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In temperatures like these, natural fabrics are worth their weight in gold.

I’m sitting in the shade of the pergola and it’s 31 degrees (about 88 degrees in farenheit). I shudder to think what it’s like in the sun. 

This heatwave is now possibly due to be the longest since 1976. It’s a shock to think I have friends who don’t even remember this far back, they were so young. It was the first and only year that I got really burned enough to peel, racing a buggy on the sands in Lincolnshire, back in the days when ‘sun block’ was nothing more than olive oil and vinegar.

It is hard for a menopausal woman to find anything cool enough to wear in this heat, especially when, as I do, you prefer to cover your arms. So I thank heavens for the investment I made in Hobbs nearly 20 years. A two-layer black linen shift dress, a blue linen balloon dress that floats away from the body, a white linen Nehru jacket and three long, linen split-back jackets have been worn again and again, including today to go out for our anniversary meal (18 years, since you ask).

Linen is really the only thing that will do in this weather, unless your budget stretches to hemp, bamboo or ramie. And a single layer of linen at that – the thought of anything more than one layer thick gives me the heebies at the moment. Cotton is hopeless, as it takes your sweat and holds it against your body, and normal clothing like jeans and t-shirts is purgatory in the heat. This weather calls for long, loose layers. 

Since the heatwave struck, when at home I’ve been living in kimono – whisper-thin cotton yukata or the ‘usumono’ summer silks called Ro and Sha. Sha is rather like organza and stands away from the body, while Ro is a cool, slippery silk in a leno weave – full of rows of thousands of tiny holes that allow the air to pass through.

The Japanese endure hot and humid summers, so they know a thing or two about staying cool. Because women’s kimono are cut with a large opening under the arm and at the back of the sleeve, they allow a free passage of air to your underarm area, while the thickly folded collar protects your vulnerable neck and throat from the sun.

After kimono, which you just wrap to fit you, wearing Western clothing seems very restrictive, but today for lunch out, I opted for the Hobbs balloon dress in pale blue linen, topped with the long white Nehru jacket (not knowing if we would be in shade or sun, the density of linen was a better bet than anything too thin) and it was perfect.

Lately I’ve also been wearing a copy I made of this dress many years ago in pintucked chambray, light as a feather. And so hot has it been that I’m thinking of copying it again, possibly in some sari silk I have indoors, which is so thin it’s almost not there. These dresses have the distinct advantage in this weather of dropping straight from the shoulders to the hem, not touching the body at all due to an unusual cut.

On Tuesday, for our writers group meeting, I also turned to Hobbs, to a denim-blue wrap linen sundress with another unusual cut that wraps from back to front and buttons, then front to back and ties. Worn with a short white jacket/shirt in linen with pintucks at the shoulders, I felt as cool as a cucumber. Today, however, even the thought of something wrapped around my waist is a no-no.

On Wednesday I wore a djellabah I made some years ago from striped handwoven cotton. It faded in the wash and I dyed it navy, which brought out the beautiful grain of the fabric. Again, a djellabah is a very cool garment, designed with front and back sections that push the fabric away from the body and allow cooling air to rise from the hem to the neckline.  

Night-time is always tricky in a sweltering summer, but currently it finds me in a silk ro kimono that I altered many years ago by putting loose ties at the waist. It is the perfect thing for sleeping in – completely wicking and cool in our attic bedroom. It’s been about 30 degrees when we go to bed, dropping to around 24 by morning – rather hot for sleeping, so I’m not looking forward to next week in that regard, as temperatures rise even further. 


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