Staying Cool in a Hot Office

Fan, originally uploaded to Flickr by Ryk Neethling.

2016 Update: Check out our latest discussion on staying cool on a hot day.

How do you stay cool in an overheated office? Reader L — who notes that she is nowhere near “hot flash” territory — wants some advice on working with some overactive radiators:

You’ve written about staying warm in a cold office. What about staying cool in a hot office? The weather outside is frightful, but my office feeling as hot as fire is not so delightful.

Great question, and I’m curious to hear what readers say. (Pictured.) Some tips off the top of my head:

  • Dress in layers. Obviously. You may want to particularly look into breathable fabrics like cotton, linen, and silk (which can block cold winds outside but still be comfortable inside).

  • Get a fan.  Whether you open the window or not, at least you won’t be sitting in stagnant hot air.  (Personally I love Vornado fans for the office because they’re super quiet but powerful.)  If you really want to try to cool down, put a bowl of ice in front of the fan (so you’re blowing cool air towards you).
  • Drink a lot of cool liquids. Ice coffee for you! While you’re drinking cool liquids, you may also want to take the time to put the cold can/cup against your pulse points — think the back of your wrist, the back of your knees — because it can help you cool down.
  • Take a few tricks from the ladies with hot flashes — for example, maybe consider faux pearls that are can be frozenHealth magazine has a few other good suggestions.

Readers, what do you do when your radiator goes into overdrive?  How do you stay cool in a hot office?


  1. e_pontellier :

    Oh dear! Kat, when I clicked “read more” the top half of the article disappeared.

  2. Dressmaking question :

    Ladies who can sew,
    I want to have an old skirt of my mother’s made into a cocktail dress for sentimental reasons. I have found only one person in Boston who will do it and she quoted $350 for labor. (I am providing the skirt as material and the pattern was classified as “easy” by a sewing site. ) Is her price reasonable or not so much? If you know of anyone who might take on this project, please reply!

    • Could you try Craiglist? I know Etsy used to have a feature where people could “bid” on projects, but I’m not sure if it exists anymore. A cocktail dress will probably require fittings, so staying local is ideal.

      • Whoops. In moderation. Suggestions are C r ai g s list and E t sy (which used to have a bidding feature for projects – I’m not sure if it still exists).

    • I have no recommendations, but $350 sounds incredibly high for something like that.

    • Kontraktor :

      This seems really, really high for a simple dress for which you are providing a pattern (it doens’t seem like you are asking to design from scratch and have a pattern drafted). I paid about $400 to have my wedding dress altered, and that required extensive work with beads, bodice boning, delicate tulle, etc. Are you sure there is really only one person in Boston? It’s a pretty big city. Where have you been looking? Try searching for terms like dressmaker, seamstress, tailor, custom clothing, etc. Check Craigslist or possibly Yelp for suggestions. If you really can’t find anybody, what about checking for somebody in NYC? You could head down there on a weekend trip to drop the dress off. Another thing to maybe consider might be going to a class at Michaels/Jo Ann’s/local fabric or craft shop and talking to the sewers there (either attending or teaching the class) to see if anybody would do it for you. What about etsy? Any sewing shops you might find that could recommend somebody?

      • e_pontellier :

        Going to a sewing class at Michaels/Jo Ann’s to see if an experienced seamstress would sew for you is a BRILLIANT idea.

      • I am in Boston. The people at Winmill fabrics in Chinatown are usually quite helpful and might have suggestions.

        I personally use Jerry’s tailor in Back Bay for alterations. Not sure if he does full on sewing projects but there’s another shop I always pass that I think is on Gloucester or Fairfield and seems to be a dressmaker.

    • I would recommend Jack’s Tailoring and Dry Cleaning on Mass. Ave in Porter Square. He is an excellent tailor in my experience. $350 seems like a lot to me! It might be worth calling in advance to make sure it’s something he can do, but he is very good.

    • I sew a lot and make a lot of my clothes. I’m not sure if it is reasonable for where you are since I don’t know what the going rate is there for things like that. However, taking the fabric from one garment to make another is pretty labor intensive, even if the end garment is relatively simple. I think it is actually harder than just starting from scratch with new, uncut fabric. The original garment has to be picked apart carefully so as not to damage the fabric. Then the pieces of fabric have to be matched up with the new pattern pieces (and they have to be aligned with the grain of the fabric so the final garment hangs correctly). The condition of the fabric can be a problem, too, but I’m assuming the fabric is still okay.

