The do’s and don’ts of summer office fashion

An expert discusses how to dress appropriately for both the weather and the workplace.

Summer weather can make dressing up for work a really confusing situation. On one hand, it’s really hot outside and you want to be comfortable, on the other, you have a job and don’t want people to think you’re dressing totally inappropriately for work. To help you find a way to satisfy both sides—the weather and your job—we spoke with Brandi Britton, district president of OfficeTeam, a Robert Half company, about her do’s and don’ts for summer office fashion.

1. DO opt for lighter fabrics.

According to Brandi, you can have fun dressing up for work in the summer by wearing clothes in silhouettes that are already office-friendly, but in lighter fabrics to keep your body cool (think: a sheath dress in cotton as opposed to wool).

2. DON’T go too light.

Even though thin dresses are super-popular for warm weather, if they’re too thin, or worse, sheer or see-through, they aren’t acceptable for work, says Britton.

3. DON’T show too much skin.

If you want to show some skin, Britton advises to keep these limited to either arms or legs at one time, but that doesn’t mean you should wear mini skirts or tube tops. Showing off too much skin “is never appropriate,” she says. Short-sleeve tops or dresses are an office-friendly way to show off your arms. If you’re going to bare your legs, to be safe, make sure your skirt hits mid-knee—nothing shorter. And keep your back and bust covered.

How to Dress Up for Work in the Summer
Show off your arms or legs, not both in the same outfit. Photo: iStock Photo: iStock

4. DO have a cardigan.

The only exception to the universal “no spaghetti straps” rule is if you pair a spaghetti-strap top or dress with a cardigan to keep your arms covered. “Even though it may be hot outside, the office is often very cold,” Britton says. With a cardigan, “you can have that ability to take it off when you’re outside and put it on if the air-conditioning is on too high.”

5. DO dress in brighter colors.

Summer is the time to have fun with brighter colors, like yellow or orange, in your work attire that you normally wouldn’t wear in colder months. “Help your office not look like a morgue,” Britton jokes.

6. DON’T dress too casually.

Can’t wait to bust out your favorite maxi dress to wear to the office? You probably should save that for another time. According to Britton, maxi dresses, as well as tattered t-shirts (even if it’s from your favorite band) and halter tops are all no-nos for summer office fashion.

7. DO take a look at what other people are wearing.

If everyone else is still dressed pretty formally for work during the summer, you’ll want to do the same. If you’re not sure, it’s probably not the right thing to wear, Britton says.

What Shoes Can You Wear to Work in the Summer
Make sure your feet are well-groomed before showing off your toes at work. Photo: iStock Photo: iStock

8. DO have a reasonable amount of fun with your footwear.

Open-toed shoes, wedge sandals (“as long as they’re not too casual or distracting” because of the sounds they make as you walk or because of a lot of ornaments or hardware on them) and sandals with straps around the heel all get the greenlight for summer office footwear from Britton, but flip-flops and gladiator sandals aren’t office-appropriate. Think you need to hit the nail salon before you can show your toes? Britton says, “A pedicure isn’t necessary, but you don’t want your feet to be the talk of the office.” Aim for trimmed nails without chipped polish and generally well-groomed tootsies.

9. DO know your company’s dress code.

If you know your company has a policy, then of course, follow it. But in case they don’t, Britton suggests asking yourself this question as a rule of thumb: “If you’d wear it to a picnic or to the beach, you probably shouldn’t wear it to the office.”

10. DO have your own dress code.

Even if your company doesn’t have one, create a standard of dressing for work for yourself. “That doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit to work, but you also don’t want to wear clothing that’s so revealing or so casual that you’re remembered more for your outfit than your work product,” Britton says. This is especially important to consider if you’re looking for a promotion. “If you are wanting career progression, you should probably stick to more professional attire.” No matter the season, dress for the job you want, as they say.