With hearty tweeds, gravid colors and crisp cuts, fall clothes tend to lend themselves to an office setting.
Not so with summer clothes. The cuts are shorter, the material more forgiving, and the look is less structured. Even the adjectives surrounding a summer wardrobe are casual and flighty: Loose. Billowy. Sheer.
Even though summer typically is a time to hang loose, you can maintain a professional and trendy look as we head into the scorching dog days of summer.
It’s all about following a few simple dos and don’ts.
But first, some history.
When women entered the workforce, there were more rules regarding dress. Women wore uniforms, suits — and even, in the ’70s, neckties. It was about fitting in and assimilating, emulating men.
Fashion, like all mediums of expression, continues to morph over time.
“In a new age, there aren’t so many rules,” said Lynne Hyatt, owner of Lockett’s Ladies Shop. “We really have gotten comfortable enough in the workforce that women have a lot more options.”
But, she cautions, all the options can lend to a less-than-professional look being paraded into the office.
“If you don’t get the results you want at work, you might want to look in the mirror,” Hyatt said.
Rules of thumb
Being a distraction is the main thing to avoid, Hyatt said.
“Our purpose at work is not necessarily to be a fashion plate,” she said. “So you want to be tasteful, and you don’t want to distract people from their work.”
This goes for every season, Hyatt said, and every article of clothing.
Think about the context of the outfit, advises Bloomington-based image consultant Cathy Friend.
”My general rule is, if you would wear it to the beach or a picnic, you should not wear it to work,” Friend said. “Because you’re a representative of your company to the larger community, it’s important to be mindful of the image you’re conveying.”
Hemming it in
Hemlines are a question for any season. The most flattering hemline is at the middle of the knee, or the point just below the knee, where the leg is thinnest.
Look for balance, said “Small Town, Big Wardrobe” author and She magazine columnist Catherine Hageman, who works in web and electronic marketing at Cummins.
“If I wear a skirt that’s a few inches above the knee, I’ll wear flats — or I’ll cover up more on top to balance the look out.”
The fabric of our lives
Keep in mind what your outfit is made of, Friend said. Synthetics might have a stylish look, but ask yourself if you’ll be comfortable in them. Cotton and linen are great summer fabrics; natural fibers allow the body to breathe.
“If you’re not comfortable, nobody around you is comfortable.” Friend said.
Color me in
We are in a season of continuing bright, bold colors. Cobalt, coral and even neon hues are on the wardrobe palette. Hageman is decidedly a fan of bright colors — even fluorescent pink, bright yellow and brilliant blue. These are eye-catching pieces, to be sure, she said. “But it’s not so much about color as it is about cut.”
A bright piece in a conservative cut, mixed in with neutrals such as black, white or nude, is a great way to incorporate color.
Or, work small splashes of color into an outfit through accessories such as skinny belts at the waist or the hip; shoes, or scarves, Hyatt said.
“I encourage color,” Hyatt said. “You just might not want to walk in looking like a big blueberry. Use it tastefully.”
No need to stick with solid colors — patterns go hand in hand with the season. Chevrons are still in style, as are eclectic vintage prints. Summer dresses and blouses come in a glorious array of vibrant patterns; these can be a fantastic way to punctuate an outfit and break free from a solid-color style rut.
No floral is too big, said Minash co-owner Ashton Setser, but you might want to steer clear of camouflage for work settings. Also, printed pants might be too casual.
“You don’t want to look like you’re wearing a pajama pant,” Setser said.
Ink is in — or is it?
When hotter temperatures roll around and sleeves creep up the arm, tattoos often come out for their days in the sun. When consulting with college students who are about to be thrust into the world, Friend tells them to assume the person sitting across the desk from them is of the generation that is offended by tattoos.
Hageman said that a tattoo in a spot that normally should be covered in the work place — say, the lower back — should remain covered. But a foot tattoo peeping from underneath a sandal is not offensive.
A leg up on the competition
Opting for or against of hosiery depends on your office rules, but if you choose to not wear hose, treat your legs the way you would treat your face, Hyatt said. Make sure your legs are moisturized, and use concealer on any blemishes.
Cut it out
One trend of the summer is cut-outs — at the shoulders, at the waistline, or in the back. Even if the cut outs are filled in with mesh or lace, avoid this trend for the office, Setser said.
Tank tops, especially when paired with a cardigan or a jacket, can be a great layering piece for the office and can give your outfit pops of color. But be mindful of the cut and the thickness of the fabric, Hyatt said. A tank top that fits like a swim suit should never be worn alone. And cleavage should be covered in the layering process.
Toeing the line
All of our experts agreed: flip-flops do not belong in an office.
“Save those for the beach,” Setser said.
Sandals are generally fine, but make sure never to set foot outside without pedicured toes, Friend said.
To the max?
Although maxi dresses and skirts cover a good portion of the body, they still might be too casual for work.
“(The maxi look) has a definite Bohemian style personality behind it,” Friend said. “If you work in an office that is more artistic, that would be more appropriate than if you worked in a bank or a law firm.”
However you choose to approach your wardrobe during these final scorchers, think about what kind of image your company wants to portray through you to the public.
Friend, who advises clients all of the world, also encourages clients to think of their clothes as an outward projection of their personalities — and go with their gut instincts.
“If you have to question it,” she said, “the answer is ‘no.’”