How to buy a summer suit (the complete guide)
Summer presents a unique sartorial opportunity when it comes to suits. It’s easier than ever to stand apart from the crowd and look sharp in a summer suit. Why? Because most men either ditch the suit altogether or sweat up a storm. In this guide, we’re going to explain how to buy a summer suit or sport coat.
Remember, summer suits can be a lot of fun. They tend to look a bit more casual, but they don’t have to. The fabric can be made of cotton, but it can also be linen, or a blend of the two. Even the right wool can be breathable and ventilated. But even with all these benefits, very few men have a “summer suit.” And I think that a big part of the problem is that most men don’t know how to go about building one.
So, I’m going to lead by example.
I just built what I think is an excellent specimen of a summer suit. The fabric, the hue, the details, everything just makes me think of summer.
I’m going to take you through my design process. I’m going to example what I did and why so when it comes time for you to build a suit, or shop for one, you’ll have a better idea of what you want.
Step 1: Fabric Selection
The first topic of this summer suit guide is that you need to select a fabric, but it needs to be one that will breath.
For summer, you are going to want either linen, cotton, or some wool blend. Otherwise, you will invariably end up with a heavier coat. That won’t necessarily be a bad thing, because it will still be a great pick for the fall, you’ll just be sweating bullets for all the wrong reasons and find yourself waiting for the cooler weather to return.
Briefly, here’s what you need to know about summer suit fabrics:
Cotton: A cotton jacket, or a cotton suit for that matter, is a great pick for summer. As you are probably well aware, cotton breathes like a pro and is easy to clean. It will be a little thicker than a linen or wool blend (maybe), but it’s a solid pick.
Linen: I know what you’re thinking, “But linen wrinkles!” Yes, it does wrinkle, get over it. It won’t be that bad. After all, you can always steam it real quick before you put it on and you’ll look and feel like a million bucks because linen breathes better than any other fabric, in my opinion. You will definitely stay well ventilated in a linen jacket so it should come as no surprise that it’s a summer staple for most men.
Blends: Some fabrics will be a blend of linen and wool. This will cut down on the wrinkle factor and give the jacket a more “suit-like” look. This will make your jacket a little more versatile for say, evening events or cooler weather.
Ryan’s pick: I chose something in a “coastal grey” so that I could wear it with virtually anything. Regarding fabric, I went with a linen/wool blend. I got the versatility of a wool blend and the great textured look of a linen jacket. This was a good pick for me because I wanted a jacket that I could wear into the cooler months. Yes, it may be a little warmer in the summer than a pure linen would have been, but I had a plan for that…
Step 2: Construction
Something that not everyone knows is that suits have varying levels of construction. And by that I don’t mean quality (although indeed they do!), but that the canvas and lining can vary in their coverage of the jacket fabric.
Regarding summer jackets, you’re going to want to go with something that is “unstructured.” What this means is that the canvas that usually covers much of a suit is limited; you’re going to stay a lot cooler, after all, it’s one less layer that you’re wearing.
However, this doesn’t mean that the shoulder is completely unpadded. There will still be padding there, but it will be noticeably thinner than what you may be used to wearing. Again, this reduction in material will help to keep you cool.
Which brings us to the lining discussion as part of this summer suit guide.
With most unconstructed jackets, the lining goes away entirely. However, here at BE, we use what’s called a “1/8 lining” or “butterfly” lining. This means that the lining is only around the upper back and around the arm hole because we want our jackets to still have a little protection from sweat, and also for aesthetic reasons. The resulting shape resembles a butterfly, hence the name.
Ryan’s pick: Unconstructed and with a butterfly lining (matched to the suit fabric, of course). I wanted to eliminate as much fabric as possible so that I would be comfortable sitting on a coffee shop patio in 80 degrees.
Step 3: Style
Here’s the key thing to remember about the style of any summer suit: It’s going to be inherently casual. For instance, with a fabric like linen or cotton, that means silk ties are out because the fabrics will clash in texture. Consequently, you’re going to want to carefully choose your style details. You’ll need to be mindful that the jacket is somewhat casual by default, but also realize that you can bend the rules a little.
Notched lapel versus peaked lapel
An important part of this summer suit guide is understanding what type of lapel will work best for your needs.
If you need a refresher on the differences between notched lapels and peaked lapels, take a look at one of my older articles on the topic, here. In summation of that article, notched lapels were versatile and commonplace, whereas peaked lapels were reserved for formal and/or bold occasions.
