What is the coolest fabric for summer?

by | Apr 12, 2024 | Articles, Fabric Tips and Best Practices

Summer is here! Along with the intensifying temperature around us, consumer demand for apparel that prioritizes breathability and heat management inevitably rises. Among different fabrics, cotton, rayon, polyester, nylon, and silk appeal the most as the suitable ones to use in dealing with the summer heat in style. In this article, we will evaluate the key characteristics that set these fabrics apart from each other: fiber quality, thread count, construction (weave type), and fabric weight.

What do these criteria for evaluation mean?

Selecting the best fabric for summer requires a sufficient understanding of the mentioned key characteristics. Fiber quality encompasses factors like fiber type, fineness, strength, and elasticity, all impacting the fabric’s breathability, comfort, and durability. Thread count, though often equated with quality, is less relevant for breathability, meaning loosely woven fabrics with a lower count can be more breathable than tightly woven ones.

A fabric’s construction, determined by its weave type, significantly influences performance. Open weaves maximize breathability, while tighter weaves prioritize structure and drape.  Finally, fabric weight, measured in gsm, dictates warmth and breathability. Lighter-weight fabrics are ideal for hot weather as they allow for better airflow.

Let us consider these criteria in cross-examining cotton, rayon, polyester, nylon, and silk as the coolest fabrics for alleviating the summer heat.


1. Cotton

Cotton offers a compelling fiber quality proposition for summer apparel due to its inherent breathability and moisture management capabilities.  As a natural fiber, cotton boasts hollow-core fibers that promote air circulation, keeping the wearer cool and dry.  Thread count for cotton fabrics is less critical for breathability and depends more on the chosen weave type.  Plain and chambray weaves are commonly used for cotton summer garments as they inherently promote airflow.  Finally, cotton offers versatility in fabric weight, with lightweight options like poplin or voile being ideal for hot weather due to their enhanced breathability and comfort.


  • Pros: Cotton’s popularity stems from its readily available cellulose fibers. These hollow core fibers possess inherent wicking properties, drawing moisture away from the skin’s surface and promoting evaporation. This superior moisture management keeps the wearer cooler. Additionally, the unique structure of cotton fibers allows for significant air circulation due to the spaces between the fibers. This breathability further enhances comfort in hot weather. Furthermore, cotton is hypoallergenic, making it a suitable choice for those with sensitive skin.

  • Cons: Cotton fibers are hygroscopic, meaning they readily absorb moisture, which can cause the fabric to feel heavy and lose its shape when wet. Additionally, cotton wrinkles easily due to the inherent crimp in the fibers. While pre-shrunk cotton mitigates shrinkage concerns, it’s a factor to consider.

2. Rayon

Rayon presents a viable alternative to cotton for summer apparel, offering a balance between breathability and aesthetics. This semi-synthetic cellulose-based fiber achieves breathability similar to cotton while boasting a smoother, more silk-like hand. However, it is essential to consider that rayon may exhibit slightly higher moisture retention compared to cotton. Thread count remains a secondary factor for breathability in rayon, with weave type playing a more significant role. Looser weaves like challis or crepe are recommended for summer garments due to their enhanced air circulation. Similar to cotton, rayon offers a range of fabric weights.  When selecting rayon for hot weather applications, prioritize fabrics labeled as “lightweight” or “summer weight” to ensure optimal comfort and breathability.

  • Pros: Rayon, a semi-synthetic fiber derived from cellulose (often wood pulp), offers a balance of affordability and comfort. Depending on the type of rayon (viscose, modal, etc.),  absorbency can vary. Viscose rayons exhibit similar moisture management properties to cotton, while other types may be less absorbent. Rayon offers a softer, smoother feel compared to cotton and drapes well, creating garments with a more flattering silhouette. Some rayon blends incorporate wrinkle-resistant finishes, improving their practicality.


  • Cons: Rayon’s care requirements can be more demanding than cotton.  Some rayon types require dry cleaning, while others may be hand-washable. Additionally, the strength of rayon fibers diminishes when wet, increasing susceptibility to snags or tears.  Similar to cotton, rayon can shrink if not pre-treated.

3. Polyester

Polyester presents a trade-off between functionality and breathability for summer apparel. While lauded for its durability and wrinkle resistance – key attributes for businesses seeking easy-care garments – polyester’s synthetic fiber composition inherently hinders breathability. This can lead to heat buildup and discomfort in hot weather conditions. Thread count remains a minor factor for breathability, as with other fibers. Construction methods play a more significant role, with tightly woven structures commonly used for durability unfortunately reducing airflow. While some specialized sports performance fabrics utilize specific weaves to enhance breathability in polyester, these are exceptions. Fabric weight also presents a challenge, as polyester generally falls on the heavier side compared to natural fibers, further impacting breathability and comfort in hot weather. For summer applications, polyester may be a less suitable choice unless specifically formulated for breathability.

