summer dress codes: what’s okay to wear to work and what isn’t?

Summer is finally here! Okay, technically it’s still spring, but after a long Canadian winter, temperatures in excess of 25 degrees make it seem like summer. With the soaring temperatures, everyone’s peeling off extra layers in an attempt to beat the heat. At work, finding the line between summer-appropriate and work-appropriate can be a little trickier. Though every workplace dress code is different – some are more casual than others – here are some good general guidelines to follow.

summer dress codes at worjk

what to avoid wearing

As workplace dress codes have loosened up over the last decade or so, the list of things not to wear at work has shrunk considerably, however there are a few items of clothing that remain on the do-not-wear list, even in a business casual setting.

short shorts or hot pants

Just the names should give away that these are a no-go in the office. As a general rule of thumb for women, hems that reach below your knee are okay. Women can wear knee-length or longer skirts and capris. For men, the rule is on the more conservative side. Many workplaces forbid shorts for men, no matter the length. Stick with pants all year long to be on the safe side.

crop tops, backless tops, halter tops, or strapless tops

Anything that exposes your midriff or a lot of skin is off limits. Yes, crop tops are really fashionable right now. Yes, if you wear them with high-waisted pants they cover up almost all your skin. But they’re still not appropriate for work. Save them for the weekend and opt for a lightweight blouse to stay cool, instead. You may be able to get away with a halter or strapless top if you keep it covered with a cardigan or blazer, but err on the side of caution.

cut-offs or excessively ripped jeans

Many 21st century dress codes have added jeans to the ‘yes’ column for appropriate work-wear. However there are limits. Under no circumstances should you ever wear cut-off jeans to work, even if they meet the knee-length requirement. Ripped jeans are a more grey area. Some workplaces are okay with a subtle rip here or there (though everything should still be covered, no giant rips on your behind, please) while others prefer crisp, dark-wash denim only. Exercise caution, and when in doubt, refer to your workplace’s dress code.

anything marketed as swimwear

There’s no excuse for wearing beach-wear to work. Swimsuits, sarongs, cover-ups, and anything else along those lines is absolutely off limits. Most swimwear is tight and exposes a lot of skin to make it easier to, well, swim in and dry after you’ve left the water. Those aren’t things you need to worry about at work. Stick with clothing intended for dry land.

flip flops or crocs

Some dress codes allow sandals if they’re on the dressy side. Some workplaces forbid any open-toed shoes. However almost all dress codes rule out flip flops and crocs. They’re just a little too informal, and let’s face it: crocs, especially, are a well-known fashion faux pas, so why would you wear them to work anyway? Save your crocs for times when you’re not within sight of other humans. The world will thank you.

anything marketed as gym-wear

Athleisure is a hot trend right now. Gym-wear has come a long way from the days where a t-shirt and sweat pants, stretchy black pants or basketball shorts were the epitome of work-out fashion. Today you can find workout gear in all sorts of fun, colourful, and fashionable patterns. And yet, none of them are appropriate for work. Gym gear tends to be too casual, skin-tight or extra baggy, none of which is work-friendly.

anything you’d wear to a club

This might sound pretty obvious, but we’ll repeat it for the sake of thoroughness. Anything that’s excessively short, revealing or skin-tight, as club-wear tends to be, is off limits at work. This includes anything that’s sheer – a sheer top that exposes your fancy bralette counts, too – as well as most clothing that’s lacy, sparkly or sequined.

hats or sunglasses

As a general rule, any outdoor clothing should be removed when you walk into the office. This includes coats, sunglasses and hats. It’s mostly a matter of professionalism. Settle in and look like you want to be there, rather than like you’re ready to take off at a second’s notice. Some offices have a more lax approach to the hats rule, so check out your employee handbook to be sure. Some workplaces permit hats such as berets or newsboy caps, however almost all workplaces forbid baseball caps.

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so what can you wear?

With so many typical summer items on the don’t-wear list, what remains work-safe? Good news: there’s still plenty of ways to add a little summer sunshine to your work wardrobe. The drab office wear of decades past is no more. There are lots of bright, colourful and fun options to show off your personality and keep cool all summer long.

capris

Capris are a work-wear staple for many women in the summer months. As a general rule, hems that fall below the knee are appropriate for women. That means that capris are able to sneak by in the ‘yes’ column. Just keep in mind that work-appropriate capris should be made of the same material as slacks. Capri leggings or jeans are generally not okay. Capris can be one of the more debatable summer dress items, so always double-check with your workplace’s dress code.

tops with a cardigan or blazer

Though tank tops, halters and strapless tops are a no-go when worn alone, you can sometimes sneak them into your summer wardrobe by adding another layer. Throwing a cardigan or blazer over a non-appropriate item may transform it into a work-friendly option. Just keep an eye on plunging necklines and cleavage. Also be mindful that you’ll have to keep on your second layer all day, so if you’re concerned 2 layers will be too hot, pick something else. 

sleeveless tops

Sleeveless tops are appropriate in most workplaces all summer long. The rule of thumb is sleeveless is okay, but spaghetti straps or exposed bra straps are not. Once again, this rule only applies to women. Men should stick with t-shirt length sleeves, no matter how hot it gets. A sharp polo or a short-sleeved dress shirt are acceptable summer options for men.

fun prints

Just because you work in an office doesn’t mean you have to stick to a neutral palette of black, white, navy and tan, unless of course, that’s your personal style. Feel free to break out some fun patterns, colours and fabrics. Florals and brights are staples of summer work-wear. Just make sure you know the tone of your office. In a more conservative office, it might be best to choose one smaller accent item to pair with an otherwise neutral outfit.   

lightweight fabrics

There are lots of lightweight fabrics out there that are perfect to beat the summer heat. Feel free to wear lightweight cotton, linen, or a flowy sundress to your heart’s content. Just make sure your lightweight fabric isn’t sheer. Fluorescent office lights can be unforgiving, so make sure to test for opacity before you head to work.

white

We don’t subscribe to the don’t-wear-white-after-labour day rule. A crisp white button down or a silky white blouse is the perfect way to look pulled together no matter what season it is. Feel free to wear white whenever you want! However white is known to be cooling, because it doesn’t absorb heat like dark clothing, so white is a great choice for the steamy summer months.

dressy sandals

Most offices are okay with dressy sandals for women. Just make sure your feet are well-groomed, if you’re showing them off. You don’t have to get a pedicure, but use common sense. Sorry men, but this is another area you’ll have to sit out. Most offices frown upon men wearing sandals or any footwear that exposes their feet in any circumstances. This includes wearing socks with your sandals. You’re not cheating the system by technically covering your feet. Just don’t do it.

skip the pantyhose

Most modern workplaces have evolved past the point where women are expected to wear pantyhose or stockings if their legs are exposed. Feel free to go barelegged, if you prefer. Just ensure your legs are well groomed. If it’s your preference not to shave your legs, that’s your choice, however you’re probably better off sticking with pantyhose or long pants. 

unbutton a bit

You might have noticed that men’s summer dress codes tend to be a lot stricter than women’s. Other than short sleeves, men don’t have too many options to stay cool. However another small way that men can dress down in the summer is to unbutton the top button or two on their shirts. The era where ties were expected in the workplace is mostly gone. Feel free to unbutton the top button or two. Keep the exposed chest hair to a minimum, though.

Keep in mind that these guidelines are just that. Dress code rules vary from workplace to workplace. Though most modern workplaces adhere to a fairly flexible business-casual dress code, there are some offices or industries that require a slightly more buttoned-up look. When in doubt, always refer to your company’s handbook or dress code policy.

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