Summertime, and the dress code is not easy

Jackie O’Fee offers tips for keeping your cool in summer’s heat while maintaining your corporate dress-sense.

As the countdown to the summer months begins, we start to see a shift in the way we dress at work. Summer is by nature quite a tricky style-season to navigate in the business world as the balance of remaining cool while dressing appropriately is harder than adding warmth in winter. 

While most men simply can eschew their jacket and, in a more casual environment, even opt for a short-sleeved shirt, women find it much harder. This is the season where many of the ‘rules’ for female staff that have been written into your dress code are focused. 

Think strappy shoes, backless dresses, shoestring straps etc. It is doubtful that there would be an office in the country that would have a male employee turning up in a pair of sandals and a singlet, while less fabric is de rigueur for women in summertime. 

That said, one office I was asked to write a dress code for was having an ongoing battle with a young man who really wanted to wear shorts in summer. It might be a good idea to have a policy in place if you would have an issue with something like that in your workspace.    

With that in mind, here’s a few tips for female readers around keeping your cool while maintaining your status: 

• Are strappy sandals OK to wear to the office? You can absolutely wear a sandal in summer but I advise one with both a heel and an ankle strap so the formality is maintained. I also suggest a slightly wider strap and more of a stacked heel rather than a stiletto. Too fine and you look as if you’re heading to a party rather than the workplace. There’s a fabulous quote that goes “Strappy stilettos say sex, classic pumps say business. Decide the conversation you want to be having.” 

• An additional absolute must-do if you’re opting for an open shoe is a good pedicure and don’t just stop at painted toenails. If your foot is on display, you want it to be perfectly polished. With the proliferation of nail bars in every shopping mall across the country, there is no excuse for a pair of cracked heels or overgrown nails. 

• Sundresses don’t belong in the office, instead opt for a dress that is sleeveless or has a short sleeve. Shoulders and backs need to be mostly covered too. 

• Aim for a lightweight fabric in your dresses, tops and bottoms but be careful of linen as it will crease and ruin a professional look. Linen pants are particularly hard to wear in the office – as the crush marks will be distinctly unflattering. Silk can be warm, so look for something that has a fluted, easy sleeve and a bit of room for air movement.

• If you aren’t wearing tights, be careful about wearing a shorter dress length. A good idea is to sit down in front of a mirror to see how much leg you are showing. If you want to be taken seriously, you really don’t need your legs to be a topic of conversation around the watercooler. 

• A lightweight blazer is a great way to still add a formal element to your outfit without overheating. It can also add shape to an otherwise more relaxed dress or top. 

• If you need to wear a suit for work you can absolutely wear a strappy camisole top – just keep your jacket on.

• Anything midriff baring doesn’t belong at a professional office. Save it for your off-duty life.

• Be aware of little things: does your bra strap show? Is the armhole too deep? What happens when you bend over? Is it see through? The old adage of “If you can see up it, down it or through it – don’t wear it” holds especially true in summer. 

As with any choice you make in your working wardrobe, think of how you would feel if you were meeting with your most conservative client. As I’ve repeated over and over again in this column, dressing for work isn’t about dressing for yourself – it’s about looking professional to your colleagues and clients. 

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