Ditch the Safari Suit: Stylish Sun-Protective Clothing

Spring break is nearing, and if you’re headed someplace warm and beachy, add these protective clothing items to your packing list.


I greet the sun wrapped up like a mummy, and I spend a good chunk of the summer months chasing down my kids, slathering them with white goop and begging them to wear swim tops.

I am a four-year survivor of melanoma, the often-fatal skin cancer that’s on the rise. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about sun protection and the best way to keep not only myself healthy, but spare my children the emotional and physical pain I went through after being diagnosed and surgically treated when I was only 38 years old.

“Dermatologists stress the importance of a blended approach that incorporates sunscreen clothing, and then use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen,” says Mary Martini, MD, director of the melanoma multidisciplinary program for the Skin Cancer Institute at Northwestern Medicine.

As the incidence of melanoma and the less deadly but physically scarring skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma have risen, demand for sun-protective clothing has spurred designers to create comfortable and stylish pieces that will hopefully become standard attire. One such company is Chicago-based Mott 50, which manufactures and sells a line of fashion-forward clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor of 50.

“Regular clothing doesn’t fully protect you from the sun, and when you’re sitting in the car, at the office or out at the park with your kids, you’re still getting the UVA rays through the clothing,” says Anne Reilly, co-founder of Mott 50. “Almost regardless of the sun protection, we wanted to create pieces that people would want to wear.”

Dr. Amy Brodsky, M.D., is an adult and pediatric dermatologist with offices in Glenview and Park Ridge who started the Pediatric Sun Protection Foundation (PSPF) to educate parents and children that skin cancer is a preventable disease. As part of its effort to alter behaviors that contribute to skin cancer, PSPF provides “sun shield” shirts to participating summer camps, and is piloting a program with Northwestern Memorial Hospital to distribute sun shields to children ages 6 months to 6 years old.

“I’m trying to change the culture,” Brodsky says. “You wouldn’t put your children on a bicycle without a helmet. Why would you put them in the sun without a sun shield?”

Not sure where to shop for sun-protective clothing? These retailers are making a splash:

  • Mott 50: Mott 50 sells the company’s full line of clothing online; Neapolitan in Winnetka and The Shop at Equinox in Highland Park both sell pieces from the collection, and a portion of the line is available on Nordstrom.com.
  • Coolibar: This company has a great selection of children’s sun-protective clothing, as well as an extensive range of wide-brim hats.
  • SunPrecautions: They sell every type of clothing and accessory to guard one’s body from the sun; it’s possible to cover yourself head to toe with the company’s face masks, gloves and hats. Your look might elicit strange stares, but your skin will certainly be protected!

Cute Cover-Ups


Aretha Hooded Cover-Up
Mott 50, $98
A hood offers extra protection, and we love the pockets for stashing your room key on vacation.
Ruche Swim Shirt
Coolibar, $90
Wear long as a tunic, or cinch up the sides for a shorter look.
Margaret Longsleeve Ruche Dress Rib
Mott 50, $168
Sun protection isn’t just for the beach; this dress can go almost anywhere in style.

Stylish Sun Hats


Beach Comber Sun Hat
Coolibar, $36
We love the rustic look, and the chinstrap is actually useful on windy days.
Italia Sun Hat
Sun Precautions, $58
Cute but elegant, available in white or black, and works with everything.
SmartStraw Monaco Sun Hat
Coolibar, $70
This totally glam wide-brim hat completely shades your face and neck.

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