My first morning of seventh grade, I walked into school feeling confident as hell in a brand-new, long-sleeved, bright orange polo shirt (this was 2003, BTW). If you had asked me that morning if I thought I was cooler than “Candy”-era Mandy Moore, I would have honestly answered yes. That is, until the second class of the day, when I went to raise my hand and discovered a massive sweat stain underneath my armpit. It was the first time I ever experienced the phenom, and I will never forget it, because it taught me the importance of breathable fabric.
As anyone who sweats as much as I do (which is…a lot FWIW) likely knows, finding breathable fabric is critical to ensuring you won’t be stuck walking around all day with water spots all over your shirt. Having spent a significant portion of my life trying to figure out which potential shirt purchases are sweat-proof and which will have my arms pinned to my sides, I am pretty much hold an encyclopedic of knowledge of breathable fabrics.
And so, here’s your failsafe list of them, so that you can get through this summer sweat stain free. And pro tip? Looser clothes tend to be more breathable than more form-fitting ones (erm, especially in the armpit area…) so consider this the season to start leaning into the “oversized beachwear” look.
Here’s the break down of breathable fabrics and those to skip
1. Cotton: Remember those old ads that used to call cotton, “the fabric of our lives”? Well, I like to think it’s because of how breathable it is. Since it’s a natural fabric, cotton absorbs moisture, which means it won’t leave you totally dripping after a long day of wear. Just be sure to stay away from colors that will show sweat, like grey (omg—especially gray), and you’ll be able to outfit yourself in literal head-to-toe cotton all summer long.
2. Linen: Nothing says “summer is here” like a full linen look, and for good reason. It’s easy and breezy, which means it will keep you cool and covered up all at the same time. But beware of Rayon, which looks like linen, but is a cost-effective alternative that won’t absorb water the same way real linen does and will leave you uncomfortably sweating. Hard.
3. Jersey: There’s a reason why everyone has at least one favorite summer dress made out of jersey (I personally have, like, six of them), and why sports teams opt for the fabric as their go-to. It’s made from either cotton or a cotton-polyester blend, and while it can be slightly heavier than its cousin cotton, it still maintains some of the same breathability.
4. Silk: Silk may be lightweight and comfortable, but holy moly, if you drip even a drop of sweat onto the fabric, it will sit there for the world to see.
5. Polyester: Polyester is not breathable, like, at all. It’s moisture resistant, which means you’ll be walking around with uncomfy moisture puddles between you and your shirt all day long. And that’s gonna be a “no” from me.
6. Denim: If you’ve ever made the mistake of putting on a pair of jeans to walk around New York City in the middle of July, you know that “denim” and “breathability” are not exactly synonyms. Denim, by nature, is a heavy fabric, so it traps in sweat which can lead to chafing. Of course, there are different weights of denim, so look for something on the lighter side if you can’t bear the idea of giving up your go-to jeans-and-a-tee look during the warmer months. Or, opt for chambray, which looks like denim but is woven in a way that makes it feel more lightweight.
7. Spandex: Ok, this one’s a little confusing. Spandex is literally not at all breathable, but it is “moisture-wicking,” which means that it won’t show sweat (even though it might help cause it). So while you may not want to choose spandex for, say, sitting on the beach for the day, it’s definitely one of your best bets if you don’t want to leave the gym with a sweat-shaped ring around your thighs that’s visible to everyone in the parking lot.
8. Fleece, velvet, or down: Let’s just say there’s a reason why people put these types of clothes into storage the minute the first signs of spring pop up.
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