It’s summertime and the livin’ is...too damn hot. Even though we would rather sit naked in front of the AC when temperatures hit those triple-digits, we still have to go on about our real lives and wear layers of clothing on our perspiring and clammy bodies. To make the stifling humidity more bearable for our sartorial sensibilities, we went straight to the folks at
Athleta, Uniqlo, and fabric specialist Lizzie Harper for their expertise on all matters of breathable clothes for the dead thick of summer. No slinky tank tops and micro minis here! Ahead, get the real lowdown on the cooling textiles and fibers that truly combat the heat. It’s muggy out there, but your outfits don’t need to be in a sticky situation. At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. All product details reflect the price and availability at the time of publication. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.
What To Look For: Linen If you’re not already on the linen train, this magical, absorbent fabric is guaranteed to change your life (at least when it comes to those steamy days). “Linen is made out of the flax plant, so the fibers come directly from the stalk of the plant, whereas cotton is just the fluffy part of the flower,” says fabric specialist Lizzie Harper. “So linen has more structure and holds its shape better than a lot of other flimsy fabrics — it stands away from the body, so it isn’t as clingy.” Tracy Barnes, innovation manager at Athleta, agrees that linen is summer’s ultimate fabric: “It’s ultra-breathable and lightweight, and the looser fit designs also allow air to flow, for even more comfort.” The only flip side is that because linen holds its shape, it wrinkles quickly. Look for a linen-cotton blend if you’re searching for a more office-friendly fabric (that is, if you’re basically sitting down all day). Designed by Elliot Salazar. More
What To Look For: Mesh & Eyelet The best thing you could do for your body when it begins sweating profusely is to allow air to cool off the skin. “Eyelet is a no-brainer in the summer because there are literally holes embroidered in the fabric to let air pass in and out,” says Harper. “The movement of air over your skin is what cools you down, so keep it breezy!” Besides eyelet, the other kind of holes-all-over style to consider is mesh. “There's a reason athletes wear mesh, even if it's made from a not-super-breathable fiber like polyester,” continues Harper. “With so many holes, mesh can weigh half as much as a regular solid fabrication.” The only other item that mesh and eyelet pieces require? A trusty bra. Designed by Elliot Salazar. More
What To Look For: Performance Fabric Take style cues from outdoor athletes and stock up on pieces made from performance fabrics. After all, if these blends can keep super-active folk dry and cool, they will most definitely perform for the everyday wearer. These days, brands like Uniqlo and Athleta are manufacturing chic, non-sporty-looking pieces that borrow fabric technology from activewear.
“Athleta’s Featherweight Stretch is an amazing summer performance fabric,” says Barnes. “It’s an ultra-light, drapey fabric that is ideal for pants — it wicks, breathes, dries quickly, provides UPF 50+ protection, is wrinkle-resistant, and packable.” In other words, it’s an ideal piece for the stickiest days.
Over at Uniqlo, LeAnn Nealz, the brand’s chief creative officer, recommends pieces from the AIRism line, which are also heavily influenced by sportswear. “They have stretch, are cool to the touch, and have breathable fabric that minimizes perspiration and odor,” she says. “They are the perfect item to layer under everything or wear on their own.” Look closely at the fabric breakdown of AIRism and you’ll see key fibers present, such as cupro, which is ideal for summer. “Cupro is super-slinky and silky-feeling, and it’s performance-acting, but doesn’t necessarily look like exercise wear,” says Harper. “It’s a good time to be looking at performance wear, because these fibers pull moisture and humidity away from the body, and then pushes it out the other side.”
Designed by Elliot Salazar. More
What To Look For: Crinkled Textures The thing about crinkled textures that makes them super-ideal for hot weather is that these fabrics don’t cling to the body. “Look for cotton crepe — crepe just means that the yarn is twisted extra-tightly so that it has this crimped texture rather than the yarn being straight and smooth,” says Harper. “Crepe drapes in a different way and tends to stand away from the body, since most of the fabric isn’t touching the skin. Crepe cotton is actually a lighter fabric than linen, and it’s one of the most absorbent fibers, so it can pull some moisture away.” Designed by Elliot Salazar. More
What To Look For: Silk Here’s the thing about silk. While it’s not really the most breathable fabric, it is still what you’ll want to wear if you’re dressing up for an event like an outdoor summer wedding — just stay away from sleeves. “Silk is not super-absorbent because it’s a protein fiber — it comes from an animal (the silkworm) whereas linen or cotton are vegetable fibers that absorb,” says Harper. “Silk is the lightest fabric though, and it tends to adjust to your body temperature, which is also why silk can be worn to keep you warm in the wintertime.” So while silk is still a popular fabric to wear for the summer due to its weightlessness, be mindful of sweat stains on a super-sticky day. Armani
Bermuda Shorts in Silk and Viscose with Denim Detail, $168, available at
Armani Designed by Elliot Salazar. More Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here? The 29 Nordstrom Sale Finds Readers Are Obsessed With All The Designer Items You've Been Eyeing This Summer Are On Sale Now At Nordstrom Everything On Our Nordstrom Anniversary Sale Wish List Is Under $50