Linen is like buttermilk, women love it or hate it. I'm a lover.
The prissy-dresser's rap on linen is "Oh, but it wrinkles." Yes; that's characteristic of the fiber. If a woman believes that wrinkling is evil, she'll disdain linen's cool. This relaxed, natural quality is its charm, and no fiber serves a hot-weather habitat better. (Shown, linen safari jacket from MaxMara Spring '10 collection.)
There is a point where linen demands a wash-and-iron, just like your jeans when they bag. The problem with a downmarket linen is not crumple, it's boring design and sloppy tailoring. A badly-sewn linen shirt won't look soignée no matter how rigorously pressed.
Where to find it
I'm showing linen you can wash (with one exception). Talbots make linen pants you have to dry clean, and I've seen their linen dresses lined with poly. What is the point to this madness?
Look for a bit of ease in pants, from relaxed to wide leg, with enough length to brush the top of the foot. These shown are from Marks and Spencer, £22.
Machine washable stretch linen (linen, rayon and lycra spandex) wide-leg pants by J. Jill, in two neutrals, price, $89.
Available in Misses, Petite, Women's and Tall (I love you all). I am guessing these will wrinkle less, if you care.
This Eileen Fisher shaped jacket shows the desired attitude: ease, but with some shape. Price, $198.
Sidebar: EF, hoping to court younger customers, is starting to shape its clothing more by adding darts and detail. Yes!
It's shown layered over a scoopneck tank, with sequins at the neckline, which comes in white, black or (shown) branch, price, $138. Love it. it's EF and I love it... a first.
Good linen is worth the investment, because low-quality linen is like wearing a paper bag, stiff and scratchy. But if you look, you can find good linen at decent prices.
I like the pretty vee and not-too-short sleeve on Talbot's Irish linen ruffled blouse; price, $59.50 (They say dry clean only, an example of their fabric-care psychosis.)
Linen knits: Cool and collected
Linen worn with the average interlock t-shirt top looks tacky, and cotton knit is nasty in steamy heat. If you prefer cotton knit, look for high-quality Egyptian in extremely fine gauge.
Linen jersey, however, is a perfect complement to woven linen.
EF make a linen jersey tee with a graceful scoopneck, price, $118. Hardly a cheapie, but the look is entirely different than cotton interlock, and so much cooler in all senses of the word– so, worth it. In an array of neutrals and colours, some on sale.
Sandro's mariniere linen-knit t-shirt is another example of the chic of linen knit (s/o in all but Medium on Net-a-porter), price, $165.
J. Crew are a source for interesting linen; they often mix it with other fabrics. A linen cardi with silk pockets: simple, smart, summery. Price, $88.
They advise dry cleaning;
I have hand and machine (delicate cycle in a mesh bag) washed their linen knits successfully.
I found this Talbot's linen gauze top in the Outlet section for $14.99! I'd buy some beads or sequins and embellish the sleeve hems just for fun. If you're too busy mixing those margaritas, just pile on necklaces!
Talbot's say dry clean but I'd wash by hand or on delicate cycle, hang to dry. Available in Misses, Petites and some Woman Petites sizes.
Flax make an extensive line of linen, priced between $65-$135 on average. Flax can look matronly or marvelous. There are good pieces in this line. They wash like a dream, wear very well, and the size range is inclusive, from XS through 3G (for Generous).
The loose, cropped Flood pant or full-length Fundamental Pant and Long Slacks are travel lifesavers anywhere hot and humid; handwash, hang to dry, no pressing needed. Shown, Pullover Shirt and Flattering Floods, from the Flax site. You can often pick up pieces on sale on eBay.
Local Toronto designer Alexia von Beck has a shopful of outstanding linen pieces right now. Her boutique (1228 Yonge at Summerhill) carries skirts, simple pants, several styles of smart blouses and even linen coats in both summer hues and neutrals. If you can't get there, consider sewing a floaty handkerchief linen skirt or having it made. Shown, Simplicity 4595.
How to wear it: lighten up
My Parisienne GF Huguette once praised me for "having your linen wrinkled just right." I had no idea! I just put it on and usually wear it more than once before washing.
She meant that stiff-pressed linen is uptight and violates its essential nature. She would approve of the wrinkle factor on this Eric Bompard linen tunic, €85.
American catalog or store photos show linen absolutely wrinkle free, which has loaded the weird image of linen looking tight and expressionless as a lifted face into women's minds.
Moving my favourite pieces to the front of my closet, I feel the promise of summer sunshine coming off them, and smile.