  • Pros: Polyester, a synthetic polymer fiber, boasts exceptional durability and wrinkle resistance.  Its hydrophobic nature (repels water) allows it to dry very quickly, making it a popular choice for activewear. However, this hydrophobicity translates to poor breathability, hindering its suitability for extremely hot weather. Polyester can trap heat and moisture next to the skin, leading to discomfort.


  • Cons: Beyond breathability concerns, polyester can feel unpleasantly synthetic against the skin. While advancements in polyester technology have improved its comfort level, it still falls short of natural fibers in this regard.  Additionally, polyester garments can trap odors due to limited moisture absorption.


4. Nylon

Similar to polyester, nylon offers a blend of functional benefits and breathability drawbacks for summer apparel. Prized for its strength and elasticity, nylon’s synthetic nature inherently restricts airflow, leading to heat buildup and potential discomfort in hot weather conditions. As with other fibers, thread count has minimal impact on breathability, with construction playing a more significant role. Tightly woven structures, commonly used for durability in nylon, unfortunately impede breathability. While some specialized sports performance fabrics utilize specific weaves to enhance airflow in nylon, these are exceptions. Fabric weight also presents a challenge, as nylon generally falls on the heavier side compared to natural fibers, further impacting breathability and comfort in hot weather. For summer applications, nylon may be a less suitable choice unless specifically formulated for breathability.

  • Pros: Similar to polyester, nylon is a strong, lightweight, and fast-drying synthetic fiber.  Its wicking properties make it suitable for activewear and swimwear, where moisture management is crucial. However, like polyester, nylon suffers from poor breathability, potentially leading to heat build-up during extended wear in hot weather. Additionally,  nylon can also feel uncomfortably synthetic against the skin.
  • Cons: Similar to polyester, nylon can also trap odors due to limited moisture absorption.  Furthermore, nylon garments can generate static cling, which can be a nuisance for some wearers.

5. Silk

Silk offers a compelling proposition for summer apparel due to its confluence of fiber quality, construction, and weight. This natural protein fiber boasts excellent moisture-wicking properties, drawing perspiration away from the skin and promoting a cool, dry feeling. Silk’s smooth texture further enhances comfort in hot weather. While thread count remains dependent on the chosen weave, silk often features open weaves like chiffon or georgette, maximizing breathability and air circulation. Finally, silk fabrics are inherently lightweight, further contributing to their suitability for hot weather applications.  However, it is important to consider silk’s delicate nature and potentially higher cost points compared to other fibers.

  • Pros: Silk, a natural protein fiber produced by silkworms, is renowned for its luxurious feel and exceptional breathability. The protein structure of silk allows for excellent moisture absorption and wicking, keeping the wearer cool and comfortable in hot weather. Additionally, silk is lightweight and drapes beautifully, creating garments with a sophisticated aesthetic.


  • Cons: Silk’s delicate nature necessitates special care, often requiring dry cleaning.  Compared to other options, silk is a more expensive fabric.


What is our verdict?

Ultimately, selecting the “coolest” fabric for summer apparel hinges on the intended use and target consumer. For businesses, a nuanced understanding of fiber quality, construction, and weight empowers them to design strategic summer collections. Natural fibers like cotton and silk excel in breathability due to their inherent properties, while breathable synthetic blends offer a more affordable alternative. Activewear can benefit from moisture-wicking rayons strategically placed alongside panels of polyester or nylon for targeted functionality without compromising breathability entirely. By offering a variety of options across price points and care requirements, you can cater to diverse market segments seeking comfort and performance in hot weather.

Why is Gold Fortune Textile your most reliable summer fabrics supplier?

At Gold Fortune Textile, we understand that addressing the complexities of fabric selection for hot weather can be a challenge. That is why we offer a comprehensive selection of summer-ready fabrics, from natural fibers like cotton and silk to breathable synthetic blends and specialty performance materials like rayon, polyester, and nylon. Our commitment goes beyond simply offering these materials as we leverage our expertise to partner with businesses in understanding their target consumer and the intended use of the garment. This collaborative approach ensures that businesses select the coolest and most suitable fabrics for their summer collections, empowering them to deliver exceptional comfort and performance to their customers. Let Gold Fortune Textile be your trusted resource for crafting the coolest summer apparel and achieving success in the hottest season.