A guide to the must-haves of men's summer style.
Every guy has been there. He takes an interest in dressing better, joyously begins wearing cotton oxfords and selvedge denim. He learns the rakishness of layering with sweaters and outerwear. Then something unforeseen and terrible happens. Summer comes.
Dressing well in the heat can feel so intimidating it seems impossible. As the rising mercury steals away our layers and textures and multitude of fabrics our advances in personal style come to a grinding halt. How can you dress well when first and foremost you have to dress to stay comfortable? How can you build multiple outfits if the only items you can wear are shirts, shorts, and shoes?
The secret, as with most of men's style, is in the details. The following 15 men's summer fashion items can be mixed and matched in endless combinations ensuring your sartorial skill doesn't take a 4 month summer at the beach.
1. The Polo That Fits
You’re no stranger to the polo shirt, also known as a golf shirt or tennis shirt. Your mom had been dressing you in these for as long as you’ve been fit to go out in public. You’ve spent your life seeing middle-aged guys wear these tucked into dress pants. And you’ve probably eschewed them as you’ve started caring about your personal style, assuming they’re for prep school kids and old guys on the golf course.
And, if you’re basing that on what you’ve seen other guys doing, you’d be right.
But the reality is the polo shirt can be one of the sharpest and most versatile shirts in your wardrobe if you focus on getting the fit right.
The polo actually has a fascinating history. In the early days of tennis, players (unfortunately) had to wear a full on regalia while on the court. Long sleeved button up shirts, ties, and flannel trousers(!?). As with all great change, it took a trailblazer to finally bring some sense to tennis attire. René Lacoste, seven-time Grand Slam champion, got fed up with how impractical and uncomfortable the uniform was and designed a short sleeve, knit pique cotton shirt with a collar and placket, and a “tennis tail” – a shirttail that was longer in the back to keep it from untucking. Lacoste first debuted his shirt at the 1926 US Open, and in 1927 began sewing a crocodile patch on the left chest after journalists began referring to him as “The Crocodile.” After retiring in 1933, Lacoste went full-press into clothing merchandising.
By the time Ralph Lauren showcased his polo shirt as a central figure in his new “Polo” line in 1972, the shirt became standard casual menswear.
The secret, though, to not looking like an old man is to focus on the fit details. I’m not prescribing a “tight” shirt, a proper fitting polo based on the guidelines below will have any gentleman, regardless of weight or shape looking sharp.
2. Sharp Dressed Sunglasses
When you’re heading out to brunch with your date or going to an outdoor summer work function, endurance needs to take a back seat to form. Luckily, if you don’t like making choices, there are only two primary forms the “dress” sunglass comes in.
3. The Linen Shirt
So much of summer style has only two goals: Be comfortable, don’t be uncomfortable. When the heat and humidity come in like a tidal wave, you have to start thinking strategically about not only what you’ll choose to wear but what it’s made out of. Linen is one of the best warm weather fabrics because it’s thin and breathes very well. On humid days, ditch the thick cotton and incorporate a linen shirt, pants, or if you’re near sand or water: both.
The thing is, linen wrinkles A LOT, like… just from putting it on. Don’t get frustrated – it’s part of the package. You only need to steam it when the wrinkles turn into creases. Use your best judgement and you’ll be fine.
The outfit photo above also illustrates a great point: Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean you have to wear bright, flashy colors all the time. Surprisingly by sometimes choosing muted neutrals you’ll stand out in a crowd. It’s also proof that wearing clothes in subdued shades diminishes the preppiness of it, if that’s a concern for you.
4. The Canvas Strap Watch
Sweat can do some nasty things to your wardrobe. And I’m sure you’ve experienced the stankiness that appears once you’ve been wearing a metal, or especially leather, watch strap all summer. The leather starts rubbing off and smells like a high school gym locker.
Reaching instead for a canvas strap watch will give you a washable solution that also adds texture, detail, and a pop of color to the rest of your outfit. Originally invented by the British military to provide an extra layer of security for keeping a watch on in tough conditions, the slip-thru design offers an easy way to swap out straps depending on what you’re wearing for the day.
5. The Smart Sneaker
Second only to the loafer in versatility and style is the smart sneaker. I’ve mentioned a number of times how your footwear choice is really the defining variable in whether your outfit is more casual or more dressy. Imagine the outfit above with the driving mocs – especially with the linen, it becomes a very dressy ensemble.
But with the gray canvas sneakers, the outfit is grounded as well-dressed casual. To take an extra step away from just sneakers towards intentionality, I swapped the athletic laces for a set of leather ones that I picked up at Target for $5. It’s a cheap upgrade with a huge effect.
Just like with the boat shoes and sandals, let your ankles witness the world by going sockless. If sneakers without socks sound miserable, pick up some no-show socks that sit below the shoe opening.