Summer’s Suits

(Tom Ewell trying to keep his cool in a summer suit)

You hear it a lot, especially the further north you get of the Mason-Dixon line. The complaint is usually from a woman and usually goes something like this: “Unless you are a GQ model or an elderly Southern Gentleman, stay away from seersucker and linen suits.”

There’s a reason that seersucker, linen and cotton poplin suits are associated with the Old South. It’s hot here during the summer months. Before air-conditioning, it must have been brutal. The Army switched to khaki cotton from the wool cavalry twill, the Navy donned whites and the average Joe pulled his cotton and linen suits out of storage, all in an effort to beat the heat. As the picture illustrates, the practice continued through the 1960’s even in New York. In Richmond, it wasn’t unusual to see cotton and seersucker suits until the late 80’s.

Today, we live in climate-controlled environments, but that doesn’t mean that we need to forsake our warm weather clothing. Seersucker, cotton and linen may be best reserved for casual Fridays or non-client days, but they still have their place. The trick is to make sure that they fit and, in the case of linen, are constructed with fabric weighty enough to withstand wrinkles. It sounds counterintuitive, but heavier linen in the 12 oz. range, will resist wrinkling better than lightweight cotton and will wear cooler to boot. The trick to wearing seersucker is to have it made up with as little padding as possible and in an unexpected silhouette — double-breasted for instance. Cotton and linen versions of the suit should also rely on a cut that is flattering to you. Nothing skin-tight, as is today’s fashion, since it defeats the purpose of keeping you cool. Nothing too billowy as it defeats the purpose of making you look good.

The difference between a Leviner Wood custom garment and the $199 off-the-rack special is astonishing in terms of cut, manufacture, fit and the way it’ll make you look. You can live with a few wrinkles when everyone around you looks as if they’re about to melt into a puddle at your feet, can’t you? As Tom Ewell demonstrates above, the guy who keeps his cool, gets all the attention.

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