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How to Stay Cool in Denim This Summer

Cut-off shorts are not the only way to wear denim and stay cool this summer.

Lightweight fabrics, loose weaves and fiber blends are among the ways the denim supply chain is helping jeans become a year-round staple for consumers even in the warmest climates. And with U.S. summer 2019 temperatures forecast to be above average by The Weather Company, demand for summer-friendly denim is high.

“Some of our focus group research with women has shown that they love to wear jeans, but when summer comes, they feel traditional jeans are just too warm,” said Jean Hegedus, ready-to-wear director for The Lycra Company. In a study of 2,500 women across five countries, Lycra reported that nearly 30 percent said having a jean that was breathable and helped keep them cool was important, but less than 4 percent said their current jeans did so.

This spring, Everlane introduced its $68 Summer Jean for women, a relaxed fit boyfriend style. The 100 percent cotton non-stretch jean is the brand’s lightest yet using 10 oz. denim. The fabric is also loosely woven with less yarn per inch, which the brand says creates “an airy softness that usually comes with decades of wear.”

everlane summer jean lightweight denim sustainable ethical saitex
Everlane’s Summer Jean Everlane

“Denim doesn’t have to be heavy, in fact lighter weight denims are ideal for the summer months,” said Kristie Rhodes, Cotton Inc. woven fabric development manager, adding that lightweight denim typically ranges from 4 to 8 oz. in weight. “Cotton is naturally soft and absorbs moisture, making it more comfortable against the skin during the hottest days.”

Cotton’s natural breathability and cooling properties are the premise for Cotton Inc. latest consumer marketing efforts, including The Cotton Shop on There, Cotton Inc. touts 100 percent cotton items like BB Dakota jean shorts, Agolde’s strapless shortall and hot pink Trucker jackets from Dr. Denim that will hold up during summer outings like music festivals.

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“One of the great benefits of wearing cotton denim versus some other fiber types is that cotton does not hold onto odors and will be fresh after home laundering,” Rhodes said.

Brands, she added, can also take fabrics to another performance level by incorporating moisture management technologies into denim for additional cooling and comfort properties.

Wrangler introduced a 100 percent cotton moisture wicking jean in 2015 and followed up last year with stretch version in the brand’s Cowboy Cut collection. “This jean is all about comfort, all year-round,” said Kristine Bugno, merchandise manager for men’s and boys’ western denim at Wrangler. “It takes the moisture from the inside of the jean, pulls it to the outside and spreads it out, making it wick 5 times faster.”

And because Wrangler’s moisture wicking technology starts at the fiber level and is woven into the fabric, Bugno says it lasts the lifetime of the garment.

“We focus on providing solutions for the needs of our consumers, so as the need arises in other categories and collections, we would look to expand moisture wicking technology there,” she added.

Cotton fabrics made with Lycra’s Coolmax All Season technology transports moisture away from the body to keep the wearer cool and dry on hot days, fiber structures provide insulation on colder days. In the company’s research, Hegedus says consumers “found the idea of a lightweight, breathable jean with Coolmax fabric appealing because it could help solve that issue.” Lycra has worked with several brands to promote the technology, including NYDJ, Lucky Brand, The Buckle, Hollister, Target and Joe’s Jeans.

Tencel is a popular choice for denim and chambray fabrics as well. As a hydrophilic fiber, Tencel lyocell can absorb moisture making garments with Tencel comfortable in the hot summer months. “Tencel denim is a great choice for summer denim because of the inherent softness and comfort,” said Tricia Carey, director of global business development for denim at Lenzing Fibers.

Mavi jeans
Mavi jeans with Tencel Mavi

The sustainable fiber can also be blended with other fibers like Coolmax, which Carey said further enhances the softness and performance benefits. The blend is a key feature in Lucky Brand’s assortment for men this summer, which offers the combination across its range of men’s straight, slim, skinny, relaxed and athletic fits.

Color choices for summer denim can also be a factor in staying cooler. “White, ecru and other light-colored denim fabrics reflect light instead of absorbing, therefore keeping the wearer cooler,” Rhodes said.

That bodes well for the denim brands like AG, Levi’s Made & Crafted and Acne Studio’s Blå Konst collection, which offer a variety of ecru options this spring. The color is a popular choice for brands vying to fetch their share of the utility denim trend.

And when it comes to shades of blue, Rhodes said there are more intense garment wash effects on indigo denim that result in a lighter colored jean. “Indigo chambrays are also good choices for summer because you get the indigo color in a lighter weight and more breathable construction,” she added.