Dressing Professionally for Summer

white blazer for summerI was chatting with blogger RoadWarriorette the other day about dressing for summer — it can be a challenge when you’re trying to look professional! So I thought we should have an open thread with people’s best tips for dressing for summer. My personal tips:

– Layer, layer, layer. This helps with commutes in hot weather, and if you do it intelligently you can add and remove layers as needed throughout the day.  For example, I frequently will wear just a cotton t-shirt and my pants or a skirt to work, as well as sandals or flip flops.  Once at work, I’ll give myself time to “air out” if I need it, and then pop on my blazer and a good pair of pumps.  I keep a lot of blazers and pumps at the office so I don’t have to lug them around the city with me — for example, my current office has a basic black blazer, a white one, a beige one, a black/gray/silver leopard-print one and then about several pairs of pumps (basic black, really high black ones, purple pumps, brown pumps, a low pair of silverish/gray pumps, a nude-for-me pair of pumps, a red pair of really high heels) as well as a bunch of flats that I keep at the office (a black patent leather pair, a red patent leather pair, a brown lizard pair, a light pink pair, and a royal blue pair).  Similarly, a lightweight scarf (such as one made out of linen or silk) can be a great addition — it’ll provide warmth if you’re freezing, and not that much bulk if you need to take it off and tie it around your work bag.

– Choose your fabrics wisely. Natural fibers like cotton, silk, and linen are going to be much better in the summer than polyester or most man-made fabrics.  Particularly if you have to actually be outside for a work-related event, a linen, light-colored blazer is going to be a million times more comfortable than a polyester, black blazer. (Pictured above: BandolinoBlu Jacket, Ada Three Quarter Sleeve Ruffle Hem Tailored Blazer, available for $48 at Macy’s.)

– Know thyself — and your route. If your morning commute leaves your makeup streaked across your face, and your hair limp or frizzy, plan in advance.  Switch to waterproof makeup, or if you can, put your makeup on at the office.  Do your hair in an up-do or pulled-back look when you leave the house.

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– Keep your colors seasonal. This doesn’t really help with heat, but I always like to swap my colors when the weather changes.  In the spring I’ll pull out my pastel blouses and t-shirts, and my white and beige blazers, which I’ll wear into early summer.  Around the Fourth of July I’ll switch to darker colors — more jewel tones, dark reds, maybe browns — and wear those into fall.  (I live in NYC, so I wear black year-round, but that’s me!)

– Know how to cool down quickly if you have to. You can frequently pick up a noisy, small fan at the local office supply store for as little as $15 — they’re not ideal to keep a regular, quiet breeze going in your office, but they are great for when you need to blast yourself with some cool air upon your arrival.  Similarly, I like to take something cold (a can of soda, a bottle of water) and put it against the inside of my wrists.  I forget the exact reason (pressure point? acupuncture point? major artery?) but it really does help cool you down more quickly than, say, putting the can of soda to your forehead.

Readers, what are your tips for staying cool in the summer?

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    • My thoughts: Nude or tan shoes (like the color of the belt on the model). Black is too matchy, and red is too predictable.

    • Cute dress! First thing that popped into my head was bright red patent slingbacks. Any bright color would be good with this – yellow, green, blue, orange, whatever you like. As for jewelry, I think a statement necklace would be great – huge faux pearls or big turquoise stones. I like to balance jewelry so if you go with the big necklace, than a big ring and small earrings would go nicely. If you want to go for a more delicate necklace with huge earrings, then a cuff bracelet would look nice.

    • I think dark red, almost burgundy shoes, could look really cute. Esp. patent leather.

  1. I love that so many of these tips center around how to cool yourself off. I have this terrible problem with sweating (luckily it’s only my face and not my armpits or anywhere else that might leave me smelling as bad as I look).

    Kat-I’m super jealous that you have such an amazing stock of go-to clothes at work. So far all I have is a sweater and a pair of black pumps, but as the budget permits I’d love to have something like what you’ve described.

