The image that immediately comes to mind when one thinks of the light coloured summer suit is that of some rum soaked expat reprobate ensconced in some far off tropical isle, over attended by a gaggle of local gals and dressed in what might resemble a surgical sock. But for this summer the reality could not be more different as hordes of designers reinterpret the form each in their own inimitable way to create a selection of garments that are fresh, sharp and stylish.
Ralph Lauren Polo proffers thin lapelled unlined 3 button cotton ‘ice cream vendor’ jackets, that worn over fifties round collared shirts, bow ties and cotton knit waistcoats are double preppie. Brooks Brothers have come up with the classic ‘Fitzgerald’ Two-Button Italian Cotton Suit with a centre vent and fronted trousers. While Paul Smith has liberally peppered his collection with micro gingham, khaki and linen jackets and suits. Other brands championing the ethic are DKNY, whose light cotton Khaki two piece when worn with a white button down shirt, thin black tie and crisp pocket square is 100% JFK circa 1962, while Thom Browne’s linen is infinitely more Leonard ‘Chico’ Marx than John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
“The lightweight summer suit is an essential purchase,” stresses Rolling Stone stylist William Gilchrist. “It is a way to retain style and elegance when the temperatures rise while everyone else has given up in their T shirts, trainers and three quarter length camouflage pants.”
And it seems that for many of those who need to keep their heads while all around are losing theirs the summer suit is a must. Recently Johnny Depp was seen sporting a cream linen nineteen forties influenced double breasted, David Walliams a blue and white seersucker from Savile Row tailor Daniel James while actor Martin Freeman favours something light from Mark Powel of Soho.
“I like the really sharp minimal cut that retains a strong silhouette,” continues Gilchrist. “It fits in with the current trend for sixties Savile Row tailoring but loses all the canvassing and extra wadding. It looks great when worn with a sea island cotton V-neck and a pair of cotton twill loafers or white plimsoles. It’s cool and refined but still casual.”
Yet for some the allure of the summer suit, especially linen, lies in its formality. “Everyone associates cotton and linen suits with the more relaxed style but I think it’s good to interpret them a little more formally so that it could be worn at a more formal event or a wedding,” explains Mark Powell whose summer range of linen suits are available now at Liberty’s. “My collection is the antithesis of that clichéd Miami Vice linen look. It’s nineteen thirties styled three piece suits in pastel colours – baby blue, pink, beige - and it’s three piece Edwardian style suits in traditional linen from W. Bill a classic English mill.”
Indeed it was during the Edwardian era that the cotton summer suit really came into it’s own as western servicemen flooded into China in the aftermath of Boxer Rebellion. The anti-foreign, anti-imperialist peasant-based uprising had threatened both the status quo of the area and the ambitions of European countries eager to capitalize on the Chinas unrealised mineral deposits and so thousands of soldiers were billeted in the area.
"For normal blokes the danger is that you might look as if you are wearing your ‘abroadrobe’ – something you bought to go on holiday, which is not good."
“Our company started in 1889 and made summer cotton uniforms for servicemen that were stationed in Hong Kong,” explains Sunil Chopra of Apsley tailors of Pall Mall. “And as more and more English, especially serviceman, moved to Hong Kong they wanted the same style of suit that they’d get from Savile Row but in a lighter fabric that could deal with the extreme humidity of the area. So we started using the half lining -which means that only the front of the jacket is lined .We then pioneered the use of cotton canvas, which is a lot lighter and cooler than the horsehair canvas which is used for wool and flannel suits and the popularity spread as off duty sailors and civil servants wore them all over the tropics, Africa, South America and India.”
And, as these Empirical ambassadors lost themselves in exotic locations far and wide, they created the aforementioned stereotype that, immortalised most recently on screen by Toby Jones in, The Painted Veil, is almost impossible to lose.
“That’s the problem with these light coloured cotton or linen suits- the cliché’s.” states GQ features editor Alex Bilmes. “They always remind us of drunken ex pats or those stuffy old guys who go to Lords with the Panama hat and the old school tie. For normal blokes the danger is that you might look as if you are wearing your ‘abroadrobe’ – something you bought to go on holiday, which is not good. So, you have to be very careful and not over do it. A great look is that light sort of Savannah Georgia detective circa 1968 with the horn rims, button down shirt and the black tie – sort of Mississippi Burning- it’s sharp and close cut and a million miles from the clichés.”
