Beyond The Blouse And Pencil Skirt

beach life, summer, beach vacation
Where retailers seem to think we all spend summer…
Where many of us ACTUALLY spend our summers...
Where many of us ACTUALLY spend our summer…

Each year between April and August, the racks are full of summer play wear. Shorts, sundresses, swimsuits, sandals, floaty floral tops, floppy-brimmed hats. All well and good if your summers don’t include a daily trek to the office.

It’s been the same gripe for the last several years: when warm weather hits I’m struggling to put together outfits for the office that feel polished enough but are comfortable in summer temperatures. Unless one is in a strictly corporate environment, there’s more blurring of the lines than ever between “casual” and “Business Casual.” My cool-weather formula of “just throw a jacket over it” doesn’t work when summer’s in full swing and lightweight jackets are almost impossible to find.

Perhaps I’m clinging to an outmoded standard of what’s office appropriate. I have gradually shifted toward mostly softer silhouettes, but still feel best in softly structured pieces for work. Judging from some of the “Work” looks from the Nordstrom website, my assumptions about workplace attire may be lagging behind cultural norms. While many of these fall within my Business Casual comfort zone, others lean definitely more to the Casual side of the equation. Don’t get me wrong; I will wear outfits similar to some of these more casual looks to the office in a pinch, but feel that I’m pushing the boundaries when I do so. (Most of these are Fall looks, so still doesn’t solve the warm weather issue.)

Business Casual, moto jacket for the office
Nic + Zoe Motorcycle Jacket.
Business Casual, Cardigan, Jeans
Amber Sun Cardigan, NYDJ Boyfriend Jeans
Business Casual, moto boots, jeans, colorblock sweater
Curio Sweater, Jag Metallic Jeans
Business Casual, tweed jacket, jeans, boots
Amber Sun Jacket, Jag Jeans
kate spade dress, business casual, kate spade bag
kate spade new york silk dress & bag. This isn’t casual per se, but reads to me as much more of an evening than an office look.

What about you? Have you worked out a summer office outift formula? Has your assessment of what’s appropriate work wear changed much over the last few years?

And do go check out Visible Monday at Not Dead Yet Style, to see how everyone’s solving their summer wardrobe conundrums!

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  1. Although in my work environment I can dress very casually, I try to find a professional balance even when I wear jeans. The biggest problem I have is keeping warm in summer in my office. It is sooo chilly! Lots of light sweaters are my go-to. I love the motorcycle jacket you showed, that would be perfect for fall and much of winter.

  2. I share your thoughts on summer dressing for the office, and solved my problem by adding one of my a knit linen cardigan by EF over a sleeveless top. This way (at least I hope), I can get the summery look and still have a third piece as a completer piece. Often, I simply drapethe cardigan over my shoulder. Of the above mentioned outfits, I would wear only the first one to the office. They are all lovely, but not office appropriate to my eye.

  3. Thanks for this post, because I was just lamenting my lack of suitable work clothes for hot weather. I prefer a lightweight version of my usual: neutral pants, top, and flattering jacket or cardi. It is like looking for a needle in a haystack. I can’t begin to list all the reasons that pink and orange dress would be inappropriate in my office. Are they serious?

  4. Not an issue for me, as an academic, since I’m not in the classroom over the summer. I’d wear any of the jean combos above for any committee meetings or on-campus research days (although NO to boots during the summer — my feet would swelter!). But some of the mixes just don’t read workplace to me. Much as I like a rolled jean cuff, I’m not sure that’s the jean I’d choose for an office. And I’d stick to the clean dark denim rather than that distressed black. And I just don’t get the Kate Spade dress. What office?! What workplace?!

      1. That’s a sweet dress! I love a light dress in the summer and find it easy to smarten them up with a light cardi and slightly structured sandals. Nothing easier — nor cooler!

  5. My work environment is stuck in the 20th century. Consulting, DC area. No jeans ever – even on Fridays, even dark wash or black. Being “d’un certain age”, I won’t go without hose to work – so that rules out skirts and dresses in the summer. What’s left? My uniform: lightweight wool slacks and a button-down blouse (worn untucked – my big concession to comfort) for days in the office. Lightweight wool slacks with a shell and lightweight jacket for meetings. So boring. That’s why I’m always on the looking out for (more) interesting jackets. Maybe I should be on the lookout for a more interesting job? Well, that’s another whole story.

    1. Thank you Elle – I am in law and in the same boat. 19th/20th Century rules, no jeans, feel like my outfits are also boring (black slacks, loafers/low heels, shirts or tees under light jackets). Let’s both find more interesting jobs!

      1. Lord above, MJ and Elle, I’m sure you can branch out a bit more than that! I’d definitely wear low denier hose in summer and then the world of dresses and skirts open up to you.

        Also, there are plenty of conservative choices other than black – navy, grey, brown, beige… mix it up! Add some nice accessories too. There’s just no need to be so dull!

        1. eleanorjanebirdy – Thanks for the tip on low denier hose – I’ll check into that. And maybe I wasn’t clear – I do wear color – bright blouses, lscarves, and jackets when needed. But I always wear dark “dress” slacks, closed shoes, and blouses or shells and jackets in the office and to meetings.