    My tips from my summer as an SA at a big firm:

    1)Make friends with your well dressed female SAs, because you never know when you’ll need to borrow something last minute, or need someone to do a spot check for embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions before a meeting.
    2) Know where your nearest drug store and clothing store is, in case you have a wardrobe malfunction that requires you to buy something on your lunch break.
    3) Don’t try to go too far from your comfort zone and buy a whole new wardrobe for summer. You will look and feel uncomfortable if you are wearing a bunch of stuff that you would never normally wear. Try for a more business/formal version of stuff that you usually like to wear.
    4) Utilize personal shopping services at stores like JCrew and Nordstrom. It will save you time if you have to build a new work wardrobe from scratch, and you get personal service and input. JCrew will let you come into the store early or after closing if you want.

    • Slightly off-topic but a huge second to the Nordstrom personal shopper suggestion! I thought it’d be weird but it was so, so helpful for me.

      • I’m completely new to the personal shopper idea…so how does it work? Do you have to make an appointment in advance? Is there a minimum you have to buy? I’m thinking of Nordstrom in particular…would love to try it, just not sure how to go about it.

        • I definitely agree with the personal shopper suggestion as well! Before my internship, my wardrobe consisted almost entirely of the college uniform (jeans, t-shirt, flip flops), and my personal shopper at Nordstrom was a godsend. The way it worked for me was that I made an appointment (you can generally start shopping with them before the store officially opens), but there was no minimum purchase or fee or anything. They work entirely on commission, but after the time she spent with me putting together a summer wardrobe that worked, she more than earned every penny of that.

        • For Nordstrom, you call their personal shopper service in advance (I think it’s called Personal Touch but here is a link:
          https://secure.nordstrom.com/services/personal_touch.asp) The service is free, and there is no amount that you are required to buy.

          Someone will talk to you about what sizes you generally wear, your style, what you’re looking for. When you go in for your first appointment, there will usually be a selection of items waiting for you (although the first time I went in — and this was different than what my friends experienced — the shopper took measurements, walked me around the store a bit to look at things, and then asked me to come back in in 1/2 an hour, when she had pulled a room full of items for me). You can try things on, figure out what brands fit, or don’t — the shopper will get you different sizes if needed, and make alterations suggestions. And can suggest accessories too.

          It’s a tremendous service (or at least it has been for me). I’ve used it, in no particular order for the following things:
          1) trying to liven up my warddrobe when I felt it had become too staid, too old for me.
          2) getting ready for a [blank] year college reunion
          3) moving into a more formal job in a more formal office.

          The only reason I don’t use it more often is that I always buy more than I might have planned to. On the other hand, I don’t regret it at all, as the clothes I’ve picked up then have become my “go to” items for a lot of different settings — even items that I was surprised I liked. In fact there was a blouse, a while back, that I didn’t get that the shopper suggests. I thought it was too far from what I normally wore, but I regret it on a regular basis…

          Definitely give it a try — Nordstrom has a range of brands, in a range of prices, so you should be able to find things that work for you. Good luck!

          • BigLaw Refugee :

            I live in NYC, where we sadly have no Nordstrom, but I had a similarly positive experience with a personal shopper at Macy’s. I believe I had to make the appt quite a bit in advance, but once I did it was great. Macy’s in NYC can be overwhelming, and the lines are annoying. Using the personal shopping service, you get to see lots of stuff in your size, all brought to you in a comfortable, private dressing area. It’s fantastic.

            I definitely felt some pressure to buy at least some things – I wouldn’t do it if you only had the budget for one or two items. But using that kind of service a couple of times a year and doing most of your shopping through it is probably the most efficient and cost-effective way to shop.

  2. harriet potter :

    this is a “know thy office” suggestion (would it be embarassing to run into colleagues in this outfit on your way into the office?), but i wear a tshirt and exercise shorts on the commute and change in our office gym into my work clothes. it’s annoying to have to carry the clothes along on the commute, but beats showing up sweaty and smelly.

