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Our style columnist Esther Walker explains how to dress for a summer heatwave, whether you’re home or away


One summer, when I was about 12, I went with my family to a large National Trust house. That was what you did in the holidays before iPads and really good adventure playgrounds. School holiday entertainment in 1992, for me, was a punch-up with my siblings next to a clipped yew hedge, and an ice-cream if I was lucky. The 45-minute car ride there and back with my book of word-searches was indisputably the best bit.

Anyway, we were wandering around this National Trust house one hot August afternoon and I saw

two nuns, which is always pretty thrilling isn’t it? Actual nuns! There they were, small and old but sturdy and determined, walking along at quite a clip.

And the best thing – the thing I found so amusing and brilliant – was that they were wearing khaki habits.

“Look,” I said to my mother in delight. “They are in their summer fatigues.” My mum didn’t think it was remotely amusing. But knowing what I know now about motherhood, I can see that she was probably on auto-pilot, counting the minutes until all four of us grew up and went away.

I still don’t know why I find the idea of nuns in special summer clothes so delightful. It’s just basic good sense – all that black fabric gets very hot in the sun. They had the last laugh – they were nice and cool in their practical gear whereas I never had any appropriate hot-weather attire as a child. My summer holiday clothes were my normal clothes with a cagoule over the top.

When I was old enough to be given money and told to go and buy myself some summer clothes, I became wildly confused by what was in the shops and bought only clothes that were suitable for the

beach, despite not seeing a foreign beach until I was 15.

Advertising campaigns told me my summer months would be spent by water. The reality was that I was either at home or doing temp work in an office. Fake tan did exist but I was terrified of it; when I worked I wore trousers or skirts with opaque tights. When I was not working and needed to go into town, I sometimes wore a sarong. Once, when improperly tied, it collapsed to my mid-thigh exposing my pants to the traffic on Gloucester Road.

[Continued below]


Feel all-white in an
open blazer
Tailored shorts are a
huge trend
Keep essentials safe in
a cross-body bag
Coconut wood buttons
add style points


“Summertime cities are filthy... you need the dirt and sun as far away from your skin as possible. Thus, long swishy dresses, hats and closed-toe shoes”


No one pointed out to me that, just as you need two sets of winter staples – one for work and one for play – you also need two sets of summer staples.

I finally worked it out one year when I went to visit Italy for a city break with my friend Connie. I arrived with my usual clutch of revolting striped halterneck tops, loud mini dresses, ugly denim skirts and flip-flops.

To me, keeping cool meant not wearing very much. Connie, on the other hand, had brought a few plain, tasteful, swishy linen frocks and a fedora. She had culottes and an oatmeal-coloured waistcoat, loose trousers and neat, flat espadrilles.

She was almost totally covered up, but I could quite see that the loose shapes and airy fabrics had a far more cooling effect than my tight synthetic materials and sweaty waistbands.

Looking around the hot city we found ourselves in, I could also see that the local women and Connie were of one mind; they were not wearing mini skirts and flesh-baring strapless tops, either. They did not look like they were heading to the beach, because they weren’t.

They were crossing shady town squares to the sound of clanging church bells in order to sit calmly and drink espresso. They wore batwing-sleeved black midi dresses with white plimsolls or ballet flats. I saw the light, literally.

Summertime cities are filthy, hot and stinking. You need the dirt and sun as far away from your skin as possible. Thus, long swishy dresses, hats and closed-toe shoes.

I mean, a white shorts suit might be a bit too much for some people, but I love it. Even if it’s just because the hot weather has gone to my head.


Shop linen    Shop new in


Loose linen is perfect for heat
Top it off with a classic Fedora
Wedges are your sightseeing friends
This midi dress comes in four colours

Styling: Chloe Forde / Make-up: Karina Constantine / Hair: Ben Cook / Nails: Charly Avenell

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