Do you have the summertime work wardrobe blues?

Hotter temps may make it tempting to wear shorts or sandals to the office, but will you be making a big mistake? We offer some summer work attire do’s and don’ts.

Summer is right around the corner, and with it some workers may soon be pushing the limits of the office dress code.

Can you blame them? Workplaces have already become much more casual in recent years, and employees seem happier for it. Besides, when the mercury hits 80 degrees or above, throwing on shorts, a tank top, or flip-flops sounds a lot better than a suit or khakis.

IB recently conducted an unscientific online poll of readers about which warmer-weather clothing item workers wish was more acceptable at the office. The results:

  • Sandals/flip-flops — 31%
  • Shorts — 39%
  • T-shirt/tank tops — 8%
  • All of the above — 22%

However, in spite of evident worker preference for a more relaxed summertime dress code, there’s still some reason to show why those clothing items might be best left for weekends and the beach, rather than weekdays and the boardroom.

According to new research from staffing firm OfficeTeam, 86% of workers and 80% of managers said clothing choices affect a person’s chances of earning a promotion.

The research also revealed:

  • Professionals spend an average of 11 minutes a day choosing office attire;
  • Items more acceptable to wear to work now versus to five years ago: jeans, tennis shoes, and leggings
  • Items less acceptable versus five years ago: tank tops, “cold shoulder tops,” and shorts;
  • 67% of professionals keep a separate work wardrobe; and
  • 44% of managers have talked to an employee and inappropriate attire; 32% have sent staff home based on what they were wearing.

“You’ve probably heard the saying, ‘Dress for the job you want, not the job you have,’” says Sasha Truckenbrod, branch manager for OfficeTeam in Madison. “It’s good advice because your appearance does matter in the workplace. Whether your office dress code is ultra professional or super casual, it’s important to adhere to the guidelines so that you fit in with the corporate culture — and it may also help you climb the corporate ladder.”

Of course, Truckenbrod notes there’s definitely been a shift to more casual work attire in recent years, as well as media attention around CEOs who wear hoodies, jeans, and sneakers. Remote or flexible work arrangements may add to the casual trend because people are more used to wearing less formal clothing on the days when they’re not in the office, she explains. Ultimately, it all depends on your industry, how much face-time you have with customers and clients, and your boss’ expectations.

“Dressing professionally gives people credibility,” states Truckenbrod. “It’s hard to take someone seriously if they’re dressed ultra-casually in a business environment where others are dressing professionally. By dressing appropriately for your office environment, you demonstrate an understanding of the corporate culture and an ability to fit in. If your office attire is inappropriate, you may not always receive the level of respect your achievements merit.”

Truckenbrod suggests whether your dress code is professional or business casual, if you dress according to your company’s policy and mirror the way your boss and other company executives dress you can’t go wrong.

“If management or colleagues view you as less professional, you may be passed up for important promotion or growth opportunities,” adds Truckenbrod. “When considering people for promotions, companies tend to look for those who will make a good impression on business contacts, clients, and partners. How you dress plays a role in how you’re perceived.”

De-coding the dress code

Dress codes may sound stuffy and outdated to younger workers, but they serve a purpose.

In offices where employees often interact with clients and customers, a dress code can help a company project a certain professional image, explains Truckenbrod. Some companies also believe a dress code can increase professionalism in the office. Still others have dress codes for safety reasons — in certain workplaces, like factories or medical offices, open-toe shoes and loose clothing or jewelry can be dangerous.

It’s important to note though that an outdated or unnecessarily strict dress code can also hurt an employer’s chances of landing the best young talent on the market.

“A tight hiring market in Madison is one reason local employers may want to ease up on enforcing a strict dress code,” says Truckenbrod. “At 2.8%, Wisconsin’s April unemployment rate was the fifth lowest among all states and tied with Iowa for the lowest rate among Midwest states. Madison’s unemployment rate fell to 2.4% in March. Perks like allowing employees to dress more casually and comfortably in the office could help employers attract skilled candidates and fill vacant roles more easily.”



That said, Truckenbrod recommends companies in Madison all adopt dress code guidelines so it’s clear what is and isn’t allowed at the office. These can be included in the employee handbook, she explains, and if there’s a different dress code for the summer or other times of year, this needs to be relayed to staff. Calling out examples of clothing that aren’t appropriate in staff communications can help clarify rules.

Of course, when establishing dress codes, employers should always consult legal counsel to avoid any discrimination issues, and also consult counsel if you’re adjusting your dress code for the summer.

Work attire do’s and don’ts

Truckenbrod offers the following do’s and don’ts when it comes to selecting your summer work wardrobe:

  • Don’t be flashy. Wearing clothing that causes colleagues to do a double take is distracting and unprofessional.
  • Do play it safe. When in doubt, dress on the higher end of the business casual spectrum — managers aren’t likely to fault you for overdressing.
  • Don’t look unkempt. You never know when a company bigwig might be dropping by the office for a surprise visit.
  • Do dress in layers. You can take off a suit jacket or cardigan if it’s warm and still have the option to put it on if you have an unexpected meeting with your boss.
  • Don’t just guess. Trial and error isn’t the best policy when it comes to your work wardrobe. Don’t wait for your boss to say something about your attire before you do something about it.
  • Do know the rules. If your company has a dress code, you need to abide by it. You should have received a copy of the rules during your new-hire orientation; if not, ask your HR representative where you can find them, and make sure you read and understand them.

Top wardrobe offenses during warmer months

According to Truckenbrod, these summertime wardrobe staples shouldn’t make an appearance at the office:

  • Shorts/capri pants are generally a no-no in formal work environments.
  • Watch out for sheer clothing made of materials like linen and chiffon.
  • Flip-flops, gladiator sandals, and other casual footwear are not appropriate for the office. In some cases, open-toed sandals are okay for women, but check company dress code to confirm.
  • Avoid crop tops, midriff-baring shirts, low-rise pants, miniskirts, cold-shoulder tops, or any attire that shows too much skin.
  • Tank tops, halter tops, and spaghetti straps are also on the “no” list.
  • In a professional environment, sundresses or maxi dresses can seem out of place.
  • T-shirts are rarely appropriate in an office environment, particularly those that contain political or other controversial messages.

Feel free to agree or disagree in the comments below.

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