Now that the warm weather has finally arrived, along with it comes the question: “What should I wear to work?” Relaxed summer dress rules go into effect and good fashion judgment often goes out the window
Allyson Rees, co-founder of the career and lifestyle website, the Politesse, points out that “just because the temperatures rise doesn’t mean you can show up to work naked.”
Here are some thoughts on how to be cool, comfortable and fashionable while still making the right impression at work this summer.
Beth S. Brodovsky, president of Iris Creative Group, expects her staff to dress more casually during the summer. However, if they look “like they belong at the gym, the beach or on a date,” then she enforces what she calls her “If I can see your hot pink diamond studded thong your pants are too low, inspired by a former intern, dress code.”
Dick Lerner, author of, “Dress Like the Big Fish,” espouses the minority view that “summer dress, especially casual apparel, should be no different than the rest of the year.” He believes vacation and weekend fabrics are not office fabrics.
“Garments shouldn’t fit like a sack or be untucked, wrinkled, or so light and flimsy that the garments are transparent and defines underwear underneath,” he says.
He advises that “business is not casual, and just because others may dress more casually in summer, you shouldn’t.”
Other career advisers allow more latitude. Rees suggests wearing lightweight fabrics, such as linen and cotton, to ensure you’ll be both “cool and covered at the same time.” She recommends shirt dresses because they are usually made out of breathable materials, but still look smart. She also favors luxurious silk blouses layered under blazers because offices are usually frigid during the summer.
For men who need to wear a suit to the office, she suggests purchasing one made of linen or a woven fabric. “Commuting in a wool blend suit in 90-degree weather will have you showing up to work looking like you just got out of the bath,” she says.
City University business professor Janice Karlen believes one of the reasons young women in particular select inappropriate summer work attire is that they take their cues from fashion magazines. For example, she notes that one fashion magazine recently portrayed knee-length linen shorts, with a t-shirt, contrasting jacket and sandals as hitting just the right note for your summer work wardrobe, informing their readers that “they can go from work to ‘after work casual’ just by removing their jacket.” Rather than enhancing your professional image, wearing shorts and a t-shirt to work is more likely to provide you with the opportunity to try your hand at “out of work” casual.
Social media strategist Amanda Tompkins would have benefited from Karlen’s advice. She once wore “cute little shorts,” classified as “work appropriate” in a major retail chain’s catalogue. When she arrived at work, her boss pulled her into an office and sent her home to change. “Save the embarrassment and leave the shorts at home,” she warns. The same goes for men. Shorts are best left for the company picnic.
Arlissa Vaughn of Aegis Power Systems notes that she is often conflicted between the need to be professional and her “desire to be fashionable and trendy.” Her solution: she brings a change of clothes for after-work activities where she has an outlet to express her personal tastes.
Mary Sheila McDonald, associate dean at La Salle University School of Business, offers the following simple summer dress tips that will keep you out of trouble:
- Company Dress Codes. Read them.
- Undergarments. Wear them. “Always wear a bra.” If clothes are clingy or unlined, avoid thongs and stick to flesh tones.
- Tank tops, plunging V-necks and see-through tops. Save them for the weekend.
- Personal grooming. Use extra care in the summer. Shave and moisturize your legs; keep toenails clean, trim and polished.
- Collared shirts. A must for men. Make sure they are neatly pressed and not faded or over-washed golf shirts. Leave the logo shirts at home.
Summer dress is always a matter of judgment. But if you show poor judgment in your selection of summer clothes, your employer may question your judgment in other areas such as your suitability for promotion. When choosing summer work attire, the word to keep in mind is “work.” When in doubt, err toward not wearing something that might not be right.
A veteran human resources executive, Lee E. Miller is a career coach and the author of “UP: Influence Power and the U Perspective — The Art of Getting What You Want.” Mail questions to Lee@employability-expert.com