Friday, 5 July 2013

Summer Office Wear - What is too casual?

The spring of 2013 can best be described as rainy but now after the summer solstice, we are experiencing 30+ weather in France. We still have to manage our work wardrobes in temperatures that can best be described as "bikini" weather. Marjorie S who re-entered the corporate world on the Canadian prairies suggested the title for this post, when she asked, "What is too casual for summer office wear?" 

Often, when writing about work wear, the word "appropriate" is used; however it seems that many different notions of "appropriate" exist. "Short" skirts may have been deemed "inappropriate" by someone, as boss, but it would be necessary to define "short" for employees who may have had other bosses. For men, a collared shirt and pants/trousers also covers a range so that jeans and a polo shirt might be "inappropriate". The category of jeans could be a post in itself about appropriateness and inappropriateness. 

But first, if you are female: a shirt and skirt/dress; or if male: a shirt and pants, pretty much summarizes summer work wear. Just don't look like you are off to the park with your kids on a Saturday afternoon or going to an outdoor patio bar for the evening.

Consider the following factors when deciding what to wear at the office in the summer:

1. Discretion in tops: Summer lightweight fabrics and skimpier tops are both questionable in the office. Absolutely no cleavage is the best personal policy. Even a tank top revealing bare arms might not be "appropriate" for some offices. Therefore, an unlined blazer or unstructured jacket is necessary. Even a linen shirt can act as a "jacket" over a tank top in the summer. I have seen unlined unstructured boxy jackets, unlined blazers - short and long, even vests that make skirts, dresses and even shorts office appropriate. Most offices are air-conditioned so it is almost necessary to include a jacket in your work wear choices. When alone in the office you can take the jacket off and be cool and comfortable enough. However, the lightweight "jacket" is good advice no matter if you are management such as Marjorie S is or if you are the receptionist. The receptionist needs to be as well dressed as administration since the receptionist is the first one to represent the entire company when clients enter the corporate doors. 

2. Discretion in hemlines. Skirts and shorts should not be too short. The bend-over and reach-up tests can determine your level of discomfort and therefore an appropriate length. If you are pulling the hemline down or if you feel even slightly self-conscious, it's probably too short. Knee-length or just above, of course, is always safe, whether skirts or shorts. Shorts, for men and women, are available in linen, cotton or lightweight wool, and can be  professional looking if worn longer and matched with a proper collared shirt. Ladies, you can take a look at a former post on knee length shorts.

3. Sandals or any open-toed shoes can be fine for the office but the pedicure is the important factor here. This advice is for men as well. The more "open" the shoe, the more perfect the pedicure - toes and heels in immaculate condition. However, never ever wear plastic or rubber "beach" flip flops to the office. If your sandals make that "slapping" sound walking down the hallway, they're not right for the office.

4. Make sure your clothing fits you well. It can be casual, but not sloppy or tight. A plain coloured (no witty sayings) well fitting t-shirt would be acceptable even though t-shirts are very casual. A beige linen jacket can be worn with whites or darks and is both male and female appropriate.

NO THANKS . . . 

More specifically, here are some other thoughts, from others in the corporate work force, on what would be too casual for office wear:

1. Spaghetti strap tops. However, you can wear a linen shirt as a "jacket" over the tank top or the spaghetti straps and it will offer you the coverage when you need it without being scorchingly hot.

2. Revealing deep scooped necklines.

3. T-shirts with logos and "sayings". (Plain t-shirts are just fine!)

4. Short shorts, mid thigh shorts, really short skirts. Knee-length or just above is the "appropriate" measure.

5. Anything too gauzy, filmy and see-through including tops, dresses and skirts.

6. Beach flip flops.

7Unless it's game day and the home team is in the finals and the entire office staff, including the boss is wearing his or hers, sport shirts are a "no go" as well.

8Then there's denim, which fits the "yes, but . . . " or "yes, if . . . ": a denim skirt, dress, jeans or jacket are all good, but all denim is really not appropriate everywhere or at anytime. Black or coloured denim takes you further and to more place than blue denim; while dark wash denim is preferable to anything faded. Manufacturer induced fading in jeans, faded jeans in general and anything with tears or worn spots should be left for weekend wear, if that's what you like. A dark wash denim jacket, again depending on fit and condition, might work on a casual Friday.

A Note about Casual Fridays: There are a few businesses and professions that should not have casual Fridays in my opinion and that is the banking and insurance businesses, government agencies, and the medical and legal professions. Business casual is ok but I once went to a bank where the loans officer came out in a baggy striped polo shirt that looked a couple of sizes too big on him and a pair of baggy cargo-esque shorts. I stopped doing business with that bank. I don't believe it was because of what he was wearing; however it may have been a contributing factor in my decision making whether I was fully aware of it or not.

For the ladies, here is an interesting retail site that claims to be "your destination for work chic fashion". As well, I found a blog that has all the shirt and pencil skirt alternatives (lots of great combinations) you need and I'll just let you link to it rather than doing all the work. Thanks Jessica!

For the gentlemen, Joseph A. Bank offers a category of "business casual solutions" with reminders about the importance of fit and tailoring. I got the Joseph A. Bank information from an interesting article recommending online retailers for mens' business attire.

Other posts on this blog regarding professional, work and casual clothing:

Knee-Length Shorts at Work and Play
Working Uniformly
Appropriate Clothing Choices for Work
Defining Casual Clothing
What is Comfortable Casual?


  1. No shorts allowed for men where I work but the women can wear them.

    1. There is a dual standard on many fronts!


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