menswear for the tropics
June 21, 2012 1:14 AM   Subscribe

Looking for menswear suitable for the office. Problem: relocated to a hot and humid tropical country, and my current wardrobe just isn't working here. And it's not even July/August.

I've seen this question but he's after a more casual look. I need clothing appropriate for the office. Most men seem to wear slacks and button-downs, sometimes a tie. Maybe a jacket or full suit for bosses, or when meeting clients. This is the sort of clothing I have, but the weight or materials just doesn't cut it. Current slacks tend to be poly blends or lightweight wool. Shirts cotton/poly. Heck, even my socks, generally mid-calf length, feel too hot.

An additional wrinkle is I'm doing a lot of walking. Office is only 20 minutes from where I'm staying so even though there's extensive public transport I'm most frequently walking places. Try to walk slowly when I can to minimize heating up but there's only so slow I can walk.

I desperately need recommendations for materials, styles, and colors that will make this workable. For example, if I am to sweat it'd be nice for clothing to not look visibly sweaty even when it very much is, and to be quick drying once I'm back in AC. It doesn't look sharp to show up with wet spots under my arms or on my back or where my bag's strap lies.

Caveats: I hate polo shirts, both the style and the knit fabric, and I dislike short-sleeved button-downs. I'm a short guy with a young face and short sleeves are too much like a little boy playing dress-up.
posted by 6550 to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The poly-blends and wool-blends (unless it's a lightweight cashmere or merino) are killing you in a hot, humid climate. Ditch 'em immediately and switch to lightweight cotton-linen blends.

Specific suggestions:
Herringbone linen-cotton blend flat-front pant

Classic linen trouser

Houndstooth linen dress pant

Tailored linen blazer

Convertible sleeve linen shirt (so you can roll up the sleeve without it looking awkward, and without it being short-sleeved)

Brooks Brothers also has a huge stylish selection of linen and cotton-linen blend shirts, pants, and jackets.

As for the socks, you want all-natural fibers. No nylon, no lycra, no spandex, no polyester. You want thin wool (merino, cashmere) or open-weave cotton dress socks. They're probably going to be in the "omg you want me to pay HOW MUCH for SOCKS?!?" price range, but they'll be worth it.
posted by erst at 1:50 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few things I found helpful when I moved to Brisbane (Brisbane is not in the tropics but is hot and very humid in summer):

Lose the jacket unless you really have to wear one for appearance's sake.
Same for the tie.
Cotton business shirts that are a bit looser fitting than current cool-climate fashion may dictate.
Find suit pants or trousers with less wool in them and again maybe a style that is looser fitting.
Wear pure cotton socks and light-weight slip-on shoes. When I am sitting at my desk I slip my shoes off and this keeps my feet cool for the most part. After 5pm I will even do a printer-dash in just my socks. No-one cares.

Cotton boxer shorts!

Is it an option for you to walk to work and shower and change there?

Otherwise catch PT in the morning it means you won't start the day all sweaty.
posted by evil_esto at 1:52 AM on June 21, 2012

I work in Singapore and face the same issues. Seconding 100% cotton or linen everything. For socks I swear by gold toe brand. The biggest help to me is wearing a cotton v neck undershirt. It absorbs sweat and keeps your outer dress shirt from getting sweaty. Finally get some cotton handkerchiefs to carry for wiping sweat.
posted by banishedimmortal at 2:10 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Depending on where you are and what the culture's like, Bermuda shorts can actually be considered business attire.
posted by valkyryn at 5:13 AM on June 21, 2012

I'm in Chad. Where you are is not more hot and humid than here.

Linen is your friend, cotton is OK but its not the best you can do anymore: microfiber is. UnderArmor is my brand of choice now for both boxer shorts and polo shirts. It is expensive but SO, so worth it. I will get a cotton dress shirt completely drenched on the ride home from work here whereas my microfiber shorts will still be nice and dry on the inside. Go wicking!

I know you said you hate polos or short sleeve button downs, but you're not really leaving us many options to give you in a business environment except to say get loose-fitting dress shirts and roll the sleeves up. Other than that, I'd say get over your hang up with polos at a minimum - having short sleeves is the number one trick to cooling down your upper body, which is the number one trick to cooling down your overall temperature.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:19 AM on June 21, 2012

posted by monju_bosatsu at 5:31 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not a man, but I do have a husband and two male bosses.

I would suggest changing when you get to work - have a few extra suits, shirts in your office (if you can). Having a few shirts that are the same in your office means you can switch out quickly if you find your over sweating. If you don't have your own office, I've seen men hang them up in their cubical.

When buying a tailored suit, but ask the tailor what his suggestion is - you can't be the only one in the city who is affected by the heat. He might have a suit specifically for your needs.
posted by Danithegirl at 5:36 AM on June 21, 2012

Take particular care of your feet. In addition to your socks (great suggestions up above) make sure your shoes are made of something breathable. If your feet are hot, you will feel hot and uncomfortable.

