Being well-dressed for any weather or occasion is about more than just the style of clothing you are wearing.
Have you ever dressed in an outfit to look good for an occasion, only to find yourself too hot or too cold? Perhaps the fabric stuck or didn’t seem to breathe very well. Fabric choice can play a big role in how comfortable you feel and how neat your appearance is.
If you live in an area that experiences the fluctuations of the seasons, then you’re going to need a mix of clothing in different fabrics to dress for the weather. In any case, it’s a good idea to understand which fabrics hold up better under different conditions.
Here is our guide to fabric choices for the seasons:
Summer fabrics: Some do’s and don’ts
When you’re heading into warmer weather, it’s time to think about fabrics that will keep you cool and comfortable. The “hot and bothered” look is never a good one in a professional setting! You don’t want to be sweating or risking that your choice of clothing contributes to body odor.
The best summer fabrics are breathable, here are some to consider:
Linen garments have been popular in Europe for years, but have been slow to catch on here in the U.S. Many people here have avoided it due to its tendency to crease and wrinkle, but the fabric’s properties make it one of the most comfortable to wear in hot weather. In fact, while at first, linen fibers are stiff and wrinkle easily, they become smoother with handling and use.
Linen is a loosely woven fabric that is laboriously made from the flax plant. It is known to be one of the strongest natural fibers in the world. In fact, US currency among others uses a blend of linen and cotton for more robust bank notes.
The linen fibers are thicker than cotton and longer, which contributes to its strength. You can expect a well-made linen garment to last a long time. In terms of comfort, linen has strong moisture-wicking properties and dries a lot faster than cotton does. It also has a natural ability to prevent bacterial growth, which helps when you don’t want to end up with body odor on shirts.
Linen is also known for being a comfortable option for those with skin allergies or conditions. The properties of the fibers can make it a good option for all seasons, keeping you cool in summer and layered for warmth in winter.
Cotton is another natural fiber that allows air to circulate when you wear it. Here in the U.S., cotton is a very popular choice for warm weather clothing. The fibers aren’t as strong as linen, although strength is achieved by spinning multiple fibers into the yarn.
Good-quality lightweight cottons will also help to absorb moisture and keep you cool. In fact, cotton absorbs around 25% of its weight in water. This means it can become heavy and wet if exposed to a lot of moisture.
In terms of handling, cotton is usually soft and smooth from when you purchase it. Cotton does have a tendency to wrinkle, so many people choose to wear a blend with polyester, especially for travel.
Chambray and Seersucker
Chambray is often confused with denim, but it is actually a more lightweight cotton fabric with a plain weave. It has a finish like linen with a mottled texture.
Chambray shirts tend to be a basic item that transcends the seasons. The plain weave helps it to stay cool in the heat and it absorbs moisture well.
Seersucker is another fabric from the cotton family and is known for being thin and lightweight. You’ll often find boating attire or summer dresses made from this fabric, usually in striped or checkered patterns.
Fabrics to avoid in hot weather
If we were to sum up the fabrics to avoid when you need to feel cool, it would be any fabric that repels moisture. You want summer fabrics to absorb moisture, otherwise areas of dampness are more likely to show on what you’re wearing.
This puts synthetic fabrics among the worst choices for summer wear. Most of them do not absorb moisture at all, meaning you can end up bathing in sweat. Fabrics to avoid include:
- Nylon – This fabric repels water and will tend to trap heat and sweat against your skin.
- Acrylic – The fabric will feel hot and abrasive against your skin.
- Rayon – This synthetic will repel water also.
- Polyester – While this is often used in travel-wear, a high percentage of polyester means that it too will repel rather than absorb moisture.
- Faux leather or vinyl – You’ll end up feeling like you’ve been wrapped in plastic wrap…
- Denim – While made from cotton, the sturdy, heavy weave makes it smothering to wear in the heat.
Winter fabrics: Some do’s and don’ts
The advice for winter fabrics very much depends on where you are wearing the clothes and how cold it is. If you’re heading up into the mountains on a ski trip, you need to pay particular attention to fabrics that will not only keep you warm, but dry at the same time. If you’re in the office, you still want something breathable.
Here are some fabrics to look at:
Yes, cotton is a good, breathable choice for all seasons. In the colder weather look for thicker weaves for some extra warmth. Of course, you’re probably layering a blazer or jacket over the top anyway.
However, if you’re heading somewhere cold for outdoor activities, cotton is a poor fabric choice. In fact, wearing it can lead to hypothermia under the right conditions. Cotton is hydrophilic, which means that it won’t wick moisture away from your skin. It absorbs the moisture and can end up feeling wet and cold.
Wet cotton may wick heat away from your body up to 25 times faster than when the fabric is dry. If say, you’re wearing a cotton undershirt up on the mountain and sweating with exertion, it will quickly soak up the sweat and have you feeling as cold as though you fell into some water.
Leather or Faux leather
This is a fabric choice which can carry you through spring and fall as well. Leather tends to get better with age and form to your body shape, making it a flattering choice. It is tough and versatile, with a history as a popular choice for body armor.
Leather is good as a wind-breaker against the biting chill and is naturally water-resistant. Water will get through wool or denim much faster than leather.
Wool is a natural fiber that is very breathable, but also retains a lot of warmth. It wicks moisture away from your skin, trapping it to keep you warm.
Wool creates a natural insulation due to the air pockets among its properties. Even if wool gets wet, you will stay warm due to its natural water resistance. The fabric is also known for being odor-resistant – outdoor trekkers may wear the same piece of clothing for several days without it smelling.
A good-quality wool garment can last you for years. It is easy to care for and retains its shape if looked after well. There are different types of wool to look out for, with Merino being one of the finest knits. You’ll find wool garment choices from casual to formal-wear.
Your fabric choice for the season should have you looking good and feeling comfortable. Remember a couple of general rules:
- In hot weather, you want fabric that absorbs moisture
- In cold weather (particularly when outdoors), you want moisture-wicking fabric.
Some of the natural fibers such as wool will take you through all seasons, but fabrics like cotton and linen should be avoided in situations such as ski trips. Remember that the synthetics tend to be less breathable and uncomfortable in summer, but may work just fine in winter.