Summer means wearing fewer and lighter clothes to combat the heat and humidity, but being smart about the clothes you choose — and the fabric they’re designed with — can go a long way to helping you stay cool.
While there are some obvious fabrics to avoid (tight leather pants plus sweat never ends well), others might surprise you, including one material that makes up the majority of our clothes. Choosing the right fabrics not only keeps you cool, it also keeps sweat and body odor at bay. Wearing the wrong fabrics can be uncomfortable at best, and encourage fungal growth at worst.
When picking out your clothes for the hot days ahead, take a second look at the tag to make sure it isn’t designed with one of these worst offenders that prevent you from staying cool.
The Worst Offenders
Synthetic Fabrics Like Polyester, Nylon And Acrylics
Polyester, nylon and acrylic fabrics are widespread in fashion, and you likely have something in your closet made from these. Around the turn of the century, polyester overtook cotton as the world’s most produced fiber (a trend that’s forecast to continue). But most polyester, nylon and acrylic fabrics are made from petroleum, essentially making them plastic.
Unless an item has been specially designed for athletic wear, synthetic fibers like polyester, nylon and acrylic are not great picks for summer. While a 100% polyester shirt (as compared to blends or performance wear) might absorb sweat, it still has an occlusive nature that retains body heat — and it tends to retain bad odors, too.
“Anything man-made is always going to struggle when the temperature soars unless it’s had a specific treatment,” explained Lily Rice, a freelance sportswear designer. Specially designed performance fabrics are a little different. The popular Nike Dri-Fit line, for example, uses a microfiber polyester, which makes all the difference. The strands are much, much smaller than your typical polyester and create an extremely lightweight garment, which allows it to better absorb moisture. Plus, the clothes have added antimicrobials to prevent odor, along with specially placed mesh panels that promote airflow.
But Rice says fabrics made from synthetic materials not designed for performance are the worst offenders for hot weather due to their lack of breathability and absorbance. Like plastic, these fabrics don’t absorb moisture. Instead it sits on the surface, where it can eventually evaporate. “This means you’ll sweat more and it has nowhere to go. Essentially, you’re trying to function while wearing a plastic bag. Not cute!” she said.
This is bad news for your skin health, too. Without the ability to “breathe,” these fabrics keep you warm and sweaty. “This may result in overheating and fungal overgrowth on the skin,” explained Dr. Nava Greenfield, a board-certified dermatologist who calls out nylon specifically as a fabric to avoid.
It’s not just a problem for you: Our plastic clothes are bad for the environment, too. Every time we do a load of laundry full of synthetic fabrics, thousands of plastic microfibers break off and make their way into the wastewater and ultimately the ocean.
Your Beloved Denim Jeans
In any season, denim jeans can become the default choice for their ease of wear, but it’s not always a good choice for hot weather. “An unexpected summer offender is denim, generally heavyweight with no breathability or stretch unless it’s been mixed with elastane,” Rice said. Plus, denim’s typical dark color absorbs heat, unlike light colors, which can keep you cooler.
To make denim work for hot days, choose loose styles in white or light wash color. Also look for those with a lighter weight than your winter jeans — 12 ounces or less is good to aim for.
While cotton is typically recommended for summer wear, there is an instance where it should be skipped: socks. Cotton is a natural fiber that is breathable and airy, typically lightweight and keeps you cool. But it also holds on to moisture — which is good for getting sweat off your body, but not so good for your feet. When worn as socks, cotton turns them into a haven for smelly, wet feet, which can lead to fungal growth.
In these cases, merino wool can keep feet dry and odor-free. Even polyester can be a smart choice thanks to its moisture-wicking properties (just keep the polyester to the socks, and remember that pure polyester can hold on to smelly feet odor).
Wool — But Not All Of It
Not surprisingly, wearing your winter wool during the summer won’t end well. Wool is a cold-weather staple due to its ability to keep us warm. It’s a natural fabric that has insulation properties to keep in heat, as well as some water resistance to prevent rain or melted snow from reaching our skin. Typically, clothes like sweaters and coats are made with wool, and it’s unlikely you would wear those out in the heat.
But some of the very features that make wool perfect for cold weather can make it an ideal choice for summer, with some considerations. A lightweight wool like merino, which is made with thinner fibers, can effectively pull moisture away from your body and help keep a lower body temperature. “If you’re taking part in sport, a natural winner is merino wool ― the lightweight fibers draw moisture away from skin and literally evaporate it into the air,” Rice said. Look for merino wool sleeveless shirts for the best of both worlds.
What To Wear Instead
It might seem like most clothing is a no-go (and given polyester’s majority stake, you’re not all wrong), but there are several fabrics and clothing features that are ideal for summer.
