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When I moved to Mississippi six years ago, I resigned myself to a life of endless summer, which is way less relaxing than it sounds. I don’t mean summer in the sense of a work-free, easy-going, non-stop vacation. I just mean summer in the sense of super-sweaty-all-the-time.
Needless to say, I understand sweat. Mississippi’s state flag might as well be a sweat drenched white T-shirt. (Really, anything would be better than our current state flag, which is racist.)
Dress codes are tricky, and they’re so unique to each individual job rather than each field. I’ve worked as a waitress and I’ve worked as a magazine editor. Neither job was more “real” or “professional” than the other. (Most of the restaurants had tighter employee dress codes than my office jobs, actually.) Professional just means you get paid to do what you do, and I have mad props for anyone out there grinding for themselves or their families. For this article though, I’m talking about traditional office attire. By that, I mean nothing particularly casual or fancy, nothing too tight or revealing, and nothing too adventurous or loud.
Looking put together at work can be difficult in the summer months, especially if your morning commute involves 90-degree weather that’s only going to get worse throughout the day. Though offices are usually air-conditioned, some are poorly ventilated and it’s only worse if you’re near a sunny window. (Though, props to you for getting a room with a view!)
I also don’t have a car, so I’m either commuting by bike or carpooling with my boyfriend, who drives an antique Cadillac with leather seats and NO A/C. Ugh. Public transit is often sticky and sweaty as well. Even if you're lucky enough to have an air conditioned car you can drive to work, you still probably encounter the heat in some way during the day. (Unless you live in a place that never gets hot, in which case -- can I come visit? Until, like, October?)
Part of my job means I often conduct interviews, so it’s important to me that I look like I can handle the heat. I need fabric and clothes that won’t leave me drowning in a puddle of my own sweat before that 9 a.m. staff meeting.
When I first delved into the working world, I was really disappointed to find the limited options for nice women’s clothing on a budget. In a world of girls trying to be Forever 21, what’s a grown woman to do?
So much of women’s apparel is made of appallingly terrible, cheap, synthetic fabrics. Finding a respectable woman’s blazer for under $150 should be a challenge on "Survivor." (Is "Survivor" still on TV? I haven’t had cable in seven years.)
For hot summer months, aim for natural fabrics which are more breathable and lightweight rather than the synthetic ones available so widely (and cheaply) in malls across the world.
Linen and cotton are my two go-to summer fabrics. These natural fibers will allow your clothes to breathe easier, so sweat can escape your clothes rather than get trapped inside of them, making you feel sticky icky. If your office allows you to wear denim, go for chambray pieces. They’re nice looking but lighter weight than typical denim.
J Crew makes excellent linen work apparel. I’m a big fan of their button downs and blazers. They aren’t cheap, but they’ll last for a long time. Have you ever seen Jenna Lyons looking anything but put together?
From Olivia Moon, here’s a linen blazer that comes in more color options and with a slightly lower price tag.
We could also start a petition for Wool & Prince to start making women’s shirts. They make quality men’s button-downs made from a special wool fiber that doesn’t retain stench or moisture. Does it sound impossible? Yep, but they work. My boyfriend owns one and he goes months without washing his, but wears it at least twice a week. Wool & Prince, ladies sweat too! Help!
Paired with a nice skirt or pants and a blazer, a good, clean, ironed tee or tank can work really well in the summertime. Uniqlo’s Airism line is perfect for this. The ultra-fine fibers help to wick sweat away and keep you cool all day long. Worn on its own or as a base layer, one of these tees or tanks will go a long way towards keeping you sane.
As far as linen pants, it’s tough to find a good pair that doesn’t come with a drawstring waist. In summer, you can usually get away with some cropped pants so at least your ankles will feel nice. A wide leg will also be cooler on your legs than anything too tight.
These straight-leg linen pants from Gap are a blend of linen and cotton, which means they won't wrinkle as easily as all linen would.
In warmer months, I prefer a skirt to pants. For the office, aim for about knee length or just an inch or two higher if you’re going to pair it with a blazer. If it’s too long, you’ll look out of proportion. I’m 5’8” and I usually wear heels, so most things look a bit shorter on me. I think you can get away with showing a bit more leg (within reason) as long as you aren’t showing any cleavage.
When considering the length of a skirt, make sure it’s still appropriate when you sit down in it. Don’t worry about bending over in it, because if there’s any thing I learned during my days as a tween model, it’s that ladies don’t bend over. Bend your knees and squat down to pick up the last little piece of doughnut you dropped on the floor. (Also, do a squat test in the fitting room and make sure your skirt won’t rip the moment you stretch it a bit.)
This Loft skirt paired with a belt and a simple blouse would make a perfectly breezy and professional outfit that’s also great for sneaking in a cute lunch date. It’s a blend of linen and cotton.
Worn with a blazer in a jewel tone or darker hue, this sweet eyelet pencil skirt is great for work. Eyelet patterns are great for hot weather.
Make sure to read the details on a product’s materials before purchasing. Some skirts, like this one from ASOS are deceivingly referred to as linen, but the lining is 100% polyester which will not feel good in hot weather.
Shirt dresses and wrap dresses are a great option for summer wear as well, as long as you keep in them in those same lightweight fabrics.
This button-down dress from Anthropologie is sweet with subtle lace but the structure of it is still grownup. It would look great paired with a nice cardigan.
A well-made fit-and-flare dress can also be office appropriate. I love this button down number from Modcloth, which comes in super pretty colors.
It’s wise to keep an “office cardigan” or something at your desk, in case the AC chills you out too much during the day. Leave it at the office though, so you’ll always have it there. You won’t need it outside of work. It’s hot as balls out, remember?
In summer, sandals are great but toes can be a bit weird in the office. Luckily, there’s lots of sandal-esque shoe options that aren’t your basic flippy floppy. In summer, try and avoid shoe materials like canvas which will make your feet sweat crazy hard and consequently turn you into a stinky feet monster.
This flat from Steve Madden will give your feet plenty of breathing room without exposing your toes, and while still maintaining a stylish work vibe.
These flats from TopShop are another great option, as they'll allow for lots of breezey foot action.
Now that we’ve discussed what you need to look for in quality summer workwear, let’s put some outfits together, shall we?
Pair a sleeveless button-down with a blazer, so that you won't have the extra bulk of layered up sleeves.
One of those Airism tees paired with a pencil skirt and linen blazer will look simple and professional.
A lightweight, office appropriate dress will keep you super cool.
Also, drink lots of water and maybe get a cute desktop fan.
In these terrible summer months, what do you wear to work?