America, step away from the flip-flops. Every summer, common sense and decorum seem to go out the window when it comes to workplace attire. Of course, different companies have different dress codes and corporate cultures, so knowing what is or isn’t appropriate can be difficult to gauge. Still, there are some basic rules for how to dress appropriately for summer, whether you work in a conservative law firm or a hip fashion design company. And by using good judgment this summer, there’s a better chance that you’ll have a job in the fall.
Think layers. It may seem counter-intuitive to be layering during the warmer months, but it’s actually a sensible strategy. Temperatures can range from toasty outside to freezing indoors with the air conditioner on, so layering gives you flexibility. And if you’re looking at the mirror in the morning and not sure whether your outfit is up to snuff, donning a blazer or a cardigan sweater instantly makes the whole ensemble dressier.
Stick with lightweight fabrics. Layering will also be more comfortable if you wear lightweight fabrics like cotton, linen and silk. Unfortunately, these fabrics also wrinkle easily, so here’s a fashion school secret for getting wrinkles out of clothes without ironing: mix a couple of tablespoons of fabric softener with water in a spray bottle and keep it at your desk. When you need to touch up unwanted creases, just spray the wrinkled area and gently stretch the fabric, smoothing it flat with your fingers.
Don’t show too much skin. This advice may sound obvious, but the temptation to wear skimpy clothes is just too great in the summer. Besides being cooler and more comfortable, clothes that bare more skin put you in that vacation mindset. But you’re not on vacation. You’re at work. So stay away from sundresses with spaghetti straps, short skirts and bustier tops. And we know it will pain you to hear this, but no shorts, even if they’re super cute and made by the most expensive fashion design label in the world. One way to bare a little more skin while staying professional is to opt for shortened versions of workplace basics, like ¾-sleeve blazers and cropped slacks.
Look at what your boss is wearing. Take a cue from management as to how casual you can dress. If your boss is still wearing a suit, on a Friday no less, then you should keep to the conservative side. But if she’s announcing summer hours in a floral tunic and cropped pants, that’s a sign that you can relax the dress code a bit.
Have a back-up outfit for emergencies. It’s a law of nature that on the day you dress most casually, an important client or the president of your company will drop by unexpectedly for a meeting. That’s why it’s a good idea to have an entire outfit, complete with dressy shoes, on hand for these occasions.
Stay cool with dresses. While sundresses may be too casual for the workplace, wrap dresses, sheath dresses and shirt dresses all will help you stay cool and look sharp. In fact, your dress will stand out quite nicely in a sea of Capri pants and polo shirts. Again, have a cardigan or blazer on hand in case it gets chilly in the office.
Refrain from athletic activities during your lunch break. With the advent of sunny weather, some people will take a change of clothes to the office so they can take a run or rollerblade during lunch. Please, for the sake of your co-workers, do not do this unless your workplace has a shower. Your office is a place for inspiration, not perspiration.
Be playful with accessories. If the urge to channel a St. Tropez bathing beauty is just too great, do so with accessories. Try some big, dangling hoop earrings or a gold bracelet to set off your tan, natural or sprayed. And don’t forget the oversized sunglasses that you can dramatically remove as soon as you enter the office building.
By keeping these fashion school tips in mind this summer, your attire can be both comfortably cool and workplace appropriate.