Spring/Summer Wardrobe Guide

There are six inches of snow on the ground outside my window and I’m goddamn sick of it – so let’s start talking about spring/summer clothes. The summer guide in the sidebar is a little sparse, so I took a crack at beefing it up. Suggestions/extensions/revisions welcome!

I split it into casual and office/professional, although there’s clearly some overlap. The former has more information since there aren’t as many seasonal changes for office clothing.

Overall, this is the time to swap out heavyweight fall/winter clothes for lightweight items. Color and simplicity start to take precedence over patterns and texture as the standout features of your clothes, and there’s a lot more room to experiment.

For the clothes you’ll be putting away for a while, here’s a guide to seasonal storage from Put This On. If you want your fall/winter clothes to look good when you get them out again in September, clean them (or have them dry-cleaned), and invest in some canvas bags, plastic bins, and cedar balls. I also like to use the change in seasons as motivation to go through and donate what I didn’t wear. Don’t put a sweater or coat you didn’t wear all winter into storage – donate it.

I. Spring/Summer Casual

April/May is the time to put away: heavy coats/parkas, dark-colored cotton sweaters, wool sweaters, cords.

The basic casual wardrobe:

  • Shorts – Look for simple, chino shorts with a narrow leg opening. Ideally, they should be lightweight cotton that hit 1-3” above your knee (7-9” inseam, depending on how tall you are). You won’t go wrong with tan or khaki, but navy and light gray are good choices too. If your style is a little more preppy, then yellow, light blue, madras and seersucker are on the table too. J.Crew, Lands’ End, Uniqlo and H&M will all have good options. Here’s an infographic that might be helpful. 

    Swimwear is in this category too. Classic flat-front “baggies” (solid-colored nylon or poly trunks that hit mid-thigh) and knee-length board shorts are good choices. Either way, simple, solid-colored, and flat-front are what you want for swimwear.

  • Shoes – Probably deserves a separate post of its own, but here are some basics. Low-top canvas shoes (Chucks, Vans, Jack Purcells, Tretorns, Keds, Spring Courts, Sperry CVO, SeaVees, etc) in white or other light colors, boat shoes, white or tan suede bucks, canoe mocs, penny loafers, driving mocs, and blucher mocs are all classic choices. Flip-flops and open-toed sandals like Birkenstocks are kind of controversial – totally acceptable in places like Southern California but juvenile in other places (unless you’re at the beach). Let your local culture dictate, and if you’re not sure, skip them. If you do wear them, make sure the sandals and your feet are clean. If you’re starting from scratch, you can’t go wrong with a pair of white or navy Purcells, Sperry Top-siders in Sahara, and tan suede Bass bucks. As far as socks go, I barely wear them from May through August, but some people think that’s gross or hipster or whatever. If you need them, lots of places make no-show loafer-cut socks. Avoid visible socks if you’re wearing shorts or rolled-up pants.
  • Shirts – Fit is incredibly important. You generally won’t be layering a sweater or jacket, so it’s harder to get by with a subpar fit. Short-sleeve cotton polos in neutral colors (white and gray especially) or bright colors (yellow, blue, green, pink) are standard, but make sure they fit well. The hem should hit just below your belt (no longer than the middle of your fly) and the sleeves shouldn’t go much beyond the middle of your bicep. Treat polos like a tiny step above a t-shirt. They shouldn’t ever be tucked in, and never button the top button. Don’t pop the collar unless you can look down and verify that you’re on a boat. If you don’t mind logos, Ralph Lauren Polo custom-fit shirts are fantastic. For logo-less polos (which I personally prefer), Lands’ End, Uniqlo, H&M and J.Crew are good choices. Kent Wang is the master of logo-free polos, but (1) they aren’t cheap, and (2) they fit really slim. Alternatives to polos are t-shirts (obviously) and long-sleeved button-up shirts with the sleeves rolled above your elbow. Gingham button-up shirts are a summer staple for me, but madras and tattersall are other classic summer patterns. Look for shirts in natural fibers (cotton, linen) and avoid cheap non-iron shirts because they don’t breathe well and it’ll be like wearing a poncho.
  • Pants – Look for lightweight, flat-front chinos in light neutral colors. Lots of places make “summer-weight” poplin chinos – those are great. Linen too, although that’s a little dressier fabric. Spring/summer is also when no one will frown at you for rolling up your chinos or wearing non-traditional colors (red, nantucket red – which are really kind of washed-out pink – green, yellow, bright blue, etc.). Unless you’re really masochistic, this might be the time to put away those 22oz Flathead jeans you’ve been breaking in. Naked & Famous have made some 8-10oz summer-weight jeans the last couple years, and I’m sure they’ll do it again.
  • Sunglasses – Also probably deserves a post of its own. I like the classics – Wayfarers, Clubmasters, and Persols, but I’m terrible at not losing or breaking them, so I just buy cheap ones from a kiosk at the mall. They have worse optics because they have polycarbonate lenses instead of glass, but provide just as much UV protection.
  • Hats – If you’re going to wear a hat, let it be dictated by function. Classic fitted baseball caps are a good choice, especially if they’re a simple design in a single color like navy, white or red.
  • Jackets – Almost anywhere you live, you’ll need at least a lightweight rain jacket once in a while during the spring and summer. Pull-over anoraks (LL Bean makes a good one) and lightweight zip-up hooded rain jackets (which you can find almost anywhere, but definitely at Lands’ End and Patagonia) are good choices. Choose a simple, classic color – red, yellow, navy, kelly green.
  • Sweaters – I like to have a sweater or two for cool evenings, but this really depends on where you live. If you live somewhere that temps drop below 60 in the evening, then it’s a good idea to have one or two summer sweaters. Thin cotton or cotton-cashmere blends are a good choice, and bright colors (yellow, green, blue, pink) are easy to get away with in the summer.
  • Avoid (or if you already own them, donate them to charity or trash ‘em, depending on condition): denim shorts, wraparound sport sunglasses (unless you’re currently engaged in that sport at that very moment), pleated shorts, baggy cargo shorts, capris, grungy flip-flops/sandals, short-sleeve button-up shirts (although this is controversial), polos with sleeves that hit your elbows, tank-tops (unless you’re at the pool or beach)

