Why was getting dressed for summer so hard?
Anecdotally, it seems that a lot of people have a harder time putting their best fashion self forward in spring and summer than in fall and winter. I was definitely one of those people who would always get excited when the weather started cooling down and stores would start rolling out more boots and sweaters. I felt that most outfits I put together for summer just felt really blah.
This year I wanted to focus more on bringing more visual interest to my summer outfits, so I made an attempt to get inspired by some spring/summer-specific aspects of my primary style and try to have some fun with it.
As usual, this post is not meant to be prescriptive, just to share some things I’ve been thinking about for my own wardrobe. Plenty of it has been said before, but I always find it interesting to see examples of how people think of building outfits or seeing pieces in the context of someone’s actual closet.
Use some actual seasonal warm weather pieces, don’t just subtract cold weather pieces
This was the key realization for me.
For a long time I was vehemently against the idea of seasonal items. Not in the sense of “wear a jacket in the when it’s literally freezing outside so you don’t die” seasonal, but Because Fashion Says So seasonal like “this is my dress with summer florals, and my plaid pants for fall/winter.” I thought it was a snobby and antiquated way of thinking, with no upside, and that we’d all be better off if everyone strove to abolish all seasonal artistic boundaries and wore all their pieces year round when possible.
In the general sense, I still agree with that sentiment that limiting yourself to wearing certain things that you really do like to some portion of the calendar year to only follow tradition is silly, especially now that you can find items in many cuts, colors, patterns, and fabrics year round. But since I’ve started more purposefully curating my wardrobe, I noticed that every year my warm weather outfits always felt really blah and I wouldn’t have much fun with them. It was a lot harder to make outfits that I felt were as fun and intentional-looking.
I realized that for fall/winter I’d collected a bunch of warm and cozy items like cable-knit sweaters and corduroy skirts that had some texture and structure to them, but for summer I would just subtract those items from rotation without replacing them with anything with equivalent visual weight, so of course everything was going to feel more boring. It’s hard to have fun when the pieces you’re working with are things that were used as base layering pieces in the winter and are more plain and fitted. I decided to try and get more inspired by spring-summer aspects of the styles I liked and try and incorporate some seasonal pieces.
Creating more interesting summer outfits
These are the items that I incorporated and thoughts that I’ve had around building a summer-friendly but still fun wardrobe. I didn’t do this super formally like it might seem from the retrospective outline here, but it was something I’ve been thinking about in the background.
As a caveat, I live in Berkeley which has a Mediterranean climate (and work by the water in SF, which doesn’t really get a summer). Summers are pretty mild and most residential buildings are older and don’t actually have AC built in (this blew my mind when I moved here) because it doesn’t often get hot enough that retrofitting AC is worth it. It is miserable for the two weeks or so when it does get Actually Hot but for the most part I am not dealing with the same oppressive heat and humidity as most of the world. I do think that all this stuff still applies either way though.
Visually heavy summer footwear
One of the most high-impact changes I’ve made was getting a higher impact summer shoe. I LOVE boots and I had many pairs, but for the few years after I left college, my default summer shoe was a pair of gray Tevas sport sandals. I had a few other pairs of more fashion-y sandals, but I found them uncomfortable due to the lack of foot support so I didn’t wear them much.
If having a cool pair of kicks is one of the joys of getting dressed in the fall, then it makes sense to have an analogous item for summer. Also, having a more visually interesting shoe will help balance out any other substantial items.
I ended up trying out a pair of platform clogs, which have definitely been my MVP footwear this season. I feel that they go really well with my personal style, which has a bit of a vintage aesthetic. I have a more in-depth description of them here: First Impressions Review and Comparison: MIA “Madeline” and “Bety” Clog Sandals
They also can add some flavor to a basic t-shirt and jeans look. This would have a really different feel if I was wearing flip flops or running shoes.
Last year I had made an intermediate attempt to get some more fashionable sandals and got a pair of leather block heel sandals. They were definitely an improvement over the tevas for looking a bit dressier, but they were still really low profile and didn’t make the impact I was hoping for.
Obviously, clogs aren’t the only high-impact summer footwear option! If you’re interested in leveling up your sandals, there are loads of other styles like platform sandals (like the ones Dr Martens sells)
or heck, even just louder sport sandals.
I realized that a lot of my summer items were soft jersey sort of fabrics. When it’s hot and you can’t be naked, the next best thing is to drape yourself in soft billowy fabric. But especially with neutral colors, that can often look a bit droopy and uninspired. I found that aiming for pieces with some angled or physically hard detail like pleats or buttons or adding a belt made things feel sharper.
