Take The Heat: Summer Sucks For Clothes

August 9, 2019

The Washington Post has been publishing a series this season debunking the supposed joys of summer. Fashion critic Robin Givhan recently took aim at pool parties:

Pool parties are summer’s great lie. They are not fun; the swimming is beside the point. Pool parties reek of sunscreen, alcohol and the flop sweat of anxiety.

In Givhan’s opinion, the modern pool party, set-decorated for Instagram, is in fact a murky tub of social anxiety and body shame.

Pool parties strip away the protective armor that clothing provides in social settings. What’s left isn’t honesty; it’s vulnerability. And most people really only want to expose their soft underbelly to people they’ve grown to trust. Typically, that does not mean a mob of co-workers and their spouses. Or the bossypants parents in their kids’ play group. Or their friend’s friends. What is the classic anxiety dream? Walking in front of a crowd of people and realizing that you’re naked. What is a pool party? As close as you can come to being naked in polite company.

We’ve always known that the living may be easy in the summer, but dressing is not, whether you’re grinning and baring by a pool or headed to the office. Sure, air conditioning means most of our time is spent in temperate comfort, but just looking outside your window through fine droplets of condensation on an August morning is enough to break a sweat. The things we value in clothing — shape, texture, pattern, LAYERS — collapse under the practical concerns of making it to the next oasis of A/C without soaking through your (rad, patterned, camp collar) shirt.

No one who’s into men’s clothing is happy in the summer months. We argue over the propriety of shorts. We like tailoring; we buy buggy-lined linen jackets; and we still pity anyone who has to wear tailoring every day. We tried no socks; we tried no-show socks and terry insoles; our feet still sweat and hot ankles, after all, aren’t really the problem. All our concessions to the heat are compromises that trade off degrees of elegance or distinction in favor of comfort, and in the end we are neither particularly elegant or comfortable.

So we find other ways to dress expressively — we’ve gotten comfortable with light swimwear worn as shorts and made peace with sandals; we’ve spent the past few summers cycling through wilder and wilder print fabrics, just so we can put something on our bodies other than Airism gear.

But in the end, it’s mostly for naught. By August, I’m ready to bid aloha to my Hawaiian shirts, cut out my cutoffs, and retire my cabana wear. I’m ready for days of highs in the 50s. Then I can really start dressing.