Summer Dress Code Q&A

Dress Code Q&A

I receive dozens of emails a week about getting dressed for the office. Warmer weather tends to make getting dressed appropriately even more of a challenge. Today, I’m answering some of the most popular questions. Have more?  Leave them in the comments below, and I’ll answer all of them!

Is it okay to wear sleeveless?

This is one of those, “it depends” answers, which I hate to give. Is your office casual? Then you’re fine. Is it conservative? Then consider a cap sleeve or have a sweater or jacket option on hand for meetings.

I regularly wear sleeveless sheath dresses. They are tailored and structured, so they look professional. I balance the bare arm with a longer hem, making sure that my skirt hits at the top of my knee.

Think of it like this: Almost any item can be appropriate if made in a better fabric, has an excellent fit, and is pair with professional staples.

My challenge is the shift in temperatures, it’s hot outside, but my office is freezing! How do I dress for both?

When the temperatures rise, it’s important to create outfits that allow you to layer throughout the day. For example, maybe you commute to and from work in a sleeveless tank or dress, and when you get to the office add a lightweight jacket or cardigan. Be sure to buy seasonally appropriate fabrics. Instead of trying to “get away with” your winter weight pants, swap them out for lighter weight pieces in seasonal cuts, like an ankle pant and a three quarter length blazer.

Also, focus on your core pieces. Instead of a tank that you would never wear on its own, replace it with a more substantial shell. Every piece you wear should be able to stand alone, and every piece you add should enhance your look.

Can I wear my white jeans to work?

Absolutely, if jeans are permitted.  I love them with a patterned silk shell and bright cardigan or cotton blazer.  See our most recent post on white jeans here.  

Are flats appropriate in a professional office? What about open toes?

Flats, yes, are always appropriate. Just watch the style of the flat as some are more professional than others. Avoid a rubber sole and opt for a pointed toe instead of a rounded one.  I just purchased these black flats for my weekend in Chicago.  They are a nice mix of polished and casual and very comfortable.

The open toe gets tricky. A peep toe is fine, but all your toes on display is a less than elegant look in the office. If I’m in a conservative office in the summer, I’ll wear a peep toe (showing just two toes) with a heal, so there’s balance.  I wear these wedges and these pumps, both by Cole Haan often.

Casual offices are another story. Even in the most relaxed environment, I wouldn’t wear flip-flops or Birkenstocks. I like to think that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. There are so many other equally casual options that look so much better if you are a professional.

How do you tell someone on your team that they are dressing in an inappropriate manner?

This is such a tough question because of the many caveats. Don’t do what many people do and bring someone like myself in to talk to the group. There is nothing worse in my business than having to stand in front of a group of well-dressed employees, talking about the importance dressing for success is, because one person won’t iron their shirt. We’re all too smart for that. Likewise, don’t send out a random, “reminder” email.

Your best bet is to have an honest, private conversation with a focus on empathy and support. Let this person know that you want to see them succeed and discuss some of the challenges you see. It’s helpful to relate it back to lessons you may have learned along the way, and frame the conversation like a normal path to next steps rather than a criticism. Finally, try to avoid focusing on style. Style of dress is easily dismissed as frivolous. Instead, talk about appropriateness, fit, and quality.

Megan Kristel

Megan Kristel is an entrepreneur, working mom, and former personal stylist. Tired of the one-dimensional portrayal of women online, she founded The Well Dressed Life as a resource for other professional women.

4 Comments
  1. I just found your blog and I love it! I’m a teacher, so I’m off for the summer. Do you have posts/plan to have a post about dressing well when you’re casual/off for the summer?

    1. Hey Lisa! Thanks and welcome! Our Wednesday posts are the only ones that focus on professional/office wear. We provide advice for casual style in almost all of our other daily posts. As we get into the warmer weather, you’ll see more specifics each day. If you ever have a particular question or challenge please let us know!

  2. What should you wear under thinner blouses? I feel just a bra is not appropriate; if I wear a spaghetti strap tank, my bra strap shows; and if I wear a thick tank, it seems too much.

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