How to dress snappy, but stay cool in an Arkansas summer

How to dress snappy, but stay cool in an Arkansas summer

Q. I only moved to Little Rock last year and the summer was hot but nothing like this year. I don’t remember ever being affected by the heat so much as during the last few weeks. Much of my work involves being out or in locations without air conditioning. No clothing seems light enough to keep me cool without looking entirely unprofessional. When I can wear informal clothing, even with sunscreen, I am getting burned. What are appropriate choices?

A. The good news is that summer dressing is always more casual and relaxed than other seasons. However, trying to dress for comfort as well as healthful protection can be complicated. Even though lightweight and loosely-woven fabrics will feel cooler on, still their open weave also means UV radiation can penetrate the fabric and reach your skin. There are various new products designed to protect you from the UV rays of the sun, such as shirts with what is called UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor). These can help reduce your risk of burns. 

That said, different people react quite differently to various fibers. Many are uncomfortable wearing synthetic outside in hot weather; others are big fans of the new treated fabrics – in shirts with UPF or with long sleeves. L.L. Bean, for example, makes their Sunsmart shirts which are 57% polyester and 43% nylon. These are favorites with athletes who like their quick-drying, water-wicking quality. Other companies produce their own brands with different synthetic mixtures. You can even do some of this yourself with a laundry product called SunGuard, which is a powder you add to laundry detergent that coats clothes with sunscreen.

Beyond these (and particularly if you are not comfortable with those above), I still believe in the tried and true approaches to dressing for the heat: 

  • Stay away from synthetic fabrics. Yes, I just mentioned a blend, but for many they are too hot, don’t breathe; and are not comfortable in hot and humid weather. Instead, choose all-cotton fabric and cotton-rich fabric blends that provide general comfort, control moisture, and actually insulate. Cotton is naturally absorbent and doesn’t show perspiration as synthetics do; equally important, unlike oil-based fabrics, it doesn’t retain odors. 
  • Choose trousers made of cotton. Cotton’s advantages are not just for shirts. Jeans are too heavy and retain a lot of heat and moisture; opt for chinos. Rather than wearing heavier versions of cotton such as twill (which is what jeans are made of), opt for poplin, seersucker, or madras cotton. And match these with dress shirts made of smooth broadcloth cotton, which are cooler than dress shirts made with heavier Oxford weaves. 
  • If not cotton, lightweight 100% wool is another great option. Despite the general misconception that wool is reserved for winter wear, the truth is that lighter weaves of tropical-weight wool are suitable for hot weather. 
  • Wear light colors. Light colors reflect the sun and some of the heat that goes with it, while darker colors absorb that heat. Whites, light blues, grays, creams, yellows, and tans will keep you feeling cooler than blacks, navy blues, and other dark colors.
  • Choose an unlined, or half-lined, blazer in cotton, linen, or tropical-weight  wool. Blazers are usually lined with polyester, satin, or silk – none of which breathe well.
  • Wear a cotton or straw hat with a brim. Even on a porch or under clouds, sun rays will peek through; a handsome hat is stylish and life-saving.
  • Choose easy slip-on shoes, such as lightweight loafers for dress, driving shoes or deck shoes for normal wear, and low canvas sneakers for casual attire. Just as a cold head will make your whole body feel cold in the winter, overly-warm feet will radiate up. Wear lightweight cotton (or no) socks.
  • When you can, wear shorts (not too short!) Insure they are appropriate and remember that they do require color coordinating even though they are shorts. With those shorts use sunscreen, well up and down your legs, with a very high SPF.

There is no reason not to use a high SPF, and every reason to do so. Aging skin and the tremendous risk of skin cancer are dramatically reduced with the efforts of simple sun block, and the thought that a light version is a good idea is just naive. I’d rather see a man with a white leather belt than one not caring for his skin . . . And you all know I dislike white belts.

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