Dressing for work is hard enough. Dressing like a CEO is even tougher. Throw in an outside temperature of 90-plus degrees (with 95% humidity), and it all seems nearly impossible.
But it turns out, with a little preparation you can look polished and professional in the warm summer months.
Here are five tips for dressing like a CEO without having a heat stroke:
1. Ladies: invest in a few staple sheaths.
For women, substituting skirts and sheath dresses for slacks and silk button downs is an easy way to stay cooler inside and outside the office.
Sheath dresses in particular are great for work because they are versatile, conservative, and, most importantly, low-maintenance.
They are also appropriate for pretty much any work environment — from satisfying a strict corporate dress code by pairing with pumps, to blending in at the casual startup office with flat strappy sandals.
A blog post by Memorandum (formerly “Classy Cubicle”) features a beautiful red sheath as a practical, striking option for any workplace.
Pencil skirts are another great option, especially when paired with breezy blouses. These outfits might take a bit longer to style each morning, but the ability to mix-and-match certain pieces to create new outfits will save you money, and will probably allow you to salvage your sanity and summer wardrobe.
Fashion blog Corporette also suggests a breezy pair of pants to meet the business-casual dress code. Mentioned are seersucker pants, loose fitting linen pants paired with fitted shirt (or a shirt tucked-in), or cotton pique slacks. The blog post explains that textured cotton or cotton pique not only feel lighter, can hold shape better than regular cotton.
2. Men: re-think your suit and tie.
Sometimes you can’t avoid wearing a suit and tie. But luckily, there are ways to dress a bit cooler while still sporting a jacket. For example, look for blazers that are self-lined or half-lined for summer months.
Lighter colors like tan, as opposed to navy or black, will work better in muggy weather — and a slightly looser fit might be necessary to look more flattering. (This article from Justin Jeffers of the The Fine Young Gentleman blog provides men with other great tips to combat overheating in a suit during the workday.)
If the suit is optional, then lightweight khakis are a great option for pants.
Also, depending on whether you can get away with short-sleeved shirts, an undershirt could be a life-saver. It might not necessarily keep you cooler, but will most likely trap significant perspiration.
3. Choose your fabrics wisely.
Cotton and linen (and for suits, fresco) are the best fabric choices for staying comfortable in the humidity and heat. Materials like silk and polyester should be avoided during the summer months.
Though breezy, any bead of sweat clings on to silk for dear life; therefore, a pit-stain ruining your expensive shirt is practically unavoidable when you’re sprinting to make it to the office on time in 100-degree weather.
Polyester should be swapped for another fabric when possible, as it traps the moisture on your skin, instead of absorbing it, like cotton would.
4. Don’t forget about your shoes.
Though you might only be thinking about avoiding any suffocating suits, don’t neglect your choice in shoes. Sweaty heels, and foot odor, might leave you feeling uncomfortable and a bit self-conscious.
For women, the easiest way to avoid this dilemma is to opt for comfortable (but professional) open-toed shoes. If you’re concerned about showing too much foot in your office, opt for peep toe shoes or backless shoes instead.
Regardless, closed-toed shoes require cotton socks in the summer: it’s the only defense against foot odor. But provided your socks are cotton and lightweight (and not wool or anything of the sort), you should be able to avoid it. Just as long as your shoes are made of canvas, leather, or patent leather instead of suede, or another warm material.
5. Accommodate arctic office temperatures with optional layers.
When was the last time you complained it was too cold in your office? Well, you’re not alone. In a survey conducted by the US General Services Administration, 40% of government workplaces were colder than the recommended office temperature during summer months. And overall, approximately 60% of workers were dissatisfied with their office temperature.
If it’s sweltering hot outside but your teeth are chattering as soon as you step in the office, leave a sweater at your desk to fight the AC chill. Then, as soon as you step outside (or, the AC malfunctions) you’re once again ready to fight the humidity.