Wednesday, July 20, 2005

It's hot - but your work attire shouldn't be

Michelle Powell
for The Huntsville Times

Yes, it is summer, and it is indeed hot! This poses a dilemma when it comes to the professional at work. But just because it's hot doesn't mean you should look sexy or sloppy. These two extremes have no place in the office. Though I have written on this subject before, it seems enough can't be said. Here is a short list of things to keep in mind as you select your summer work attire.

Ladies, though the temptation to be trendy is on every department store and magazine rack, don't compromise your image or your reputation. No matter how expensive or how attractive it may be, do not wear a bare shoulder top like spaghetti straps or halters tied around the neck, unless you wear a jacket or sweater over it.

And even that calls for good judgment. Don't wear blouses that look like lingerie. Avoid the trendy tops that expose your bra straps - these are totally out of place for work. Skip the plunging necklines, especially if you're well-endowed. Another temptation for some women is to wear shorts or miniskirts to keep cool. Sorry ladies, save it for the weekend.

There are attractive light-weight tops that are fitting for the workplace. A well-ironed button-down top with a collar and quarter length sleeves is a smart choice with an A line skirt. This looks professional with or without a jacket.

Ladies, be careful with Capri's. Even if your work environment allows for this more casual look be smart about it. Dress it up with business-appropriate shoes and an attractive work blouse or pair it with a casual jacket.

No flip-flops at work, please, including Fridays. Whatever you do, avoid the beach look altogether. Remember, you want people to take you seriously and you certainly don't want the boss to think you're approaching your work as casually as your wardrobe.

Men, no matter the how hot it gets please wear an undershirt with your long-sleeved dress shirt (no one likes to see sweaty arm pits at work). Short sleeves are fine for casual Polo's but not for dress shirts. Blazers and a crisp Polo shirt are a nice look for the summer with a pair of fitted khakis (not baggy).

Like the ladies and their flip-flops, men don't wear your sandals to work or sneakers, for that matter. One exception for sneakers would be if you're stocking shelves or you work in a warehouse where it's appropriate and a safety issue. And unless it's part of your work uniform, please leave the baseball cap at home.

For both men and women who may work in an environment that permits jeans, use good taste. Wear a traditional style in dark denim, not the faded seat or low cut hip-huggers. And no baggy jeans for the men; they should fit your bottom. And wear a belt, please.

The point of all this is to keep in mind that your appearance says a lot about you. And consistency is key. If you look professional during the fall and winter months and then start breaking out the beach attire during late spring and summer, you're going to send mixed messages.

Your manager and co-workers may subconsciously think you're slacking off. It can even weaken your customers' confidence in you to see you appear so cavalier. Think about it when you get up and get dressed in the morning: What message am I sending and is it consistent with the respectable image I want to maintain?

Michelle Powell is a certified etiquette trainer and president and CEO of Huntsville-based Professional Manner LLC, group training and personal coaching on business and social etiquette. Contact her at 256-746-0052 or Her Web site is

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