G. Bruce Boyer ruminates on the inherent elegance of a linen suit.
Tropical worsteds are lovely, and cottons are comfortable, but for sheer wearability and panache, you really can’t beat a linen suit in summer, can you? I trust I’m not alone in applauding Drake’s’ decision to offer a linen suit this season as one of the best ideas yet. It’s an aesthetic impulse of which I highly approve. Actually, more than highly approve because I don’t have a linen suit in my wardrobe at the moment, so it’s as though they were speaking directly to me.
I had a brown linen suit for years, and then I tore an unrepairable hole in the trousers. Very traumatic, tell you about it sometime. I wore the coat as a sports jacket for a while after that, but it wasn’t the same.
For the gentleman who calls the world home, the comfort and elegance of linen is one of the touchstones of warm-weather style. It was the ancient fabric of choice, as far as we know the first fabric of man’s manufacture. In modern times we tend to think of those chic men who vacationed along the Mediterranean and Caribbean climes, the legendary Noel Coward in Cannes, Ian Fleming in Jamaica, Vittorio de Sicca in Naples, Bryan Ferry anywhere. In a world of trends, the linen suit remains a classic, it resonates with little graces, self-assurance, and thesang froidof the naturally assured.
I don’t want to lose my amateur standing as a philosopher, but I do know that it takes a highly developed sense of style to embrace simplicity. So there are really only two points I want to pass along and then I’m through for the day. The first is that tailored linen is not for the timid. It corrugates and patinates easily, so that its lived-in personality can’t be hidden and no apologies necessary. This tends to go against the grain of the modern insanity that clothes should be wrinkle-free and anonymously impersonal. The look of linen is based on individual confidence and poise because the wrinkles make it quite clear to others that you understand the quest for pristine perfection is something of a neurosis, and that style is the revelatory sign of a psyche at ease with itself, as my Aunt Gladys used to say.
The other point is that the hallmark of a good linen suit is simplicity of cut. There is something of an historical reason and precedent for this. In tropical countries where linen suits were de rigueur in summer, the garments were washed and pressed frequently, so simplicity was the daughter of necessity, with a minimum of furbelows and flourishes in the details. True styling has always been minimal; fashionable details, linings, padding and other infrastructure abandoned in favor of soft structure and spareness. If wanted, a bit of peacockery could always be achieved with the shirt and tie.
This approach remains the great beauty of the linen suit today, you can dress it up or down, wear it with a handsome dress shirt and tie, or with a bright polo shirt, add a scarf or pocket square as a noteworthy flourish. A flourish, not a cascade. I think Giorgio Armani once gave the best advice here: elegance isn’t about being noticed, it’s about being remembered.