      The more different the starting and ending garments are, the more difficult that will be. Going from a skirt to a dress would be on the more difficult end of that spectrum. I am having a little trouble envisioning that there would be enough fabric in a skirt to do that unless it were a very long or full skirt (but the seamstress/tailor you spoke to would know better than I would).

      • Agreed. It is a high price but its nowhere near as easy as taking in a waist or hemming pants (which runs around $20-50). I sew my own dresses too and even an easy pattern + time to cut out pattern + time to cut out new fabric + sewing takes me something like 5-6 hours total. Let’s assume the tailor is much better than me (which is true), you’re still looking at at least 2-3 hours of highly skilled work. 350 is high, but not outrageous.

        • just Karen :

          Using a skirt as the fabric is MUCH harder than providing a bolt of fabric, and unless it is a tiny dress and a full (voluminous) maxi skirt, is going to require creativity to minimize waste fabric.

        • Saacnmama :

          Hemming pants $50?!!

    • Just out of curiosity, can you link to the pattern? Would be interesting to see what you’re thinking!

    • IF you’re just handing over the skirt in its current state and having it taken apart then sewn into a dress, I’m thinking this is a solid 3-4 hours (if not more) worth of work–just because the pattern is “easy” doesn’t mean it is “quick.” $350 sounds on the high side of reasonable, but you might not do better.

      • Saacnmama :

        Seam rippers are inexpensive & easy to use. Wonder how much it would bring the price down to present the separate pieces of the skirt, taken apart and pressed, rather than the garment? There would still be the tricky matching of fabric to pattern so the dress hangs right, but you might even be able to suggest a couple of ways to do that. Perhaps you could also find some other fabric that coordinates to supplement the fabric for the dress in some creative way (the waistband, goring for the skirt, cap sleeves, whatever, depending on the dress)

    • You might wanna see if someone on will do this– I think I’ve seen similar things posted.

    • I am not sure what the skirt looks like or what you are trying to do. However, if it is a skirt that fits you and looks the way you want the skirt of the dress to look, and you are just looking to have a top added, you might look at this:

      Perhaps you could find a top that matches the skirt/ goes with the skirt in the way you want it to look, or is relatively close, and then ask the seamstress to combine them. That might require some taking in of the top, and then sewing them together. That would probably be a much lower price than creating the top/ bodice from scratch or altering the skirt to look different.

      Unless the skirt is a ballgown, you are probably going to end up with a top that looks different than the bottom anyway.

    • 50 years of sewing experience here, and would not take this on for any price. Redoing something is usually much more complex than making it from scratch, so you can forget the “easy” label right off. If you want something specific done, problems with old fabric may cause endless trouble, not easily classified in advance. Construction to undo may be riddled with pitfalls not easily compatible with the plan. And we’re talking about a whole new fitting adventure, because it wasn’t yours to begin with, and because your pattern may be a dud (like Simplicity, McCall, Butterick, even Vogue).

      Sure, you can find some kid on etsy or craigslist to take it on for less. But if you have a great sentimental attachment to something, I’d hand it to the competent seamstress with the money, which is likely to be well-earned.

  3. impecable timing on this topic! it’s unseasonably warm outside, but our heating system doesn’t seem to realize this yet, and it’s sooo hot in here! i wear cardigans and flats. i can take them both off if i am just sitting in my cube :)

    • Legally Red :

      You must work in my office! It was so warm yesterday that I felt ill. I was very thankful to be wearing a short sleeve shell rather than sleeveless.

  4. karenpadi :

    Oh, dear, this topic is almost too good for my threadjack.

    Speaking of “hot offices”, my former mentor at another firm who tried to have an affair with me just emailed me asking me out to a movie. After cutting contact, I haven’t heard from him in years (thank goodness!).

    I’m taking this break to “cool down” by taking deep breaths, getting some water, and trying to put my initial reaction (panic? dread? “oh no he found me”?) into context. I might leave for an early lunch.

    We’ve talked about unwelcome advances at work before, anyone else ever have this kind of reaction years later?

    • It is traumatizing to be subjected to unwanted advances because people who show no respect for you and your autonomy are scary and dehumanize you. I had a job as a teenager where I was subjected to sexual harassment and verbal abuse. I ran into one of the managers from that place about a year ago, and I had a physical panic reaction to seeing him – racing heart, etc. – even 15 years after the fact.

      So, no, I don’t think it’s strange that you would have a strong reaction to hearing from him again. Do whatever you need to do to get throught it. FWIW, my advice is to just ignore the email. He will take any response (even telling him not to contact you) as encouragement.

