7 Takes: What to Wear Next Summer, a fabric tutorial


You might be thinking right now, “She is very late to the game, writing about summer fabrics in November.”  Or perhaps, “Trying to spike that Southern Hemisphere readership?”

On the contrary.  Studies have shown that readers at this blog are the type of people who are (a) expected to be presentable some of the time, (b) don’t / can’t pay full retail, and (c) live in parts of the world that have weather.  If that’s you, now is the time to purchase on clearance the summery items you wished you had last summer, if only you had known.

1. This is not fashion advice.  All I ask is that you go about clothed.  Think: Less naked than a lizard, but not necessarily covering as much flesh as a chow chow.  I don’t really care how tacky your tastes are, I just don’t want to know very much about your rear end.

All natural fibers, but too much insulation for summer.

2. We need to talk about Mary.  Mary of Nazareth, mother of our Lord, bona fide Modestly Dressed Person.  This is what you need to know: She lived in the desert.

Desert = Dry Place.  (Sometimes hot, too.)

If you live in the Southeastern United States, or some similar climate where your erstwhile hockey team is called the “Inferno”, or your city’s motto is “Famously Hot”, you do not live in the desert.

Inferno = Not a Dry Heat.

In the desert, the most practical summer wardrobe looks like this:

Algerian Tuareg sitting on the sand.
One of my best friends is Tuareg.

It is easy to dress modestly in the desert.

In contrast, people who live recreate in one of these sweat houses usually do it naked, or nearly so:

Modern Finnish Sauna
The South is like this, only with no snow to roll in after.

So, the rest of our takes are about how to dress during the Sauna Season at your place of residence, on those days when being naked is not a realistic option (hint: Lizards are naked). I will not make jokes if you think Sauna Weather is only 90 degrees; if you’re not used to it, it does feel warm, doesn’t it?  So people who live in cooler climates, where the hottest season is “Summer” (we have that in October, it’s lovely, but in June – Sept we have “Sauna”) can also appreciate this PSA.

3. Rule #1: Natural Fabrics = cotton or linen or wool.  You could count silk, but that’s out of our budget here.  This is what you want.  OR cotton.  OR linen. OR wool.  I am told there exist ultra-modern breathable synthetics, have at it if you like.  But your polyester “linen look” special is not linen and it is not cool.  You will sweat buckets and swear that nudity is your only choice.  Not so.  Stick to the rule.

Rayon and all that other stuff is right out.  Yes, that’s 98% of the “summer dress” department.  A flowery print does not turn plastic into cotton. Also, head’s up, “bamboo” sounds natural, but it’s typically a bizarre synthetic yarn that happens to have bamboo junk in it.  That’s not what you want.

4. Rule #2 Blended Fabrics are an Evil Invention. I once read a description of a cotton-linen blend as being “absorbent like cotton but breathable like linen”.  This is a lie.  A big fat nasty lie that will make you so sweaty the Tauregs will have pity on you.  Don’t buy it.  Just no.

Here’s the scoop:  A single lay of natural fabric (OR cotton, OR linen, OR wool) is breathable.  When you blend two fabrics, what happens is this, pretend your body is on one side and air is on the other of our letter-fabrics below, for this poetic demonstration of how two fibers lock together like champion Red Rover players:

Unblended = l l l l l  = air can get through.

Unblended = c c c c c = air can get through.

Blended = lclclclc = do you hear evil laughter in the background? I do.  Also, you’re sweating something nasty.

5. Trick for making your summer fabrics into winter fabrics: Layer them.  If you own a nice cool linen shirt, and another nice cool linen shirt, put one on top of the other, and you will own a nice warm double-layer shirt.  You can layer several very breathable, let-the-breeze-through fabrics, and end up with wind-blocking fabric.

Neat trick, huh?  Which means your summery linen skirt is something you could wear in the winter, too.  Handy.

6. Rule #3: Gauzy Fabrics Are a Cruel Trick.  It goes like this: You want to be cool in the summer.  You buy this beautiful gauzy-thin chambray (100% cotton) shirt.  It is in fact quite cool.  Also, the fabric is so thin that everyone can tell by looking through your clothing whether you are a boy or a girl.  So you put a nice cool cotton camisole / undershirt under your gauzy fabric, so that people have to use other clues, like looking at your face, to learn personal things about you.

Now you’ve just turned your summer clothes into winter clothes, see previous item.

Other cruel tricks:

“Linen Blazer, fully lined”

“Linen skirt, fully lined”

Wool follows the same rule as linen and cotton. So don’t be mocked by “summer weight wool” that is “fully lined with tafetta lining”.  You might as well call it, “Summer weight wool fully insulated for blizzard.”  But plain old wool, like a 100% wool cardigan, is not a bad summer fabric.  If you have to throw something over your shoulders and your choices are a light wool or a light polyester, the wool will be cooler and way more breathable than the poly.

7. So, what you are looking for on the clearance rack are:

(A) 100% Cotton, or 100% Linen, or 100% Wool

(B) Unlined, no blends.

(C) Sturdy enough of a fabric that you can wear a single layer, and not need anything underneath.

You will still sweat, if it’s actually that hot out. You do live in a Sauna, after all.  (In the desert, you won’t feel the sweat, you’ll just discover patches of salt forming on your skin.) You still need to follow common sense rules like putting on a sunhat (real straw, or following the fabric rules above), taking advantage of the shade, drinking cool water, and replacing electrolytes.  But if you are wearing a single layer of natural fabrics, your sweat will in fact cool your body, because air flow => evaporation.

–> In contrast, if you wear a cute little synthetic mini-dress on account of how hot it is, basically you’re putting on a shortie wetsuit. No evaporation => layer of moisture acts like insulation.  Appropriate for the cold, cold ocean, not so great for a summer picnic.

File:India - Varanasi old man plaid - 0578.jpg
Men of Varanasi Do Not Wear Polyester Mini-Dresses.


Chow Chow: By Remigiusz Józefowicz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 pl], via Wikimedia Commons
Tuareg: By Garrondo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
Sauna: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sauna_2.jpg
Varanasi: © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, via Wikimedia Commons

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