What Is Linen?
Linen is a fabric made from the fibers of the flax plant. It’s used in many applications such as bags, aprons, towels, napkins, and tablecloths, but it’s prized for its properties as it relates to clothing.
Indeed, linen keeps you relatively cool and fresh. Furthermore, it’s also rightfully known for being prone to wrinkling and as a casual fabric.
In menswear, the term “linen” is traditionally used to describe the visible parts of a dress shirt, as this used to be the most common material used for shirts before the invention of the cotton gin.
One would say, for example, that it’s appropriate to show 1/4″-1/2″ of linen from your sleeve when wearing a suit jacket.
The fabric is laborious and time-consuming to manufacture, and linen garments tend to be more expensive than their in-class cotton counterparts.
Linen’s Menswear History & How It’s Made
Without any doubt, linen is the oldest fabric that’s still in use today. Dyed flax fibers were discovered in a cave in Georgia (the country, not the U.S. state) approximately thirty-six thousand years ago.
Ancient Egyptians used linen for burial shrouds and mummification. It was also worn by the living, in white, due to Egypt’s extreme heat.
Ireland has a unique story as it relates to linen. Though flax plants have grown in Ireland for years and years, Irish Linen has been manufactured from flax fibers that have been imported almost exclusively from France.
Therefore, the term “Irish Linen” refers not to the country of the fabric’s origin, but rather where the fabric was woven or knitted. Interestingly, “Irish Linen” is capitalized as it’s a brand name.
Nowadays, the lion’s share of linen comes from northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Moreover, various garments made of linen are available seasonally through most retailers, and it’s quite common to see in warm climates year-round.
Benefits & Drawbacks Of Linen For Men’s Suits
Any given fabric will have unique properties that give it an edge or disadvantage over others, and linen is no different. Below are some of the main strengths and weaknesses of linen:
Benefits Of Linen
There’s a reason we wear linen when it’s hot outside: it keeps you cool and is highly absorbent. In sweltering heat, linen clothes are your best friends.
One common misconception about linen’s coolness is that it’s lightweight. While there are indeed lightweight linen fabrics, lots of linen cloth tends to be on the heavier side, often 10-11 ounces per running yard. For comparison, wool in this weight would be for a suit worn in the fall and into the winter.
This additional weight helps linen to drape and tailor well, but it doesn’t sacrifice any breathability or wicking properties that linen otherwise has.
Casual Yet Elegant Style
Even though they’re suits, linen clothes are far from dressy in most scenarios. If you’re looking for a summer style that exudes a casual vibe, donning a linen suit is undoubtedly the best way to achieve that. That it has a high natural lustre is helpful in that regard.
Men who appreciate Italian style are often big fans of linen, as it’s more relaxed than British-style tailored clothes tend to be. A well-tailored linen suit like those listed below can even be particularly stylish and conform nicely to business professional attire.
Linen is an extremely strong fiber, and is unlike other fibers insofar as it’s stronger wet than it is dry. The fibers don’t stretch and are resistant to damage from abrasion. It’s also resistant to beetles and moths.
Drawbacks Of Linen
Although the fabric is strong, linen lacks elasticity and doesn’t spring back easily after it’s been creased. This explains why it wrinkles so easily, but more on that below.
Also, it’s best to avoid creasing linen, so if you prefer a sharp crease in your trousers, save it for wool. Repeated creasing can break linen fibers, and this wear is visible in collars, hems, and other areas that get creased or ironed during laundering.
If there was one thing you knew about linen before you started reading this page, it was probably the fact that it wrinkles easily. To be clear, this is a natural occurrence and is beloved by linen enthusiasts, but if you’re a stickler for looking neat and pressed, linen might not be the fabric for you.
What Is The Difference Between Cotton & Linen?
Linen Vs. Seersucker
Although cotton and linen are both plant-based materials (unlike wool, which comes from an animal), they have different properties. Here are some similarities and differences:
Similarities Of Linen & Cotton
Indeed, both linen and cotton are often worn during the summer thanks to many properties that they share. For instance, seersucker is a particularly popular variety of cotton suit. Here are a few more similarities between the two fabrics:
- As it relates to tailored clothing, both are worn in warm weather
- Both fabrics are made from plant-based fibers
- Each has a more casual appearance than wool
- Both have a tendency to wrinkle
Differences Between Linen & Cotton
- Linen is more difficult to manufacture than cotton and is thus more expensive
- Cotton has difficulty absorbing moisture without becoming soaked through, while linen is very absorbent without becoming saturated
- Cotton tends to be smooth, whereas linen has “slubs,” or small, randomly occurring knots.
Finally, these slubs mentioned above are part of the overall aesthetic appeal of linen, but it’s worth noting that the finest and most expensive linens are often free of them.
We’re currently working on a piece that offers greater detail on the pros and cons of linen and seersucker. Expect us to link it here as soon as it’s published!
