What Not to Wear in the Office (Even During Summer)

Article by Workopolis.com‘s Elizabeth Bromstein

It can be difficult to get dressed for work in the middle of summer – especially for young professionals looking to make their mark. It’s hot – around here, we were subject to an insane heat wave for most of July and August, and September doesn’t look like it will be cooling down – who wants to wear office-y clothes when it’s hot? All those thick fabrics, long sleeves, pants and, in some crazy cases, panty hose. I’ve never really worn panty hose, but even when I see other women wearing them, my legs itch. And I feel for men who are required to wear suits to the office. It looks like torture in the warm weather of summer.

You want to throw on shorts and a t-shirt, or a sundress, and, obviously, flip-flops. But in most cases, you can’t. Some evil office overlord says so.

But are there acts of lesser dressing you can get away with? Every office is different, of course, but I asked some career experts what is and is not appropriate office wear. They all seemed to agree on a few things:

1. Exnay on the flip flops
2. Skirts should not be more than a couple of inches above the knee
3. If you’re going to go sleeveless, you need a cardigan or a jacket
4. Be mindful of cleavage
5. Avoid anything sheer
6. And absolutely no jeggings. Ever. (This last should apply to life in general.)

I’m going to go ahead and say men should never go sleeveless, and should never wear sandals. Granted, the latter might be more of a personal preference thing.

Also, while we’re on my personal preferences, leggings are NOT pants. Don’t wear them as a substitute for pants. It’s one thing to wear leggings with a long sweater – though that may be too casual for many environments – but quite another to pair them with a blouse and, say, a blazer that leaves your butt showing and call it an outfit.

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Back to the experts, they also agree that pedicures are mandatory if you’re going to wear sandals. Here are a few more of their best tips:

Chicago-based corporate trainer Susan Fignar says, “Remember to follow your company’s appearance standards…when in doubt, leave it out,” and adds, ” If you are a manager/leader, always step up your look. Keep a jacket in your car/office. Remember, your employees will take their cue from you.”

Fignar adds that jeans, if your company allows them, should be dark colours – so, no white or pink – dresses should not be made of “skimpy t-shirt fabrics,” and no white running shoes.

Success coach Stacia Pierce says, “Resist the urge to wear heavy fabrics during the warmer months, even if they are your favourite. Summer clothing made from cotton, linen, rayon, and nylon are best for breathability and lightness for hot summer days. Dresses, shirts, skirts and pants in these fabric types are easy to wear, look crisp and clean. The best part is clothing made with lightweight fabrics also keep you clean and dry.” Pierce also recommends layering. When it’s hot outside, workplaces are, of course, air-conditioned.

Resist the urge to dress sexy. This is more of a caution for women than men. I don’t even know what dressing sexy would mean for a man. But women might have a tendency to go for flesh-baring or tight clothing. Both men and women will take you less seriously. Even if you’re brilliant. A study by Peter Glick at Lawrence University found that “Participants exhibited more negative affect toward the sexily attired manager and rated her as less competent than [a] neutrally attired manager.”

So cleavage lowers the perception of your IQ. Interestingly, however, this only applied to women in high-status jobs. The report says, “In contrast, the appearance manipulation had no effect on emotions toward or competence ratings of the receptionist. These findings suggest that a sexy self-presentation harms women in high-, but not low-, status jobs.”

So, if you’re happy as a non-management position, this might be less of an issue. And, I should add that there’s nothing wrong with being happy in a non-strategic role. We don’t all have to shoot for the stars career-wise.

Finally, Jean Kelley, an executive coach, offers the most salient advice: “Dress like your boss, if your boss is regarded as leader in the company where you work. My personal opinion – if you work for a large company the less skin showing the better. If you work for a small company where you are meeting the public every day, the less skin the better. This goes for men and women alike.”

Now go change.

Cover Image courtesy Devils Food Catering