So what should you choose for your summer jacket? Well, a notched lapel is the obvious choice. It’s going to be casual and versatile. But what about peaked lapels? Is that to say that you can never wear a peaked lapel in a summer coat? No, of course not. But you just need to be mindful that it’s going to look a little flashier and be more challenging to pull off.
Ryan’s pick: Notched lapel. A peaked lapel was just too formal for me. If I had a cocktail perpetually in my hand, OK, peaked lapel it is. But for the occasions that I saw myself wearing this jacket in, a notched lapel just made much more sense.
2 button versus 1
Similar to the lapel choice you need to make, the number of buttons on your jacket will reflect its level of formality.
1 button: A single button jacket is more or less a cocktail jacket. It’s cool and sophisticated in all the right ways. And because of this, it’s also less versatile. Many of my meetings are at coffee shops and folks’ places of business and so I think a single button jacket may look a little out of place.
2 button: Your more versatile pick.
Ryan’s pick: 2 button for its versatility. And remember, never button the bottom button!
I suppose there is some truth behind having better ventilation with 2 side vents versus 1 center vent. But I usually err on the Italian side, and so I opted for the single center vent on this jacket. Just go with what feels comfortable to you.
How many cuff buttons?
Admittedly, this is a minor thought for some people. But for those of you that really want to take advantage of the power of bespoke, I encourage you to give some thought to how many working buttons you have on your cuff. Four is standard, whereas anything less shows that you put some thought into your clothes.
I opted for 3.
Step 4: Details
Now is the time to have some fun. In my opinion, the best way to bring out a coastal, or poolside style, is to use some blues and whites. And one of the best ways to do that is with the button holes.
Button hole accents
You’ll notice that I opted for a light blue accent on both the lapel button hole and the cuff button holes.
Regarding the cuff button holes, I was originally kicking around the idea of making each button hole a different color. If memory serves, I was going to go with one blue and the other in a sort of cream shade. But after thinking about it more, I couldn’t help but think that the multiple colors would end up being distracting, so I settled on just the coastal blue.
And on the topic of button hole accents in general, when building a jacket, be sure that the jacket can stand alone without any of the colorful accents. In other words, a great looking jacket should look awesome without anything else and it should look even better with the accents. It’s sometimes easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you “need a pop of color,” and then you end up with something that is downright distracting.
Also, bear in mind that colored accents should always refer to your wardrobe. What this means with the subject summer suit, is that I choose a light blue color to refer to the likely shade of shirt fabric that I would wear under the suit. And also knowing that I was likely going to wear a blue pocket square with this jacket more than any other color. Therefore, the accent stitching helps to integrate the whole look.
[Did you notice that these sleeve buttons actually function? As opposed to being purely for decoration? They are called surgeon cuffs when they have a functional purpose. Read this article for the story behind them.]
I chose flap pockets for their slightly casual look. As opposed to besom pockets which have a very sophisticated presence. However, I still wanted my pockets made at an angle – a hallmark of a fine suit (it’s less expensive to manufacture pockets straight across than it is at an angle). I should note that you could still insert the flap into the pocket itself if you wanted to “fake a besom pocket” for an evening.
And remember, you have tons of pockets on the inside of your jacket. With the obvious exception of your chest pocket (hello, pocket squares!), your inside pockets are where you should be storing your things.
How to buy a summer suit: wrap up
So, that’s what you need to know about choosing a summer sport coat. As you can see, there are some smart things you can do to ensure that your coat becomes your seasonal favorite. Just so long as you stick with a breathable fabric and you request the unconstructed option, you’ll stay nice and cool.
One note on how you wear these suits: Because it’s summertime and it’s hot outside, don’t forget that you wear your clothes, not the other way around. For instance, it’s perfectly acceptable these days to scrunch up your jacket sleeves for a short time. And when the thermometer climbs into the red, loosen up the buttons on your cuff to promote ventilation.
I hope this article helps to shed some light on how you can create your own summer suit. And if you’re still wearing the same suit year round and sweating your way through the summer, then hopefully now you are enlightened!
The summer dress shirt, on the other hand, is an entirely different story altogether.
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The difference between notched and peaked lapels and when to wear which one.
And regarding black tie affair, here’s our guide to buying a tuxedo, whether it’s for a wedding or black tie event.
And similar to this topic, is that of how to how to buy a sportcoat: the complete guide.