Dealing with the oppressive summer heat is no small feat. Sky-high temperatures, humidity, and wind can make it downright unbearable to spend much time outside during the summer months. In fact, these conditions can literally make you ill.
Seriously, check out this tweet from WebMD:
As summer wears on, you may find yourself making excuses to stay inside all day and hover over an air conditioning vent with a cold drink firmly in your hand. While that sounds great, it’s unreasonable if you need to work, run errands, or grab the mail. Not to mention the cabin fever you’ll get.
If you pick the right clothing and fabrics, you can help yourself feel cooler while outside in the heat. It’s easy to find summer dresses, tops, and bottoms that are made of cooling, lightweight materials that prioritize your comfort. Here’s what we recommend:
While cotton may not be the best at wicking away moisture, it has one of the highest levels of thermal conductivity. Without getting too technical, it means it conducts (or transfers) the heat from your body outward to the fabric.
Check out this graphic (the higher the number, the better it is for the heat):
And if you live in a humid climate, moisture-wicking materials may not make that much of a difference as the moisture tends to stick around in humid climates regardless of the material. In fact, some people embrace this fact and soak their clothing in water (not my favorite, but if you’re desperate, this could work).
Some would argue that it is even more comfortable to wear on humid days. Its greatest benefit is circulation. Because it is so breezy, it promotes enhanced airflow through the delicate natural fibers. That allows your body to tolerate the heat a little more efficiently.
And nothing says summer comfort quite like cotton. It is the most ubiquitous of materials and you will find it on everything from shorts and tank tops to skorts and dresses. It is ideal for any climate, making it a more versatile and flexible choice that can take you through the seasons.
Try a chic midi dress made with cotton for nearly anything on your schedule, whether you are headed to the office or hosting a backyard barbecue. They are easy to dress up with accessories, and you can also give them a professional look by stepping into a pair of pumps and, if called for, adding a structured blazer during a meeting. Feel free to take it off when it is just you tapping away on your keyboard in the office!
If you love the idea of wearing denim but are not quite on board with wearing such a thick material when it is so hot outside, consider chambray instead. It offers a similar appearance yet provides far greater comfort in the heat. While it is definitely possible to find lightweight denim, it will not quite feel as cool and breezy as chambray.
Ideally, your chambray of choice should have a loose weave, which lends them a slightly gauzy finish. That means it is thinner, promoting better air circulation, so you feel as cool as possible even when the forecast is practically forcing you to stay at home. A pair of chambray capri pants is the perfect choice for a quick run to the café or a walk around the neighborhood to get your daily steps in. Throw on a lightweight T-shirt or a tank top, and you will feel just comfortable enough to pull it all off.
Remember that chart up above? Flax had the highest thermal conductivity (0.344 W/mK) and guess what linen is made from? Flax!
There is almost no fabric more synonymous with the intense summer heat than linen. Just glancing at it is enough to conjure up visions of trips to the beach, strolls on the boardwalk, and lazy Sunday afternoon brunches. If any of those are on your itinerary—or you merely want to keep your cool as much as possible—then adding a few pieces of linen to your wardrobe is the most effective way to accomplish that.
The best part is that linen garments are plentiful. You will find everything from loose-fit women’s pants with elastic waists to swingy, sleeveless dresses. If you sense a theme here, it is true: everything is designed precisely with comfort and simplicity in mind. It is easy to get carried away by details and accessories, but you generally want to forgo additional elements in the heat, so your body is not weighed down by unnecessary volume. The lighter your clothes, the better you will feel. Being a natural fiber, linen possesses a wonderfully light weave that enhances airflow. It cools you down almost like nothing else, making it the perfect choice for a relaxed poolside lunch or a dog walk through the park.
You might be surprised by how breathable and versatile silks are when it comes to summer wear. Not only do they look classy and amazing, but silks sometimes even have moisture-wicking properties. Silk also helps you regulate your body temperature and can make a great addition to your wardrobe.
The other amazing thing about silks is that you can get everything from shirts to dresses, to skirts that are made of silk. If you like silk enough, you can even get pajamas and sheets made of silk! While it may not have been your first thought when it comes to summer fabrics, silk might be your new favorite classic choice, this summer.
