Don’t sweat it.
The cotton suit, it’s what you need when things heat up.
There’s nothing worse than having your girlfriend come up to you during the summer and tell you “you look hot” and mean it literally. The temperatures in late spring and summer are not friendly to the wearer of wool suits—no matter how lightweight your lightest wool suit is.
The cotton suit lets you have it all: a refined look, with a casual edge. It shouldn’t be the first suit in your wardrobe—as you can really only wear it three or four months out of the year—but it’s certainly a welcome addition. And it never hurts to look especially sharp around the office when everyone opts for more casual dress.
Know what you’re looking for.
You’ll see suits in a variety of fabric constructions—like poplin, brushed cotton, and twill—each offering varying degrees of weight, texture, and elasticity. We recommend staying with the lighter weights, as you’ll stay cooler, even though they’ll tend to wrinkle easier. The coolness and breathability factor is worth the trade-off. Cotton is less elastic than wool, so don’t expect the same sort of give or bounce-back you get with wool suits.
A cotton suit should be made with just as much attention to detail as your other suits. The same rules apply, so look for all the hallmarks of a traditionally well-made suit. Look for a suit jacket that’s half-lined (or less), as it will be cooler during, which is the whole point.
Because having too much fabric looks especially sloppy with a cotton suit, we recommend going with a slimmer, more modern cut, with plain-front pants. Keep in mind, cotton is much less forgiving than wool, which drapes naturally to hide imperfections. That same lack of forgiveness also means that a tailor won’t be able to do as much work to make this suit fit you perfectly, so it’s important you find a suit that fits you very well from the start.
You’ll most often see the cotton suit in some version of khaki—it’s the most versatile and traditional color. But don’t be afraid to go with a light blue or light grey. And a navy cotton suit is a great alternative to your navy wool one. Beware of the all-white suit. Tom Wolfe could pull it off, but (we hate to break it to you) you’re not Tom Wolfe.
When the time is right.
Regardless of where you live, when the temperature reaches summer-like levels, no one will look at you funny if you’re wearing a cotton suit. So go for it—regardless of calendar date.
You can certainly dress it up with the right accessories for a night out or a more formal event. And you can easily dress it down. It’s not likely to replace your go-to navy or grey suit, so it’s probably not a good option for job interviews or client presentations.
Cotton suits wrinkle easily, but you’ll just have to roll with it. You’re not expected to embrace the wrinkles as you might for a linen suit, but it’s still part of the fabric’s charm.
After wearing, you’ll need to give your cotton suit a chance to “rest” a bit longer than your wool suits and allow the wrinkles to fall out. Depending on the fabric, you might even need to give it a light press or steam between wearings. And just because its cotton doesn’t mean you can throw it in the wash. Don’t even think about it. In fact, forget we even mentioned it.
Wear it with confidence.
Like many other suits, the cotton suit is as formal or as casual as you want to be. If you opt for the khaki suit, keep in mind that it alone will command attention. So you can easily keep your ensemble simple and still look great. If you’re the kind of guy who likes to push the boundaries, you might show a little ankle and try a pair of loafers with no socks. Or try the modern look and go with a pair of chunky wingtips and no socks.
Three looks to try:
- The khaki tux (not quite).
Dress a classic khaki cotton suit up with a crisp white shirt and black or navy silk tie and a white pocket square. Or, take it down a notch (just a small notch) with a black knit tie. Finish it off with simple black dress shoes and a matching belt.
- Bold pattern mix.
Pair a stone (or light khaki) cotton suit with a medium gingham check shirt and a bold striped tie. The brighter the better. Or, lose the tie all together and opt for pocket square. Balance it all out with a pair of tobacco brown longwings and a matching belt.
- Light and casual.
Get ready for the weekend or a casual Friday by pairing a light grey cotton suit with a white button-down Oxford, ribbon belt and your favorite pair of beat-up loafers.
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