by Beth Hammarlund
The sticky sweet month of June is in full swing, with just a handful of days between us and the summer solstice. This time of year, clothing is about functionality and temperature just as much, if not more so, than aesthetics. I’ve collected a few of my favorite fabrics for June through August, and picked the summer cocktail with which I’d pair each one.
The Brits brought seersucker to the West in their colonial days (the term “seersucker” is actually derived from the Persian words for “milk and sugar”), and though the pastel stripes and checks were considered very posh in England’s warm weather colonies, it came to the states as an easy wash-and-wear fabric ideal for the poor. As its popularity skyrocketed in the Deep South, this puckered cotton cloth became more commonly used for suiting, and eventually evolved into the go-to fabric for dandy southern gentlemen. To this day, the poster boy for seersucker is our very own Mark Twain, who regularly accessorized his summer suits with a pipe, a mint julep and a rocking chair. A full suit is no longer a must, but silver-plated mint julep tumblers are still encouraged.
Recommended Cocktail: Mint Julep
Ah, another fabric that the Brits brought to the West through imperialism and colonization. Thanks, guys! Madras is actually a type of light breathable fabric from India, but the term has become synonymous with bright jumbled patchwork plaids. So if you wear this print, but it’s not the proper fabric, feel free to call it madras anyway. No one will notice the difference.
Madras is about as over-the-top preppy as you can get, so please, feel free to add a little irony to your styling. Try pairing it with unexpected fabrics, like acid washed or neon denim. And a small dose of this fabric goes a long way, so consider just adding a dash to your outfit with a bow tie or a pocket square.
Recommended Cocktail: Sea Breeze
Okay, Nantucket Red is a color, not a fabric, but I’m throwing it in here anyway. I’ve been to Nantucket to visit family friends almost every summer of my life, so there’s more than a little nostalgia involved in my selection. Created in Murray’s Toggery on the cobblestone main strip of Nantucket Town, Nantucket Reds were created as a colorful men’s alternative to khakis. The warm red color was made to fade over time, so the more you washed them, the more pink and desirable they became.
I know that locations like Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard can automatically make people bristle (like whenever a rich person uses “summer” or “winter” as a verb; for the rest of us, those are just seasons), but Nantucket will always remind me of that strange summer blend of kids that’s unique to New England: the year-round locals, the Irish and Jamaicans teens and 20-somethings who come to work for the summer, and the kids who are only in town for the season. Somehow those breezy nights always ended with a handful of all of us hiding out from our parents and bosses, drinking cheap liquor while huddled under blankets at the beach.
P.S. If a Nantucket boy ever asks you if you want to go “shark fishing” in the middle of the night, what he really means is “sit in the back of my truck at the beach and drink beer and realize that, oops, I forgot my fishing pole.”
Recommended Cocktail: Rum and Coke mixed together in an old water bottle
Chambray is to denim as Skipper is to Barbie; it’s the sassy youthful classic that’s not as unforgivably binding as its older sibling. Because of its lightness, chambray is ideal for layering, even in the summer months. A sleeveless chambray shirt knotted at the waist over a sundress is a warm weather alternative to a denim vest, and an over-sized dress shirt makes for a relaxed and unexpected poolside cover-up.
Recommended Cocktail: A Salty Dog (white grapefruit juice, vodka, and a salted rim)
Popular in the little girls’ clothing department, there’s always going to be something young and innocent about eyelet. But without any lining, those stolen peeks of skin are extremely suggestive. It’s the Lolita of fabrics. Try toughening it up by pairing it with denim or leather. Or completely commit to making people sexually uncomfortable and wear it with Mary Janes while sucking a lollipop. Heart-shaped sunglasses could be going a bit too far, but we’ll allow it.
Recommended Cocktail: Shirley Temple
Linen’s the most summery of the summery fabrics. It’s light, it breathes, it falls across your skin and doesn’t cling. Unfortunately it’s also one of the most wrinkle-tastic cloths known to mankind. Don’t try to fight the wrinkles. You don’t want to be the person toting a mini steamer in your purse or a bottle of Downy Wrinkle Releaser in your backpack. Instead, find linen pieces with lines that will still look great once the inevitable wrinkles set in. Or, gasp, try a linen blend instead.
Recommended Cocktail: Gin and Tonic
Jeans are heavy, stiff, and stifling. Exactly what you don’t want for summer. However, no fabric is better suited for cutting off into a pair of fraying shorts. Perfect for biking, dancing, drinking cheap beer, playing tag, jumping around at rock shows, climbing trees, and drinking cheap beer. And did I mention the cheap beer?
Recommended Drink: Coors Light
After all this summer preppiness (denim cutoffs excluded), it’s time to bring the level of class down a couple of notches. Towels and bathrobes excluded, there’s something very late ‘70s and early ‘80s about terry cloth. It goes hand in hand with roller skates, hoop earrings, feathered hair and quaaludes. No wonder it was a favorite of Roller Girl in Boogie Nights. And though many could argue that terry cloth is never appropriate, I think that we can at least agree that the time of year that it’s least inappropriate is summer.
Girls in terry cloth shorts don’t drink gin and tonics. They drink tequila sunrises and pink squirrels. They walk the line between looking deliciously retro and obliviously dated. It’s easy to look down on the girl in the terry cloth romper when you’re wearing a seersucker blazer or a madras bow tie and drinking something out of a highball, but odds are, she’s having more fun than the rest of us combined. There’s a lesson in that somewhere.
Recommended Drink: Tequila Sunrise