    • Diana Barry :

      I used to do this when I walked to work. Rolling clothes and putting them in your bag actually works very well, rather than carrying them – they shake out fine.

    • I may start doing this as the weather gets worse. I am sick of looking like a mess from walking a few blocks to the subway and then back out.

  3. Valleygirl :

    Threadjack –

    A little fashion help please :) I’m going to a reading of The Merry Wives of Windsor tonight at UCLA presented by the Shakespeare Center. It’s a celeb-full reading (see link) done “a little bit country.” So, I have no idea what to wear…

    Here’s the link to the event:



    I’m going with husband and best friend – who are guessing it’s a “dress up jeans” event – but my gut says to go more little black dress. Husband and best friend think jeans because “it’s done country – there’s a music performance by Reba McEntire and based on some of the actors – and no one in LA dresses up for theater.”

    So I’m thinking 1) what I wore to work today (black and white geometric print wrap dress and heels). 2) dress up jeans (nice dark wash jeans, heels, top TBD and black blazer) or 3) little black dress.

    Suggestions? We’re seating in a nice part of the cheap seats if that means anything…

    • No real fashion advice as I’m not a Californian (in NY I would go with your option 1 if that’s worth anything), but MAN that show sounds awesome!!

    • Option 1 sounds just fine. They all sound just fine, actually! I live in LA and it’s true, we’re pretty casual out here so dress-up jeans or either of the dress options would be perfect. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were people there dressed way more casually than that, too.

      Have a great night! It sounds amazing!

    • I think your gut is telling you to overdress! If you *want* to “dress up,” there’s nothing wrong with that, but if I were going to this show, I’d wear whatever I felt like wearing that day. If I were coming from work, I definitely wouldn’t bother to change and if it were on a weekend, I’d do jeans.

    • I second M in CA. I use to live in LA/attended UCLA and the general attire for evening events such as these on campus averaged out to business casual. For the least amount of effort, I’d say option 1 with a trench since it’ll be a bit chilly/windy tonight. Throw on some statement earrings or bracelet, or switch in pop-of-color heels for an after hrs amp up ;)
      really any of those outfits will work well. Have fun!

  4. Bk foette :

    Silly question — how do you keep that many shoes in the office without it looking like you are opening a shop?

    For me, summer usually means overworked ACs resulting in me being freezing — but then way too hot outside. I agree with the layers suggestion.

    • Honey Bear :

      I have a closet in my office where I stash my shoes, extra clothes, workout clothes, etc!

    • I have a shoe rack under my desk and hooks on the back of my door :)

      • Original Lola :

        I have this… and a shoe rack in a back corner of my office, and a box of shoes under a chair in a corner. I have a lot of stuff here.

    • I have an empty drawer in my filing cabinet where extra workout clothes, shoes, etc. go. I used to keep one or two pairs of shoes under my desk, but a fair number of folks come to the other side of my desk (e.g., to drop documents off on my chair, look over a document with me, etc.), and I didn’t think it looked very professional to have my shoes on display for folks to see, so I moved them into the cabinet. I don’t think this is mentioned in NGDGTCO, but I’m pretty sure extensive office shoe collections is a women-only habit.

      • True, but it’s not like the other habits mentioned in NGDGTCO which are the result of how women are socialized to be, well, “nice girls.” It’s just a practical thing related to women’s shoes vs. men and their relative walkability (and numbers of pairs needed).

      • My (male) supervisor at one internship kept 3-4 pairs of shoes in the office, a bunch of suits, and a drawer full of rolled ties. So it’s not exclusively female :)

      • Another good thing about living in Canada: everyone wears snow boots to work so the men also have at least one pair of shoes under their desk. This topic reminds me of the scene in Mad Men where Don pulls a pressed shirt from a stack he keeps in a desk drawer. If I had an extra drawer I’d totally do the same.

    • I keep a shawl at the office for this exact reason.

