You know those mornings when at the strike of six the sun starts threatening a muggy 35 °C day, and your forehead beads up just thinking about how sticky and sweaty you’ll be that evening? Meanwhile the long, hot pants and suit staring at you from your chair aren’t helping your mood either. Right now you might be saying, “Sure wish I was a freelancer at home in my underwear.”
Dressing for the office is hell, and it’s not getting any better. We keep trying (often in vain) to combine clothing so that we look elegant and fresh at the same time, i.e. so that we aren’t boiled alive. And it’s all the more complicated if we have to expect an icy shower from full-blast air conditioning at work.
Short shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops — that’s about as much as I can take in 30-degree heat. But what will my boss, or the client I’m supposed to meet, say to that? Maybe I should lose the shorts for a pencil skirt, the flip-flops for closed-toe heels, and cover the t-shirt with a jacket that will diplomatically hide my summer attractions... Just about everyone wages an internal battle between comfort and elegance at this time of year.
Some of us have it “easier” thanks to dress codes that preemptively ban excessively light and revealing clothing. “At a typical hotel, the rules tend to be fairly strict at every time of the year. Ladies have to wear skirts below the knee, always with pantyhose and closed-toe shoes. No sleeveless tops, no visible tattooing. For men, a complete suit, a single-colored tie, closed-toe footwear, and again no visible tattooing,” says Anna Polanská, the operations manager at Prague's Hotel Josef (member of Design Hotels network).
But in her next breath she adds: “We’re lucky that as an independent, design-oriented hotel, our rules are somewhat relaxed. Women can wear fairly loose-fitting skirts or dresses made of light materials, without pantyhose, footwear can be half-closed, tops can be sleeveless, and tattooing can be visible.”
We can see a certain forgivingness in summer dress codes at the majority of employers. Even though work fashion is gradually becoming freer, shorts and flip-flops will rarely stay unnoticed. We spoke with fashion consultant Gabriela Zimová to better orient ourselves in the sensitive issues of summer attire. She advised us on several heat-friendly alternatives in which you can feel good without offending even the strictest of HR staff or fashion police.
Length Doesn’t Matter, Material Does
In the summer we all tend to ride the wave of fashion upwards. We gradually move from long pants and skirts up to lengths reaching halfway down the thigh. And quite a few people go even further in their efforts to cool down. But even the shortest skirt can really cook you if it’s made of a poorly-chosen material.
“The most merciful materials in hot weather are of course linen and cotton. With linen there’s the problem that linen clothing sometimes looks like it’s made for a safari, but today you can find shirts with a linen mix that look great,” says Zimová. Clothing made of silk, canvas, or thin denim is also heat-friendly. Dresses and shirts made of synthetics should be passed right by. While they may look fresh, instead of cooling you down, they’ll drown you in sweat.
For their own comfort, women should be wearing free and breathable clothing that is not too close-fitting. Instead of a pencil skirt, slip into a light A-line dress or a maxi skirt with a blouse. This summer, culottes—loose-fitting pants made of light materials—are a major trend. “These shortened pants with wide legs are airy, free, and comfortable. And combined with a blouse, they look ceremonial enough that you can wear them to work. Dresses made of natural materials are another option. Here it depends on your particular company’s dress code. In some places it’s enough for you to be wearing a cotton dress and ballerina shoes, while in others you really do have to sweat it out in a pencil skirt even in 40-degree weather.”
The ideal summer work outfit in Zimová’s opinion is a combination of a good white shirt with rolled-up sleeves and airy long/half-length pants with a modern pattern. For single-color pants, you shouldn’t be afraid of striking colors.
Men have it even harder in these summer Olympics. What does Gabriela Zimová recommend that they wear to work? “For the last few years, short-sleeve shirts that work well even at semi-formal meetings have been in fashion. But naturally I don’t mean those horrors from the 90s; these are better-fitting pieces where the sleeves don’t flap around; they’re shorter and narrower.” Yet here once again the clothing’s material plays the main role.
Men don’t have it easy when choosing shoes, either. “Some companies allow a smart casual variant, where a man is free to wear tennis shoes along with formal pants and a shirt (then they just take breathable tennis shoes, and they’re done). But in a large corporation, there’s often nothing to be done than to reach for the Oxfords. But if these have a good-quality insole, they should conduct sweat away and guarantee your comfort. Men’s boat shoes are another option; they ventilate better and are of course worn without socks.”
For women, Gabriela Zimová recommends wearing wide-heeled sandals. For relaxed company, she recommends that you don’t hesitate to choose trendy closed and elegant slippers that resemble boat shoes without the heel.