Summer is the worst. Well, I shouldn’t say that. There are good things about summer. Summer weather, however, is awful. Heat makes me miserable, sluggish, sweaty, and irritable. I would gladly be in below freezing weather over being in 90F/32C weather. Part of this is because I enjoy cold weather, but part of it is also because the clothing I wear suits cold weather better than warm weather.
This is true for basically every Amekaji/heritage nerd. We love to wear our boots, thick denim, flannel shirts, hats, and jackets made from denim, wool, and leather. It’s to the point that some people that wear this type of clothing sort of give up on it in summer and just go straight to shorts. I personally would rather watch every single episode of The Jersey Shore or even Friends before wearing shorts in public. Plus, I would say at this point that this clothing is part of my lifestyle and is not just clothing anymore to me, so I do my best to maintain the same sort of look I have during summer as I do during the rest of the year.
My jeans, trousers, and boots stay the same throughout the entire year. I wear my engineer boots even above 100F/38C and wear pretty much the same jeans and trousers all year long with only my tweed trousers getting put away during the hotter months. To be clear, most of my trousers are rather light weight. The heaviest jeans that I wear regularly are probably 14 or 15oz after washing and I have several lighter weight chinos and even a pair of chambray trousers that I wear all year round.
This means that the area in which my wardrobe changes the most is with my jackets and shirts. Living in Southern California has by necessity made me pretty well versed with lighter weight shirts that are great for summer. This is because I wear these lighter weight “summer” shirts for most of the year. I do this because I love wearing jackets, especially leather jackets so when the weather is only just cool enough to wear a leather jacket, I need to wear a lighter, more breathable shirt in order to accommodate the leather jacket without me becoming a sweaty mess. When summer comes along, I simply wear these shirts on their own.
The advice in this article is not meant to be taken as gospel and it may or may not be what you are looking for. Also, because this is not an ad, this is not going to be a list of specific shirts that I’ve been paid to promote. I’m going to be talking about types of shirts and referencing the ones that I own that fit in the category. In addition, I will be talking about how I wear the shirts because I think that makes a difference as well.
- Lose the undershirt.
Personally, I don’t like undershirts at all. I mean, I do wear them, but I wear them as outerwear. Elementary school was probably the last time I actually wore an undershirt as an undershirt on a consistent basis. In fact, I tried wearing a t-shirt as an undershirt under my collared shirt about a year ago a few times just to see how much of a difference it made and I was surprised at how much warmer it made me feel. T-shirts are quite often less breathable than some regular shirts depending on the fabric, so if you are trying to wear a lightweight shirt you’re going to cancel out that breathability by wearing a t-shirt underneath.
Also, as we know from winter clothing, layering helps keep you warm and that’s the opposite of what you want during summer. Simply not wearing an undershirt really helps cool you off no matter what you are wearing. I understand that some would be hesitant because you don’t want to get your shirts dirtier, but at least during the summer, it is absolutely worth it to stop wearing undershirts underneath your regular shirts. Just wash your shirts more often. It’s really not that big of a deal.
- If you want to layer, wear a short sleeve shirt over a t-shirt.
One of my favorite summer outfits does involve wearing undershirts/t-shirts under a collared, button up shirt. However, I only do this when I am wearing the collared shirt unbuttoned. This piece of advice does seem to contradict the previous idea and well… that’s because it kind of does.
However, there are a few things that make this work better than simply wearing an undershirt under your button up shirt. Firstly, I usually only do this with short sleeve shirts. Secondly, I only do it with the collared shirt unbuttoned. Thirdly, I simply do not do this when it’s too warm. This really only works below 95F/35C in my dry heat. In humid weather, the stopping point would probably be lower. All of these temperatures really depend on you, but I’m just giving my general guide. This also tends to work better with shirts that are fairly short in length, especially ones that have a flat hem and are meant to be worn untucked.
What I do love about this is the fact that it allows me to layer to some degree even when it’s too warm to wear jackets. Layering is not necessary for an outfit to be good, but adding more elements to a fit usually is something that we like to do and this helps with that. It allows me to create more color combinations and such. Plus, it works as a pretty decent 1950’s style aesthetic.
An extra piece of advice here is to make sure that the t-shirt you are wearing is a lighter weight one. This is important whether you are wearing that t-shirt on its own or with the unbuttoned shirt. For example, my Flat Head Tees are incredibly thick and not that great to wear in warm weather. Try to find a t-shirt that is not only fairly light and breathable, but also one that has fairly loose arm holes and possibly even a lower/wider neck line for more breathability.
Those Flat Head Tees I mentioned are not only too thick, they also have very tight necks and armholes. This makes them quite stifling in the summer. Look for the exact opposite of this. My favorite summer t-shirts by far are my Mister Freedom Stanley models. These are quite light and have fairly loose armholes and a relatively generous neckline making them more breathable than most t-shirts. A lot of my Tees are actually warmer than some of my more breathable button up/collared shirts, but these along with my Ooe Yofukuten Tees are quite good for summer. For this specific look, you could also sub out the t-shirt for a plain tank top as well.
- Don’t think that you have to put away your long sleeve shirts.
