Cool Shirts in Warm Weather

Cool Shirts in Warm Weather

Q. Finally, I’m returning to the office, and, of course, it is an average 90 degrees for the week. I’m dosing up heavily on deodorant, but don’t want to be an embarrassment. Are there professional shirts that are better at reducing heat and either avoiding perspiration or drying quickly?   

A. You are right to think that your shirt choice is an important consideration for your (and others’) comfort. When shopping for shirts, color, pattern, and collar style constitute the big decision factors. They pretty much narrow down the selection. But another major element is fabric. Your choice of fabric for business dress is uncomplicated; choose lightweight and breathable all-cotton or, secondarily, cotton and synthetic.

Natural fabrics are always cooler and much more comfortable in hot weather. While blends work for some people, many find that any percentage of synthetic is uncomfortably hot and lacking in breathability. Cotton and linen are the two coolest fabrics. Silk and wool, though natural, are not good options in oppressive heat.

Man-made fibers have been developed to add some specific qualities to natural fibers. Though this may work in cool weather, it is not the way to go when it is hot and humid outside. In terms of business shirts and undershirts, the use of man-made fabric should be restricted to blends with a low percentage of synthetic; zero percentage is even better.

Pure cotton is classic, luxurious, expensive, and requires ironing. But if you can afford the slightly higher initial cost and the upkeep, that’s the way to go. I am convinced that men who want to look and feel their best, and who are headed for the top, pay the extra cost for high-end 100% cotton shirts; they also find the time to locate the best laundry around. Their shirts are laundered properly. Collars and cuffs are crisp and creaseless (with no wrinkles), and the starched-stiff look is blessedly absent.

Still, if wash-and-wear is the only practical route for you – and remember, it, too, requires some slight ironing for a perfect look – confine your selections to blends with the lowest percentage of synthetic. High polyester content retains perspiration odors. Another negative: shirt fabrics that contain synthetic fiber will eventually form little “pills” on the surface, which are distracting and unpleasant. And while blends need little care, they do present problems in terms of cleaning: no amount of pre-treating or bleaching will totally remove stains from white fabric that includes even the smallest amount of synthetic fiber. 

In terms of reducing odor and/or wicking away perspiration, consider undershirts and antiperspirants. 

A lot of men think that wearing an undershirt, and thus adding a layer, will be hot and uncomfortable in hot weather. This is definitely not true . . . as long as your undershirt is lightweight cotton and has sleeves. Those sleeveless “wife-beater” undershirts may seem to be the logical choice, but they don’t protect your underarms. In essence, when it’s hot, wear an undershirt to keep sweat off of your shirt. It also will help you feel cooler, because, as sweat evaporates from the undershirt, the process creates a slight cooling effect.


Deodorants are formulated to eliminate armpit odor, but not perspiration. Typically alcohol-based, they turn your skin acidic, which makes it less attractive to bacteria. Deodorants often also contain perfume to mask odors.

The ingredients in antiperspirants, on the other hand, usually include aluminum-based compounds that temporarily block sweat pores. Blocking sweat pores reduces the amount of perspiration that reaches your skin. It’s helpful to know that if regular, over-the-counter antiperspirants do not control your sweating, prescription antiperspirants are available.

All of this detailed attention to cooling will be wasted if you wear a jacket that is too heavy and too hot. Summer allows you to wear clothes that are lighter in color and in weight than any other time of year. If you don’t already have a khaki cotton poplin suit and a cool blue seersucker in your closet, this would be a good time to go shopping.

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