Expanding a Shirt Wardrobe in the Summertime

Luciano Barbera once said that while you can have too many clothes, you can never have too many shirts. “Shirts are quick to wash and easy to store. Plus, they look great. A man should own as many shirts as he wishes –- the more the better.”

I don’t know if I would go that far, but having more shirts does allow you to play around a bit with a tailored wardrobe. Solid and striped shirts in your basic colors (white and light blue) are great mainstays, but having a few causal options can let you get some versatility out of what you already own. For summer, I like the following:

  • Madras: A lightweight, plain weave cotton that’s known for it’s bright and bold plaids. By tradition, these used to be dyed with vegetable dyes that would bleed in the wash, which in turn would give the shirts a distinctive, blurred look. Today, madras is almost always colorfast (meaning they don’t bleed or fade), which is perhaps lamentable, but I find they still go excellently under cotton or linen sport coats, or even worn on their own with a pair of chinos and some plimsolls. You can find them at O’Connell’s, J. Press, Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, and J. Crew.
  • Linen: I love the look of wrinkled linen, as it adds a casual, carefree touch to clothes that make them look more lived in. Plus, the plant fiber is just so lightweight and breathable, making it ideal on hot days. With the breeze blowing through, you’d hardly known you were wearing a shirt at all. You can find them at Brooks Brothers, J. Crew, and Ledbury. Our advertiser Proper Cloth also can make you something custom from their cotton/ linen blends – which will have the breathability of linen, but won’t wrinkle as much.
  • A dressy chambray: This one is admittedly hard to find. A long time ago, some guys at StyleForum became enamored with a distinctive chambray from the French weaver Simonnot Godard. It had the right mix of white and blue threads to make it a chambray, but was dressy enough to wear with tailored clothing (so not like the workwear chambrays you see everywhere else). At some point, it was found that the cloth has a small percentage of polyester in it, so traditionalists quickly abandoned their stock. I personally still love the fabric, and count it as one of my favorite shirtings. It’s unique without being loud, and something you can wear to the office or outside of it. Today, the closest you can find to those original Simonnot Godard chambrays is this shirt from Ledbury (which is 100% cotton). Otherwise, you can try searching around for various end-on-ends, which is a kind of weave that sometimes yields a vaguely similar look.
  • A washed chambray: More the workwear variety, and perhaps something that’s better in the fall with tweed jackets. In the summer though, I’ve found light blue chambrays to go excellently with casual clothes (leather jackets, chinos, and such). Just find something that’s light enough in color to look like a regular light blue shirt, but has a bit of ruggedness to it so that it’s casual. I like the ones from Chimala and RRL, although the prices are admittedly very dear. For something much more affordable, check out this shirt from Everlane
The Usefulness of Cotton Pocket Squares
Just this summer, I’ve started appreciating how useful having a few cotton pocket squares can be. Most squares you see on the market are made from linen, silk, or wool, and each have their own advantages.
Linen is easily the most versatile, as it can smarten up the look of a suit jacket or sport coat while also remaining discrete. Very helpful these days if you want to look sharp without seeming overly dandy.
Silk squares are a bit more fanciful, but they do better with tweed or flannel jackets since their sheen nicely complements the matte finish of wool cloth. They also go well with wool neckties for the same reason.
Wool squares, on the other hand, are great for sport coats, as they don’t have the sheen of silk, and therefore look a bit more casual. They’re also good for when you feel a sharply folded linen square might look too studied. And like how silk squares pair best with wool or cashmere neckties, wool squares give a nice balance to silk neckwear.
Much like wool squares, then, I’ve found that cotton squares go great with summer sport coats and silk neckties, or for when you’re not wearing any neckwear at all, but are trying to smarten up the look of an odd jacket and open collared shirt. Which is basically what I use mine for these days. 
Pictured above are the four I own. The first is a finely woven white square from Simonnot Godard, which I bought from A Suitable Wardrobe. They’re out of that specific design at the moment, but they have others in both their pocket squares and handkerchief sections. The other three are various printed squares from Drake’s, which I bought from Exquisite Trimmings and No Man Walks Alone. You can also find nice cotton squares at our Etsy shop, Vanda Fine Clothing, Mr. Porter, as well as our advertiser The Hanger Project.

The Usefulness of Cotton Pocket Squares

Just this summer, I’ve started appreciating how useful having a few cotton pocket squares can be. Most squares you see on the market are made from linen, silk, or wool, and each have their own advantages.

  • Linen is easily the most versatile, as it can smarten up the look of a suit jacket or sport coat while also remaining discrete. Very helpful these days if you want to look sharp without seeming overly dandy.
  • Silk squares are a bit more fanciful, but they do better with tweed or flannel jackets since their sheen nicely complements the matte finish of wool cloth. They also go well with wool neckties for the same reason.
  • Wool squares, on the other hand, are great for sport coats, as they don’t have the sheen of silk, and therefore look a bit more casual. They’re also good for when you feel a sharply folded linen square might look too studied. And like how silk squares pair best with wool or cashmere neckties, wool squares give a nice balance to silk neckwear.