I wear light colours on top, fitted but loose shirts, sleeves rolled up. I never wear a tie but will occasionally wear a linen jacket. Great socks, wicking underwear (Under Armour etc) and the right shoes are the foundation on which I build the rest of the my outfit.

(If it was socially acceptable for me to dress in traditional Arab clothing I would - that stuff is awesome.)
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 5:57 AM on June 21, 2012

I really like Pantherella socks - I mean, if you feel like spending on socks. They are the thinnest cotton socks around (unless you jump up another $10/pair to Marcoliani or something, which is above my paygrade by a lot).

Also, are loafers and bare feet an option? I get through the summer (okay, I'm not actually a man, but I am pretty butch and wear lots of mens' and mens'-style clothes) on loafers and bare feet most of the time - a nice calf, suede or woven loafer keeps your foot pretty cool and is dressy enough when you don't have to suit up. I don't know what's available where you are, but Allen Edmonds also makes some woven/mesh oxfords (most notably the Strawfut.

Because I am female-ish, I can get away with a little more sartorial goofiness than a man, but I usually spend my working summer days in lightweight chinos and a lightweight button-front shirt with the sleeves rolled to mid-forearm. I bike five miles to work at a gentle pace here in the miserably hot midwestern US and arrive a bit...dewey....but not generally smelly and disheveled, so I would expect that a short walk even in the tropics would be doable. (I have lived in a semi-tropical climate, so I know what you're talking about vis a vis heat and damp.)

If this is the Singapore/HK sort of tropics, what about getting some pants and shirts made? I've found in the US that a LOT of summer work clothes are built on the assumption that you're driving in an airconditioned car to an airconditioned office and therefore they are made of ridiculously heavy fabrics. But you should be able to get substantial, men'swear appropriate voiles and lawns for shirts where you are.
posted by Frowner at 6:08 AM on June 21, 2012

Get lightweight cotton/wicking t-shirts.

Find some 100% cotton, no-iron work shirts.

100% cotton, no iron slacks.

I recommend Lands End. Decent price, very durable, easy care.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:14 AM on June 21, 2012

Linen. Everything.

Except for a five-year span in a place that blessedly had winters, I've lived my entire life in port towns with miserable summers. Neither of them are tropics by any stretch, but they were bad enough. Linen is halfway between normal clothes and stepping in a pool. I can't logically explain it, but like you I always wear long pants and long sleeved shirts, which doesn't do me any favors (though you must roll up the sleeves).

Seersucker is superior if acceptable.

The Gold Toe socks I bought in the US are the thickest socks I currently own - I wouldn't recommend them for the summer. Might be different where you are.

One thing that isn't exactly clothing is alcohol body wipes - I don't know if this is just Tokyo or Japan or if it's more broadly available in Asia, but convenience stores sell lemon or mint scented hand-wipe type things for the face and body during the summer. Carry a pack of these and after a walk hit the bathroom to de-sweat.
posted by 23 at 7:16 AM on June 21, 2012

Oh, seersucker jeans also exist. Isn't living in the future great?
posted by 23 at 7:24 AM on June 21, 2012

Last year I moved from a four-season sort of North American lifestyle to a 120-degree desert, and my wardrobe needed a similar overhaul. (I also hate polos very much.) Through trial and error, I found a way...

So, seconding much of the above, with salt added:

o Wicking/dry t-shirts (and underwear) are great. I like the Ex Officio ones since they look less athletic and more like real clothing. The microfiber Give-N-Go boxers (or briefs, if you're a heathen) are also lovely and cool.

o Buy your dress/overshirts a size larger than you usually would. Cotton or linen.

o For jackets, suits and pants: linen and seersucker are your friends. Armani does both well and is therefore popular here. Brooks Brothers is allegedly also good at this, but my BB stuff is all winterish (and in storage.)

o Carry your jacket to work, put it on when you reach the office. You can also leave some dress shirts there, and walk to work in a tee. Send drycleaning to/from the office.

o The above trick also works for shoes. Walk to work in sneakers, change to nice cool dress shoes in the office.
posted by rokusan at 10:55 AM on June 21, 2012

Seconding linen, but for suits and trousers there's also tropical wool, which has an open weave that lets body head escape. Linen absorbs sweat but breathes less than tropical wool, and may be less work-appropriate than the wool. I know it sounds strange to recommend wearing wool when it's hot outside, but it actually turns out to be a really great thing. More info here, here, and here.

For shirts, linen's probably the way to go, though there's also madras, which can be kinda loud.

There's a great post about warm-weather clothes on Put This On.
posted by skilar at 1:43 PM on June 21, 2012

Err...body heat.
posted by skilar at 1:44 PM on June 21, 2012

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