The Do’s and Don’ts of Summer Office Wear

June 22, 2017, 11:00 PM UTC
Businessman in suit gradually morphing into man wearing shorts
Mark Airs — Getty Images/Ikon Images

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Summer outfits for the office can be tricky to put together. As the temperature rises, you might be sorely tempted to ditch the collared shirts and loafers for T-shirts and flip-flops. But experts say that no matter how hot it gets, summer is not the time to take a vacation on professionalism.

“Your image is 12 months a year,” Diane Gottsman etiquette expert, author, and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, told Monster. “You can’t slack just because it’s summer. You’re not going to work to make a fashion statement; you’re going to make a professional appearance.”

For summer office wear advice, Monster recently spoke with Gottsman and three other fashion and etiquette experts: He Spoke Style menswear fashion blogger Brian Sacawa, Racked shopping director Tiffany Yannetta, and lifestyle and etiquette expert, TV host, and commentator Elaine Swann.

Follow these general guidelines below, and then check to see what clothes you should and shouldn’t wear to work in the summer.

Summer dress code guidelines

1. Check your company’s policy

First things first: You should check to see what your company’s dress code policy is on summer office attire. Are you allowed to wear shorts or open-toed shoes? If your company handbook doesn’t give specific dress code instructions, ask your manager what’s appropriate.

“There’s no sense in going three steps above the norm,” Swann says. “A good rule of thumb to follow in the summer is to stay within the company culture and don’t broach any of the company guidelines.”

2. Look around the office

Of course, what you wear depends on what kind of job you have, what industry you’re in, and your work environment. In finance and legal professions, the dress will be much more buttoned-up and conservative compared to tech or sales workers. For example, T-shirts or strappy sandals might be cool to wear in Silicon Valley, but that doesn’t mean they are going to fly on Wall Street.

“You have to take the temperature of your particular workplace to get a feel for what’s acceptable,” Sacawa says. “The best way to do that, like if you’re a new hire, is to see how other people in the office are dressing and try to fit in to that culture.”

3. Put your best foot forward

It’s important to remember that even though certain clothing items may be allowed, your office is one big free-for-all, or your boss dresses like a total slob, all four experts said that what you put on your back is a reflection of your professionalism. Even in a casual environment, it’s still not anything goes.

“Invest in your appearance, and you’ll invest in your career, as well,” Sacawa says. “If you dress well, it’s a way of showing people respect, that you want to be taken seriously, and that you view yourself as a professional.”

What to wear:

1. Pants

For men, your clothing options for your bottom half are generally limited to pants (see our views on shorts below). If you want to step it up from regular chinos, Sacawa says you should buy cotton or linen pants made to measure.

For women, the options extend beyond pants. The experts also like capris, culottes, and jumpsuits (but no rompers).

2. Tops and dresses

While this is ultimately subjective to your company, the experts said sleeveless tops and dresses are stylish and practical options for women in the summer—just be sure to stay away from anything off-the-shoulder, one-sleeved, or with spaghetti straps or a halter top.

Yannetta adds that hemlines should typically go no higher than your fingertips when your arms are laying flat on your sides.

For men, Sacawa says the amount of arm you show depends on your job. In a creative field, T-shirts and polos are acceptable (no tank tops), but in finance and more conservative fields, long-sleeved button-downs and suits are the norm. To keep from sweating through your suit, Sacawa recommends cotton or linen, as they are more breathable and lightweight fabrics.

3. Socks

Always, always wear socks with dress shoes. Sacawa recommends no-show socks to keep your shoes from stinking, while still having that trendy “sockless” look.

4. Silk tie

If your workplace requires men to wear ties, Sacawa suggests a silk-knit tie for summer.

“A silk-knit tie is different than your regular seven-fold tie, as it shows that you’ve thought about your style in a seasonal way,” he says. “It’s a simple way to stand out without standing out and shows that you’ve put that extra time into your appearance.”

5. Layers

It might feel like a desert outside, but most buildings tend to crank up the AC to near-Antarctic temperatures during the summer months. This is where layering comes into play.

Gottsman says pairing your outfit with a lightweight jacket or a cardigan is a great way to adjust to the different temperatures you’ll encounter throughout your day.

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What not to wear

1. Shorts

Shorts aren’t your typical office attire, but again, it ultimately depends on where you work.

At shopping blog Racked, Yannetta says she and other people in creative fields or with laid-back office cultures could get away with wearing shorts in the summer, but in more conservative industries, pants are your best bet.

“As a guideline, you have to make sure your shorts aren’t too short or too casual,” Yannetta says. “It’s tricky; cutoff denim shorts are a hard no, but longer, Bermuda-style shorts made of trouser material can be OK.”

As for the guys, Sacawa says shorts may be acceptable in a creative field.

“Your shorts should have between a 5- to 9-inch inseam,” he says. “The shorter shorts have a more classic, 1950s vintage feel, whereas longer shorts are more contemporary and modern.”

However, Sacawa says cargo shorts and board shorts that go lower than your knees are huge fashion faux pas.

2. Skimpy attire

It’s perfectly fine for women to show their shoulders (in most offices), but showing off your back—or wearing something with those cute little cut-outs—is taking things a bit too far.

Nix tube tops, crop tops, and plunging necklines. That last one goes for guys, too—never button the front of your shirt half way.

As a general rule of thumb, if it looks like you could wear it to the beach or a barbecue, it’s not the look for work.

3. Flip-flops

Flip-flopping around the office is generally frowned upon. For ladies, the experts agreed that sandals with an ankle strap or backing are OK, but anything that goes between your toes is a strict no—regardless of how much money you spent on them.

As for men, Sacawa says to stay away from any type of shoe that shows your feet. Instead, men can put their best foot forward in a loafer—Sacawa says suede loafers are perfect for the summertime, both at work and off-duty.

While we’re on the subject of footwear, Gottsman also says to make sure all of your shoes are in good condition. And if you do show off your toes, make sure they’re well kept.

Bottom line: Check your office policy, and then use your judgment. “Enjoy the lightweight colors, fabrics, and casualness of the summer,” Swann says, “but always be prepared to bump it up one notch in the event you’re meeting with clients or executives.”