How to Dress for Success in the Sizzling Days of Summer

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by Vicky Oliver

This summer, as college grads peddle their freshly earned degrees into prime positions in the skilled workforce, they may come up against unwritten rules of decorum when it comes to workplace fashion. In the professional world, appearance matters.

With their impressive resumes in hand, college grads hoping to enter the job market have rosy prospects now that the economic recovery has employers back in hiring mode. Still, grads who dress the part–even as the thermometer pushes triple digits–have a much better chance at landing a job. Once on the job, maintaining their professional appearance will help them excel in it.

But dressing the part in the summer months has its challenges–especially when the uniform on the quad has been flip flops, short shorts and crop tops. Leave this wardrobe for the weekend. Not only will the appropriate choice of workplace attire help you look professional, it will help you feel professional. Dress for the part, and supervisors and workmates will take you more seriously.

When planning your summer workplace wardrobe, consciously take a more modest approach. Even in the scorching summertime, keep these criteria in mind when making fashion choices for the office:

Use Your Head. Those days of putting brightly colored streaks in your hair before heading out to a three-day music festival are behind you. Don’t do anything radical that can’t be undone before returning to the office on Monday. Loud hair colors or outrageous hairstyles will label you a wild child in the corporate world. Meanwhile, pinning your tresses into a bun or elegant twist can do double duty by keeping you cool and giving you a neat, business-ready look.

Also, take out those nose, eyebrow or lip piercings. With earrings, you’ll want to opt for small hoops or short dangles over long ones. True, office fashion tends toward the homogenized, but eyewear is one place you can show your fashion flair. Glasses wearers in many professions opt for the funky over the conservative.

Eschew the Shoulders. Any expanse of flesh looks out of place in an office setting, and this includes bare shoulders. Only choose a sleeveless dress or blouse if you intend to wear a suit jacket with it. A crisp cotton shirt is always fitting when it’s too hot for a jacket.

A light jacket with rolled or elbow-length sleeves has a summery feel. Fortunately, most corporate offices are air-conditioned and you’ll appreciate having that extra layer while indoors.

Don’t Knock the Knees. A skirt or dress that lands just above the knee is standard office attire and can help keep you cool. Be sure not to show too much thigh. Conversely, maxi skirts or dresses lean too far toward the casual. And, speaking of casual, never wear shorts unless you’re at the staff picnic.

In many office settings, it’s unacceptable to show up without nylons covering the legs. If your work culture is strictly professional, don’t go without–even if it means putting them on and taking them off in the bathroom so you don’t swelter during your commute.

Know when to expose toes. Sandals don’t cut it in most work environments. If you do expose the toes, make sure to keep up with your pedicures, and choose a subtle nail polish color.

Choose shoes with the heel height below three inches. Tottering around in stilettos is unacceptable in the workplace. And, even if it’s Casual Friday, stay away from any footwear with rubber in it–I’m talking tennis shoes, flip flops and, especially, Crocs.

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Vicky Oliver is a leading career development expert and the multi-best-selling author of five books, including her newest, Live Like a Millionaire (Without Having to Be One) (Skyhorse, 2015). She is a sought-after speaker and seminar presenter and a popular media source, having made over 700 appearances in broadcast, print, and online outlets. For more information, visit vickyoliver.com.

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