“Generally I’d advise sticking to natural fabrics where possible: linen, cottons and jerseys,” Rice said. (You should check the label on jersey, though: Some versions are synthetic, and others are natural.)
“And while these fabrics might initially seem expensive, with good care and wise fashion choices, you can select heat-wise pieces that will last summer after summer,” Rice added.
How that fabric looks and fits matters, too. “Aside from the actual fabric, clothes styles will come into play,” Greenfield said. “Lighter color fabrics will not absorb heat as much as darker colors. Loose fabrics will allow the most air to flow across the skin.”
Looking for some breathable pants? Our readers have been loving the ones below.
HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Prices and availability are subject to change.
A pair of high-waisted trousers with wide legs and an elastic waistband
Available in sizes XS–2X and in short lengths and 32 colors/patterns.
"I ordered the cream pants to use on a summer vacation. I was very happy to receive high-quality pants. They were comfortable, breathable, and not transparent
. I am very satisfied with this purchase, and I highly recommend it." — RosePromising review:
"I ended up buying five pairs in different colors and talked a friend into one. (She loves them.) These are top quality. Tailored like fine trousers. Extremely comfortable, soft, flowing material. I can wear year-round. Fit is perfect. Washed with no problem
. I pressed a little because I like a polished look. They do not wrinkle with wearing. Bonus was they are such a good price!!!" — Chris
A pair of track pants
Available in sizes S–XXL and six colors.
: "Fits as described. Plenty of room and no shrinking in washer/dryer. Zip pockets are great for phone, keys, and cash." — Sharon Rogers
A pair of cropped palazzo pants with a paper bag-style waist
Available in sizes S–XL and 19 colors/patterns.
"These pants are fantastic. They are lightweight, and I love where they sit on the natural waist. They are adorable paired with a fitted shirt/tank." — Christine
A pair of lightweight and breathable wide leg sweats
Available in sizes XS–XXL and three colors.
"I literally own these in every color and different sizes. They are SO comfortable. Perfect for lounging and running errands. They are thin, but the material is so soft and feels amazing on the body. I also have the matching sweater as well!" — Laurie
A pair of stretchy palazzo pants
Available in sizes S–3XL and 20 colors/patterns.
"These are the best pants I’ve ever bought online. They’re so comfortable, stretchy, breathable, and not see-through.
I get so many compliments on them, too! Definitely buying more." — erica taylor gonzales
A colorful pair of boho-inspired harem pants
Available in one size designed to fit sizes XS–L, another size designed to fit sizes XL–2XL, and another size designed to fit sizes 2XL–3XL, as well as extra-long sizes and in 28 colors/patterns.
"The most comfortable pants I've ever worn. I don't even know why I would bother wearing anything else. Fits great, silky soft, lightweight, and breathable.
Perfect summer pants when it's a tiny bit cool for shorts but too warm for yoga pants or jeans. Purple is just as vibrant as the pictures." — tatianna
A pair of wrap linen pants
Available in sizes XS–XL and two colors.
A pair of tapered drawstring joggers
Available in sizes S–XXL and in 14 colors.
"These are so comfy and great for summer. Breathable, thin, but quality material.
I am getting more! They don’t wrinkle, great for travel. These have been my go-to pants all summer! Love, love, love." — Christine
A pair of ridiculously cute high-waist pencil pants
Available in sizes S–XXL and 41 colors, also available in sets of two or three.
"Absolutely obsessed!! I want alllll the colors! They fit perfectly, so comfortable, and SUPER cute and stylish! I get tons of compliments on them. Excellent quality and light, breathable fabric
. Since I’m short, they fit right at my ankle and waistline. You will not be disappointed!" — M. Keene
A stretchy palazzo/yoga pant hybrid
Available in sizes XS–5XL and 32 colors/patterns
"As a plus-size woman, finding clothes that fit is a challenge and a half. Finding ones that fit and are both comfortable and look good is next to impossible. Like finding a unicorn. These are a unicorn! They are the single most comfortable pair of pants I've ever worn and fully intend to order more in other colors over the coming weeks and months. They fit perfectly, cling without being stifling, just enough to be comfortable. I cannot recommend these strongly enough. The material is so soft and breathable.
They aren't warm, I'll give you that, so definitely wear them when it's seasonally appropriate, but so comfortable I'll freeze happily." — Danika Brennen
A pair of tie-waist pants
Available in sizes XS–2X and five colors/prints.
"The perfect summer pants. I adore these pants. They are stylish, yet super comfortable. The fabric is smooth and breathable.
They fit well, but are just a tad bit long on my short legs." — Marisa
A pair of Everlane's "easy pants"
Available in sizes XXS–XL and five colors/patterns.
