Staying cool in the summer is important for many reasons that include health, fashion and comfort. Besides being completely nude, the best way to achieve this coolness is to wear cooling, or breathable fabrics that allow the maximum amount of air through them so the body feels cooler. There are many types of cooling fabrics from natural to man-made.
The most common natural fabric that is known for its breathability is cotton. Cotton is a fabric derived from the round, fibrous balls found on the cotton plant. It is believed to have been first spun by the Indus Valley Civilization in 4,000 B.C. Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin in 1793 jump-started the production of cotton fabric. Today, it is one of the most popular and versatile fabrics in the world. Its breathable qualities come from its porous fibers. Cotton fibers are hollow in the center, allowing them to absorb perspiration and release it quickly. This not only allows air to pass through the fibers, but also keeps the body cool by drying perspiration. Because of its porous nature, cotton also easily accepts dye, and many varieties are actually stronger when wet. Cotton commonly blends with the best properties of other fibers for different functions and uses. Cotton varieties and weaves include flannel, gauze, gingham, muslin, sailcloth, sateen, terry cloth and velveteen.
Linen is a natural fabric derived from the flax plant. Because the flax plant needs much care and attention during its growth, and the fibers’ lack of elasticity make it difficult to weave, linen is more expensive than its cotton counterpart. Linen is thought to be the oldest used fabric in existence. Traces of linen have been found in Swiss lake dwellings as early as 8,000 B.C., but the earliest documented use of the fabric isn’t found until ancient Greece. The fabric’s most commonly known use is in the wrapping of mummies in ancient Egypt. Today, linen is used in clothing for its durability and breathability. It is two to three times stronger than cotton and a better conductor of heat, making it the most breathable fabric available. It is also easily cared for and incredibly lightweight.
Wicking fabrics are man-made fabrics designed to relieve the body of perspiration by “wicking” moisture away from the body and speeding up the evaporation process, thus keeping the body at a stable temperature. These fabrics are most commonly used in athletic or specific outdoor clothing, and they help keep the body cool during activity. These fabrics are made with a special weaving process that works in tandem with the body’s cooling process. Manufacturers who use these fabrics have adjusted the weave or added special coatings to manipulate the fabric to their needs.
References and ResourcesFabrics.net - Cotton
NY Fashion Center - Cotton Fabric Information
Fabrics.net - Linen
NY Fashion Center - Linen Fabric Information
Weather or Not - What are "Wicking"/"Breathable" Fabrics?