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Dress for Summer Success

Summer weather arrived this week in full hot, sticky force making getting dressed for work a challenge. Despite the skimpy and skin-tight clothes that Hollywood wears, most of us live and work in far more conservative environments meaning no matter how hot it is, we can’t go to work barely clothed.

Special events planners and development officers must always look polished and put together. We never know when we may be called to arrange an impromptu meeting for the president, give a presentation, or have lunch with a donor. Here are some easy ways to look professional regardless of the humidity.

Women: Trade in your suits for polished dresses. I’m not talking about strapless sun dresses or those with spaghetti straps. Stick with sheath-style dresses that have a jewel or U-neck and short or cap sleeves. Light weight ponte knit is cool and resists wrinkles so you always look fresh. Dresses are more cool than pants because your legs aren’t wrapped in fabric.

Dressy sandals are ok in many offices; as long you have a pedicure. Flip flops are never appropriate for work. On important days, closed-toe pumps are the most professional. Either way, stick with heels that are three inches or less and avoid thick platform soles so that you can walk comfortably. Stockings are optional, but for important occasions such as a board meeting, or if you are interviewing, very sheer panty hose add a more finished look to your legs.

Jackets communicate an air of authority but there is nothing more uncomfortable than a heavy, lined jacked in the summertime! Summer suits are sometimes inevitable, so choose lightweight fabrics that hold their press and resist wrinkles such as tropical weight wool or synthetics that offer a bit of stretch. Linen is a great summer look, but it is notorious for wrinkles. Scale back what’s underneath to a breathable silk or lace tank, but choose a style that completely covers your bra straps and does not show cleavage. It’s fine to cool off by removing your jacket while in your own office, but definitely put it on when you leave your office for any reason.

Unless you are attending the office picnic, or an outdoor alumni gathering, skip capris and shorts at the office. Instead, pick full-length pants that send a polished and put together professional message. When the occasion is an outdoor function, good casual options are knit summer dresses or casual skirts and knit tops. The caveat is that dresses and skirts should not be super short, skin tight, or display your cleavage. Golf outings call for Bermuda shorts or golf skirts. Choose a length that extends to just above your knee.

Despite aggressive marketing messages to the contrary, unless you are a fitness instructor, clothing that falls in the “athleisure” category is not appropriate for the office. This includes leggings, stretchy skin-tight tank tops, yoga pants, sneakers, and slouchy sweatshirts (even those made of cashmere!). This entire category of admittedly very comfortable clothing, belongs at the gym or at home, but not at work or in public.

Summer means offices, restaurants, theatres, jets, and hotels are often freezing cold with overly aggressive air conditioning. Toss that ugly, old sweater that you keep in your office for this purpose and replace it with a stylish, lightweight shawl called a pashmina. Choose one in a summer color for a versatile and portable defense. A travel essential, a pashmina can be rolled into your computer bag or tucked into your in-flight carry on so it’s always conveniently at hand.

Men: At least one tropical weight wool suit is a summer staple and depending on where you live, can be worn up to nine months a year. Choose a classic navy for the most versatility. If you wear a suit often, other cool fabric options are seersucker, poplin, or linen. A summer-weight blazer in blue is a wardrobe essential.

On casual days, a dress shirt (plain or patterned with or without a tie) with sleeves turned up paired with khaki trousers and a great watch, is a good look. Never choose a short-sleeved dress shirt. Collared polo shirts are the next level down in casual, but appropriate for outdoor activities, sporting events, and golf outings. Polos should be in new condition, not faded or sagging. Tee shirts that have advertising or other sayings should never be worn to work.

Good casual pant choices are khakis or chinos that will hold a press and look polished. Resist the temptation to wear your favorite jeans (you are not a college student), especially ones that are faded or have a saggy seat. Shorts are not appropriate for the office but you may need a pair for outdoor activities and the golf course. Shorts should be tailored, pressed, and worn with a belt, of a length that reaches to just above the knee, not the shapeless, super-casual pull-on variety. Many golf courses have dress codes that require men to wear collared shirts and that specify the length of shorts. Always check to avoid being denied access or asked to change into a spare pair of “house shorts” kept on hand for this purpose. You can never go wrong doing as the touring pros do and wear long slacks instead.

Sandals not appropriate for men at work, but remember that you will need seasonal footwear to match your summer attire. This includes dress shoes for your suits, and loafers or similar for more casual looks. Socks are essential when wearing trousers or a suit. Ditch the athletic shoes. They are too casual for the office. For those times when you do need sandals (escorting an alumni kayaking trip, for example), be sure your feet are appropriately groomed by treating them to a pedicure.