How to be the best-dressed man of the summer

Summer holidays approach. Mmmm. But what to wear? Oof. It's a question that most men prefer to avoid thinking about – surely, what they wore last year, and the year before that, will be fine, won't it?

Perhaps, if you are Italian, and possibly French. But if you are British ... Given the British male's track record of summer style atrocities, that might be unwise, though according to Dylan Jones, editor-in-chief of British GQ and leading light of London Collections: Men, British men are by no means a lost cause.

"British men of a certain generation – ie, those over the age of 60 – have no idea what to wear on holiday, and they can still be seen on the beach with woolly socks and sandals," he says. "And even younger Brits can still get it wrong, thinking that sporting a pair of three-quarter-length trousers will cure all their summer ills.

"However the new generation of British men – and by this I mean anyone under the age of 30 – is better dressed than any previous generation. Just look at the street style Instagram pictures of men at London Collections: Men and you'll see men who not only know how to dress, but who take pride in it too.

"Even though it was boiling hot in London, you saw men in jackets, shirts, cravats and hats, you saw men in Birkenstocks, men in white T-shirts and cut-offs, men who looked like they had just stepped out of The Great Gatsby, men who looked as though they'd just come from a surf convention. And they all looked great. British men now dress with confidence in the summer, and are no longer embarrassed by it."

If they carry on like this, the Brits may yet hope to take on the Italians in the summer style stakes: for Italian men, it is all about sprezzatura, the art of dressing beautifully while giving off an air of indifference as to how this came about. The concept may date back to the Renaissance etiquette writings of Baldassare Castiglione, who advised a studied casualness of dress, often with one deliberate "mistake" thrown in, but it is still going strong.

"Today, sprezzatura refers to casual savoir-faire when it comes to dressing. It is the basis of Italian inbred elegance," says the super-stylish Gordon Guillaumier, who has lived in Milan for almost 30 years. "The truth is that Italian men generally do have this distinct innate aesthetic obsession. Perhaps they just inherit it. Put this together with a good dose of self-esteem and it triggers off vanity which is indispensable to perfecting the art of impeccable dressing.

"The Italian summer mood is all about a natural and comfortable look carried off with apparent nonchalance – albeit one that it calculated down to every detail. It's not just the clothing. Personal grooming is meticulous, too. An Italian gent would wear sandals only if his feet were manicured. A good summer tan (Italians are known for lolling endlessly on beaches) gives zest to the entire look, imparting a natural healthy and sexy aura which goes well beyond restrained classic elegance."

So, it's mindset as much as makeover – confidence, good grooming, a judicious dose of vanity, all worn with panache... but what about a few "don'ts"?

Dylan Jones is very clear about what remains off-limits. "The worst mistakes a man can make in the summer are being too casual, not dressing up enough, and wearing what he wears to work but accessorised with a pair of trainers or ugly sunglasses. And thankfully men no longer seem to want to wear football shirts on the beach." You have been warned.

Who wears short shorts?

Swimming shorts are getting shorter, with flappy, knee-length board shorts looking decidedly dated. Vilebrequin remains the top choice across smart European resorts and has briefer options for those who find the best-selling Moorea style a touch long. Le Slip Français does a nice line in swim shorts that barely reach to mid-thigh and the range designed by model David Gandy for Marks & Spencer are skimpier still, for those with the thighs to show off.