Work Relationships

The working woman’s guide to dressing professionally when it’s blazing hot out

Written by Peter Jones

It’s summer! It took a while for those of us in colder climates to get to this point, but it’s finally time to store the sweaters and place your cute warm weather gear at the front of your closet. So it’s 90 degrees out and you need to figure out a way to stay cool, look cute, and somehow also dress professionally—not the easiest combo to master.

It is important to keep in mind that, even in this day of casual work cultures, there are still rules and norms that govern what we should and should not wear to the office. And to make matters even more confusing, on top of that, there is always a unique, often unspoken, code in every workplace. Try to figure out what yours is, but also follow these fairly safe rules of thumb to make sure your summer wardrobe doesn’t keep you from fall employment or the respect you deserve.

1. Check the rule book, if there is one.

Some companies actually have a rule book or employee manual—if you weren’t given one when you started, HR can give you a copy. Check this first to see whether there are any dress policies or bits of intel you can pick up about your summer outfit planning. Err on the side of caution when it comes to baring flesh.

2. Follow the grandma rule.

When in doubt, look at your outfit. If you would be embarrassed wearing it to meet your grandmother for lunch, then it’s probably not right for the office. This is particularly true for women, who will be judged more often when they bare any skin at all. Dress for your own version of success, not others, but do keep in mind the double standards and injustices of perception out there and make sure to keep yourself… covered, metaphorically speaking (and sometimes actually).

3. Err on the side of “not short.”

If there’s a question in your mind as to whether shorts (or short skirts) are appropriate for your workplace, that probably means you haven’t seen anyone in such attire at the office. Take that as a sign and leave your barest-leg ensembles for the weekends. Instead, to stay cool, aim for a skirt that at least hits the knee: summery and smart! (The same rules apply to crop tops: save them for the weekend.)

4. Keep the shoes classy.

No, you can’t wear flip flops to the office. Yes, you can wear sandals, just try to minimize the amount of bare foot you show on any given day. It’s probably best to avoid shoes with open backs, though if you must, choose slides instead of flops.

5. Summer denim is probably too casual.

Jeans are one thing, especially if your office tends casual. Times have changed, and a nice dark jean is usually fine. But summer denim is another story: if you give way to the jean section of your closet, you’ll be tempted to wear jorts and jumpers and shorts. Don’t. You can probably get away with a denim shift dress, but any other short denim should stay at home.

If you overheat, try lots of lighter fabrics and brighter, breezier colors. If you then get too cold because of overzealous air conditioning, make sure to bring a light sweater to keep yourself warm. And the upside of not baring too much skin, particularly on your legs, is that you won’t need to worry about working through the inevitable goosebumps.

Dress smart, and have a great working summer!

About the author

Peter Jones