14 Jul 2022

What to wear to work in a heatwave

As Britain swelters in the current heatwave, we are sparing a thought for the legions of workers who are forced to contend with uniform regulations and dress codes that are excruciatingly uncomfortable when the mercury rises.

While there are some places of work, particularly in the financial and legal sectors, that are implacably opposed to relaxing their dress codes, even in our increasingly frequent hot summers, there is a new flexibility in the workplace. This is partly to do with hybrid working practices, which are breaking down the old 9 to 5 rigidity and seeing offices as places which function best when employees’ needs are accommodated.

Nevertheless, there are quite clear demarcations between clothes that are suitable for the home and beach and office-wear, even in hot weather. As a general rule, never wear anything to the office that can be construed as beachwear – that includes vests, strappy tops, crop tops, kaftans, short shorts or flip-flops. Work clothes should enhance your aura of competence and professionalism, especially if you are in contact with clients and customers, not make you look like a laid-back beach bunny.

For some people, wearing casual clothes is counter-productive. Psychologically, they feel more work-focused in formal office clothes, and fear that a super-relaxed look will go hand-in-hand with sloppy work practices.

A compromise, which looks smart but is also comfortable, is certainly possible, so follow our recommendations below. It goes without saying that you will need to be acutely aware of your workplace culture, and check whether your choices are acceptable with your managers.

While there is a growing spirit of compromise in relation to workplace dressing, occasions on which formal dress codes are de rigueur are still an issue, especially for men, who will inevitably find themselves buttoned up in stifling, tailored clothing. White tie, black tie, and morning dress (the blight of hot summer weddings) are fixed dress codes, and there really is no room for ‘interpretation’ if you are requested to comply. All you can do is wait for the point in proceedings when jackets come off and a spirit of informality takes over.

The following recommendations are for offices, but can also be applied to social events where ‘smart casual’ is stipulated:

Men

• Men’s traditional office-wear is tailored and heat-retaining, and finding a way of looking smart and feeling cool is a challenge. The obvious first step is to wear a pair of tailored shorts, in a dark plain fabric, that sit on or just above the knee. Most people associate short shorts with beaches, sailing, sports and swimming ­– they look out of context, over-casual and over-revealing when worn elsewhere.

• If shorts are a step too far for your office, you might be able to get away with loose-fitting cotton or linen chinos, preferably in a light colour.

• Short-sleeved polo shirts, or button-through short-sleeved shirts in linen or cotton will both look smart teamed with shorts and they can be worn without a neck-constricting tie. Bear in mind that natural fibres are a must when the temperatures rise.

• If you need more formality, choose an ultra-lightweight summer suit (silk, linen or seersucker is a good choice) and wear it teamed with an open-necked shirt.

• Loafers or deck shoes can be worn with shorts or chinos and you will be able to dispense with socks as well. You may even be able to get away with sleek, smart trainers (nothing too sporty).

Women

• Dispense with tailored jackets and skirts if possible and opt for a lightweight, summer dress in cotton, silk or linen (it should be loose-fitting but not too voluminous) – if you need to look smart you can accessorise it with kitten-heeled slingbacks and a lightweight linen jacket.

• If at all possible, avoid wearing tights. If bare legs are considered beyond the pale in your office, choose a nude colour and the lightest denier possible.

• In a reasonably informal work environment it should be fine to wear smart open-toed sandals (avoid mule-like sandals with no back strap, which are more suitable for beaches), but make sure your feet are ready for exposure – if necessary, visit a nail bar and indulge in a pedicure and nail varnish.

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