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So you’ve switched from a freezing office to an office that’s too hot — and going sleeveless at work may not be an option. How can you stay cool and comfortable at work? Reader C wonders how to cool down in a hot office…
I’ve read a lot of your posts, and in my old office lived by your advice regarding staying warm in a freezing-cold office.
However, my new building has the opposite problem. Much of the time, especially now as we approach summer, my area of the building is very warm. As in, I-wish-our-dress-code-permitted-swimsuits warm (we are unfortunately business casual with an emphasis on the casual, but sleeveless isn’t allowed).
Some women, including higher-ups, wear sleeveless anyways. I’ve done this a few times, but feel awkward when I have to talking to our VPs (I do this fairly regularly) although nobody has ever said anything about my clothes. Any advice?
We feel for you, Reader C! It’s been about a year since we talked about how to look professional when it’s hot or professional clothes for summer; we’ve also answered readers’ questions about “comfortable casual” workwear in a heat wave and staying cool when the heat is blasting in the winter. More recently, we’ve talked about summer makeup and summer hair, lightweight pants and lightweight blazers, and pantyhose in the summer.
To help Reader C, we’ve collected some helpful tips from Corporette readers on hot weather/hot offices — and added some of our own. We hope they’ll help you stay cool (well, cool-er, at least), even if you don’t go sleeveless.
How to Cool Down in a Hot Office
Buy a fan and bring it to the office — just a small $10-15 one can make a big difference in your comfort level. A bonus, especially if you work in an open office: It’ll also provide white noise while you work. (I have this one, which has great reviews at Amazon — it worked really well at a previous job where my desk was on the third floor of a 1930s-era building, right next to a giant, south-facing window.) Even better, put a bowl of ice in front of the fan and it will blow cool air your way.
Try seersucker. In your business-casual office, seersucker dresses or pants can be lifesavers. Seersucker dresses (like the one above) or seersucker pants (see below) can be great options. A linen-blend cardigan, shrug or blazer might also be a good option for you.
Looking for great seersucker pants? These are the latest options…
Another caveat: Confirm what you’re buying is cotton; some items that are referred to as seersucker are actually made of polyester and other synthetic fabrics.
Hunting for lightweight blazers in linen and other fabrics? As of 2023, J.Crew’s Parke blazer is available in linen, as is this super affordable Quince blazer. Along related lines (all machine washable!), check out Uniqlo’s Airsense jacket (lightweight and stretchy), Madewell’s Drapeweave line (lightweight and drapey) and Brooks Brothers’ Soft Icons line (lightweight and drapey).
Use shoe liners/no-show socks. Underneath closed-toe shoes, these will stop your bare feet from sliding around in your shoes when you sweat. These Hue No-Show Socks (available for $6.50 at Nordstrom in white, cream, and black) have 70+ excellent reviews. Alternately, try inserts/insoles that are designed to keep your feet dry and odor-free, like Silver Linings (5 pairs at Amazon for $16) or Summer Soles (3 pairs at Amazon for $19).
Wear pants in linen or a linen blend. Kat recommended a few in the recent lightweight pants post. Of course — as everyone who’s worn linen for more than three minutes knows — it tends to wrinkle, and quickly. (However, it just might be worth it.) Pairing them with a more structured top is a good bet to stay looking professional.
Skip the cotton underwear. Something you might not think about when dressing to cool down is what you’re wearing underneath your clothes. Cotton underwear seems like it might help you stay cool, and yes, cotton is breathable — but when you sweat on it, it doesn’t dry too quickly. Moisture-wicking material might be a better bet. xoJane did a recent post about this and recommended Knix (here are a few at Bare Necessities), Dear Kate, and Thinx.
Consider leaving your “dry clean only” clothes in your closet. With washable fabrics, sweating in your clothes is no big deal — just throw them in the machine to freshen them up for next time. (We regularly feature washable work clothes at CorporetteMoms!)
Make sure your antiperspirant is up to the task. This is more of a “before clothes” tip rather than a clothing tip (and who knows, maybe Reader C has already got this covered), but several commenters have recommended Certain Dri, a strong OTC antiperspirant available at many drugstores, discount stores (Target, etc.), and grocery stores. It’s got great reviews on Amazon; however, some of the reviewers note that the current version of the product is not as effective as the previous one, so YMMV.
Run cold water over your wrists. This may be a tip that everyone knows — but maybe not. If you’re at work and feeling like you’re melting, remember that your wrists are among your pulse points, where your blood vessels are closer to your skin. Stop by the kitchen or bathroom sink to get some temporary relief by increasing the heat you release from your body. (Read more about the science behind it in this CBC News article.) You could also try holding some ice against them, or a cold can of soda.
Use blotting papers/oil-absorbing sheets. I’ve been carrying around Clean & Clear Oil-Absorbing Sheets ($9 for 100 at Amazon) for years because they work so well (Amazon reviewers agree). Although they don’t actually make you any cooler, removing a lot of the oil and sweat on your face can really make you feel “fresher,” and they’re handy to have in your desk. These Palladio Rice Paper Tissues appear a bit more environmentally-friendly — and are also not bright blue ($5 at Amazon for 40).
Find a good summer bra. I have yet to locate one myself (it may be the unicorn of underthings), but I’m leaning toward this one: Wacoal ‘65124’ T-Back Seamless Underwire Bra (available in four colors at Nordstrom, $30-46, sizes 32C-38DD). It sounds pretty promising — it’s made of moisture-wicking fabric (combined with spandex), it’s seamless, and it’s gotten 150+ good reviews. If you find that your bra gets sweaty on your commute, you may want to check out Wickem Liners.
Some other smart products to help you cool down in a hot office or on your commute:
What are your best tips for keeping comfortable when you’re working in a hot office? How do you feel about seersucker — too preppy, or no? Is linen worth the wrinkles in some cases?
This post was originally written in 2015, but substantially updated in 2020 except where otherwise noted. Updated images (woman with fan) are via Deposit Photos / fizkes.