Culottes with box pleats
Summer Weight Fabrics with Texture
Sometimes when I’m not sure what direction to take when trying to improve some aspect of my wardrobe, I try and think of what advice I’d give someone asking the same question. To that end, the most obvious way to summer-fy your wardrobe if you’re drawn more to fall/winter things is to find similar cuts of items as your heavier pieces in lighter fabrics.
Two purchases I made with this in mind in the past few months was getting a lighter cotton version of the button-front midi skirts I’ve been collecting and a romantic poofy eyelet blouse.
I love this corduroy skirt, and by nature of it being a skirt it actually wears pretty well into warmish weather, but it doesn’t cut it when it’s hot. I have no regrets about getting a lightweight cotton version of it.
I wear a lot of white sweaters in the winter.
It ended up being pretty easy to incorporate this white eyelet top into my wardrobe (once I realized that I preferred the proportions with the sleeves pushed up a bit).
Back to blue jeans
This is pretty specific to me, but back when I decided that I wanted to have a look, and that that look was more mysterious and minimal and edgy, I ended up replacing all my blue jeans with black denim when they wore out. It was great for a more cohesive look, but wearing literally the same jeans (I had two pairs of the same style) 365 days a year did get pretty boring, especially when the rest of my spring/summer items were similarly neutral and flat.
I decided to go for a light wash option in a slightly more relaxed mom jean fit. I really like that 1) it’s just a different option, which prevents closet fatigue and
2) they help bridge heavier/darker items with summer accessories.
For more on this particular pair of jeans, see Jeans Shopping is Terrible: A Comparison of 12 Pairs of Madewell and ASOS Jeans
Structured light outerwear
I suppose this is more of a spring item, but one thing contributing to the “blah” vibe from my older outfits was that I tended to go for thin cardigans.
Pajama vibes for days. An aesthetic, but not my jam nowadays.
I found that a more structured cardigan (necessary for air conditioned buildings anyway even if it’s still hot af outside) was more my style.
I love this outfit and repeat it a lot.
I suppose a trench is traditionally a rain coat but I’ve also found having a light colored and structured jacket was helpful for dressier occasions. I’ve been seeing a lot of drapey trench-duster hybrids around – something like that could be a great option too.
I think I should have used my green field jacket more, but I’ve worn it so much it’s lost some of its shape so I haven’t been drawn to it.
It was great to just have some fun embracing the idea that goddammit, summer fashion will be FUN. Embracing the beach and picnic spirit with this tote has cheered up a lot of my outfits. I’m glad I went with a larger tote rather than a smaller crossbody straw circle purse which I feel is more common. It’s been more practical since I only use it on weekends, when I’m often running errands (on foot/public transit – I don’t have a car).
This outfit was for lounging around, not running errands 😎
Overall, my personal style and wardrobe is also just a lot more developed now than it was a year ago. My current haircut and glasses do contribute a lot to any improvement I feel in a lot of outfits.
Seasonal capsules can also be an opportunity to branch out into other styles. Who says that you need to have the same aesthetic the whole year round? Especially if you’re working in an air-conditioned office anyway and you’re only suffering the heat on the weekend, having a dedicated capsule for hot weather within your wardrobe might be the best option. I walk through an example of doing this here: Translating Styleboards to Wardrobes and Outfits: Summer Witch, Weekend Edition.
There are a few more things I’ve been thinking would continue to add interest to my summer outfits.
Black flatform sandals: A lot of my all black outfits feel like they have unbalanced visual interest when I wear the Birkenstock Mayaris. I think I will probably shell out for some Dr Martens sandals for next year. I really like what they add to a lot of @whatbeckywore’s outfits
Black cotton/linen skirt (I had one at one point, but it was a too-short proportion on me for a midi skirt and I didn’t like its raw elastic waistband):
I’ve been really inspired by these rad pink ones that @yelle_intothevoid has
Adding a few items that felt like celebrating warm weather even if they are more frivolously summery has made putting outfits together in the past few months a lot more fun. I think in addition to just giving me more textures and shapes to work with, part of it is also that for me, it gets boring to wear the exact same outfits endlessly. Previously I was just subtracting the fun pieces like dramatic coats and extra chunky sweaters for the warm months, but didn’t add anything back, so in retrospect it’s pretty obvious why I would dislike most of the warm weather looks I came up with.
Also, having a few seasonal items to look forward to is like getting a wardrobe refresh for free each year. I can still see myself using the clogs as long as it isn’t too cold or wet even in like, November, but at some point it will get too cold and wet for open toed shoes. When spring comes around I’ll be excited to wear them in the same way I’ve always looked forward to chunky sweaters and pom-pom beanies turned up to 11 in cold weather, or even Christmas or Halloween themed looks popping up everywhere as those holidays approach.
How do you like to dress for summer? Is there a particular aspect of dressing for the heat that you struggle with? Are there any old favorites you always look forward to wearing?