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What to wear to work in summer:

If you don't have a workplace dress policy, summer can be an awkward time deciding what to wear.
By Liz Roadley
Date: January 09 2013
Editor Rating:

The average temperature around Australia last Monday was 40 degrees. Even on a more normal summer’s day, the mercury generally hovers around 30 degrees in most areas, which can create a dilemma for many women depending on their workplace: what to wear.

This isn't an article about fashion - but about the workplace.

I was once consulting to a firm on a range of recruitment, workplace and HR issues and the CEO called me in and asked me to let the “women know what they should wear”. I asked the CEO – a man – who was always immaculately dressed himself, and on a 7 figure salary, did his company have a workplace dress policy. They didn’t; and when I asked how he wanted the employees in his company to dress, all he could come up with is “I don’t want women wearing clothes that they should wear to the beach.”

While he articulated it clumsily, what he was saying was fair enough. The company was in professional business services; they dealt with a wide range of people and other businesses; what he meant was he didn’t want low-cut or see-through gear, tank tops, midriff tops, short short skirts, pants that were way too tight, shorts or flip-flops. Some of the women at the company were dressed in such gear - and not just the younger ones as you might expect. One of the senior executive women, who must have been in her late 40s and obviously worked out well and looked after diet, was often seen in a see-through midriff top which left very little to the imagination.

On closer questioning, the CEO also said he didn’t like ‘casual Fridays’ even though everyone in the office other than he and one other wore jeans, t-shirts and sweatshirts.

My simple rule of thumb when advising people on what to wear to work is this: if you're not sure about it, then don’t wear it.

At all times, whether you’re the personal assistant or the CEO, people make a judgement about you by what you’re wearing. It may sound wrong, but it’s a fact. I’ve seen so many smart, talented people passed over for promotions simply because they didn’t dress in the appropriate manner for that workplace.

As temperatures rise and summer beckons, many employees – particularly women - may begin to question just what is the right dress code? Here’s some dos and don’ts of summer office fashion. They may not be right for every workplace, or even for you, but they may also be of help.

Never wear something that can be distracting. Steer clear of flip flops, shorts and tank tops, but there are still sophisticated ways to add a beachy feel to your work look. Brighter colours and lighter fabrics, like linen and cotton, bring both men and women comfortably into the season. For women, open-toed shoes are acceptable as long as your feet are clean and manicured. There's some great chunky heels and wedges around which look smart. A bold, vibrant nail polish and lipstick also add personality and style.

Long, hot hours and minutes in the car, bus, tram or train can be a nightmare, and you may peel off layers during your commute. Sleeveless tops are fine if you have the arms to pull it off. For most women under 40, no problem. However, for those who are older or heavier, be aware of what works for you. Unfortunately, we’re not all blessed with great arms no matter how hard we work at the gym or yoga!

If you have a tattoo, be aware of the type of work you do and what message it sends.  If it’s vulgar, never show it. If you do show it, it’s smart to keep a sweater or jacket on hand for client meetings.

Necklines should be conservative and hemlines generally around the knee – above is fine if you've got the legs, but check what happens when you sit or you cross your legs. Does it ride up to your thigh? If so, it's much too short and probably too tight. It’s not about skin, it’s about style.  

There’s lots of colour around this summer, which is great, but don’t dress head-to-toe in it. Use the colours with a belt, by pairing a bold top with a neutral coloured skirt or pants, or alternatively, a coloured skirt or pants with a neutral coloured top. By the way, I really love the emerald green and tangerine that is around.

There’s also lots of fun accessories around so use them. A statement necklace or vibrant coloured cuff bracelet helps pull everything together, as long as you don’t wear too much jewellery. Use a lighter coloured bag in a neutral or bright colour.

The top 6 items you should have in your work wardrobe are: a neutral coloured skirt, pants and jacket; white shirt; two coloured shirts or tops. If you can afford more, try the coloured pants or skirt and more tops.

My final bit of advice is to make sure you’re comfortable. That doesn’t mean sloppy, but if you’re busy adjusting something all day, or worried that something is showing, you haven’t dressed right and it works on your confidence levels – and that’s when work performance starts to be affected.

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David John says: 2020 03 12

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