Linen: a guide to what it is and how to wear it

When it comes to stay cool in the summer heatOf course, linen really can’t be topped. So, why has it developed a reputation as being a bit ‘past’?

Most likely it’s a Victorian hang-up at the crease, but as many Mediterranean dandies have proven, linen can be a wonderfully sophisticated look when you know its virtues and how to get the best of them. can make.

What is Linen?

Linen is a natural fiber made from the stalks of the flax plant Linum usitatissimum. There is evidence that a linen manufacturing industry was operating in Egypt 4,000 years ago. Knowledge of the processes involved in making linen was eventually carried to southern Europe via the Phoenicians, but it was Belfast in Northern Ireland that became the linen center of the world, producing almost all fabric during the Victorian era.

Bed linen was revered by the upper classes for its cool and gentle feeling towards the skin, which became a symbol of wealth and social prestige. These days, the majority of what is grown in textiles is linen, with only a very small percentage in fabrics, which makes a well-sourced and cared-for linen shirt all the more valuable for your wardrobe.

Linen vs. Cotton – Benefits


Linen is highly breathable, much more so than cotton due to its comparatively low thread count. Take sheets, for example. A good Egyptian cotton sheet will start with a thread count of around 200, while a similar quality linen sheet will have a thread count between 80 and 150.


Linen has a very high moisture absorption rate, which makes it ideal for summer dress For hot and humid climates. It’s also hypoallergenic, which means its fibers are less likely to break down through sweat. This ability to quickly absorb and wick moisture away from the body, along with its lack of elasticity, can easily cause linen to crease.

flexibility and longevity

While linen is 30 percent stronger than cotton, its main advantage is its longevity. Although a new cotton shirt will feel smooth and silky to the touch, it is only after about three to five years of wear that the linen really begins to come into its own.

It gets softer and shinier with each wash, whereas cotton does the opposite. Flax fibers don’t stretch much and are resistant to damage caused by friction, which is a good thing generally speaking, although frequent folding and ironing can damage the collars on linen shirts.

how to wear linen

While a premium fabric like cashmere has become completely mainstream (there are a large number of low-quality yarns available in the market), linen remains a polarizing material, as British actor Bill Nighy gave in an interview. Wire in 2010. “Never trust a man in linen. I can’t relax around a man in a linen suit. Men in unstructured suits are annoying, and the biggest offenders are those who put the linens at risk. ,

Yet swarms of savvy Italian and French men can take away from the aplomb a little rumblings effect. So what does it give? First and foremost, linen is an insult to our British tastes in a way – our sartorial history simply condemns to creases. They are anathema to the gentleman style that is appropriate and booted.

However, you will be hard to find 100 percent linen pieces These days. Brands are well aware of the general opposition to creasing and, therefore, tend to mix linen with cotton or silk. The result is a perfect lightweight fabric with great structure, breathability and a distinctly European feel.

linen suit

The material has to crumble comfortably in order to wear linen with confidence, and the easiest way to do that is with a linen suit. ideal for a easy summer weddingEspecially in a shade of tan, a simple two-piece allows you to beat the heat and still look smart.

Finish with a gingham shirt in crisp cotton to add in both contrasting texture and pattern.

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linen blazer

To remain attractive but still business-appropriate, cut your suit in half neatly. linen blazer, Trousers are more likely to shrink from sitting down, so keep them freshly pressed in a darker cotton or cotton blend and choose a lighter jacket over the top.

It can also be worn with chinos or jeans for a solid go-to weekend look.

best linen blazers for men

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linen shirt

Linen shirts are a great all-rounder when it comes to summer dressing. Because of its laid-back appeal, a well-cut version in sky blue can slide under a suit to tone down a more formal look, or a T-shirt to take a casual combination up a notch. And can sit on shorts.

best linen shirts for men

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linen trousers

Pure linen trousers can be tricky for no other reason than a man’s crotch has its own atmospheric idea in hot weather. Given the absorbency of linen, trousers can become misshapen and scruffy-looking. Darker suits like navy do well to conceal it, but if opting for brighter shades, look for a linen-blend instead, which will keep everything smart.

best linen trousers for men

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How to choose quality linen fabric?

