For many decades in the 20th century, nothing heralded the beginning of summer like men's white linen suits. Crisp, cool and elegant, topped with a straw boater or Panama hat, finished with brown and beige spectator shoes and a smart silk necktie, a man could withstand even the fiercest temperatures and humidity in this smart summer attire.
History of Men's White Linen Suits
Linen is one of the oldest fabrics in the world. The ancient Egyptians, who prized it for its looseness, breathability, coolness and ability to deter insects, wore it. Except for its notorious tendency to wrinkle, it has traditionally been an easy fabric to care for and thus continued to be part of men's clothing for years.
The classic men's white linen suit saw its beginnings in the Victorian era when holidays in the Mediterranean and south of France became common for gentlemen. What do you wear in hot, muggy weather expect for a loose, but still elegant, linen suit? The suits continued to grow in popularity so that, by the 1920s, they were standard summer fashion for men of all classes. Still, the wealthier men wore smarter suits of more expensive Irish linen.
Shopping for a White Linen Suit
As in previous decades, men's white linen suits run the price gamut from dirt-cheap to luxury good. You can even buy them from online shops. Linen can be especially well suited to this because the loose style of the fabric means the suit doesn't have to be tailored. A tailored suit always looks better, but you can get a perfectly good suit that will still look nice and be comfortable for less. However, depending on how much wear you would like to get, you might be better off investing in a higher end suit. A good menswear shop will have the suits available year-round, although the selection may be smaller in the off-seasons. Nevertheless, the price will be lower. Thus, you could still get a bargain and have a very good suit that will look smart and should last as long as you maintain it properly. It often pays more to pay more.
Whatever you decide to do, you should try to find the suit at a brick and mortar shop. While the suit will be loose, you still want to assess the fit of the shoulders, the length of the sleeves and the hang of the jacket, as well as the waist and inseam of the trousers.
Caring for Your Linen Suit
While good linen is expensive, it also keeps well if cared for. While much linen can be washed by hand, or even on a cold wash in the machine, style mavens insist that a suit be dry-cleaned. The better your suit, the better a cleaners you want. Not all dry cleaners are created equal! Look for organic cleaners who specialize in good fabrics. Check online to see if users have reviewed the cleaners. You may also want to invest in a canvas cover for your suit, rather than plastic. Not only is this better for the environment, it is better for the fabric, as plastic holds in odors and any residual chemicals. When not in use, keep your suit inside this cover, as it will stay cleaner and fresher.
If you get a spot on your suit and can't get it to the cleaners right away, spot-clean with seltzer water and hang dry. Good linen is hearty and most stains will come out, but stick to simple remedies and let the professionals deal with the real disasters.
Style mavens also insist that you don't wear your suit all day, as it will get too dirty and wrinkled. One thing for sure - test the suit's capacity for staying fresh before you wear it on an important date!