As a freelance writer I enjoy the privilege of being able to work in any dress I feel like wearing. In the summer I sometimes sit on the front porch of our house in pajama pants and a robe of Swiss cotton while I type an article about the rules of business dress. I love wearing suits and shirts and ties, even on hot days, but only if I want to.
I remember the days when I was a young copywriter in an ad agency. Every day I dressed immaculately. I was totally overdressed for my position but I enjoyed it because it was fun. Seeing people in suits who have to wear them but hate it make me think of the guards outside Buckingham Palace who have to wear their bearskin beehives no matter what the weather’s like. Still, I don’t pity them. It’s part of their job.
Elegance in the summer is, first and foremost, a matter of programming your mind. Forget the sun, forget the temperature out on the street. Think of your business and how you have to look while you perform it.
It’s a sign of weakness to take off your jacket just because you think you’re more comfortable in shirtsleeves. You are not. You will be uncomfortable because you’re not completely dressed. Remember the Royal Guards. They can’t even think of changing any detail of their clothes, even if seems only minute. It’s not. One button can be too much.
Why worry about the short span of time you spend outside the cool air of your car or your office? And think of your colleagues in Europe. Many of them still have to work in offices that are not refrigerated. I remember an extremely hot day in Naples when I saw a huge wedding party waiting outside a church. All men in dark suits, white shirts and neckties. They must have boiled, but they looked great. The Italians also know how to get some relief in summer. A summer suit is very much a Potemkin affair.
If you look inside an Italian summer “abito” you will find no lining or a half lining. Three layers of cloth are basted together for a fitting and that stage is the only time the wearer will see what keeps him warm. It’s not only the actual cloth that we see on the outside, rather it’s the stuffings and the lining.
Conventional suits are made with wadding on the shoulders and canvas on the chest. This adds weight and warmth. Nice in winter, but very uncomfortable between May and September. Any tailor who makes clothes for hot climates will reduce the amount of additional cloth that is hidden under the suit’s outer shell.
Southern Italian “sarti” are especially good at reducing the suit to a minimum. When you take a summer jacket from Rubinacci or Panico apart you will find only a small amount of linen that attached to the lapels with nearly invisible prick stitches. No cotton wool, no horse hair. Italians will always chose the right shirt.
One of their hot weathers classics is “giro inglese”. Visually this shirting resembles a cotton piqué and it is equally cool on the skin but much lighter. The Italians even manage to make a summer tie just a little bit lighter to bear.
Don’t be mistaken. A tie in summer always feel like a miniature silk scarf. But if a fabric is chosen that allows just the homeopathic amount more of air to pass through the weave one will feel slightly less close to choking. Other materials for summer neckwear are cotton knit or Irish linen.
Staying cool in a formal business outfit is mainly a matter of mind and self discipline. Don’t expect the lightweight suit of Italian origin to feel like the proverbial “fazzoletto”. It will not, because a suit is suit and a “fazzoletto” is a handkerchief. Only a linen shirt will come close to that sensation. But the thought of a linen square feathering your body might give you some additional psychological relief if you’ve got the physical side of your outfit right.