With the spike of summer heat comes the chance to toss your black pants in the back of the closet and revamp your professional look. But as tempting as it may be to wear all sundresses, all the time, it’s important think about your office dress code before you start overhauling your wardrobe with the latest trends.
Every workplace is a little different, but we’ve pulled together a list of do’s and don’ts that will help you lighten up your summer work wardrobe—while still keeping your look crisp and professional.
Tops and Dresses
The big summer question in any new office is always: Sleeveless or not? Here’s how to decide: Before you bare your arms, make sure you’ve seen a few senior colleagues doing it. And remember, while sleeveless can be appropriate, strapless tops or spaghetti straps never are. It’s also a safe bet to keep a light sweater or jacket on hand, just in case you’re called to an important meeting.
If sleeveless isn’t appropriate, try capped sleeves or a wrap-dress with a 3/4 sleeve, à la Diane von Furstenberg. Just remember to use seasonal prints in moderation—think subtle patterns, not screaming florals.
For skirts, light or bright colors are a great way to infuse a summertime feel into your look—just be sure to opt for something knee-length with clean lines and a professional cut. Anything too short, or with summery details like ruffles or pleats, takes away from the corporate look. Save the bright patterns and gauzy, bohemian skirts for the weekend.
If you have to wear a suit every day, lightweight wool is always a good choice (wool doesn’t always mean heavy or hot!). But you can ease up on the black and try lighter colors, like grey or tan. White can be a great look, too, but remember that it can also be see-through, so do a 360 check before you leave the house!
A slightly cropped sleeve is another way to keep cool in your suit—but skip a cropped length on the blazer itself, which detracts from the professionalism of wearing a suit in the first place. Also avoid suits made of linen—it’s too informal for most offices, and you’ll be wrinkled as soon as you step out the door.
When it comes to shoes, peep toes are a great summer pick—unless your dress code states otherwise, they fall in the pump category.
Wedge shoes, on the other hand, are fun and fashionable, but depending on the style, may not be a good idea for the office. Think sleek, professional, leather, not colored canvas uppers or cork-covered heels.
Finally, it should go without saying, but flip-flops never belong in the corporate corridor. In fact, if it slides between your toes, it’s not appropriate for work.
Bright jewelry is a great way to infuse the colors of summertime into your work attire without going overboard. Go with one fun piece like a statement necklace or bold bracelet—but think sleek, not beachy. Too many bangles or distracting drop earrings are not professional work wear.
Finally, remember that every workplace is different, and what’s considered appropriate at an advertising firm or casual startup will be different than what works at a law firm or Fortune 500 company. The best rule of thumb is to look at the wardrobes of your managers and follow suit. You can check out what your peers are wearing, too—just know that some of them will be a guideline of what to wear, and others, well, of what not to.