Rayon: The Perfect Summer Shirt Material


Every summer, it’s a struggle to figure out how to dress well in the heat. In the fall and winter months, you can layer sweaters, Balmacaan coats, chamois shirts, and scarves to create an interesting look. Plus, a good coat or jacket can give you a flattering silhouette, which isn’t easy to create with just a shirt and pair of pants. There’s no way around it: it’s much easier to dress well in the colder months.

If you’re at a loss for options this summer, try picking up slightly more interesting shirts. Crunchy linen shirts in pale, blush colors, Aloha shirts (sometimes called vacation shirts), camp collar shirts, and even retro-styled knits can help save an outfit from looking too business casual. When you can’t wear a jacket, you have to make the most of what you have.

Lately, my favorite summer shirts are made from rayon. As a fabric, rayon comes under many different names: lyocell, viscose, and Tencel, among others. Each refers to a different manufacturing process or brand (Tencel is a brand of rayon, much like how Coca-Cola is a brand of soda and Kleenex is a brand of facial tissue). The great thing about this cellulose-based material is that it drapes like silk without retaining heat. Rayon slinks and sways when you move, feels cool to the touch, and has a slightly retro vibe. In the last few years, Aloha shirts have been popular with menswear obsessives — and many of those shirts are made from rayon — but there are so many more possibilities.

A few months ago, I bought a Tencel snap-button shirt from the relatively new label Wythe. The shirt has so many great details: teardrop-shaped pockets, three pleats at the back, and a billowy cut that looks wonderful when tucked into jeans or tailored trousers. I wish the shirt’s collar points and body were a bit longer. As is, it’s not so easy to tuck into jeans if you’re taller than 5’10” or so. But it achieves something important: when you can’t wear a jacket, this shirt looks great when worn on its own. I think the style does exceptionally well in cream, although hunter green is also popular. Peter Middleton, founder and creative head of Wythe, tells me that he likes wearing this shirt tucked into pants, layered over a ribbed tank top, and partially buttoned up.

 

 

There are many other options. Bryceland’s and Joe McCoy have button-front rayon shirts with a straight hem, longer collar points, and retro-styled details. Those are great if you take style inspiration from the 1940s and ’50s. Basic Rights’ Tencel shirts are a little slimmer and more rock and roll. I can imagine those being worn with slim jeans and Savas’ back-zip Legend boots. This Star of Hollywood shirt with dancing hepcats is very “Yakuza” if you have sleeve tattoos, but very “king of Thursday’s trivia nights” if you don’t. I’ve been tempted to buy this dotted rayon shirt from the same brand. Our friend Peter Zottolo in San Francisco has a similar rayon shirt that he wears with black leather jackets (pictured above).

Our sponsor Proper Cloth also offers rayon in their custom shirt program. Options include Japanese wovens decorated with vacation-styled prints, such as palm trees and pineapples (ideal for a short-sleeved, button-up shirt), and cotton-Tencel knits that you can use for either button-front shirts or pullover styled polos. When Tencel is blended with linen or cotton, you get some of the silkiness of that Tencel fiber but with a slightly stiffer or crunchier hand.

Of course, nothing is perfect. Rayon is somehow both wrinkle-prone and -resistant at the same time. If you lay a rayon shirt across the back of your chair at night, it will pick up wrinkles by the following morning. Hang it up for a few hours, however, and the wrinkles fall right out. Additionally, sometimes these materials need to be hand washed. Some people have had good luck putting these into the laundry on the gentle cycle and using a wash bag. Others report that the material didn’t hold up well. I handwash all my rayon shirts just to be safe. The good news: come fall and winter, rayon shirts look amazing when layered with casual suits and sport coats, such as those made from cotton drill or tweed. You can also wear them with denim truckers and leather jackets.

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