Blended fabrics can be a great option when it comes to fabrics that can keep you cool. You will need to pay attention to the blend types, though. Here are the different types
While it is an impressive list to choose from, not all of these blended fabrics will work for summer. Some are not breathable, some might be too thick, and some might make you too warm. Always lean more toward the cotton blends for summer, but make sure you double-check the properties of the fabric that it is blended with before buying. Another thing to keep in mind while shopping for blended fabrics is fabrics like cotton alone can shrink. However, if you go with a cotton-polyester blend, it shrinks much less.
Check out this YouTube video that further outlines some of the best fabrics to keep you cool in the summer and how to handle them.
Don’t let us tell you what makes you feel comfortable in the heat. Everyone has sensory preferences and climates that may alter what makes you comfortable. One study measured this in seven different areas:
The study measured how different fabrics and materials stacked up against each other in every category.
Ask yourself, “Do you hate clingy clothing more than clothing that is scratchy?” Heat can act as a multiplier for these preferences.
Like most people, you may choose to buy clothing based on how they make you look. This makes sense as you want to look and feel great while wearing your clothes, but do you ever check the tags for information besides the price before purchasing? It’s important to be checking the fabric content of each item individually. Not only will they provide different degrees of temperature control, wick away technology, and breathability, but they also might have to be ironed or cared for differently.
In recent years there have been advancements made in temperature regulation for clothing. AACT, a not-for-profit that develops the test methods the textile industry uses to ensure product quality since 1921, have reported that there are now fabrics equipped with the capability to regulate heat exchange or respond to body temperatures. This includes special dyes that are used on fabrics called Coldblack and Solar+, that work by reflecting or absorbing infrared rays.
Many fabrics we have in our closets or are available in stores may not have this technology yet, but there are still common fabrics that are very breathable. Take a look at this video from Cityline about the best breathable fabrics and keep an eye on fabric content for more information.
While we have talked about the fabric types that work best for summer, it is important to think about how you dress in the summer. There are instances when you will want to cover most of your skin to protect it from the sun. For this, you will want to stick to fabrics like linens and cotton. As we have talked about, these fabrics are much more breathable and lighter than polyester or wool.
If you choose to wear pants, select pants in a light fabric like cotton or linen. Denim can be okay too, but it is not quite as breathable. If you’re looking for something a little cooler, shorts are a great option. Shorts come in so many styles, lengths, colors, and fabric types that you’re sure to find something that’s your style.
If you’re looking for bottoms that are more light and airy, skirts, skorts, or dresses can be a much cooler way to go, but again, stick with the lighter, more breathable fabrics. Since your legs will be exposed, also do not forget the sunscreen!
When looking at the best tops to wear during the summer, tops in silk, cotton, linen, chambray, or one of the breathable blended fabric options might be best. Also play with your sleeve lengths. Having a few basic short sleeve tees and tanks during the summer is also great. Mixing and matching sleeve lengths and fabrics can be good too. For example, if you want to layer and cover your arms, but have the option to take that layer off, try a basic cotton t-shirt or tank with a linen or chambray long-sleeved button-up over the top.
In addition, do not forget your accessories! Accessories can make a huge difference in your comfort during the summer. If you want to wear closed-toe shoes, make sure you are wearing breathable socks so you do not make a mess of your shoes. If you choose to wear sandals, those can be more breathable but do not forget the sunscreen. Sunburnt feet are the worst!
Also wear hats! Always select hats with large brims. Baseball caps are a great breathable option that are made for athletes who are sweating. Baseball caps are also super easy to throw on before you go out for the day. However, they don’t have the best coverage for your neck and back. Think about a bucket hat or wide-brimmed straw hat to better protect your face, neck, back, and even parts of your chest. As always, no matter what you wear, don’t forget your sunscreen! While clothes can be breathable and can provide some sun protection, you’ll still need sunscreen.
There is no question about it: where summer weather is concerned, your fabric choice truly matters. Avoid polyester, fleece, vinyl, acrylic, and nylon, all of which limit airflow and leave your skin feeling warm and sticky. With so many stylish options available, it is easy to find clothes and accessories that you love in fabrics that are perfect for summertime wear. They will keep you cool and help you stay on top of your style game at the same time.
Don’t forget–it’s about more than just staying cool. Being out in the sun exposes you to UV rays which are known to cause skin cancer. Cancer.org says that one way to help protect yourself is to wear clothing that covers your skin and that darker-colored clothes provide more protection than lighter-colored clothes.(1)
To get additional inspiration for summer outfits that will keep you cool throughout the season, check out our Pinterest boards, ‘Cute Summer Outfits for Women’ and ‘Men’s Summer Outfits.’ You can still have style while staying cool!