party, and even split the two halves and wear them as separates.
When starting out, cream or beige is the most flexible in terms of where it can be worn – from the office to the BBQ at a mate’s place. Just adapt the shirt and shoes accordingly, with a dark navy shirt and leather brogues for the daily grind and pop-coloured loafers with a polo for daytime drinks with the girl. Night turns to day and a linen jacket sits nicely over a fitted charcoal tee and relaxed raw denim jeans. Or head to the beach in linen trousers to feel the sea air on the legs.
How To Wear
You can’t go past a linen suit for summer, especially in white, beige or cream. Effortless and masculine, the lighter hues create a vintage south-of-France effect, while navy and pastel blue are more 21st century shades and work best paired with a coffee brown belt, woven leather shoes, and a casual Bretagne shirt.
Brown linen jackets enhance linen’s natural tones, and when paired with a button shirt in pastel green, orange or pink, a springtime gent is born. When picking a two-piece linen suit, experiment with a contrasting colour combination of jacket (white, cream, dark green or chocolate brown) and pants (navy, black or charcoal grey) for a contemporary take on classicism. The suit cut should be kept slim and snuggly squared on the shoulder (no ant-fit here) and leaner built guys could opt for a double-breasted blazer to mix things up.
Linen shirts can be slim-fit or worn loose; it all depends on the mood. The guayabera, a linen button up made popular in the Caribbean, South Asian and Central American cultures, is traditionally loosely fit for hot nights out on the deck. Wear it unbuttoned at the neck for extra chill. Just don’t go too far undone with the buttons and avoid any hairy chest and gold chain action.
The versatility of linen means shirts can be worn more formalised as a slim-fit, tucked into chinos or pants, framed by a leather belt and leather shoes in toe.
Fool’s Tip: An all-linen outfit is fine but can lack imagination and textural contrast. By mixing up the fabrics – say, with a pair of cotton chinos, silk button shirt and linen jacket – there is a renewed depth and movement that plays out over the entire ensemble.
How The Designers Do It
When looking at the seasonal shows and collection drops in 2014, a plethora of luxury designers have enlisted themselves in ‘team linen.’ Top of the line classics include all-American dream Tommy Hilfiger, with his Hamptons white party take on linen suiting, through to Saville Row’s Gieves & Hawkes and their tailored approach to the British heritage suit.
Meanwhile, UK high street icon Reiss and Spain’s Massimo Dutti offer something a little more affordable to quickly fill out those linen gaps in your wardrobe.
Men have worn linen (sometimes badly) for over one hundred years, despite some insisting linen is purely a posh sheet fabric that should be left in the bedroom. Linen is easy to discredit for its tendency to crease and it may feel less luxurious against the skin than cashmere, but its authenticity makes linen a clear staple piece for warmer weather sweats. Suit, blazer, trouser or shirt – linen adds coolness to your summer look but won’t leave you out in the cold when it comes to style.