"If you want to accentuate your waist, but still have a lightweight, quality cotton pant, these are for you. I love the small waist, wide leg look! They are so versatile. I have them in four colors! Highly recommend." — J491d
A pair of baggy boho-style pants
CharmWoodSigns is a small biz that makes dreamy, minimalist clothing in custom sizes. Available in sizes XS–6XL, or you can customize with your measurements, and in 34 colors.Promising review:
"I love these pants. So light and loose.
I will wear them from spring through fall. Thanks for the personal touch!" — Gretchen Curtis
A pair of pleated pants with an adjustable waist
Available in one size or S–XL and 22 colors.
"Soft and breathable.
I love these pants so much that I bought a second pair; I bought them in black for work, and I find myself choosing them over all of my other (more expensive) work pants. I wound up buying the teal because in the picture it looked like a deeper, rich color; they're actually more vibrant and light, but I still love them anyway. Be sure to wear skin tone underwear; they're unfortunately a little sheer." — Rebecca Sarraga
A sporty pair of quick-drying cargo joggers
Available in sizes XS–3XL and 18 colors.
"These joggers fit the bill for me. I needed lightweight pants to wear while working in the yard. We live in the heavily wooded boondocks of Florida, and working in the yard without getting eaten up by mosquitoes and other insects is a challenge. These pants are lightweight and breathable enough to wear when it's warm, and at the same time, help to ward off the bug bites.
" — Hello
A pair of wide-leg pants to rock the coastal chic look
Available in sizes XS–6X and 13 colors.
"I got three pairs of these for a family trip to Hawaii. I wanted something breathable, more so than my cotton knit pants, but that would be OK walking around in. These are fantastic.
The fit is loose, and I did order a size up since linen does not stretch. The drawstring kept them plenty tight around my waist, but the legs were baggy and breezy, which is exactly what I wanted.
The inseam is a bit short. On the bright side, it does mean that when I wore sandals, the pants were not hitting the ground. They were perfect for the beach, colors were spot on, and they also looked perfect for walking around farmers markets. Quality is great. No, they are not see-through, but I also didn't get white." — Kindle customer
A pair of lightweight slitted trousers
Available in sizes 4–10 and S–4XL, and in 21 colors/prints.
"If you are on the fence with buying these pants...just do it! You won't regret it. They are SO comfortable, and the slits on the sides make them breathable to be able to wear in the summer
. I bought the white, and they are NOT see-through. Wearing flat sandals and the pants a little past my belly button; they fell right at my ankle. You can dress them up or down." — lnarthur
A pair of chambray pants with an elastic waist
Available in sizes 2–26, as well as in petite and tall lengths.
"These pants were perfect. I bought them before a trip to Disney World, and they were great. Comfortable, good fit, and lightweight for the heat in Florida.
So glad I had them. Looking forward to lots of wearing this summer, as I'm not a shorts-wearing person." — Nana
A pair of extremely wide-leg pants
Available in sizes S–5XL and seven colors.
"Very cute pants. Material flows nicely and is comfortable, thin enough to breathe, but not so thin as to be see-through
. The waistband doesn't dig or roll. These pants look cute with a crop top or a loose top." — K
A pair of floral cotton-linen pants
PrivateTailor is a small biz making simple yet stylish pieces that are custom tailored to fit you perfectly. Available in sizes XS–6XL, or you can provide your measurements for a custom size, and in three colors.Promising review:
"They’re perfect. Light, textured, comfortable, and very wellllll sewn!
I'm a fashion school dropout (due to hating tailoring); however, I love a good tailor. Well done and well appreciated. :) Thank you!" —Lexi Hsu
A pair of lightweight twill cargo pants
Available in sizes XS–XL and two colors.
"I bought these in charcoal and love everything about them. Love the color. Great fit. Super comfortable. The material feels great. And they look great. I got several compliments." — Monita M.
Or, a UV-protected pair of cargo pants
Available in sizes XS–4X in short, tall, and regular, and five colors.
"Love stretch tech pants. These are a little longer than others I have, but I love the cargo pockets. This fabric is very cool to wear in warm weather. I wore them in Hawaii when I didn't want to wear shorts and felt cool in them.
I bought three colors and love them." — anonymous
A pair of lightweight flared leggings
Available in sizes XS–XL, in petite and tall cuts, and five colors.
"I am obsessed with the Happy Hour Pant. I have two pairs and plan on buying more. You can wear them to bed, running errands, and so much more. The material is extremely soft and incredibly comfortable. A must buy!" —Alison B.
A pair of lantern trousers that have the coolest shape
Availablein sizes S–XXL and 26 colors.
"My new favorite pants for summer. They are so soft, breathable, while the material is not too thin and not see-through.
Effortless, chic, and comfortable." — Olga Lyolka