      • I (and a law school friend) were successful in putting off unwelcome advances (separate people) by saying that we were *so* busy and we would get in touch when our schedules cleared. However, we were in law school and terrified of pissing off VIPs. In your case I would “lose” the email.

        Also, this SUX and I’m sorry it’s happening. It’s okay for it to suck.

    • des-pairing :

      +1 on what DC Jenny said. Take a walk! Hope you feel better!

    • karenpadi :

      Thanks! I took a walk, got lunch, and deleted the email. I’m feeling better now.

      • e_pontellier :

        Could you email your IT department and let them know that this should go directly to spam?

        • +1. And let your secretary know that if person X calls, do not put them into my voicemail, etc. Period.

        • Saacnmama :

          On most email programs, it’s pretty easy to block certain addresses or send them to spam. No telling how the IT dept would let this request affect their future response to your other tech issues. No, that’s not the way the world should work.

          As for “has this ever happened to you?”–only with high school classmates approaching middle age.

        • Second Saacnmama. Look in your mailer’s help, and setup a filter to send anything from this person’s email directly to trash. This way no hyperventilating from even knowing he’s trying to get in touch with you.
          And if he shows up on LinkedIn or something, don’t accept his invitation!
          Don’t worry, he’s sure to know why you’re ignoring him and be leery of raising a fuss. He probably just got ditched by his long-suffering wife, and is trying to see whether a previous victim will step in…

  5. long time lurker :

    Beware the power of the sun. My office is fine in the a.m. but when the sun comes through in the afternoon, it is boiling. So I make sure to lower the blinds and up the a/c mid-day to compensate. If not I come back from lunch to a sweatshop.

    Someone gifted me so sort of cooling spritzer in rose water. I break that out if it gets bad. The scent is not very detectable and it is cooling.

    I also read cool drinks are not the best because your body generates heat to warm the liquid up to your temp as you digest it. No idea if this is true.

    My whole life I’ve been someone who is always on the warm side. Even as a kid. I think my temperature is calibrated different than others. I love snow, skiing and brisk days and am decidedly not a summer person.

  6. CrimsonClover :

    Here’s one better; what is one to do when they share an office with someone who wears knit hoodies in August and has asked me to have the fan on only blowing in the opposite direction of them…on the floor, if I must at all.

    For the record, it’s an interior, interior office with ZERO circulation, which is the main reason I require the fan (just to breathe!).

    I can’t take any more layers off without becoming inappropriate, but most afternoons by 3:00pm I’m literally sweating just sitting in place… Has anyone else encountered this issue?

    • Sydney Bristow :

      Oh my god, are you my officemate? I share a tiny interior office and week keep the fan on for circulation, but the only place to put the fan is in a way that it creates a wind tunnel effect pointed at me and I wind up freezing. We’ve tried to change the angle and I try to wear extra layers and if I just get way too cold ill ask to turn it off for awhile, but I know we will turn it back on because it really is necessary. So no, I don’t really have any advice. I’ve seen small USB-powered fans before. Maybe you could get one just to cool yourself down. It might not help much with the circulation though.

      • CrimsonClover :

        Hahaha, sounds familiar, huh?

        I totally get being too cold or too hot can be majorly uncomfortable depending on the individual in question, but me dealing with the one stiff ankle (from the constant stream of air on it) and sweat stains so the other person is comfortable doesn’t seem to be a very fair compromise…

        I’m always blown away by these situations though, most likely because I was raised in home where it was always reiterated to me that if I or someone else is cold, they can put more layers on but I/they on the other hand, cannot take all of mine/their’s off.

        Such is life I guess…

        • Sydney Bristow :

          Haha, maybe you guys should talk about it and compromise so that you can turn the fan on for awhile so it isn’t just blasting your foot and do your best to not blow it directly at her and she can put on a thicker sweater and then switch back for awhile.

          I formally wait until I’m at the point of shivering or putting my gloves on to type before asking if we can turn it off for awhile though because I try to be sensitive to the need for air circulation. Although I don’t typically think that my officemates are overly warm. It really is mainly for air circulation.

    • Meg Murry :

      is the fan in your office the type that circulates air around the whole room? Could you try a small desk fan that blows right on your fan instead? I have a slim desk fan that blows right on my face but no breeze makes it past me as it’s a small blast of directed air. Or is her side of the office near the ductwork & drafty – could you re-arrange your desks? Or is it like another poster mentioned – are you sitting in a desk that gets warmed by the sun while she is in the shade?

      This is the fan I have. One of the better cheap online purchases I ever made.

