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What are the best fabrics that'll cool you down in hot weather? Experts weigh in

Stressing about sweaty patches? Not in these breathable options.
Kara Birnbaum / TODAY

The height of summer always brings to the fashion forefront colorful outfits and lightweight, breathable fabrics to withstand the heat. So when it comes to finding the proper garments for warmer weather, the right fabric can make or break down your plans, especially when it's searing hot outside.

While white tank tops may be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of ubiquitous summer wardrobe pieces, there are other cooling fabrics you can embrace during humid, hot weather. Shop TODAY talked to experts to spill the must-have textiles and material combinations that will keep you dry and avoid breaking out into a sweat the moment you step outside of your home.

Best fabrics for hot weather | Fabrics to avoid during the summer | Fabric pros and cons | Features to look for | Breathable shirts | Breathable bottoms | Breathable dresses | Meet the experts

What are the best fabrics to wear during warm temperatures?

According to Billy Draddy, EVP and creative director of Summit Golf Brands, one of the best options to wear in hot temperatures, regardless of material, is a light-colored fabric. "Dark colors absorb light from the sun and the heat that comes along with it."

Material-wise, a man-made fiber like nylon will keep you feeling pleasant. "Cotton will keep you cooler but once you start sweating, whether it be working out or while out in extremely warm temperatures, fabrics made out of man-made fibers will keep you more comfortable," he adds. "These fabrics are also hydrophobic so they don’t absorb your sweat."

Also, if you can keep a dry fabric up against your skin, you'll inevitably remain cooler. "Water is a conductor of temperature and just like when you jump in the pool at the end of the summer and you feel the cool breeze up against your skin, the same thing happens in reverse with the heat," Draddy mentions. "If you have a wet shirt on and high, high temperatures, you will feel even hotter than the outside temperature."

What fabrics should be avoided during the summer?

According to Draddy, you should avoid wearing dark-colored fabrics and natural fibers such as wool, silk and cashmere on hotter days. "These fabrics can trap heat and moisture and are not ideal for warmer temperatures," says fashion designer for Maurices, Jamie King.

Fabrics with high content of polyester and acrylic can also trap heat. "Both fabrics retain heat easily and will aid in increased perspiration during the high-temperature months," adds King.

Fabrics pros and cons

As a fashion expert and designer, Suzanne Vinnik breaks down the pros and cons of the most ubiquitous materials on the market.

  • Rayon: "It has a great drape and dries quickly. It is moderately breathable and has a silky texture which doesn’t cause you to sweat, but it wicks no moisture and requires dry cleaning."
  • Linen: "[Linen] allows great airflow and is an anti-microbial textile as silica is anti-fungal and anti-microbial so it won’t smell even though it does absorb moisture. It is very breathable due to the open weaves, but I’m not a fan personally due to wrinkles and the time it takes to dry especially in humid weather."
  • Cotton: "This is one of the most breathable, comfortable and easiest to care for textiles! It is also great for sensitive skin. As there is no added cost with dry cleaning or hand-washing, it is very durable and soft, but if you are someone who sweats profusely, beware as it absorbs moisture instead of wicking away from the skin. If you are someone who sweats less when you are cool, it’s a fantastic option."
  • Silk: "[Silk] is lightweight and breathable. A lot of luxury brands use it because it doesn’t insulate trapping heat and feels great against the skin. I like to use it for layering on exceptionally hot days, but the drawback is that it can retain odor and requires hand-washing as putting it in the washing machine will ruin the fabric in nearly all cases. It is also not friendly when it comes to sweat, making it very visible."
  • Modal: "Modal is a type of rayon made from wood pulp from beech trees. It is far more absorbent than cotton and allows perspiration to wick away from the skin. You will never feel hot and sticky in it, which is why you see a lot of brands using it over cotton, which is 50% less absorbent".
  • Merino wool: "[It's] not my choice ever as it is extremely itchy against my sensitive skin, even in higher quality weaves. It is used often in summer clothing as it is extremely breathable, wicks moisture and doesn’t smell bad. When caring for it, you’ll want to hand wash and lay it flat to dry so it doesn’t begin to lose its shape, which is a drawback."
  • Chambray: "This is one I want to love more than I actually do because it is a tight cotton weave that absorbs sweat but is still breathable with the look of light denim. On a summer dress or shirt, it can look very chic depending on the design of the garment. If you are someone looking for great breathability, it is a great option, but you will want to look at the garment construction if you hate wrinkles."
  • Polyester: "If you are in a dry heat in particular, it is used in a lot of activewear as it is light, water-repellent and allows moisture to wick from the skin rather than soaking into the fabric. The drawbacks are that it is non-absorbent and can also grow bacteria, which smells even after washing. I’m very conscious of the ways I’m using polyester as it doesn’t break down the way natural fibers do and can cause issues."
  • Nylon: "We see it a lot in activewear because it is a wicking fabric that dries quickly. Depending on the blend, it can be breathable but is one of the smellier fabrics as it holds in odors."

Other features to look for for warm weather clothing

One factor to keep in mind is the fabric's texture. "Think about if you were going to warm up something with your hand. You wouldn’t just put your fingertips down; you would put the full surface area of your hand down on what you were trying to warm," says Draddy. "So, the opposite is true when you’re trying to stay cool. The less surface area that's hitting your skin, the cooler you will feel. Textured knits, although indeterminable to the naked eye, have less of the fabric sitting up against your skin and therefore will keep you cooler."

The silhouette of a piece also plays an element in the fabric's comfort. "The best thing you can do to keep cool is to find clothes that are cut away from the body, especially when dealing with humidity," adds Vinnik. When it comes to her designs, she focuses on varying lengths that cut away from the body and hemlines that create ventilation.

