Soaring seasonal temperatures and heightened humidity call for relaxed clothing. And anyone looking to beat the heat in style would be hard pressed to find a more fitting fabric than linen. Prized for its absorption, breathability, and durability—hello, summer sweat!—people have used linen for thousands of years.
We’ll discuss its storied history in a moment, but first, let’s talk linen pants and all the kinds we’re currently coveting as an alternative to women’s shorts. Arguably the most popular item of linen clothing, warm weather-ready trousers are one of the chicest summer staples, year after year. In 2022, that means fluid, elegant silhouettes that work every day. (Think a favorite pair of lightweight, loose-cut denim.)
Of course, other linen pieces, including shorts and shirts, remain summer mainstays. At the same time, we'll focus on those as well. We would be remiss not to mention everything else in the mix, including pajamas and uniforms, bedding, tablecloths, napkins, and drapery. Think of anything that falls under the category "linens," a term first coined in the Middle Ages!
History of linen
Now, you may think to use cotton for all those things too, and you'd be correct. But it wasn’t until cotton supplanted linen as a cheaper, easier-to-process material that it won out for everyday use as textile production industrialized in the early 1800s. But as you’ll see, linen is essentially a super fabric.
What is linen, exactly? Well, it's a natural textile made from the hearty flax plant. Cool to the touch, it's also very smooth and gets softer with repeated washings. In addition, because of its low elasticity, linen doesn't stretch. It's solid, too, making it an excellent pick for long-lasting, luxury apparel like linen pants and homewares. Plus, it's able to withstand incredibly high temperatures, and it's one of the most biodegradable fabrics in existence. When left untreated (undyed), it's fully biodegradable.
When we think of modern and timeless materials, linen immediately comes to mind. Still, it isn't easy to wrap your head around just how long it’s been a household and social staple. Though its use technically predates the ancient Egyptians, they’re the ones whom we know used it for mummification, burial shrouds, and as a form of currency. Pharaoh's tombs have also revealed linen dresses and tunics.
Introduction to linen pants
Linen remained a staple in the Western world throughout the following centuries. However, by the middle of the 19th century, linen production became more specialized, focusing on fine linens, uniforms, and higher-end summer clothing. Upper-class men and women wore light-colored linen suits for warm weather. Linen dresses and horse-riding outfits were also popular choices for females.
Linen pants didn’t become commonplace until women began wearing any pants regularly, starting after World War II. It wasn’t until the 1970s—and in some cases, later—those trousers were even considered acceptable work attire for women. However, more casual styles of pants, including pants worn for vacations, likely included plenty of linen. Likewise, we know linen was a popular fabric for Bermuda shorts, which women began gravitating toward in the 1940s, especially for hotter climates.
Linen in Womenswear
If it feels like linen is having a moment, that's because it is. Everyone from smaller, independent labels to big-name runway brands has recently incorporated the material into their collections, offering an array of effortless, high-style linen pants, shirts, and dresses for spring and summer. However, this wasn't always the case.
As noted above, linen has been in consistent use for hundreds of years. But by the 1970s, it started falling out of favor, with fashion brands opting to use infinitely cheaper synthetic materials. According to one estimate, at the end of the decade, only 5% of global linen production was used for fabrics in the fashion industry.
That number has increased significantly, primarily due to the increasingly important role sustainability plays. By and large, the industry is making significant inroads in moving away from harmful environmental practices, looking to create less waste and pollution. For example, the flax plant from which linen thrives in temperate climates does not require an abundance of rain. It also needs far fewer herbicides and pesticides than a material like cotton.
Top linen trends
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the biggest linen trends for 2022 mirror other trending styles, including fluid silhouettes. This year, baggy pants made a significant comeback, and linen naturally lends itself to breezy, wide-leg looks. Although you shouldn't liken this season's linen pants to a pair of baggy jeans, the former is inherently more polished and likely appropriate for the office and date nights alike.
Linen dresses are also cropping up in a big way, with some very 2022 twists. Bold colors, cutouts, and unique prints are predominantly of the moment right now. But summer classics, like flowing maxi dresses and chic shirt dresses, have also gained style momentum. Both are perfect for vacation and beach days, easily dressed up or down and doubling as cover-ups.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Summer 2022 if we didn’t give shorts sets a shout-out. Quite possibly the standout style of the season, shorts sets come in countless colors and materials. While silk and silk blends have gotten the lion's share of love, linen has also proven a go-to fabric, lending the look an overall dressier air.
Linen looks to love now
Since we just talked sets, it only makes sense to spotlight some of the best ones available. Elevate your getaway (or going-out) wardrobe with coordinating striped linen pants and a tie-waist shirt. Relaxed and elegant, dress this breezy neutral set up or down with heeled sandals or flats. Another standout look? As a result, this playfully printed, pull-on shorts-and-square-neck blouse combo is ideal for brunch or beach. And if you love the floral print in soft shades of yellow, pink, and green, you can also score it in dress form. Yep, this linen maxi features a tie-back and tiered hem.
With that said, now’s the time to make linen your end-of-summer must