“Comfortable Casual” for a Heat Wave

C&C California Bemberg-Sunburst Tie Dye Maxi Tank DressiconHow do you dress professionally for a heat wave? I got an emergency email from a reader, who noted that given the heat wave here in NYC her BigLaw firm has told her she’s free to dress “comfortable casual” (but not in denim) for the duration of the week. Given that the firm is already “business casual,” she’s a bit perplexed.  (Pictured:  Cute, but probably not what the firm had in mind, despite the number of maxi dresses that Bloomingdale’s has on sale right now.  This one was $138, now marked to $82. C&C California Bemberg-Sunburst Tie Dye Maxi Tank Dress)

This is a new phrase to me, but here’s my advice to any woman told that this week: I would stay the course and wear your usual “business casual” to work until you see your female superiors dressing differently. My guess is that this email is intended for the men, who may now be able to include polo shirts, short-sleeved shirts, and khaki pants in the mix. (To any male summer associates who are reading this blog: I’d be shocked — shocked! — if this email was the firm’s way of encouraging you to wear shorts to work during the week.)

I’m curious to hear what the readers say about this, but my attitude is that if you’re dressing properly for summer (for “business casual”) that most women are already sitting pretty, whether it’s Hot or Very Very Hot. For example:

  • If you’re wearing dresses or skirts, you already have a built-in ventilation system. If you’ve been wearing pantyhose to work, my guess is that you can relax that for the next week and skip the hose (but keep a pair or two in your office in case you’re called to a big meeting).
  • If you’ve been smart purchasing your summer wardrobe, fabrics like linen, cotton, and silk all breathe very easily. If you’ve worried that you look too “wrinkled” for work, I would also take this “comfortable casual” as an invitation to not worry about the wrinkles.
  • Know your office on this one — but ladies, if you feel vastly more comfortable wearing capris than pants to work, you might also want to see if other women in your office are doing it and then take that step. If you’re seeing knee-length shorts around your office (worn by your superiors, not the staff), and want to wear them, my best advice is to keep the rest of your outfit as professional as possible. For example, wear the knee-length shorts with a pair of closed-toe pumps (perhaps in a nude-for-you color) and a nice blouse. (But ultimately: are you THAT much more comfortable in shorts or capris than proper pants? I never have been, but maybe that’s me.)

(Also:  who wears denim to be comfortable during a heat wave?)

As always, I recommend keeping a blazer and/or cardigan (at least) in your office in the likely event that the A/C will be blasting, as well as a pair of closed-toe pumps in case you’re called into a big meeting at the last minute.

Readers, how do you dress professionally for a heat wave? What’s your take on “comfortable casual”?

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  1. I live in Atlanta and go to London on business several times a year. Summer can be murder – no ac on the very crowded underground, and a lot of offices have questionable ac. I purchased this dress from TM Lewin on my last trip:


    It’s high quality cotton, fits beautifully, is fully lined, and I’ve worn it with a black or beige jacket and nude color pumps for all sorts of meetings in NYC and Atlanta since. They do sell and ship to the US, and this particular dress is marked down from $450 to $225. I think the sizes may be UK sizes – check their size chart…

  2. I live in Miami and am in a business casual office. Luckily the temperature hasn’t been too high lately but when it gets really hot anything goes. I feel for you ladies suffering through the heatwave. Hang in there!

  3. Lefty lawyer :

    Loose-fitting sleeveless dress with silk jacket. Keep jacket on in office, take it off out doors. Hair in french twist.

  4. Speaking of heat, what do I wear for dinner and drinks in NYC this weekend? I’d usually wear skinny jeans and a fun top but might melt in that this weekend.

    • Corporate Tool :

      I’d say a sundress and pretty sandals with flashy jewelery. Everyone knows it’s a billion degrees.

  5. Sandals, no hose, sundress (not the strappy one you wear clubbing, loosely fitted, not tight anywhere) or cotton skirt with no waistband, sleeveless shirt designed not to be tucked. If you usually wear make-up, skip it.

    And watch that you don’t get testy in the heat wave.

    I’m living in Tampa, but grew up in Ohio. I think high temps in the midwest are higher right now than here, but what gets me is it never cools off. Even at night it may or may not go below 80.

  6. Anne Shirley :

    Since I guess I can’t call out sick because of the heat, today I’m wearing cotton capri pants (closer to ankle than to knee), a silk blouse with those nice cap sleeves that have no fabric over the underarm, and sandals. Counting the days to vacationing on Prince Edward Island.

  7. Anon Canadian :

    If today’s temperature reaches at least 33C (91F) then my Canadian city, Toronto, will be in a heat wave as it will be the 5th day in a row. It probably will because the temp at 10am this morning was already 27C (82F). Yesterday it got to 49C (120F) with the humidex and broke a record as the hottest day in July in Toronto since 1988. I think we’ve been about 5 degrees above our average July temp all week. With all that said, I’m in short sleeve knit top and khaki bermudas in my extremely casual office (I’m not the most casual person today by far) and I’ve got a long heavy sweat drapped over my legs because the air conditioner is too much for me.

  8. I’m wearing sundresses with a cardigan in the closet. With our heat index hovering around 116, I told my employees to wear anything they wanted to work yesterday and today. We don’t have any meetings this week, and we just go straight to our department and pretty much stay there for the day. My folks all walk or bike or metro to work, some for an hour or more, and it’s just inhumane to expect them to wear usual business clothes. I am asthmatic, too, and I’m going through inhalers like they’re chocolate candies. I told them they could change into work clothes once they got here if they wanted, and change back when they were going home, but if they wanted to just wear their shorts/skirts sans hose/capri pants all day, that was fine with me.

  9. Anon gov atty :

    Wednesday I wore a black cotton sleevless dress with a full skirt. Thursday I wore a black linen sheeth. Both days, the minute I entered my office, I put on a cardigan.
    Today, I am mixing it up a little by wearing a light weight short sleeved blouse with a knit flared skirt (American Apparel), and closed toed ballet flats. My office doesn’t seem to have a formal dress code (for instance one of the senior attorneys regularly wears yoga clothes to the office (and by yoga clothes, I mean apparel specifically designed for yoga), hence getting away with wearing a Dov Charney creation.
    I have had luck pulling my mid-lenght hair up into a twist/bun like creation, and securing with a clip. I do this in part to keep my hair off my neck, and in part to hide the number the humidity has done on my wavy/curly hair.

  10. Mountain Girl :

    High 80’s for us today but a quick drive into the mountains and we can see snow.

    And, I guess one of the benefits of getting older is no longer suffering from the intense AC in the buildings. I guess hot flashes are good for something, right?

  11. Thanks for the tips! Skirts and dresses have saved my life this summer. I would literally look like a hot mess if I tried to wear pantsuits to work, especially this week. (Hey! Look at that! I used the word “literally” correctly!)

  12. Lex Caritas :

    it’s about 60 degrees fareniheit in London, grey cold and miserable!

  13. I have a gamut of ruffled shells that I can wear outside and toss a thin cardigan over when I’m in the office. That’s my favorite “heat wave” solution.

  14. Lex Caritas :

    I hate to tell you this but it is 13C/55F today in London…..we’re all complaining about the miserable cold wet weather!

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