      • My husband has 5-6 pairs of shoes and the same number of ties in his office at any given time.

    • soulfusion :

      My bottom filing cabinet drawer is full of shoes – many of which I need to clear out because I don’t wear them anymore. But I’ve found at my firm this is a very common solution. And when I’m lazy I end up with a few pairs scattered under my desk as well.

      • Me too. I also have extra workout clothes and my little toiletry bag for the days I shower and put on makeup at work. And an air freshener. :-o

    • I get jokes about my shoe collection but I’d rather have them laid out nicely in a rack behind my door than to drag them with me everyday.

    • Maine Associate :

      I have a large L-shaped desk that is against the back corner of my office. The front of the desk goes all the way to the floor. No one sees my extensive shoe collection expect me. I also keep a pair of slippers under my desk when I am working late.

  5. My favorite for summer is black and white print skirt, usually silk, with a black shortsleeves top – silk or rayon. Then I can wear a black jacket if needed.

  6. I also will usually carry a paper towel or two with me for a dab post-subway and right before I enter the lobby of my office building. I may still need some time to cool down but I feel better waiting for an elevator with other people if I’ve at least taken a first swipe at the sweat. And regular tissues are usually too weak.

  7. Anyone else in an office that does energy saving with the AC? I was about ready to pass out this morning because it’s been 90 degrees all weekend and the AC doesn’t crank on until 8 on Monday. It turns off promptly at 4 or 5, so it’s pretty brutal at around 5:30.

    • YES! The hippie in me likes the little LEED certification thing they’ve got going, but it was really hot until about 9:30. And now I’m wrapped in my scarf because the AC vent is over my desk…

    • Yes — same here. Turns off in the late afternoon, turns on sometime in the morning/ Layers, layers, layers. And IMO, if the a/c is off, then it’s not official business hours, so you can slack on the official business attire, too. :-)

      Added quirk: the lights in all of our hallways turn off at 6 pm, sharp.

      • We’re at 8-5 for the lights now. I always thought it took a lot more energy to heat/cool after a prolonged shutdown than it did when the AC was at least running at a minimal level. After a weekend, the place is so hot and humid that it literally takes until Wednesday for the office to get back to a comfortable temperature again.

  8. Especially for summer associates — yes, you can carry your cardigan with you when walking to the office, but slip it over your shoulders before you get in the elevator if you are wearing a bottom layer that is on the skimpier side (cami, etc). Yes, everyone will (hopefully) assume you have another layer for workwear, but better not to have to stand there silently while Partner McDressCode quietly observes you.

    Feel free to take it off to “cool off” behind closed doors in your office for a few minutes, though.

  9. Valleygirl :

    Some suggestions from the valley (where we normally peak over 100 in the summer)….
    Skin stuff:
    – Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate – growing up in the desert and now dealing with the high temps here – I drink a ton of water during the day – this keeps me cooler and esp. helps my skin not feel as parched.
    – Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen. In summer with shorter sleeves, more leg showing – whatever – there’s more skin to get burned.
    – For those with sensitive skin like me – making sure the metals I wear (esp. my watch) are good quality or I take them off from time to time during the day – otherwise I get a heat rash where the metal contacts my skin.

    Clothes and Shoes
    – I wear lots of dresses and skirts in natural materials
    – This is a know your office thing – but peep toe shoes or shoes with good ventilation (and switching up my heels every day) to prevent funky odors.
    – Depending on which office site I’m working at – if I have a long drive home – I’ll bring commute clothes, esp. for the trip home. Usually these are just a pair of basic cotton yoga pants, a sports bra, a zipped up light weight cotton hoodie, and flip flops. I just find it really nice to have something light weight and comfy to wear if I have a long drive home – and this helps me keep my work clothes in better condition.
    – keep a backup deodorant and a backup pair of underwear/bra (as in you sweat and want to change into something fresh) in your desk/car/purse.

    • Original Lola :

      Which valley are you in? I know of many valleys where it gets over 100F.