      • CrimsonClover :

        All good ideas ladies, but unfortunately I think it’s just that they can’t stand ANY MOVING AIR AT ALL (interior, interior, off-a-hallway office means no windows- it gets stiffling!)… also, said person won’t even speak to me (not joking in the least) because they harbor such…I honestly don’t know what/why (they apparently have issues with several other individuals in the office as well and the higher ups are well aware). So, asking to rearrange anything/do anything differently is unfortunately not an option, less I want to get the death stare/verbal dismissal.

        • Well, if you can’t do anything right, then you may as well please yourself :-).
          I’d definitely get a big fan and keep it going any minute the person isn’t actually in your office. Early morning, meetings, lunchtime, late work, sick days, they can’t be there -all- the time, and any ventilation you get going on your own will improve matters in the long run.
          My grandmother was like that, paranoid about any air movement, it’s a trial..

  7. VeggieVeg :

    Anyone participated in legal pro bono volunteer work in NYC that they would recommend? I’m a govt attorney, so I need to volunteer with an organization that provides malpractice insurance. Looking to help out but also further develop my skills. Thanks so much!

  8. Meg Murry :

    Anyone else in a backwards climate offic? In the winter my office is 75 degrees or warmer, in the summer it’s often below 65 degrees with a strong cold breeze. Then our conference rooms are usually a complete different temperature. And we try to keep our utility costs low at home, so it’s usually the opposite there – 65 in winter, 75 in summer. I feel like I do SO MUCH LAUNDRY because every outfit consists of 3-4 layers – cami + shortsleeve + longsleeve + sweater or jacket that I spend the whole day adding or removing.

    • Oh, yeah — I nicknamed my last office “The Southern Hemisphere” because it was always boiling in the winter and freezing in the summer.

    • My office here in Florida has the same problem: like a meat locker in the summer, when it’s 95 degrees outside. But now that it’s winter, the Floridians want it warm and cozy inside, while I’m sweating buckets.

      The way I deal is to dress for the “indoor season,” and then adjust for the commute. So this time of year, I wear bare legs and sleeveless to work, topped with a giant wool overcoat. In the summer, I wear long pants with flip flops to commute, and carry a sweater and/or a suit jacket.

    • Don’t talk comfort to them, or ecology, talk money for the extra expense incurred..

  9. I’m not sure if anyone actually still remembers me since I lost my job and then dropped off the Corporette planet (it’s funny, but once I wasn’t in the office anymore, blog reading dried up pretty quickly). I wanted to give anyone who remembered an update, though.

    After losing my job as the solo knowledge manager at a consulting firm in New York, I went on an intensive job hunt. I interviewed a lot of places, cried a lot of tears, ate a lot of comfort Haagen-Dazs, and at the end of September when the lease on my NY apartment was up…I moved home to the Midwest and in with my parents, getting seasonal employment at Target to help with the expenses.

    Two and a half weeks after I started at Target, I was offered a long-term temp job at a Chicago bank, in their research center.

    It took about six months in total, but I’ve gotten back on my feet, and I think I’m in a better place now (temporary nature of the job aside).

    • So glad things are working out for you! Hang in there – maybe the job will go permanent?

    • Sorry this change involved so much life disruption, but it sounds like it’s coming together! Congratulations, and thanks for the update :-).

  10. Those faux pearl things don’t work worth a crap, and their customer service is useless and will not help you if you want to return it. Don’t waste your money.

  11. Saacnmama :

    This is the first time I’ve heard of the faux pearls. Might be a funny addition to the pile of gag gifts for my sister’s 50th next year.

  12. Yeah, how about conversations about compromise? I’m ALWAYS cold, and I’ve gotten to the point where I won’t expect sympathy because my coworkers (mostly male) are either comfortable or even hot. However, I was recently at a client and the thermostat was set to 67! Tell me that is not okay! They refused to turn it up for me. I initially didn’t complain, but it got to the point where it was ridiculous. I wore two pairs of socks under my boots the first day. I wore super thick wool socks the rest of the week. Big heavy sweaters with layers under them. The only thing else I could do was possibly wear leggings under my pants. I used my winter coat (big down jacket) as a blanket.

    I know there is the saying that you can always put more clothes on.. but I think I was wearing as much clothing as possible… and even with all that, my hands were cold. I can’t work in gloves.. Sigh. I guess I’m just meant to clash with everyone that runs hot all the time.

    • 67 is probably just barely legal in many states, you might want to check? But you can too type with gloves, you just need to discover fingerless mittens ::-). I highly recommend them..

  13. Hold the pulse in your wrists under a cold running tap…is what my nan always used to do ;p

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