I’ve seen the question asked in every summer in magazines, on blogs and in my own inbox: how do you keep cool in a suit in the sweltering heat?
There are some basic tenets about seasonal wardrobe shifts, specifically with regards to fabric and color. Lighter fabrics like linen, cotton and light wool are, of course, lighter. Lighter colors reflect hot light, as opposed to darker colors, which absorb it. No news there.
Of all of my suits – I have about twelve – only two are absolutely summer suits, and only one is a decidedly heavier winter suit. All the rest are medium to light all-season wools, which I wear all year round.
The real truth is that when it’s hot, it’s hot. There is no such thing as an the ultimate air-conditioned suit that will keep you “cool.” Whether you’re in a white linen, in a tan cotton twill or in charcoal Super 120s, direct sunlight on a sweltering afternoon is a bitch. The sun’s midday wrath can make 93º feel like 113º. And for the record, let me just state that my experience with linen suits has never been that much more mind-blowingly cooler than light cotton, or even light summer-weight wool, for that matter. (Though the natural wrinkle of linen has real charm, in my opinion. And that’s a summer/tropical exclusive.)
My tricks to minimizing the swelter factor in a suit is to keep exposure, duration and exertion to a minimum. In terms of exposure, treat the sun like a vampire would. Walk on the shaded side of the street in the shadow of buildings whenever possible, like a vampire. Play a little game with yourself and pretend that prolonged direct sunlight will kill you – which shouldn’t be hard, since it will feel like it will anyway.
The second trick is to keep time between air-conditioned places to a minimum. This is something we do all the time when it’s raining. We go outside only when absolutely necessary. And when it is necessary, we simply keep the trip as short as possible. And make sure you’re office/workplace is regularly changing the filters, otherwise you may as well be outside. You can order 16x25x1 ac filter replacements online, so there’s no excuse not to.
The third trick relates to exertion. We all know from junior year Physics that motion creates heat. The faster the motion, the higher the heat. If you’re in a rush, the added stress of being late, combined with fast motion, will have you arriving D.O.A. (Dripping On Arrival). So… When you have a lunch meeting or an appointment in another part of town, give yourself extra time so you don’t have to rush. If you think you need 20 minutes, give yourself 30. Take it nice and easy, maybe even stop for an iced coffee. The few air-conditioned moments in the coffee shop will feel glorious.
To summarize, 1) stay in the shade; 2) keep your time between air-conditioned buildings to a minimum; and 3) in that time between air-conditioned buildings, be sure to keep the pace nice and easy. But even then, really fucking hot is really fucking hot. On a 95º day with 100% humidity, it feels like Satan’s taint. In that kind of hell, not even a linen suit will save you.
The suits in the featured image of this article are Ludlow Suits from J.Crew’s Summer 2014 collection. www.jcrew.com