Given that new linen is quite hard to the touch, it can be difficult to gauge its quality before buying. There are no hard and fast rules for identifying the best linen, so more often than not you have to rely only on the integrity of the brand you’re buying.

As a general rule, you can rest assured that linens woven in Italian mills will be of the highest quality, given the Italian history and level of expertise in working with fine and delicate threads.

An aesthetic consideration is ‘slubbing’. Slub yarns have tiny knots, and while they aren’t seen as a defect, the best linens will be completely free of them.

where to buy linen clothes

Perhaps more than any other fabric, you really get what you pay for with linen and linen-blend. The best harvest and the most expert milling practices will be reflected in the price, so try not to skimp.

Stick to labels that take pride in the origins of their clothing. Any of the Savile Row names are an excellent starting point (Richard James, for example, has a fantastic collection of linen-blend blazers) but even Row’s leading tailors will admit that when it comes to clothing. Their Italian cousins ​​have the edge when it comes to working together . Therefore, it would be wise to explore the likes of Loro Piana, Boglioli, Canali, Berluti, Brioni and Brunello Cucinelli.

Given linen’s longevity and tendency to get better with age, it’s a wise move to invest in quality linens rather than a penny-pinch. That said, there are many mid-price brands that produce affordable options that offer a good balance between quality and value. Suitsply and J.Crew are two excellent examples – both source fabric from well-known mills within Italy’s famous Biella region (see below).

premium linen pieces

High Street Linen Pieces

how to care for linen

Since linen has no lint and doesn’t pill like wool, it is very easy to care for. Stay away from dry cleaning unless a blazer is visibly tarnished—it’s just not necessary for a fabric that’s so comfortable taking up moisture, plus the harsh chemicals involved in dry cleaning won’t give it any benefit.

Lukewarm hand or machine wash is the best way to clean linen. Once done, just hang dry. a quick iron when damp This is perfectly acceptable if the garment is excessively stretched, but this will rarely be the case with modern linen blends.

Avoid over-ironing the crease of the collar as this can damage the fibers—with linen shirts you want a nice roll instead of a sharp fold, anyway.

Why is linen so expensive?

Like cashmere, linen tends to cost more due to the laborious processes involved in making it. Add to this the fact that weather conditions can affect the quality of the crop as well, and you have another factor that can further drive up the price of this fabric.

The best and longest fibers are from hand-harvested flax, after which the seeds are removed. Bacteria are then introduced into the stalk to break down the pectin that clings to the fibers. This process is called ‘rating’, if it is done systematically it can take a long time.

Then comes the ‘sketching’ process, which usually takes place between August and December. One scorching method involves two metal rollers that crush the stalk, removing unwanted wooden parts. The remaining fibers are then ‘huckled’, which has nothing to do with yelling at a bad comedian, but rather involves cutting away short fibers, leaving only the longest and softest fibers for production. .

The long fibers are slightly twisted and then processed using the wet spinning technique to obtain a smooth and soft yarn. Some manufacturers produce cotton using machinery to speed up the process, but this has been known to produce less quality fiber.

Is there a benchmark?

Linen threads are measured in ‘li’, which is the number of yards in a pound of linen divided by 300; So a li would give 300 yards per pound.

Measuring the lee is useful when determining linen quality (much like the thread count in cotton or wool), but you’ll rarely see the textile lee stated on the label of a shirt, jacket, or pair of trousers. To assess the quality, you’re better off doing a simple touch test. As a marker, a fine linen handkerchief is between 40 and 50 li. If it feels rough and tough, it’s likely to come from short flax fibers.

Provence is also a good indicator of quality. The best linen growing climates are considered to be Normandy in France and Flanders in Belgium, but again this information is unlikely to be explicitly stated on a label. However, the best linen weaving mills are almost exclusively in the Biella region of northern Italy.

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