THE GUIDE TO SUMMER SHIRT FABRICS
The aim of a shirt bought for summer might seem easy: to stay cool. But there are several variations here, and crossovers with styles and other functionality.
This, then, is our substantive yet focused guide to buying a shirt fabric for the warmer months.
As ever, it is not aimed at recommending specific cloths, because the mills don’t vary that much in the things discussed here – fibres, weaves and finishes.
Rather, it should enable you to know whether you want a linen, a muslin or a zephyr, and why. Then you can pick what weight and colour you want.
So, how do you make a cool shirting fabric? Well generally you want it to be breathable – that’s the priority, rather than being lightweight.
Superfine fabrics, for example, are often lightweight. But they are also densely woven, which makes them not very breathable and so not great in warm weather.
That breathability will come from three things: the fibre, the yarn or the weave.
First, the fibre. Most shirtings are cotton, and this is pretty breathable and cool – certainly more than fibres like wools, cashmere or synthetics.
However, linen is better. Linen is such a strong fibre that it can be woven quite loosely, making it breathable. It is also cool to the touch, because the fibre is a good conductor. (Metal feels cool for the same reason.)
Linen wrinkles of course. For some, that’s part of the charm, but it might also make it too casual for smarter shirts.
In that situation it’s worth turning to linen/cotton mixes, which balance the sharpness of cotton and the breathability of linen.
In fact, I’d recommend linen/cotton through most of the year, because it has that breathability (but not too much) and because it looks more casual than cotton (but not too much).
And while you do often need a cooler shirt in the summer, in the winter it’s easy to just wear knitwear or heavier tailoring over the top.
Next, the weave. In general here you want a more open, less dense weave.
So in a basic cotton, a plain weave (or broadcloth) is more open than a twill, and will breathe better.
Then there are more specialist warm-weather weaves, such as zephyr. Zephyr has a square weave construction, with an almost equal number of threads per inch in warp and weft, which makes it very breathable.
Specialist cotton yarns can also make a difference. So voile, for example, uses a high-twist yarn. This gives the yarn extra strength (like linen) and enables it to be woven more openly.
Muslin, on the other hand, uses a normal yarn but a very lightweight one. This makes it softer, but also quite liable to wrinkle, and therefore not as smart. Both voile and muslin are more commonly used in women’s clothing.
What Is Mesh Fabric?
There are a few different versions of mesh fabric, but this type of fabric is typified by its lightweight heft and permeable texture. Unlike most types of fabric, which feature closely-woven textures, mesh is woven loosely, which results in thousands of tiny holes being present in each mesh garment.
The idea of mesh has been around for thousands of years; for instance, every type of net in existence is made from mesh, and this material has also been used to make items like hammocks. However, it wasn't until the end of the 19th century that textile innovators started using mesh for apparel.