"During the summertime, you’ll find a lot of loose dolman sleeve capes and tops, kaftans and summer dresses that are not clingy to the body," she adds.

Best breathable shirts

Stars Above Women's 100% Cotton Gauze Short Sleeve

With a relaxed fit and lightweight material, this cotton shirt is the perfect addition to your summer wardrobe. The front button details add a sophisticated feel that you can either dress up or down. It's a shirt that combines the softness of cotton and the flexibility of a button-down.

Quince Flowknit Ultra-Soft Performance Tee

Short sleeves are a must-have piece in your closet during elevated temperatures. This Quince tee features moisture-wicking and anti-odor properties and is made from recycled polyester and Flowknit fabric. The simplicity of this T-shirt is top-notch and hangs loosely on most body frames.

Uniqlo Premium Linen Long-Sleeve Shirt

Linen is one of the most breathable fabrics for hot weather conditions. This shirt is made from 100% linen material and features a versatile cut that fits effortlessly. You can easily pair this with shorts, jeans and skirts for an elegant look. The shirt is slightly sheer and comes in 10 different colors to keep in your wardrobe rotation.

Parachute Women's Linen Tank

Let the breeze refresh your skin with this linen tank. The piece comes in five neutral hues and is made from 100% European flax that feels soft and relaxed. The boxy and cropped length gives it a loose fit that matches perfectly with shorts and jeans. You can use it as a pajama top or casual shirt for summer hangouts, too.

Outdoor Voices Everyday Shortsleeve

For everyday wear, keep a collection of short-sleeved white T-shirts in your drawer. This one is classic and simple enough to match your bolder and brighter bottoms. The garment is also made with dyed organic cotton for an extra sustainable touch.

Athleta Effortless Tee

If you're planning outdoor activities, this tee will keep you dry and ready to move around in the heat. The top is made with ICONIC+ Technology that helps control odor and offers a flattering fit. This shirt doesn't wrinkle and is ideal for workout days when you need a little bit more breathing room.

Best breathable bottoms

H&M Linen-Blend Shorts

Shorts are a required piece for extra steamy days. This one in particular is made from a linen blend that feels gentle on the skin. It comes in two colorways and features an elasticized band for a comfortable fit. Whether you wear them at the beach or for lounging, these shorts have a baggy silhouette that will feel super breathable.

Quince 100% European Linen Shorts

With a laidback aesthetic and comfortable fit, these linen shorts are a wardrobe staple to keep available at all times. The shorts are made from 100% European flax and breathable fabric that is heat-regulating and soft. Also, it features side pockets and a drawstring for easy adjustment.

Eddie Bauer Women's Departure Amphib Shorts

If you're going to be out in the sun for a long period of time, these shorts are perfect to protect your skin. These are made from a FreeDry technology that is moisture-wicking and features UPF 50+ sun protection. The material is lightweight and easy to pull on for added comfort. Also, it comes in four different colors for an added pop of color.

Lululemon Softstreme High-Rise Short 4"

This style is designed for ladies on the move. The shorts are made from a Softstreme fabric technology that features a smooth "peach-fuzz" texture. Plus, the four-way stretch will give you that extra flexibility while still adjusting the shorts with its shock-cord string. It also comes with pockets for accessible storage and comfort.

Best breathable dresses

Lulus Shift and Shout Light Blue Shift Dress

A T-shirt dress is a great staple to wear for work, date night, vacation and more. It's a casual piece to wear on many occasions and you can elevate it or dress it down with casual accessories. The shift silhouette shapes well and offers a flirty vibe with a relaxed fit.

"It fits well at the neckline and wasn't too short or baggy. I'd definitely recommend this dress especially for the price," said one shopper.

Madewell MWL Flex Fitness Dress

Whether you're playing tennis or running errands, this exercise dress is flexible and ideal for low-impact activities. It features all the necessary components to survive the heat including moisture-wicking properties, UPF 40+ sun protection, a built-in biker short for comfort and a ball pocket to store supplies for pickleball or other sports.

Madewell Plus Linen-Blend Lorelei Mini Dress

With a flowy silhouette and soft build, this mini dress is perfect for casual days under the sun. The piece provides an easy fit and is made from an airy linen blend that features fun details. It comes with a cinched waist and pockets to keep your phone accessible at all times.

The Drop Women's Ana Silky V-Neck Midi Slip Dress

Slip dresses are easy to wear and a breathable option for days when you feel a bit uninspired. This can be dressed up with wedges or a pair of white sneakers for a casual date. With adjustable straps and a V-neck cut, you can play around with different style choices. Also, it's a flattering cut without being tight on the body.

Beyond Yoga Move It Dress

Look chic while stretching on the mat with this flexible exercise dress. This style features a shelf bra and compressive bike shorts that are snug to your body and offer support. Despite the short length, this dress will give you coverage while working out. The four-way stretch material is also moisture-wicking and will help cool you down.

MOTF X Brooks Nader Linen Belted Mermaid Dress

For a more elegant choice, opt for a linen-blend dress like this one from MOFT. The A-line silhouette and belted detail add a feminine taste to the design. It comes with a zipper for a more fitted construction and features a midi length that goes well with stilettos. What makes this dress acceptable for hot weather is the combination of linen and polyester.

Meet the experts

  • Jamie King is the professional fashion designer & SVP of Design for Maurices, a brand offering women's fashion at an affordable price.
  • Billy Draddy is the EVP and creative director of Summit Golf Brands. Previously, Billy designed for iconic American brands such as Timberland, Hickey Freeman and Polo Ralph Lauren.
  • Suzanne Vinnick is a fashion designer and CEO of her eponymous brand, Vinnick. She has worked with television and Broadway stars while changing the narrative around the lack of inclusivity surrounding luxury fashion.