For most men dressing when it’s hot or even warm is always a difficult task.
“Personally it has to be single breasted pitched lapel cream linen suit with a white cotton shirt and brown shoes,” asserts Robert Elms, broadcaster and author of best selling style manual, The Way We Were. “But not that really lightweight linen which creases the minute you take it off the hanger. It has to have a certain body, or else, it looks like your body has been swathed in soggy bandages.”
Nevertheless this summer Present of Shoreditch have taken the unusual route of embracing the unstructured ‘ soggy bandaged’ delights of linen and used it to their advantage. ‘’ We like that sixties home counties Vicar look but we mixed it up a bit,” chuckles MD Eddie Prendergast “ But our linen and seersucker is deliberately creased- sort of Our Man In Old Street - and it’s got that unstructured stylish look that is perfect for our unstructured stylish world.”
But for most men dressing when it’s hot or even warm is always a difficult task. One that gets more difficult as you get older. “We want to look smart but never know what to wear,” adds Alex Bilmes of GQ. “But going about your business in a dark wool suit in the heat is uncomfortable, sweaty, itchy and looks rubbish so embrace that fact sartorially and invest in a lightweight summer suit.”
Suit yourself for summer:
Apsley Tailors of Pall Mall
For a timeless suit made in Hong Kong by the direct descendants of those who pioneered the form, Apsley Tailors of Pall Mall fully bespoke half lined linen or poplin suit starts at £450. Allow 3 weeks for delivery.
13-13aPall Mall, London SW1Y5LU Tel: +44207286 5877 www.apsleytailors.com
Fitzgerald Two-Button Italian Cotton Suit with centre vent. 100% Benberg lining. Corozo buttons. Double besom flap pockets. Lined to the knee. Plain front trousers. Available in tan. Price £499.
Brooks Brothers, 132-134 Regent Street Tel: 0203 238 0030
Khaki cotton summer suit retails at £370 for the flap pocketed jacket and £105 for the flat fronted trousers.
DKNY 27 Old Bond Street, London Tel. 0207.499.6238
Oswald Boateng’s trademark slim line peaked lapel seersucker two-button jacket comes in turquoise and white stripes and features double vents and a super sixties cut away front, £495.
Oswald Boateng 4 Vigo Street, London W1 Tel: 02074370620 http://www.oswaldboateng.co.uk
Charlie Allen’s two button single breasted ready to wear seersucker jacket is close cut, minimal and 100% sixties Sydney Poitier. It comes in blue and white, cream and grey and pink and white, is half lined and at £550 is machine washable. Bespoke jackets start at £850 and trousers at £250.
http://www.charlieallen.co.uk Tel. 02073590883
For a seersucker suit straight out of a Baton Rouge Courthouse check Mark Powell’s bespoke seersucker three piece with narrow flat fronted slim cut trousers, a shawl collared waistcoat, plain back jacket with notch lapels in pure black, white, hounds tooth, red and white candy stripe and the traditional blue and white. Starting from £1650. Available at Liberty’s a ready to wear pure white and a pure black seersucker jacket- £500- with trousers to match at £195. All feature white Mother of Pearl buttons.
Mark Powell Tel: 0207 287 5498- www.markpowellbespoke.co.uk
Paul Smith proffers a classic single-breasted two button seersucker suit that might befit a fifties Mississippi gambler. The flat fronted trousers are £225 while the single-breasted two-button jacket with is £400 and come in the perennial blue and white stripe as well as a cheeky red and cream. Dress it up with a crisp white French cuffed shirt and a skinny black tie held in place with an ivory stickpin and you’re in business.
http://www.paulsmith.co.uk 40/44 Floral Street London WC2E 9DG Tel: 020 7379 7133
Heavily influenced by Alain Delon as Tom Ripley in the landmark French picture La Plein Soleil of 1960, Jaeger’s Navy and white seersucker 2 button cotton jacket, with notched lapels, double vents and straight flap pockets, comes in 100% Portuguese cotton and is all about wrap around shades and Gucci loafers. Fully lined in twill featuring white buttons and white stitching it is £250.
Jaeger 200/206 Regent Street London W1B 5BN United Kingdom Tel: 020 79791100 http://www.jaeger.co.uk
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