Linen: the Beautifully Enigmatic Material
for the Summer
When it comes to staying cool in summer heat, whilst maintaining elegance, linen is king. Despite this, it remains a surprisingly rare material, especially in menswear. In part, this is due to its higher cost compared to cotton, but also because linen polarises opinion due to its propensity to crease.
The sartorial history of the Anglosphere is somehow opposed to creases, which are anathema to the rigidly suited style associated with traditional gentlemen. Yet as swathes of discerning Italian and French men have proved, a slightly crumpled effect can be a nonchalantly sophisticated look in warmer climates.
It just requires knowing the properties of linen and how to get the most out of this fine material. In this article we briefly explore the history of linen, its excellent properties and how best to wear it.
What Is Linen?
Linen is a natural fibre made from the stalks of the flax plant Linum. There is evidence to suggest that linen manufacturing was in operation in Egypt over 4,000 years ago. When the tomb of the Pharaoh Ramses II who died in 1213 BC, was discovered in the late 19th century, the linen wrappings were in a state of perfect preservation after more than 3000 years.
Plutarch also wrote that linen was much prized amongst the ancient Roman priestly class. And eventually bed linen was coveted by the upper classes for its cool and soft feeling against the skin, becoming a mark of wealth and social standing. These days clothing constitutes only a very small percentage of linen manufacture – which makes a well sourced linen shirt all the more special an addition to your wardrobe.
Good quality linen is a very durable, strong and comfortable fabric. The fibres do not stretch, and are resistant to damage from abrasion and washes, and the colours do not fade away. The low elasticity of the fibres is what gives linen garments that slight wrinkled look. Linen has several benefits compared to cotton:
It is highly breathable and soft; much more so than cotton due to its lower thread count.
Resilience and longevity
While linen is 35 per cent stronger than cotton, its chief advantage is its longevity. Although a brand new cotton shirt will feel smoother and silkier to the touch, linen will be at its best two or years after purchase. It tends to become softer and shinier with each wash too, whereas cotton does the opposite.
Linen has a very high moisture absorbency rate, making it the ideal fabric for hot and humid climates. It’s also hypoallergenic, which means sweat is less likely to break down its fibres. Combined with its lack of elasticity, this ability to quickly absorb moisture from the body accounts for the ease with which linen can crease.
How To Wear It
Linen is the without any doubt the best cloth for warm-weather. A linen shirt is a key piece that creates a supremely confident continental look. What makes this cloth particularly versatile in the summer is also its ability to serve as both day and evening wear.
During the day, a linen shirt is an intelligent alternative to the ubiquitous style of wearing short sleeved polos with shorts, or swimming trunks. It is comfortable, but doesn’t compromise on smartness; a quality that also makes it suited to evening wear. Indeed, in any upmarket Mediterranean or Caribbean resort, a linen shirt is the garment of choice for an early evening aperitivo, or even slightly more formal events.
However linen shirts should not just be considered an item to wear in seaside locations, or tropical areas. In city atmospheres where heat combined with a lack of wind can make for an oppressive climate, linen offers the perfect solution. Anyone who has strolled around New York or an European capital on a hot summer’s day will know how much more intolerable the heat is in a city, compared to places near the sea. Linen’s cool texture and humidity absorbing quality provide the best solution in these scenarios.
Given that new linen is quite stiff to the touch, discerning its quality before buying can be difficult. However, it doesn’t take long to see the difference. Good quality linen will become softer and silkier in texture the more you use it. Lower quality linen will retain its rigid and rough texture and will lose its shape.
At Luca Faloni we source linen only from the oldest Italian mills to leverage the expertise passed on from one generation to the next. All our shirts are crafted in Northern Italy with attention to rare sartorial details, like ‘giglio’ stitching, mother of pearl buttons, and the unique ‘Paramontura’ collar.