2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on comfortable casual for a heat wave — but you may also want to check out our more recent post on summer work clothes or our brand new Ultimate Guide to Business Casual for Women!
How 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”?