At Ease: Summertime Dressing

Written by David Coggins

In summer we head outside, loosen our ties (if we still wear them), have a glass of wine and unwind. Yet dressing up in the summer, a season of dressing down, can present complications. How can we be formal and relaxed at the same time?

Luckily, there are fabrics that are here to help: linen, seersucker, madras and more. Think of them as allies in your August arsenal. You also have cotton and summer-weight wool working on your behalf, and a range of colors that come out of winter hibernation.

People often ask me if they can wear light-colored suits to weddings. My feeling is that if you are in the wedding party, then you should talk to the groom or bride about how formal the ceremony is. There are few worse sartorial missteps than being underdressed at a wedding. If it’s formal, then the suit should be dark, whatever the fabric. If you want to lighten the mood, then a festive pocket square or tie is an option. A pair of white bucks would also work. But you don’t want to appear in photos where all the men are in navy and you stand out in a cream suit, like you’re at the wrong event.

If you’re a guest, then, by all means, get in the seasonal spirit. I think an unstructured sport coat is a good start. I’m not afraid of linen. If a coat gets a little wrinkled, that’s fine; that’s what linen is designed for. That’s different from rumpled, however—you don’t want devastating creases, horizontal wrinkles and an overall feeling of neglect. You want to look pulled together, not like a writer who fell asleep on a park bench.

How do you do that? Well, if the jacket is linen, then a fresh dress shirt, a vivid tie and white trousers are good, with maybe dressy loafers to finish it off. At any wedding you want to look like you are prepared and thought about it before you got dressed that morning. It’s an important day! None of your default chinos, worn-out dress shoes or long-forgotten dress shirts hauled out of storage. (That’s why tuxedos should be revisited to make sure they fit as soon as you get an invitation that says black tie.)

If you have a white sport coat or light-colored suit, I think you will quickly find it very versatile. If you are heading somewhere less formal than a wedding, then try it with any polo shirt or anything with a pattern; leave the tie and the socks behind. I personally find dark blue very appealing in summer, especially at night. A dark linen jacket with a white dress shirt is a classic combination for good reason. And a dark suit with a light-colored shirt (say, pink or lilac) is a strong option.

A thought on seersucker: It looks more classic than you may think and not as radical. But remember, it’s doing a lot of the work already. You don’t need to add much more pattern—a knit tie or a simple stripe tie is good, or a polo shirt. If you’re in a place that’s a little cooler at night, I love light grey flannel in the summer. I know it’s counterintuitive, but if it’s brisk where you are, then it can be very sophisticated. You’ll look elegant and at ease, which is the name of the game in summer. Let other people worry. You want to look like you dressed up and then forgot how good you look.

Illustration by Christopher DeLorenzo