Linen Cotton Blends
It’s quite common to see linen-cotton blends for off-the-rack garments like sweaters. As linen is an expensive fabric, adding cotton to the fabrication will bring the production cost (and thus retail price) down without sacrificing the warm weather benefits of either material.
For instance, we have listed a number of cotton and linen blends above.
Furthermore, the majority of linen suits on the market today are usually composed of linen blends. For instance, more affordable linen suits will feature a proportion of wool. Alternatively, premium suits like Black Lapel’s Savoy Line below may be composed of linen and silk.
Although they may will still wrinkle, blended linen garments will also tend to lay smoother for longer. In fact, they tend to combine the benefits of each fabric quite well.
How To Wear A Linen Suit
A linen suit is a classic menswear item that makes sense for any man who lives wear the temperatures creep up every once in a while. Below, we offer some guidance in terms of classic colors, what to pair with linen suits, and other garments often found in linen fabrications.
Classic Fabric Patterns & Colors
Flax plants naturally occur in these colors: ivory, ecru (a sort of off-white that’s beautiful for dress shirts), tan, and grey. White linen does indeed exist, but the only way to achieve this is to bleach flax fibers heavily.
Linen takes to dye perfectly well, and you don’t have to limit yourself to a light-colored or neutral linen suit. For those of us who want or need to wear linen suits in the evening, they’re made in navy, black, and grey too.
Made-to-measure, custom, and bespoke tailors will often have linen fabric books with every color under the sun. As for patterns, linen fabrics are typically found in solids, stripes, and checks.
As An Odd Jacket
This is a particularly popular way of wearing linen. Not only will you enjoy the benefits of linen to keep you cool but you may also reduce the visible creases around the trousers.
Although a more casual style, it’s perfectly wearable in most office environments when it gets warmer.
As it relates to linen suits, you should generally not wear a linen shirt with them. The look gets pyjama-y very quickly, and you’re better off wearing cotton for a little variation.
Linen shirts à la carte, however, are quite handsome and comfortable, especially when paired with casual cotton trousers. At that point it’s just a matter of color coordination, and if you need some help with that, our color guide is a great resource.
Tie & Pocket Square
When wearing a linen suit, your tie and will look best if it’s silk. You can certainly get away with a linen tie (there are some available on the market, for sure), but the fabric variation will add visual interest and avoid the aforementioned pyjama scenario.
As it happens, linen is one of the most popular fabrics for pocket squares, alongside cotton and silk. Because it doesn’t cover very much real estate, pairing a linen hanky with a linen jacket is perfectly acceptable.
Because linen has an air of casualness about it, semi-casual shoes like penny loafers, tassel loafers, and brogues in light colors like tan and white tend to pair well with linen suits. Smooth calfskin and light suede work well.
As for color, your best bet, as always, is to look to the trouser as a starting point for coordination. If you need some assistance with this, our shoe and trouser coordination guide is rather extensive and will help you pair any shoe color with any pant color.
Our favourite shoe brand to pair with linen is Beckett Simonon. Although most people believe Goodyear welted shoes are the best for any time of year, we actually have a preference for Blake stitched shoes. Beckett Simonon offers some of the best Blake-stitched shoes that you can buy, which are made with supple Argentinian calfkin.
Blake-constructed shoes have visible stitching on the sole. Although this doesn’t offer much water resistance, it provides you with extra breathability. Furthermore, the soles of Blake stitched shoes tend to be more flexible and often feature a lower, more casual profile. Therefore, they look fantastic with linen.
Finally, you can benefit from an additional 20% off Beckett Simonon with our exclusive code, “BU20“!
When To Wear Linen
If you live in a temperate climate, you can wear linen in the summertime. If you’re fortunate enough to live in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, or other such paradise where the whether is warm year-round, you can wear linen any time you like.
Below are some of the most popular scenarios in which to wear linen clothes.
Summer & Beach Weddings
No matter if you’re a groom, groomsman, guest, or father of the bride or groom, a linen suit is a can’t-miss option for a summer wedding or a wedding on the beach.
Depending on the formality (or lack thereof) of the wedding, you can opt to wear a full suit, linen trousers and a shirt, rolled up linen pants and a waistcoat with no shoes, or any other permutation of linen garments.
If you need help planning what you’re going to wear to your wedding or figuring out what you’ll wear to a wedding to which you’ve been invited, our wedding guide will help you.
A garden party typically calls for cocktail attire (see our cocktail attire guide for more), so if this is summertime, a dark-colored linen suit is a great choice. A lighter color may be worn if the party takes place during the day.
To The Office
If your office allows it, you can wear a linen suit, trousers, or odd jacket to work. A business casual dress code will take no issue with this, but if your dress code is business professional, then you’ll want to check before wearing linen.
With that said, a dark navy or grey suit in linen is still a suit, and so long as you aren’t a trial attorney or in some kind of customer- or board member-facing capacity, you should be fine.
Learn About Other Fabrics & Patterns
Now that you’re better educated on linen, we hope that you feel comfortable trying it out as a suit or another type of garment. If you’re interested, take a look at our other fabric guides, such as: