Modern Etiquette: What not to wear to work in summer

BURLINGTON, Vermont Mon May 31, 2010 8:08am EDT

Stock traders in costume dance in front of the German share price index DAX board at the German stock exchange in Frankfurt, February 16, 2010. Frankfurt's burse traders followed a long tradition by wearing carnival costumes from Germany's carnival. REUTERS/Johannes Eisele

Stock traders in costume dance in front of the German share price index DAX board at the German stock exchange in Frankfurt, February 16, 2010. Frankfurt's burse traders followed a long tradition by wearing carnival costumes from Germany's carnival.

Credit: Reuters/Johannes Eisele

BURLINGTON, Vermont (Reuters Life!) - Summer is full of wonderful distractions, but co-workers' skin shouldn't be one of them.

The formality of office attire often diminishes as temperatures rise. Every workplace is different and some are a lot more relaxed than others but don't be fooled into thinking that no one will judge your appearance. Be sure you're comfortable with the message your clothes are sending.

For women, the more skin you show, the less influence you have. Do you really want to work harder to earn the respect of your co-workers and boss?

Keep up a professional look by combining seasonal items with lighter weight classics. Pair capris with a lightweight blazer, sandals with a wrap dress.

Happily, unless you work for a conservative office that specifically calls for them, pantyhose and stockings can be left in your drawer. Bare legs with a knee-length skirt is 21st century work appropriate.

Though Michelle Obama has made them work-chic, tank sleeves are still up for debate in many offices, and that goes double for spaghetti straps. Strapless day dresses need to be saved for weekend brunch.

Also avoid: sheer fabrics, short skirts, shorts, Spandex, and bare midriffs.

For men, while some workplaces might be shorts-appropriate, in the majority of offices nothing says "I don't take my job seriously" more than wearing short.

When in doubt, khakis and polo shirts are the way to go. They are both professional and comfortable. Don't forget the belt!

Sandals are iffy for men. Be sure your feet look and smell appropriate for business if this kind of casual attire is allowed in your office culture.

Although the thermometer may be soaring outside, most offices are kept extra cool to compensate. Keep a thin sweater or light weight jacket with you to ward off chills during your morning meeting.

Wrinkles can be harder to fight in the humid summer months, but neat and clean still counts.

Wrinkled khakis and a stained or faded polo shirt are just as bad as showing up in gym shorts and a tee-shirt for your favorite band. The "I just got out of bed" look does nothing to enhance your credibility.

Sunglasses are a summer staple, but they are also outdoor wear. You should always be able to make eye contact with colleagues and clients when indoors, so unless you're a rock star, take them off when entering a building.

Ladies, sunglasses don't double as a headband when it comes to work, so put them away entirely when at the office.

Flip flops are distracting. They make noise and expose your feet. The weather might be sweltering hot, but do you really want your boss raising her eyebrows about your feet?

For men, think twice before wearing loafers without socks.

For some, pushing the bounds of summer office attire requires more thought than you might wish to expend on your work wardrobe in the morning.

While it's always acceptable to dress "above" your company's requirements, keep it to one notch up to avoid being incongruous with the rest of your colleagues.

If people focus on your clothes for the wrong reason, you're wearing the wrong clothes.

As with all dress codes, casual dress can mean different things at different companies. One standard that helps define appropriateness is to ask yourself: "If I were to have an unexpected meeting with a client or the chief executive, could I go dressed in what I have on?"

No dress code? Ask for one.

The more specific the dress code, the easier it is to figure out what to wear which will leave you with more time to gaze out the window and day dream about your summer vacation at the beach.

(Anna Post is the spokeswoman for The Emily Post Institute, a U.S-based organization founded in 1946 that addresses societal concerns including business etiquette, raising polite children and civility. The opinions expressed are her own. The Emily Post Institute's website is www.emilypost.com)

(Editing by Belinda Goldsmith)

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