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Staying cool when the temperatures sizzle

Style Patrol: 100 in the shade?  Linen and frock dresses come to the rescue. By Bruno Navarro
/ Source: msnbc.com

Summer’s swelter has made it tough to keep cool while temperatures hover in the hotter-than-Hades range. Sure, there's the comfort of icy, air-conditioned office buildings, shopping malls and movie theaters.

But what about the rest of the time? With that in mind, we’ll tackle a reader’s timely question.

How can I be fashionable and comfortable in 100-degree-plus weather? Short shorts and tank tops aren’t my thing.Julie Beren, Scottsdale, Ariz.

I often wondered the same thing years ago while living in Tempe, Ariz., home of Arizona State University, the Sun Devils and more retail stores offering tank tops and shorts than you can shake a Gap card at.

Some helpful advice comes from David Proffitt, a friend and former colleague at The Arizona Republic who served as their fashion columnist. He still lives in Phoenix, where last month the city set its record of 118 degrees. (But it’s a dry heat, they’ll say.)

David says: “First, she should thank her lucky stars she’s a woman and can avail herself of the entire universe of skirts, dresses and open-neck tops. As men, we’re stuck with pants and polos as the minimally acceptable work wear, and the former seem designed specifically to trap heat under multiple layers of fabric in a particularly unfortunate area.

“That being said, there’s no way to be ‘comfortable’ when it's 110 degrees outside. But I’ll bet she won't go wrong with a classic sun or slip dress. Both styles can dress up or down depending on the cut and fabric, and both are flattering on an array of body types. Combine them with a pair of strappy sandals, and she will look good while getting maximum air circulation as she sashays down the avenue.”

Another source of inspiration comes from history books. What did ancient people know about style? Not too much that applies today, unless you count the Flintstones’ penchant for animal prints, but at least they developed one of our summer favorites — linen.

Originating in Mesopotamia around 8,000 B.C., linen is considered the first fabric produced from plant fiber (flax). A favorite of Egyptians for wrapping mummies before their journeys into the afterworld and a top pick for Belgians considering curtains, linen has long been admired for its versatility and durability.

But it is linen’s ability to breathe — and ability to look good without ironing — that makes it invaluable on steamy August days.

Button-down linen shirts provide a cooler, more versatile look than the common t-shirt-and-cargo-shorts look. For beach lounging, drawstring linen pants feel almost like wearing nothing at all.

Guys can find linen items at such locations as Banana Republic or International Male, whose extensive online catalog offers linen and silk trousers, blazers and suits.

Dressing down
For women, lightweight cotton/linen frock dresses and jumpers are available at such stores as Urban Outfitters. The retailer offers its own line of short-sleeved and sleeveless dresses, as well as Lux brand versions in a variety of prints and colors. They range from casual, potentially revealing mini-dresses to slightly more formal evening selections.

The added benefit of these summer dresses is that they can serve double duty when the weather begins to cool off. Just add a t-shirt, a button-down or some leggings. (Leggings — and their pair-ups for the fall — are creating a buzz already, but we’ll explore that another time.)

Slightly more upscale and just as fun is a new limited-edition clothing line, GO International, designed by French designer label Paul & Joe exclusively for Target — or “tar-ZHAY,” if you must. The collection boasts a more affordable alternative to the company's Parisian price points. Houndstooth skirts, wrap dresses and vintage-inspired prints define this slightly more grown-up look in silk, denim and wool.

Oh, David had one other thought: “Viva the man-sarong becoming sa-right!”

Though we think he's kidding, he may be on to something. The sarong, essentially a lightweight fabric sheet worn around the waist as a wrap is popular in hot climes, such as India, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

While both men and women sport the colorful cloths as casual wear, it might help to think of a man-sarong as a warm-weather kilt.

Or maybe not. As we wait for our society to accept style with a nod to global warming, other perfectly good options abound.

Here’s to keeping cool and looking hot!