What should you wear — and not wear — to look professional (and stay cool) when it’s hot outside? Which summer work clothes are the best? We’ve recently gotten two reader questions on the issue. First up, Reader M wonders:
Hi. I’m 30 years old. I am a rock and roller. Meaning that I work in the music industry. In the past my job was to chaperone the concert site. I was very good at my job. Got a new job in Orlando, FL, that has me now working at a desk. I am now a supervisor. I came into this job in the fall so I had some leftover black wool slacks, nice dark wash denim, and black sweaters to get me through. It’s now almost spring (feels like summer) and I don’t know how to do professional for summer. I work in a business casual environment, which helps. I like to keep all of my color in accents like purses, shoes, scarves, etc. I wear monochromatic. It’s my signature and super versatile when starting a new wardrobe. Can you advise cuts, fabrics, etc. of office appropriate summer wear for a newly professional, young lady like myself that’s trying to beat the heat without looking like a concertgoer?
Reader T also wonders:
I am heading to D.C. from California this summer for a legal externship, and am in need of advice on the dress code in the legal world when it’s 95 degrees. I worked on the Hill for several years and (sadly) recall a lot of flip flops and sundresses during the hotter months. I imagine that this won’t be the case in a legal setting/government agency, but I would love some basic outfit formulas, fabric suggestions (is tweed taboo?), and other ideas for a 30 yr. old to look like a lawyer while fighting the humidity and sticking to a budget.
In terms of outfit formulations, my go-to looks are boring, but they’re classic for a reason: think sheath dresses plus a blazer (to be added once you’re inside), and nice, lightweight trousers (look for cotton or cotton blends) with a nice tee and a classic pair of pumps (and ideally a matching blazer). (Pictured: Cole Haan Air Carma Open Toe Pump, on sale at Zappos for $169.99 (was $275).) As we’ve noted before, natural fabrics like cotton, silk, and linen are going to breathe a lot more than non-natural fabrics, so do pay attention to that when buying new pieces. (Also: pay attention to the laundry instructions. That $20 pair of pants starts to look less appealing — and less of a deal — when they start to smell to high heaven after two wears and the only way to launder them is to get them drycleaned.)
We’ve talked about how to stay cool during a heatwave, but here are a few fast tips for cooling down quickly (or to stay cool enough to avoid completely wrecking your clothes):
- a simple fan, carried in your purse or bag — yes, you’re expending more energy as you fan yourself, but the bit of a breeze can be amazing if you’re stuck on a hot subway platform
- an ice-cold can of soda, held against the inside of your wrist, the back of your neck, or even the back of your knees
- convenient ice packs — there are even necklaces designed to be iced and worn!
An opening caveat: As we’ve noted in previous discussions, this is very much a “know your office” situation. If you’re working at a NEW office, though, or are still learning your office, you should wait until you see someone significantly more senior than you break these rules before you consider it “office culture.” (For example: if you’re a summer associate at a law firm and see a first-year associate wearing sandals, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ok for everyone to wear sandals.) It’s a bit of a spectrum, but here’s my list: [Read more…]