Much like wool squares, then, I’ve found that cotton squares go great with summer sport coats and silk neckties, or for when you’re not wearing any neckwear at all, but are trying to smarten up the look of an odd jacket and open collared shirt. Which is basically what I use mine for these days. 

Pictured above are the four I own. The first is a finely woven white square from Simonnot Godard, which I bought from A Suitable Wardrobe. They’re out of that specific design at the moment, but they have others in both their pocket squares and handkerchief sections. The other three are various printed squares from Drake’s, which I bought from Exquisite Trimmings and No Man Walks Alone. You can also find nice cotton squares at our Etsy shop, Vanda Fine Clothing, Mr. Porter, as well as our advertiser The Hanger Project.

The Very Versatile Casual Suit
I love suits, but being that I don’t work in law or finance, don’t live on the East Coast, and am (what I’d like to think) a relatively young guy in his mid-30s, I don’t get to wear them very often. So, I buy most of mine these days in causal materials, such as cotton, linen, and corduroy. That way, I can have a casual suit for social occasions, or break the pieces up and wear them separately. In the above, for example, the brown sport coat is actually a suit jacket that’s part of a cigar linen suit I bought last year.
With a casual suit, even the trousers can be worn separately. Corduroy, linen, and cotton suit trousers just become … well, corduroy pants, linen pants, and chinos. And since these pieces came as part of a suit, the jacket’s length will be a bit longer than most sport coats these days (which often look too short anyway) and the pants will have a slightly higher rise (which I think looks more flattering anyhow).
The only downside, of course, is the cost. A good suit – whether made from a fine worsted wool or a more casual material – can run you $1,000 or more at the retail level. Depending on how you break up that price, that’s a lot more than what you’d typically pay for a casual pair of pants and a sport coat. Those won’t match up to form a suit when you need them to, but they will be less expensive.
If you can afford them, however, casual suits can be great, and they’ll give you a lot of versatility in your wardrobe. You can find them at most places that sell tailored clothing (try our suit buying guides here and here). No Man Walks Alone also has a rare Minnis Fresco option this summer. Fresco is an open-weave, worsted wool (which makes it breathable on hot days) and it has a bit of a texture (which means you can wear the jacket as a sport coat). Remember: the rule of thumb for wearing suit jackets as sport coats is to avoid anything that’s made from a very silky or finely woven wool. It should never look like you’re wearing a suit jacket by itself, even if you are.
Pictured above: tan linen pants from Hickey Freeman; cigar linen suit jacket by Napolisumisura (made from W. Bill linen); light blue shirt by Ascot Chang (made from Simonnot Godard chambray); dark brown loafers from Edward Green; dark brown belt from Brooks Brothers; and white cotton pocket square from Simonnot Godard

The Very Versatile Casual Suit

I love suits, but being that I don’t work in law or finance, don’t live on the East Coast, and am (what I’d like to think) a relatively young guy in his mid-30s, I don’t get to wear them very often. So, I buy most of mine these days in causal materials, such as cotton, linen, and corduroy. That way, I can have a casual suit for social occasions, or break the pieces up and wear them separately. In the above, for example, the brown sport coat is actually a suit jacket that’s part of a cigar linen suit I bought last year.

With a casual suit, even the trousers can be worn separately. Corduroy, linen, and cotton suit trousers just become … well, corduroy pants, linen pants, and chinos. And since these pieces came as part of a suit, the jacket’s length will be a bit longer than most sport coats these days (which often look too short anyway) and the pants will have a slightly higher rise (which I think looks more flattering anyhow).

The only downside, of course, is the cost. A good suit – whether made from a fine worsted wool or a more casual material – can run you $1,000 or more at the retail level. Depending on how you break up that price, that’s a lot more than what you’d typically pay for a casual pair of pants and a sport coat. Those won’t match up to form a suit when you need them to, but they will be less expensive.

If you can afford them, however, casual suits can be great, and they’ll give you a lot of versatility in your wardrobe. You can find them at most places that sell tailored clothing (try our suit buying guides here and here). No Man Walks Alone also has a rare Minnis Fresco option this summer. Fresco is an open-weave, worsted wool (which makes it breathable on hot days) and it has a bit of a texture (which means you can wear the jacket as a sport coat). Remember: the rule of thumb for wearing suit jackets as sport coats is to avoid anything that’s made from a very silky or finely woven wool. It should never look like you’re wearing a suit jacket by itself, even if you are.

Pictured above: tan linen pants from Hickey Freeman; cigar linen suit jacket by Napolisumisura (made from W. Bill linen); light blue shirt by Ascot Chang (made from Simonnot Godard chambray); dark brown loafers from Edward Green; dark brown belt from Brooks Brothers; and white cotton pocket square from Simonnot Godard