For some visual examples, I think this 

, this 

, this 

and the guy on the right here 

are all solid spring/summer looks. (A lot of interest in the guy in the green shirt/white pants. It’s a J.Crew catalog shot from a couple years ago, and everything it out of stock. You should be able to find a similar green madras, white jeans, and suede Top-siders through other retailers though.)II. Spring/Summer Office/Professional

April/May is the time to put away: Wool/flannel suits in 4-season fabric, heavy tweed, heavyweight wool trousers, sweaters, ties with heavy patterns and textures (wool, flannel, tartan)

The basic office wardrobe:

  • Suits/Jackets – If you don’t own a khaki or navy cotton suit, pick one up – they’re awesome and very cool (in both senses of the word). It’s easy to wear the jacket by itself too. J.Crew and LL Bean Signature both have well-reviewed options, and you’ll be able to find cheap ones at H&M or Uniqlo. Blue or gray seersucker is another classic summer fabric, but that’s going to turn some heads unless you’re in New England or the south (and probably even then too). A seersucker jacket is less ostentatious than the full suit. Otherwise, look for three-season wool, and opt for lighter colors (light- to mid-gray in particular).
  • Shoes – Not much will change with the season here, but depending on how progressive your office environment is, you might be able to get by with loafers or even white bucks in the summertime. If you’re wearing a cotton suit, light-colored shoes (tan loafers/wingtips, or white/tan suede bucks) are completely appropriate.
  • Shirts – Summer-weight cotton, poplin and/or linen. It’s extra important to avoid cheap non-iron fabrics, since they breathe terribly.
  • Ties – Lightweight silk & knits, cotton, madras, seersucker. Bright (but not ridiculous) colors are more acceptable in spring and summer than fall/winter. If your style leans toward preppy New England-ish, this is the time to break out the summer-themed emblematics (lobsters, whales anchors, etc). In some offices, summers are tie-optional. If you’ve got the chest to do it, open an extra button when you go tie-less.

In my mind, examples like this 

and this 

are the ideal summer office look (although that’s clearly going to depend on where you live and how conservative your office environment is).

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