Summer is a tough time in the workplace. The mercury is rising outside, the office may be freezing, and people are eager to wear their favorite warm weather outfits. Unfortunately, as a quick look at the dress code-related letters submitted to the HR advice professional Alison Green at Ask s Manager, what people wear to work during the summer can be a topic of great contention. Add into that the challenge of adapting to in-person work again after a long stretch of time spent in our sweatpants at home, and people truly have no idea what will be acceptable to wear when they go back to work.
If you’re attempting to expand your summer wardrobe as you venture back into the office this summer, picking out clothing may feel truly overwhelming. With these comfortable but summertime chic looks at the ready, though, you can be sure you’re following not just HR’s rules, but the rules of fashion.
1. A Firm Foundation: Footwear
While your shoes may be the last thing you put on when you get dressed for the day, as far as your wardrobe goes, they’re an important and foundational element. That being said, the standard rule for shoes in the workplace during the summer is that you should always avoid flip-flops. Not wearing flip-flops, though, doesn’t mean you can’t wear any kind of sandal or open-toed shoe. No, you just need to choose your summer footwear judiciously.
Though fundamentally not that different from a flip-flop, women can almost always opt for a strappy, slide-on sandal during the summer months, as long as they’re paired with other professional attire choices. Are you still nearly barefoot? You sure are, but an elegant slide conveys a different message than flip-flops and, as any savvy fashionista can tell you, clothing conveys a message.
2. Not Quite A Beach Bag: You’re Summer Tote
What kind of bag you carry to work is a fairly low-stakes question and barring, perhaps, items bearing profanities or inappropriate graphics, they’re unlikely to be covered in your dress code. That being said, you probably aren’t going to carry your mesh beach bag or a clear vinyl backpack to your office. Such choices would definitely attract some odd looks. That doesn’t mean you have to go the totally conventional route, though.
Instead of picking one of the more traditional carryalls for toting your gear to work, consider opting for a leather bucket bag like those available from PortlandLeatherGoods. While it’s just as functional as your typical tote, it adds a funky, relaxed shape to your wardrobe and its cinch-top option.
3. Ditch The Old Rules: Mix It Up
HR has its rules, and fashion has its own, but you only have to follow the first of those. So, speaking of footwear and bags, this is the time to say goodbye to the classic fashion dictates that your bag should match your shoes. It’s an old-fashioned notion, along the lines of saying you can’t wear black and navy blue or black and brown together. You can and you should!
As you put together your work outfits this summer, don’t be afraid to try some unconventional things. One new favorite? Loose fitting, printed dresses. Try cotton prints with an empire waist and loner sleeves. What might have been considered a mumu in the past is now a practical, elegant summer look. Cinch waist shirt dresses are also a good choice if you feel strongly about having that added definition, or you can mix and match longer dresses with belts to create different shapes and looks.
4. Speaking Of Summer: What About Shorts?
Shorts are one of the more contentious items in your closet when it comes to what you can and cannot wear to work, and the rules vary, but they certainly aren’t out of the question depending on your office. The key is to keep them classy.
Both men and women can wear shorts in the workplace as long as they’re of an appropriate length and a more traditional color, like black or navy blue. As pro stylists explain, you can style shorts as though they’re just like suit pants; pair them with a traditional oxford or blazer or a cap sleeved top. While certain workplaces, like law firms, are unlikely to be okay with shorts – the business suit reigns supreme there for both men and women – most other offices today will take a knee-length short in stride during the summer months.
The End Of Dress Codes Or Time To Double-Down?
This is a strange moment for dress codes because, with people already hesitant to return to offices, employers may feel like it’s harder than ever to enforce a strict set of norms. That being said, many executives were concerned with the decline of workplace wardrobe standards and are considering pushing stricter dress codes. This could alienate some workers, but others will take it in stride.
On the other hand, other offices may seize on this moment to eliminate dress codes almost entirely. As Richard Thompson Ford describes in his new book Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History, suits represented a sort of sober wisdom that was valued in elite sectors like finance, but such a mindset is no longer considered the ideal. Instead, even these traditional industries now want innovative thinkers, and that often means employing people who dress a little differently – more creatively and with a bit less regard for rules. In other words, to get the employees these fields want, some standards have to be given a little.
When the highest paying industries begin to loosen their standards, it’s hard for lower-paying businesses to push stricter dress standards – which means that this summer, you may be able to embrace some new options. Whether that means embracing trendy slip dresses or skipping stuffier shoe styles for fun sandals, it’s time to say goodbye to suits and other relics of traditional professionalism. While you may need to go back to the office, at least you’ll look great doing it.