Style Search: Lightweight Tunics With Sleeves

striped linen tunic

I get a lot of questions about packing for summer or warm destinations, and will concede that heat is always the most challenging scenario for me (at least for destinations other than beach resorts). For some, skirts and dresses are the “no-brainer” solution, and probably the coolest option. But I don’t wear them much (if at all) at home, and no longer pack them. My hot weather go-to has become a pair of lightweight ankle or crop pants with a tunic. Above: I love the contrasting stripe peplum and cuffs on this linen tunic.

stretch crepe pants with cotton tunic for hot and humid conditions

Case Study…

Above, from our trip to Hong Kong and Phuket in 2014. Even in that very warm (85-90F) and humid weather, I was quite comfortable in this outfit. (The boots were because we were flying later that day…otherwise I would have been in sandals.) Were I to pack for that trip today, I’d also include the same pants in white or Cobblestone, and/or a pair of linen ankle pants.

Selection Criteria…

Given my druthers, I’ll opt for a linen, linen knit or gauzy cotton fabric for the warmest conditions. And yes, sleeves, for two reasons. First, I find that when the sun is beating down, I’m actually cooler if I’m more covered up with a lightweight layer, and it also provides some protection from UV rays. (Family history of skin cancer here.) Second, depending on where you are traveling and what sites/activities are on your agenda, you may visit churches, temples, or shrines that require shoulders to be covered (and often legs above the knee). If you prefer to go sleeveless you can always carry a lightweight wrap for those instances.

If fabric is sheer or gauzy, you may prefer to wear a tank or camisole underneath. Linen jersey will be a cool and breathable option, or you can go with a moisture-wicking performance fabric.

Tunics can be classic, boho, sporty or edgy. A style that buttons all the way down the front offers the additional option of wearing open as a lightweight topper over a tank or tee. And some embroidery, lace, or eyelet detail adds visual interest without the need for additional layers.

Tunics And Accompaniments…

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  1. RK
    May 23, 2017 / 5:32 am

    Hi Susan, I live in subtropical Queensland, where the temperatures are above 85 more than 6 months of the year, and often hit 100. Both at home and for travel I’m more likely to wear tops (usually linen) with sleeves than without. My favourites are the J Crew 3/4 sleeve tees and EF tunics. I like your thoughts re embroidery or similar to add interest – on my list! I find wide legged trousers to be best, although a straight or tapered style might work better for shorter readers (I’m 5’7). Marks and Spencer does a good range in both linen and viscose. These do tend to be casual and I have just bought the EF washable crepe ankle pants in bone for those times I need something a little dressier.

  2. Evelyn
    May 23, 2017 / 6:30 am

    Have a look at Garnet Hill – they’ve recently added a lot of nice linen pieces to their collection.

    • elizaduckie
      May 23, 2017 / 9:25 pm

      I just purchased their linen & modal tank top and was also going to suggest Garnet Hill. My other favorite place to buy linen is where I’ve been buying their seasonal linen dresses the past few years.

  3. May 23, 2017 / 6:52 am

    I really love that first tunic. My problem with tunics is that they don’t often look good on a pear body type–the proportions are difficult. Also, they often have boxy cuts that hide my relatively slim waist while pointing out my relatively ample hips. The gray/white stripe model seems like it would work well.
    I totally agree about being cooler with a layer of loose cotton or linen, rather than bare skin. Also, it is just such a hassle to try to keep reapplying sun block; I’d rather just cover up. That said, I’m apt to wear a knee-length or modestly above knee-length skirt, since my legs don’t get the same sun as shoulders and arms.

  4. May 23, 2017 / 9:42 am

    Excellent advice and some great choices. I agree with covering your arms in the sun. I always wear a long sleeve top in France.

  5. May 23, 2017 / 9:58 am

    I adore that striped tunic and have had my eye on it for several weeks. I just may cave today:) I always prefer covering up to protect from the sun and linen is my fabric of choice in hot weather.

  6. May 23, 2017 / 10:59 am

    I’ve found that Loft has several elbow sleeve tee shirts that cover the upper arms. They’re available in both light cotton and in linen. They sink wash well and dry fairly quickly.
    The tees compliment the tunics in the wardrobe.

  7. Susan D.
    May 23, 2017 / 11:50 am

    Like Francetaste above, I have a pear shaped body with a relatively small waist and absolutely cannot wear tunics! I wish I could. I’m one of those who favors dresses in hot weather–which is most of the year in Dallas, Texas. I wear quite a number of Eileen Fisher dresses—mostly knit, favoring the dresses that are mid calf length, which is a good proportion for me. I guess I am one of the few who also favors sleeveless!

  8. May 23, 2017 / 12:01 pm

    I love all the linen looks here, and have some in my closet. The problem is for travel: you wear once, or twice, and they are SO wrinkled. I also think slim people (me) have to be careful not to be swallowed up in some tunics…. I’m beginning to gather for my 12 days in England and am very much on the fence as to whether to take a lovely white embroidered tunic I got last summer. As to sleeves: I rarely go sleeveless any more (due more to age than anything else!) but have found cap sleeves or elbow length just right. The Loft often has a good selection. And, I was in TJMaxx yesterday and got a wonderful white linen cap sleeve.

    • elizaduckie
      May 23, 2017 / 9:37 pm

      I’m with you on the ‘I don’t go sleeveless due to age’ issue. I use linen jersey or other very lightweight 3/4 sleeve cardigans or line shirts over sleeveless tops and dresses. Most of my travel is to hotels with an ironing board and iron available so I dampen slightly with a washcloth and then iron and hang after wearing. That keeps it going a bit longer. I have found heavier weight linen wears well and looks ok even when wrinkled-it gets less wrinkled. Rolling the linen item around tissue paper or in thin plastic (such as one gets from the dry cleaners) helps when packing. Linen blends and linen jersey don’t seem to wrinkle as much and are lightweight. I live in tropical FL half the year and natural and technical fabrics are the most comfortable for me.

  9. Sharon Martinuzzi
    May 23, 2017 / 5:34 pm

    Interesting to see the pic of you with longer hair, my always hair dilemma – short versus longer!? I do love your pixie style more I think! Yes, we are sub tropical, and having come from the tropics three years ago, I am loving this more ‘mild’ climate and being able to at least wear sleeves and some synthetics, and do prefer my old arms in sleeves these days!

  10. Stephanie Anderson
    May 24, 2017 / 1:06 am

    Totally agree that lightweight sleeved tops are actually cooler than letting the sun beat down on your arms. I hardly ever wore sleeveless things, even in my 20s (guess it wasn’t really the fashion then). If you have a Bryn Walker boutique near you (they are based in California), they have wonderful linen separates that fit me (women’s/plus size 18/1X) and always have a range of simply cut gauze tops, tunics and bottoms of various styles (I’m partial to the loose culottes, but I’m 5’8″). There’s a Florida company called “Oh My Gauze” that I’ve found in Hawaii and Florida resort shops, and they make cool tops in 100% cotton gauze. If it’s not too hot, I like a long-sleeved or 3/4 cotton shirt with a tank top underneath, but the lightweight linen and gauze garments are best when the mercury soars.

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