There are a lot of guides this time of year on how to dress for summer. Some are good; some are not. Few, however, address what you can realistically wear when it’s too damn hot for anything.
The hard truth of it is – unless you’re as handsome as George Clooney – most of us just don’t look that great in a basic button-up and some trousers. Putting together a stylish outfit often requires a bit of layering, even if it’s just a tropical wool sport coat over a dress shirt, or lightweight safari jacket over a tee. For days when you can still push the limits, we have guides on how you can get away with tailored clothing this time of year. The trick is: search for jackets made from open weave materials, and are built with as little structure as possible inside, so your skin can breathe. I find I can still wear summer sport coats on days reaching into the mid-80s.
Once temperatures get pinned to the 90s, however, the dynamics change. Dressing well for the dead of summer requires knowing a bit about how you can get away with just shirts and pants. Some suggestions on how to do it well:
The Classic Look
For guys who are into classic men’s clothing, I have some bad news. By definition, the coat-and-tie look revolves around the coat and tie (or, at least, the coat). That’s why the business casual movement has been so terrible for the last thirty years. When you reduce classic men’s dress to just a button-up, it looks awful.
That said, there are better and worse ways to wear a classic look without a tailored jacket. To start, pay attention to the fit of your clothes. A good fit here is not to be conflated with a slim fit – clothes ought to flatter your physique, not recreate it. We have guides on how your shirts and trousers should fit, should you want a review.
Beyond that, it can be more important than ever to pay attention to the details. Trousers that sit slightly higher on the hips, for example, will lend better proportions between your torso and legs. Be careful with going too high, however. Those sorts of cuts can sometimes look fuddy-duddy without a tailored jacket. Instead, aim for the sort of cuts you see above.
For a more casual, weekend look, try swapping your traditional dress shirt out for a popover – which is the half-placket design you see in the last photo above (sort of like a polo, but typically made from a woven, rather than knitted, material). Our advertiser Proper Cloth can make them out of any fabric (I like linen). You can also try traditional knitted polos, but be careful. There’s a fine line here between looking like Gianni Agnelli strolling down the beach with Jackie Kennedy, and that middle manager who comes out to talk to angry customers. Polos from Kent Wang, G. Inglese, and Camoshita can steer you towards the better side of that line.
Similarly, small details such as well-chosen shoes and accessories can elevate an otherwise basic ensemble. Try a smart pair of leather loafers and a braided leather belt. And if you can get away with it, unfasten an extra shirt button. You don’t have to go as far as Tom Ford, but a slightly lower neckline will look and feel better on a broiling afternoon.
Play with Color
Often, dressing well with just a shirt and a pair of trousers requires a bit of willingness to experiment. And for this, you can start with color.
For example, see the photo above from No Man Walks Alone, where their model is pictured wearing a slightly oversized, pink rayon Camoshita shirt with seafoam green Syce trousers and black Gucci loafers. Pastel colors can work wonderfully this time of year, and in this instance, the combination feels more contemporary than preppy thanks to the fit and details of the ensemble.
For something a bit more conservative, see this example of Tender’s white jeans paired with a black shirt. Normally, black button-ups are terrible (the choice of Applebee’s servers and prom DJs), but they work here as a less-than-typical choice for a denim-based summer outfit. Most of us rely on colors such as blue, brown, and gray for our wardrobes, but when you’re reduced to so little, it can be good to experiment with other color combinations.
If white jeans aren’t your thing, try light-washed jeans and something like this orange “resort” shirt from Deveaux (currently on sale with an extra 20% off with the checkout code ONSALE). Just make sure the jeans are slim-tapered. Light washed jeans in a straight-legged cut can sometimes look a bit dad-ish.
Throw Caution to the Wind
For me, the area with the most potential. When it’s really hot, throw caution to the wind and wear more interesting items, which ideally can hold their own without the need to layer. Summer isn’t the time for timid decisions anyway.
The easiest way to make a simple outfit work is to wear a bolder pattern – not in terms of casual office styles, such as butcher stripes and madras, but rather loud contemporary prints and Aloha designs. Something such as this “Tropicana” shirt can be worn with casual chinos or even dressy slacks, so long as the cut is right. A slim leg line here can help distinguish this from the sort of clothes your golf-loving uncle might wear. Alternatively, you can try more contemporary print, such this season’s options from Engineered Garments, or these airy Ddugoff shirts in blue or green (again, the green one is on sale with an extra 20% off with the code ONSALE). Mr. Porter also has some great prints in camp collar designs this season. Any of those would look nice with a straw hat from Sublime or Lock & Company.
Alternatively, you can play with the silhouette of your clothes. In the previous section, the No Man Walks Alone model can be seen wearing an oversized shirt with slightly cropped, carrot-fit trousers, which lends a more interesting look than strictly slim-fit clothes. If you’re bold enough, we also have guides on how you can try wider legged trousers. They’re not the easiest to wear, but they can be a good way to play with the proportions.
Similarly, with footwear, try something beyond your most conservative and classic pieces. While we love our penny loafers here, something off the beaten path can make you outfit look more interesting when there’s little opportunity to layer. For options, check out Margiela’s babouches, Castañer’s espadrilles, Barbanera’s loafers, Vans Vault’s slip-ons, and Ukata+ or Chamula’s huaraches. Some of those can even be worn with tailored clothing once the weather allows for jackets again.