How to Cool Down in a Hot Office

Staying cool in a hot office -- seersucker dressSo 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…

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 hairlightweight 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.

  • 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. Note that many of the dresses below are sleeveless — I tried to find one with cap sleeves without any luck — but also note that a lot of them come with matching blazers. A linen-blend cardigan or shrug might also be a good option for you (such as this one, on sale at Dillards for $15), and while short-sleeved suits can be hit or miss, this Brooks Brothers jacket is very cute. 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. All of the pieces listed below are either 100% cotton or contain a very high percentage:
  • 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 (available only at The Grommet).
  • 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. (My inner 6-year-old covets the Hello Kitty limited edition ones, which I can’t seem to find anywhere.) 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.

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?

(Pictured at top: Anne Klein Seersucker Dress, available at Amazon for $99.)


N.B. These substantive posts are intended to be a source of community comment on a particular topic, which readers can browse through without having to sift out a lot of unrelated comments. And so, although of course we highly value all comments by our readers, we’re going to ask you to please keep your comments on topic; threadjacks will be deleted at our sole discretion and convenience. Thank you for your understanding!


  1. Drink something cold.

    • I do this to help regulate my body temp. When it’s cold, tea, when it’s hot, ice water. I get so chilled at restaurants partly because I am drinking cold water!

  2. I am always hot, or at least my office is stuffy. I have a small fan about 4″ in diameter that is next to my phone and is very unobtrusive. I don’t like to be sleeveless so will often have to wear a jacket over sleeveless dresses and tops (even though it is not specifically outlawed, I think it is too much skin) so I have a lightweight, short-sleeved cardigan that I can replace the jacket with if I’m not. I also have some lightweight shells with cap sleeves. And I agree that socks and some shoes can add to the hot feeling, so I go without as often as possible.

    • I had the same problem at my old office, but we just moved to new offices. I do NOT know yet howbad the a/c will be b/c it has NOT been hot yet, but it will be soon. I had a big fan (10″) that I bought and was using. I had Frank put it in the closet, but I know where it is if it get’s hot in here. I do have good circulation by the window, but NO view (FOOEY b/c I hoped that moveing would get me a nice view, but NOT on a floor that look’s out on the dumpster’s! DOUBEL FOOEY ON THE DUMPSTER’s!).

      The manageing partner said we could save money by NOT goieng to an upper floor, but we hear the garbage men when we come in and also when we leave.

      I think that the OP should wear sleaveless dresses ONLY if she does NOT have someone like Frank around, b/c men like him LOVE to look in to our sleeveless dresses and stare at our boobies. Cap sleeve’s are the best, but NOT if it is realy hot. I always had some baby powder to put on so that I was not sweateing to much. We have to wear stocking’s so bare legs are NOT an option for us. You are very lucky! YAY!!!!!

    • Sydney Bristow :

      I personally don’t like to go sleeveless so I typically keep a short-sleeved cardigan with me in case my office gets too warm. If it is especially humid and gross on my way into work I normally wear it when I get in and throughout the morning until I cool down. A black, gray, and colored one seems to get me through with most of my outfits.

      I’m looking to buy some new ones this year so I’d love suggestions if anyone has any. The ones I have are a few years old and from New York & Co but I’ve had bad luck with their sweaters lately so I don’t really want to buy new ones from there.

  3. Opps, accidental threadjack.

  4. If the higher ups are wearing sleeveless dresses, I think OP is safe in doing so as well. Many dress codes prohibit sleeveless clothing but there is a big difference between a sleeveless tanktop and a sleeveless sheath dress. OP could also keep a sweater or two in the office and throw them on for any VP meetings.

    • Shopaholic :

      When my office is hot, I usually just wear a sleeveless dress and a lightweight blazer. I take off the blazer in my office but usually put it back on for meetings FWIW.

  5. Baconpancakes :

    On this topic, I have a seersucker blazer I’d like to wear to keep cool but still look professional. I know seersucker is supposed to wrinkle and not be crisp, but after washing, it’s gotten so bad the pocket linings are flipping over and the lapels are curling up. It looks pretty terrible. Should I iron, steam, or give up? Suggestions on seersucker care?

    Also, Kat, not sure what’s up, but the latest posts disappear in Chrome, and the comment box is flipping out in IE.

  6. Why not go sleeveless at your desk and put a blazer on when you leave your desk?

  7. Anonymous Associate :

    I agree with sleeveless at desk, and bring a cardigan or jacket for walking around the office. There are also very professional sleeveless pieces that have moderate shoulder coverage, and some come with coordinated jackets/cardigans. Think St. John and Escada, or cheaper versions of these. If sleeveless just won’t fly, cap sleeves would be a great option.

    I would skip pants and just wear skirts and dresses.

    For shoes, if you can do sling backs/peep toe, that’d be cool. But if you office is more conservative, pumps are the way to go so you can easily slide them off at your desk if you start getting hot.

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