      • Valleygirl :

        I grew up in the mojave but now live in the san fernando valley (and work takes me to sites all over the greater los angeles area).

        • SCAggieDEW :

          I just moved to Acton (between the Mojave and the San Fernando Valley). My husband works in Mojave and I will be in LA. Would love to meet up for a coffee Valleygirl.

  10. Anonymous :

    Just paid off a remaining 7K student loan! Woohoo. Although 80K still remain it’s always nice to get rid of one. :)

    • Congrats! I’ve been there — no matter how big or small, it’s such an awesome feeling to cross one off the list!

  11. I keep baby powder with me. Just a tiny travel size bottle in a ziplock bag in my bag. If I start to feel gross, I can sprinkle a bit into the soles of my shoes or – sorry for the TMI – into my bra or rub between my thighs. It absorbs the sweat, prevents chafing, and makes me feel not so smelly.

    • I do this with a travel sized stick of antiperspirant, usually powder based. Makes the “chub rub” of my thighs much more bearable! And I’m totally guilty of under-boob powdering/antiperspirant-ing.

  12. Natural fibers are key.
    An old fashion fan (I have a wood/paper mache one) can be surprigingly helpful while waiting on a hot subway platform.
    I also usually leave jackets at work, and commute in short sleeves. On super hot days, I like a-line skirts. Pencil skirts just stick to you, whereas looser skirts tend to be much more comfy.
    If it’s really bad, try to get to work a bit early. It’s cooler and you can also skip putting on your makeup, etc., if you’re one of the first ones in. Bonus: you look super productive ;)
    Oh, and in terms of makeup, matifying lotions are a lifesaver. I like the one from DDF. Oh, and this last one is not for everyone, but I let my hair dry naturally year round, so wet hair keeps me cool in the summer and usually mostly dries by the time I get to the office.

    • I keep one of those fans in my purse all summer long, too. Best $2 I ever spent.

    • BigLaw Refugee :

      I keep both one of those little fans, and a small spray bottle of water, in my purse. Really helps me bear waiting for the subway in a stuffy, breezeless station.

  13. Walk slower. Seriously. It will take you an extra few minutes, but may be the difference between actually breaking a sweat and not.

    • soulfusion :

      I have a 20-25 minute walk to work that I force myself to slow down to a 25-30 minute walk in the summer. Slowing down makes a big difference in whether I overheat or not. Of course, summer in NYC, I will sweat either way but just slowing my pace makes the difference between visible sweating and the kind where only I can tell.

      Of course on the crazy humid and hot days I just take the bus.

    • In certain parts of the US, sweating is just inevitable. We’re already at the point in FL where you walk out and start sweating in a few seconds. I came home from work today (a whopping 2-minute walk to the car and maybe 4 minutes in the car) and was sweating visibly by the time I got home. I could walk to work easily, but I would probably get a sunburn and heat rash in the summer.

    • Some of us walk over a mile each way to the office in cities where the temperature hits 90 by 9am in the summer. Walking slower ain’t gonna help.

  14. for those of us curvier individuals who are afflicted by “chub rub”…aka the rash that comes from thighs rubbing together in the summer…a thick coating of vaseline between your thighs before your commute makes a huge difference. yes, it’s a little gross, but works so much better than anything i’ve tried. chub rub is painful – you have to attack it aggresively!

    • Haha it IS painful! Nothing like walking a few miles with the chub rub on full force, then two days later still feeling it….!

    • Valleygirl :

      try a wipe of deoderant. same outcome (you glide) with less gross factor ;)

    • Even better is BodyGlide. Or bike shorts.

      • AnonInfinity :

        Oops. I got so excited about Body Glide that I didn’t scroll down far enough!

    • I’ll have to try these recs – I usually resort to wearing bike shorts or something that actually covers my thighs under dresses once the weather gets too warm for hose.

      • *Formerly* Preggo Angie :

        I second the Body Glide. You can get it at running stores.