  6. I think most Spring collections have more work appropriate outfits. Once you get to summer then it’s vacation time. My office is air conditioned so it’s just as well to wear Spring weight clothing. I can always take the jacket/sweater off as I melt towards the subway.

  7. My workplace goes both ways, but the biggest problem is that though we have a/c, it doesn’t really work well. So I am always way too warm, and when we are having heat waves (right now, we are having our 40th this year, I think), I am just one big ball of sweat, so not matter how I’m dressed, it looks awful …

  8. Living in North Carolina, summer seems to last six months so I have had no choice but to find work appropriate summer clothes. I find many appropriate clothes through Don Caster and Talbots. Concerning the AC, I always keep a scarf in the office. Oh, one other trick I have learned is that I keep a suit and accessories in the office just in case a big meeting pops up. The suit is usually a little out of style but it comes in handy if I am too casual to go to a last minute “big” meeting.

  9. Aside from the jeans versus pants and pants versus skirts issues, my biggest summer problem is a comfortable sandal for walking (and the office) that doesn’t look orthopedic and isn’t some version of a flip flop. Oh and costs less than $150 because I’m going to wind up in a summer rain storm sooner or later….

  10. I really enjoy classic pieces such as button down, safari shirt/blouses and plain tops (not tee shirts) so for the hot months would just wear short/cap/or sleeveless versions in natural fabrics such as cotton, silk or linen.The tailoring for these pieces automatically makes gives a professional look yet the style and fabric keeps me cool. Easiest to wear I find are dress versions so safari and shirt or shift shapes. For separates I wear A line skirts to the knee and softly tailored trousers or plain front flares. One or two pieces of jewellery is more than enough. In the last 20 years, I can still wear pretty much exactly the same things!

  11. Many of us share your struggles, Une Femme. I leave a couple of large colorful scarves in my office to keep off the frost if I’ve chosen a summery dress or blouse. These looks are all fab, and too Fall-ish for me to consider yet. And the dress is gorgeous, but if I wore it to my casual workplace, jaws would drop! : >

  12. I am no different than you; I cling to what I think is appropriate wear to work. My husband and I had this conversation on Sunday. His office manager wears short shorts and black tights to work. He said what the women wear unbelievable outfits to work revealing their cleavage and thighs. This is not a Walmart, it’s a oil company! Rumour has it the office manager sleeps with the head man, so perhaps that explains some things?! Very glad to know I’m not the only one that believe there should be a line. As for me dressing for summer; I’m always cold living here in Scotland, so it’s easy for me.

  13. If I spent a whole day doing database work and not talking to anyone, I could probably get away with wearing most of those outfits. But I can’t imagine wearing any of them on a normal work day!

  14. As I sit here freezing in my office’s AC, “…just throw a jacket over it,” sounds like a very good idea!

  15. My place is pretty casual, so I wear anything from jeans to casual skirts and tops. I’d hate to be more formal than that, but I try to look respectable. One young woman wore an off-the-shoulder top last year, and I thought that was way inappropriate for work, but she’s young and still learning, I suppose.

  16. My place in Brooklyn is on the way to the F train into Manhattan and I daily see women wearing clothes that look way too casual or sexy for the office–very short skirts, no sleeves, and generally showing a lot of skin (especially cleavage). This is so not work appropriate! The guys get it right because they have to–khakis and light-colored shirts, and for men in finance and law it is still a suit, even in the dead of summer. I think ladies need to cover up more for the office, or is this just a NYC thing and the rest of the country IS covered up? I think the message in magazines about going from the office to the cocktail party after work has gotten diluted and a lot of these ladies look like they are going straight to the bar first thing in the morning. Not very professional!

    1. Jill, I completely agree (from DC). And I don’t think the rest of the country is covered up – it is probably less conservative than NY and DC. I also think it is a generational thing. We have had to counsel young women in my very conservative office about appropriate dressing. I have seen a lot of too-tight clothing, too much cleavage, uncovered shoulders.

      I really don’t understand why women think it is their right to “uncover” in the summer. I really don’t. As you said, men understand that they need to wear suits in formal offices, khakis and real shirts in business casual ones. They would never show up in tanks or with bare legs. Why do women in the same environment think that’s ok?

      I am not talking about creative or tech or other casual offices – I’m talking business and business casual offices.

  17. Is it too much to ask for retailers to realize that sleeveless is not always appropriate for an office. I’m always on the look out for dresses with a short sleeve instead which solves the problem of being office appropriate AND warm enough with the air conditioning blasting.

  18. I think the problem with most of the images is that they’re all featuring boots! Swap these for chic flats and ‘voila’ for a ‘cooler’ look.

  19. Pingback: Business Casual Summer Dressing | Personal stuff
  20. In Washington DC’s horrible summers, I default to dresses, ideally made of either cotton or linen and not too tailored. One of my favorite outfits is a deep coral linen knee length a-line skirt worn with a black t-shirt and black flats or black sandals.

    It’s hard to believe how difficult it is to find dresses or skirts made of natural materials these days — everything seems to be made of polyester or rayon.