How to dress when it’s hot

When it’s hot, wearing the right clothes is key. A shirt can help wick sweat, a hat can shield your face from the sun and certain colors can even keep you cool. To build the best summer wardrobe for our health, we looked to science for answers.

White is the preferred color of the summer — but could there be a reason to wear it beyond fashion? While there’s been some debate about whether or not different colors will really keep you cooler, a 2023 study from the National Institute for Environmental Studies found that there’s good reason to consider what color you wear on hot days.

Researchers set up a thermographic camera to record how warm polo shirts in various colors got when exposed to heat. They found that certain colors remained cooler than others: white, yellow, gray, red and purple shirts remained the coolest, while the black, blue, light green and dark green shirts absorbed the most heat.

If you’re looking to remain your absolute coolest in extreme heat, aim for one of these cooling colors — and save your black tops for fall.

First, a history lesson: For a long time, researchers were confused why Bedouins — the indigenous people of the Negev desert — wore black robes, despite the sweltering heat. After all, one would assume that if black clothing absorbed more heat, the Bedouins (who were very good at surviving in the hot climate) were making themselves warmer than necessary.

In reality, the color of their robes had very little impact, a 1980 study found. That’s because the robes were all worn loose and allowed for airflow, creating a current that helps cool the body. (It’s also worth noting that while black robes did absorb more heat than lighter colors, this heat did not reach the body due to the thickness of the fabric, and only the top layer of the robes absorbed the heat.)

So, what does this mean for your summer wardrobe? Essentially, it’s proof that loose-fitting clothing is important in keeping yourself cool in the heat.

The reason is simple: Sweat helps cool our bodies down through the process of evaporation. When sweat evaporates from our skin’s surface, it takes heat with it, which lowers our body temperature. For sweat to evaporate, we need air to move over our skin — and wearing loose-fitting clothes allows for that to happen. Ideally, you should aim for breathable material, such as cotton and linen, which will increase airflow rather than trap heat.

Exercising when it’s hot? Look for moisture-wicking clothes designed for working out. Though clothing items like leggings and sports bras are tighter on the body, the specific blend of materials they’re made from are designed to draw sweat away from the skin and aid in evaporation, so you stay dry and comfortable.

When it’s very hot, it’s still ideal to aim for looser-fitting workout clothes that allow for airflow whenever possible — especially because materials like polyester may also trap odor and heat.

Long sleeves and pants may seem counterintuitive for hot weather, but protecting skin from the sun is important too, dermatologist Dr. Hannah Kopelman tells Yahoo Life.

“I generally recommend covering more of your body rather than exposing more skin,” she says.

Loose-fitting clothing made from breathable materials like linen are best, Kopelman says, as it allows air to circulate and keeps you cooler.

If you want to step up your game, invest in ultraviolet protective clothing, says Kopelman. These clothes are designed to block a significant amount of UV radiation, which Kopelman says provides an “added layer of defense against skin cancer and premature aging.”

“Even on cloudy days, UV rays can penetrate through the clouds, so wearing UV protective clothing ensures consistent protection,” she notes. “It’s a great way to keep your skin safe while enjoying the outdoors.”

In order to see how strongly your clothing protects from the sun, look for its “UPF” rating, which is listed on the label. UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor and indicates how effectively clothing items and fabrics protect against UV radiation and the sun (similar to the SPF rating on sunscreen). A higher UPF rating indicates greater protection against UV rays.

On days when you want to wear a tank top and shorts, Kopelman recommends being vigilant with sunscreen in your exposed areas.

One place that’s often difficult to apply sunscreen (assuming you’re not rocking a bald head) is your scalp. While you should try to place sunscreen in the more exposed parts of your scalp (like, say, where your hair parts) a hat can help protect your head from the sun — and a wide brim can provide additional shade for the rest of your face.

“I always recommend wearing a hat over a visor for better sun protection,” says Kopelman. “A hat with a wide brim can shield your face, ears and neck from direct sunlight, reducing the risk of sunburn and long-term skin damage.” She adds that you should go for breathable material like cotton or straw hats and that you can even look for hats made out of UV-protective material.

Sunglasses are also important to wear, especially (but not exclusively!) on sunny days. Just as UV rays can lead to skin cancer over time, they can also affect your eyes, leading to conditions like cataracts, macular degeneration and corneal damage. They’ll also protect the thin skin around your eyes.

While seeking protective sunglasses, look for labels that say “UV protection” or “100% UV protection.” This means they block both UVA (longer wavelength) and UVB (shorter wavelength) rays. Larger sunglasses (think the Olsen twins in the early aughts) also provide better protection by blocking more sunlight from reaching your eyes.

Denim may look cool, but it won’t keep you cool. Jeans aren’t breathable enough to allow sweat to evaporate. Plus, denim tends to be made of dark colors and is heavier than other materials for pants.

Another (probably pretty obvious) choice is leather, which isn’t breathable, making you feel hotter and sweatier since it blocks your sweat from going anywhere. (Remember Ross Gellar’s struggle with leather pants?)

Surprisingly, you may also want to skip the cotton socks. Cotton is breathable, but since it absorbs your sweat — which has no place to evaporate in your shoes — wearing cotton socks in the summertime often means walking around with damp feet. Unfortunately, all that sweat build up can lead to unpleasant odor and, potentially, fungus.

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