23 Jul

Professional Women’s Summer Fashion Emergencies

The top question from my professional female clients this time of year is always “What do I wear during the summer months to be cool, comfortable, but professional?” The summer months are definitely a more challenging time of the year to look professional and credible while the temperature rises. Here are a few tips to keep your image looking cool, calm, and competent under the summer sun:

But remember that it all depends…

Before I give any advice in my corporate seminars I always preface my answers by saying that you have to take into account several important factors:

  • Company Culture & Dress code Standards: Do you work in a highly conservative field or in a business casual or ultra casual environment?
  • Geographic Location: Do you live in the northern part of the USA or the warmer southern states? Professionals tend to dress up a bit more in the Midwest and Northeast, whereas they are more relaxed and casual in many of the western and southeastern parts of the country.
  • Local Setting and Lifestyle: What is the environment like where you meet clients? Do you work in a big city, small town, or a rural area?
  • Your Personal Brand: How do you want to be known in the industry and what are your professional goals and aspirations?

Believe it or not, all of these factors have to be taken into consideration. As you take all of this into account, here are my best suggestions:

The Five Factors: You must always take into account these factors when browsing through your closet or shopping in stores to coordinate your wardrobe and maintain your credibility and professionalism.

1) Fabrics

In summer months you have to consider what will be hanging on your body all day long. My advice is to wear natural fabrics like cotton, silk, linen-blends, and lightweight wools that will breathe and give you a more comfortable, cooler feel than many other fabrics like polyester. When you are shopping for clothes this season opt for looser weaves or an open-weave that provides more airflow in a cardigan or jacket. For the summer season designers tend to create styles in lighter weight fabrics, but be careful not to go for the sheer look – I want you to command respect, not a nightclub perception.

2) The Color Spectrum

In the warmer months lighter colors will reflect heat and darker colors will attract heat, but here’s the dilemma. Darker colors communicate messages of authority and credibility and lighter tones convey friendliness and creativity. I always try to shop for my clients by striking a happy medium like finding softer tones in the neutrals category for the core pieces and adding an accent color to give the look some pop. Look for softer shades of neutrals like a dove gray; softer and more muted shades of charcoal, brown or navy, and camel, tan, or eggshell. These can be mixed with other shades to give them greater versatility. White can look refreshing in the summer months – but avoid the ultra sheer whites, which show skin and foundation lines under your clothing. Also be cautious with lighter clothes if they are lower quality – because they will instantly show stains and signs of wear. While you do want to avoid the heat you want to show a consistently polished presence.

3) A Fabulous Fit

Why does it always seem that when the mercury rises women wear clothes that don’t fit or flatter their silhouette? A great fit is the new diet plan. You want to be sure that the drape of the garment just skims your silhouette. You’ll look cooler and leaner than you do in tight fitting clothes. Avoid tops that are too revealing and either show your cleavage or your belly; skirts that are too short, and pants that are too revealing in the rear when you are seated. Showing less skin is not only more professional – that’s a rule that never changed – but it also conveys the new global message.

4) Clothing Lines & Styles

One way to beat the heat this summer is to think in terms of airflow in your clothing styles. While sending a professional message here are a few style/line shortcuts to keep you cool and comfortable:

  • Blouses: Short-sleeve or cap-sleeve blouses vs. long-sleeved ones.
  • Necklines: Lower necklines like a V-neck, scoop neck or U-shaped – but keep 2″ above cleavage line.
  • Jackets: Lightweight jackets with bracelet sleeves – nothing says you mean business like a jacket. Jackets with short sleeves, cap sleeves, or bracelet sleeves will always be cooler and allow more airflow. My advice: Keep one around for unexpected client drop-ins or corporate visitors.
  • Cardigans: Lightweight or open-weave cardigans – the new option for summer vs. a jacket and great to have for a more polished look.
  • Light Layers: Lightly layer – look for very fine fabrics to layer so as not to add a lot of bulk and weight to your lighter look.
  • Skirts: Skirts are always cooler than pants. Look for loose, flowing, flirty skirts in a soft print or solid to give a more casual top a dressier feel.
  • Dresses: Another comfort option is to wear dresses as opposed to pantsuits. This season it is all about the great work dresses like a shirtdress, wrap style, or sheath dress. Lightly layer one of the new modern cardi’s over it when you go from the sweltering heat to the air-conditioned office.
  • Fashion Forward Bottoms: Ankle pants, Bermuda shorts that come to the knee, or dressy Capri’s are not what I would suggest but I do see them in many ultra-casual office environments. If these items are “suggested wear” in your company dress code, always look for dressier fabrics and dress them up with heels to give it a more relaxed business casual feel.

5) The Delicate Details

No woman wants to wear heavy accessories, hosiery, neck scarves, and clunky shoes during a warmer, lighter fashion season. Look for ways to lighten up and be more at ease while still looking fashionable and stylish.

Jewelry – While I love the statement necklaces of fall, wear softer strands in necklaces vs. tight heavy jewelry hanging around your neck. Wear lighter colors and textures during this time of year that relate to your lighter wardrobe styles.

Shoes – It’s always fun to add a pop of color by wearing a brighter patent leather peep-toe shoe to give your lighter neutrals more visual interest. Shoes like peep-toes or sling-backs in a lower heel allow your aching, sore, hot feet to breathe. If you work in a more casual environment you may be able to sport the new wedge heels or dressy sandals styles. But make sure they look more businesslike than footwear that’s designed for typical weekend wear.

Hosiery – If your dress code calls for hosiery or you want to be taken more seriously when the opportunity comes calling for you to be considered for a promotion, then my advice is to wear ultra sheer hosiery in the summer months or a thigh-high style if you have more slender legs. With trousers you can always wear a trouser style sheer hosiery to keep you cooler.

No Hosiery Required – If your company dress code allows you to go bare-legged be sure your legs are flawless. Yes, flawless. In order to appear flawless you have to shave daily, exfoliate, and apply a fake tanner to keep them looking sleek and elegant.

Grooming details – When we are wearing peep-toes, sling backs, or dressy sandal styles we call more attention to our feet. Be sure you schedule routine pedicures to keep your toes and heels looking impeccable. Nothing can destroy a woman’s image faster than not keeping up with her foot grooming yet thinking she can get away with showing more of her feet!

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not easy to look as professional during those dog days of summer as it is during the other months of the year. But if you shop more strategically and utilize these five factors in dressing, you will remain comfortable – while also being memorable and professionally polished.


As a pioneering and visionary innovator, Sarah is a certified professional image consultant and brand strategist, speaker, trainer and author. Her company, Illustra Consulting, provides leading-edge image and brand management strategies for top leaders and high achievers who wish to take their career to the next level. She also delivers innovative and inspiring corporate workshops to assist large organizations in strengthening their corporate brand.

Illustra Consulting
Copyright © 2013, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS

1-800-267-3245, [email protected]
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Sarah Hathorn
Sarah Hathorn, CEO of Hathorn Consulting Group, is the go-to-expert in working with leaders and companies to create successful corporate DNA. As an executive coach, consultant and speaker she collaborates globally with clients and brands such as Kimberly-Clark, Sherwin-Williams, Home Depot and other leading organizations.
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800-267-3245, [email protected]

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