One common trick is to roll up the sleeves of your long sleeve shirts, but in my opinion, this only works in certain situations. In fact, I actually usually do not roll up the sleeves of my long sleeve shirts during summer because I want to protect myself from the sun. On the sunniest days, I usually wear light weight, long sleeve shirts so I am better protected from the sun. Being overly-exposed to the sun is dangerous and can lead to sunburns and even cancer.
I actually wear a lot of long sleeve shirts during the summer because if I am in direct sunlight, I will be protected from the sun on my arms and at least decently protected in the neck thanks to the collar. If I am under shade, I can roll my sleeves up for better ventilation. Sure, some people will keep their sleeves rolled all day, but I’d rather sweat a little more than get fried by the sun. Don’t forget that people who live in actual serious desert conditions completely cover themselves in lightweight, breathable fabrics rather than wearing shorts and t-shirts. Sun protection is more important than feeling a little cooler.
The shirts that I wear most often in this situation are light cotton chambray shirts. Weights of about 3-5oz are usually light enough to be breathable. I have several from The Rite Stuff, Freewheelers, The Flat Head, and Momotaro. Of the ones that I have, I think the Momotaro ones feel the lightest. There are many other brands that offer these types of shirts such as Buzz Rickson, Warehouse, Full Count, and so many more. I love chambray because it still has texture and are usually offered as early-mid century work-style shirts which look much more casual and yet also more sartorial in my opinion than stiff button ups that most guys wear. For some reason, fast fashion has thankfully still largely ignored chambray. Just make sure to be careful. There are a lot of heavy chambray fabrics as well so be aware of the actual weight of the shirt you are buying.
- Try some different fabrics
This advice goes along with number 4. Wearing a lighter, more open/breathable material can make a long sleeve shirt quite breathable while still protecting you from the sun. If you want maximum air flow, then the same fabrics with short sleeves will be great. Cotton is unsurprisingly the standard material for men’s shirts. However, there are other great summer fabrics that can help keep you cool. There are lightweight hemp and linen options specifically that would work really well as both of these also have nice texture in most cases.
One of my favorite summer shirts is an indigo-dyed linen shirt from The Flat Head. It is incredibly soft and breathable even for a short sleeve shirt. The biggest downside of linen is that there are less linen shirts available than you would expect, but when you can find one, definitely go for it. Of course, you do not need to buy this exact shirt. There are plenty of others that would fit the role equally well.
My other go-to fabric for extremely hot weather is rayon. This feels similar to silk in that it sort of has a cooling, wet feeling when being worn. When it’s humid, I actually prefer linen, but in dry heat I find rayon to be fantastic for beating the summer heat. I have a couple of short sleeve rayon shirts that I like quite a lot from Real Japan Blues (The Flat Head) and Stevenson Overall Co., but there are many other examples from other Japanese brands, especially Sun Surf. There are also some excellent long sleeve options from Brycelands and The Groovin High. Rayon has some similar qualities to silk, but if you can manage to get an actual silk shirt, then go for that because that will be even better.
There are also some specifically thin/light cotton fabrics that are available. Poplin seems to be a pretty popular summer fabric. My favorite lightweight cotton shirt for summer is an indigo Madras cotton shirt that was a collaboration between 3Sixteen and Self Edge. This shirt looks awesome and is incredibly lightweight and breathable. It doesn’t even feel like most of my other cotton shirts. I don’t think all Madras shirts will be this light and breathable, but it just shows how well cotton can work for summer when done right.
5. If you know you’re going to sweat, wear darker colors.
Yeah, I know this one sounds contradictory. We all have been told that lighter colors are better in hot weather. In fairness, I do think white is probably the best color to wear in hot weather. I went out to the Rose Bowl Swap Meet recently in 90F/32C weather and wore my white chambray long sleeve shirt from The Flat Head and it worked well in that situation. However, aside from stark white, any other lighter color is going to show off your sweat quite noticeably.
Let’s be honest, at a certain point, you’re going to sweat. No matter what you wear, it will be so hot that sweat is unavoidable. At that point, I feel more comfortable wearing darker colors so my underarm sweat isn’t as noticeable. I’m not saying that you need to wear black, but indigo/navy or burgundy have worked really well for me. The worst color is probably light to mid grey, which puts your sweaty pits on full display like a new movie premiere. Maybe you’ll feel slightly warmer, but you’ll probably feel more comfortable and confident with your sweat hidden by the darker color.
I hope at least one of these ideas was new or helpful for you. I hate summer so I have spent a decent amount of time thinking about how to adapt to the heat while still dressing the way I like. As you may notice, my suggestions mostly involve broad ideas rather than telling you to buy specific products. This is because not everything is going to work for you the same way it would for me. Some of you may disagree with parts of this article (or all of it) and that’s fine, but this has all worked for me. I’m hoping that this article gives you some ideas on what to look for so you can find the right shirts that help you look good and feel comfortable in the summer so you don’t have to give up on style completely and resort to wearing shorts.
2 thoughts on “The Best Summer Shirts for Men”
You have neglected to include merino woolen shirts — great material in any season, including summer. The lack of odor absorption is a real asset. But they also breathe and stay cool. Check out Outlier.nyc for innovative textiles that provide cooling during the hot months — like tencel or other rayon-like materials. Linen, linen, linen — looks and feels cool. No ironing ever needed and it breathes. Thanks for keeping us informed.
Ah yes Merino wool is a good point for sure!