Come spring and summer, we start to store away our woolens and bring out breezy cotton and linen wear. However, with respect to silk, many of us have mixed views about its suitability for hotter climes. Some feel that silk is breathable and wearable in the summers – others think that it feels cumbersome.
That said, there’s quite a few cases that can be made in silk’s favor as a warm-weather fabric. Apart from key benefits that keep you relaxed and comfortable, they offer a fashionable edge to your outfits that other options just can’t match.
Wondering if silk is breathable and good for hot weather? Let’s put this question to rest, with a comprehensive look at silk’s qualities, the different kinds of silk you can buy, and how it stacks up against cotton – another summer staple.
Is Silk Breathable?
A natural protein fiber produced by silkworms, silk is breathable and acts as a natural thermal insulator. This unique combination allows silk to work well for both summers and winters – if it’s made using the right techniques.
If well-made with enough air pockets, the smooth and luxurious fabric also has moisture-wicking properties. This allows the silk to release sweat and humidity rather than trapping it inside, keeping you fresh and cool.
Silk is hypoallergenic and non-irritating, so if you are allergic to cotton or other summer fabrics, you can stick to silk even in hot and warm climates.
Types of Silk
There are many types of silk available in nature. However, most of us only know about mulberry silk that comes from mulberry silkworms. Let’s take a deeper look at the different silk types and their characteristics:
Mulberry SilkMulberry silk comes from Bombyx mori, the domesticated silkworm that only eats the leaves of white mulberry trees native to China. Mulberry silk is the most commonly used silk and accounts for about 90% of the world’s silk production.
Mulberry silk is white, odorless, and feels luxurious on the skin. It is lightweight, strong, and durable with a smooth texture. Mulberry silk is also hypoallergenic, making it suitable for even sensitive skin.
Tussar SilkTussar silk, also called tussah, tussah silk, tasar silk, or raw silk, is spun by the wild tussar silkworms. Tussar silkworms are further classified into Chinese tussar silkworms, Japanese tussar silkworms, and Indian tussar silkworms.
Tussar silk usually has a deep golden color due to the presence of tannins. This type of silk is more textured and porous than mulberry silk, but the former has shorter fibers and is less durable.
Muga SilkMuga silk comes from Antheraea assamensis, or the muga silkworm that belongs to the same genus as tussar silkworms. Muga silkworms are wild and are found in India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.
The state of Assam is the world’s largest producer of muga silk and accounts for around 95% of India’s muga silk production.
Muga silk has golden threads and is very strong and durable, unlike tussar silk. The word ‘muga’ comes from the Assamese word for amber, indicating the color of its cocoon.
Eri silk, also known as endi silk or errandi silk, comes from eri silkworms found in Northeast India, Northeast China, and Japan. They, like mulberry silkworms, are completely domesticated.
Eri silkworms feed on the leaves of the castor bean tree, but they may be fed other plants depending on availability. The word ‘eri’ comes from ‘era,’ the Assamese word for the castor bean tree.
Eri silk is also known as ‘Ahimsa’ silk or non-violent silk. Its thread filaments are not continuous, so workers allow the moths to come out before they pierce and use the cocoons to extract the silk. This practice makes Eri silk more sustainable and eco-friendly than other silk types.
Eri silk has white or brick red threads and is elastic, strong, and durable. It has woolly filaments, but when spun into silk, the fabric feels heavier and more cottony than other silks.
Anaphe silk is extracted from Anaphe reticulata, a silkworm found mostly in the central and southern parts of Africa. These silkworms spin communal cocoons that are the main source of Anaphe silk.
Anaphe silk is rather soft and luxurious. It is stronger and more elastic than mulberry silk.
Fagara silk is derived from the cocoon of a giant silk moth called Attacus atlas L. or the snake’s head moth that belongs to the Eri silk moth family.
This silk moth is mostly found in China and Sudan and feeds primarily on mango, guava, avocado, lime, cherry, rambutan, cinnamon, and camphor.
The filaments of Fagara silk have a distinct light brown or tan color. However, the production of this type of silk is low, making it rare.
Cricula silk is derived from Cricula trifenestrata or the Cricula silk moth found in India, the Philippines, and eastern Indonesia. While the cocoon has a metallic gold color, the silk fades to a dull yellow.
Cricula silk has fine hairs that can make the garment itchy and uncomfortable if not removed. Due to this difficult processing method, Cricula silk has a low production.
Coan silk is extracted from Pachypasa Atus, a silkworm found in the Mediterranean countries of Italy, Greece, and Turkey. Pachypasa Atus feeds mostly on juniper, pine, oak, and ash cypress trees and produces white cocoons.
Coan silk has low output and is not extremely strong and durable, which made it fall behind other types of silk. Today, it is no longer produced for commercial use.
If you thought that silk only comes from silkworms, think again! Spider silk is a natural protein fiber that comes from spiders. This is the same silk that spiders use to spin their webs and form cocoons and nests.
