We are all familiar with the cliché of the buttoned-up Englishman wearing his heavy dark blue or mid-grey worsted suits stoically through the few hot days that Britain enjoys in the summer, perspiring all the while.
Even so, it isn’t true that summer suits were unknown to British tailoring until the Italian invasion of the 1960s and ‘70s forced lighter fabrics on Savile Row tailors. Englishmen have worn linen and cotton in summer since the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries. In fact there’s hardly anything more English than a cream linen suit worn with a straw boater.
As for me, my favourite summer suit is a soft tailored double-breasted, made on Savile Row and cut in heavy Irish linen. This type of linen doesn’t crease so easily thanks to its weight, and the older it gets the less wrinkle-prone it becomes. Whether it’s dark blue, tobacco or olive green, well worn burgundy loafers like Boston in Burgundy Cavalry Calf, or mid-brown suede Oxfords make for a comfortable partner to a classic linen suit like this.
By contrast, the typical Italian linen suit comes in off-white, ivory or the colour of coffee with milk. There’s a story of an Italian count who ordered seven linen suits each year from his tailor, one for every day of the week. After one day of wear the suits were washed and pressed by his valet, and then after one season the suits were discarded. You needn’t be quite so decadent with your pale summer tailoring, but it is true that suits like this require similarly light and airy footwear. In the 1920s, it was quite common to wear Oxfords with white Canvas uppers which are rarely made nowadays, so I’d recommend some Oxfords like Westfield in Tobacco coloured suede, Cavendish tassel loafers in Dark Brown Suede or Spectator shoes like Crockett & Jones’s Gerrard IV.
The third variant of the European linen suit is made of an Austrian linen and cotton mix called ‘Jaegerleinen’, which is a fabric used for folk dress. It comes in light tan, a greenish colour and off-white. Look at it closely and you will see tiny sprinklings of red and green in the cloth, which adds a touch of character to the garment. A suit made of this cloth calls for a summer shoe from the continental European shoemaking tradition like a plain toed Derby in light brown. The Hardwick in Snuff Suede would work well because it resembles the Norwegian Derby shoes so popular in Vienna.
Of course, not all of you reading this will be able to wear a linen suit this season. In summer, business dress calls for lightweight high-twist wool suits cut in Fresco or tropical worsted, often with soft shoulders, minimal canvasing and a half-lining. I usually pair this kind of suit with dark brown suede tassel loafers or black Oxfords in the evenings. I rarely wear black shoes during the day; dark brown or snuff suede looks chicer in warm weather. In general, I prefer brown suede for almost every type of shoe these days, because I like the texture of the material. In summer it has the additional advantage that it seems to absorb dust, especially the very light colours of suede.