    • AnonInfinity :

      There’s a product called Body Glide that you can get at athletic stores that is not as greasy and goopy as Vaseline but does the same thing. It looks like deodorant. One tube of it lasts me a few months. It can also be used on feet to prevent blisters.

      • Original Lola :

        Body Glide works so much better than Vaseline.

      • For those who can’t make it to athletic stores– the blister block by band-aid is the same thing only in smaller size and available at CVS/Walgreens.

      • Monistat makes an anti-chafing cream that does the same and is available at drug stores.

    • When I was pregnant, I used to buy maternity leggings and cut them off at the knees to wear under dresses. Pretty cheap solution. Just cut them off high enough that you can’t see the jaggedy edges peeking out under your skirt. Instant comfort. I’m thinking about getting some cheap non-maternity leggings and doing the same thing now that spring is upon us. The spanx type shapewear works the same but is much less comfy.

  15. My grandmother’s “ladylike” tip for cooling down: Take a piece of ice wrapped in delicate hankerchief and press it on your clavicle (I think that’s what it’s called — the place high on your chest where your collarbones meet). This has worked wonders for me. (Although admittedly I don’t have any kind of delicate hankerchief and I usually use a tissue or paper towel. And I find it hard to look “ladylike” while sweating, but a girl can dream, no?)

  16. Accountress :

    No extra tips (in FL, my summer wardrobe is pretty much the same as my winter one), but I want to second what Valleygirl said about sunscreen! I personally burn quicker than toast, so I apply SPF 70 before going to work in the AM, before going out to lunch, and before I leave for the night, but not everyone needs to do that.

    I know some people feel than tans make them look healthier, but there is nothing wrong with getting a spray-on tan in lieu of spending time in the sun- these days, there are plenty of places that can provide you with a fab faux-tan!

    When you go to the pool, park, or beach, always apply sunscreen, and re-apply every few hours after than (if you don’t like toweling off to re-apply, there are some great new “wet skin” sunblock sprays out anymore). Practice safe-sun, ya’ll- it’s the “cool” thing to do.

    • do you have any recs for a full-body SPF? I religiously use SPF on my face, but am not so diligent about the rest of me…. thx.

      • I have been free of melanoma for over a year now (yay!) but see my dermatologist regularly for skin exams. She recommended “Blue Lizard Baby” sunscreen. It’s a barrier sunscreen rather than a chemical one, but it’s very gentle but strong. I wore it every day in Hawaii and didn’t get a burn, and it doesn’t have an unpleasant smell. It’s also not very greasy after the initial application. I had to find it on-line, I think through amazon.

      • I love Water Baby Pure and Simple SPF 50. No scent, doesn’t clog pores, is sweatproof.

        I also always, always wear a hat.

  17. Anonymous :

    Question on this part – “For example, I frequently will wear just a cotton t-shirt and my pants or a skirt to work, as well as sandals or flip flops. ” How do you deal w/ pants that you normally wear with heels? If I wear flats or flip flops with them my pants end up dragging on the ground, and rolling them up looks bad and causes wrinkles.

    • I still roll them up. I don’t really care if it looks bad. I didn’t really find that I had any wrinkles when I rolled up the pants at the cuff.

    • I roll them up and secure them with binder clips. http://www.zakkerz.com/ is also an option. Like MelD said, if you roll at the cuff, they don’t wrinkle that badly. And I’d rather look bad on my commute than wear my good heels and have to get the tip replaced every couple of weeks.

    • I buy the JCrew or similar flip flops that are a couple of inches thick. They are more comfortable and will give you the lift you need for most pants.

  18. Glitterachi :

    The can of soda on the back and sides of the neck- it hits the major arteries as they flow both in and out of the brain, helping to cool you off so wonderfully quickly.

  19. healthcare anon :

    Quick note to the ladies that are complaining of sweating too much. Talk to your dermatologist about Botox injections into your problem areas. I’m not sure how this works, but Botox was initially approved for migraines treatment and excessive sweating. I have a close friend who swears by it.