Spider silk is a rare form of silk and is not easily procured since spiders do not breed as frequently as silkworms do. The production of spider silk is too low for extracting silk, but most of the spider silk used in fashion comes from the Madagascan spiders as they spin enough fiber for extracting silk.
This rarity of spider silk makes it more expensive than other silk types. However, those who can afford it still go for it due to its super fine and soft texture.
Mussel silk or sea silk, like spider silk, is again not extracted from silkworms. It is harnessed from the long, thin filaments made in the glands of fan mussels, also known as noble pen shells.
Fan mussels are Mediterranean mollusks that use the strong, silky, brown filaments, or byssus, to anchor themselves to the sea bed. They then spin the filaments into a type of silk called ‘fish wool.’
Mussel silk is largely produced in Taranto, Italy, and is a lightweight silk. It is warm and has a finer and smoother texture than mulberry silk. When treated with lemon juice, it acquires a non-fading golden color.
Mussel silk is very expensive and highly prized in the fashion world due to its rarity and characteristics.
Is Silk Good for Hot Weather?
During hot weather, one of the major pet peeves is our clothes sticking to our bodies due to sweat. Another summertime concern that we have is our skin and hair losing moisture and getting damaged.
Silk keeps our body cool with its breathability and temperature-regulating properties. It does not easily stick to our skin, keeping us dry and fresh. Silk is soft, comfortable, and feels luxurious on the skin, making it a much-loved fabric worldwide.
Silk protein also possesses essential amino acids that restore moisture to our hair and skin, maintain skin elasticity, prevent hair breakage, and repair hair damage. Moreover, its surface allows hair to glide without getting trapped in the fabric.
These unique characteristics of silk make it a popular choice for summer clothing and fashion accessories such as scarves, stoles, hair bands, and face masks. Silk is also used in home linen, such as bedsheets and pillowcases. In hot weather, using silk bed sheets and pillowcases keeps our bodies cool even at nighttime and allows us to rest easy even if it’s hot outside.
Be sure to stick to a lightweight silk, and you’ll be fine with this fabric even in hot weather.
Does Silk Make You Sweat in The Summer?
Silk is breathable enough for summer and won’t actually make you sweat. It also has great moisture-wicking properties that allow sweat to pass through.
However, the low absorbency of silk means that sweat stains will be easily visible. While you can wear silk in hot weather, if it is humid or you generally perspire a lot, you may do well avoiding this fabric or wearing it in a darker shade.
Is Silk Absorbent?
Silk is a natural protein fiber and is hydrophobic, which means that it repels water and is not so great at absorbing moisture.
This also makes it wick away moisture and discharge sweat into the atmosphere, keeping you feeling cool and fresh.
Does Silk Keep You Cool?
As silk wicks away moisture on your skin, you’ll experience a slight temperature drop when your sweat evaporates. This keeps you cool and relaxed on hot days.
Is Silk Cooler and More Breathable Than Cotton?
Silk fiber wicks moisture and regulates body temperature better than cotton, keeping you cool when the weather is hot and humid.
When cotton gets wet, it stays that way for a while and takes longer to dry. This high absorbency of cotton can also make you prone to skin infections because your skin stays wet for longer, whereas silk has no such concern.
While many avoid silk in summer because it shows sweat stains, this can happen with cotton as well. If you have to choose one over the other, sticking to luxurious, fine silk will give you sufficient breathability and thermal insulation while helping you stay stylish and confident.
Moreover, unlike cotton, silk contains sericin, which is antibacterial, anti-microbial, and antifungal. These properties are also attributed to the presence of copper incorporated by silkworms while spinning their cocoons. Sericin helps silk resist UV and oxidation better than cotton.
However, in terms of breathability, cotton can absorb up to 27 times its weight, making it much more absorbent when compared to silk. It is also lighter than silk, provides you with good airflow, and withstands higher temperatures, making it a great choice for hot weather.
That said, certain types of silk can be more breathable than cotton as well. For example, thick cotton fabrics with tighter weaves such as denim, brushed cotton, knit cotton, waxed cotton, chino, and corduroy will not be as breathable as lightweight silk.
It all boils down to the thickness, quality, type, and weave of the material rather than the fabric itself.
What Is The Most Breathable Fabric in Hot Weather?
Despite the many benefits of silk over cotton, when it comes to breathability, cotton wins over silk, hands down. Although lightweight silk is breathable enough to wear in hot weather, making it an all-season fabric, cotton has a level of breathability like no other.
The natural fiber structure and absorbent properties of cotton make it super breathable and comfortable compared to other fabrics such as silk, wool, polyester, etc.
Silk is a great and versatile material to wear in all seasons, especially in hot weather due to its hydrophobic, moisture-wicking, temperature-regulating, and anti-microbial properties. It is hypoallergenic, making it suitable for even the most sensitive skin.
While silk is breathable and good for hot weather, consider cotton instead or stick to darker colors when it’s humid outside. Remember to choose the right quality, thickness, type, and weave of silk. This helps you stay cool and comfortable, and look stunning no matter which season it is.