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Ramsey: Hot weather shouldn’t stop professional look

It’s summertime, and while the living is supposed to be easy, deciding what to wear to work is not. Our more casual world makes it difficult to know, on any given day, how to dress for the office; but summer poses even more challenges. Just because the temperature is soaring, you can’t throw the dress codes, if you have any, out the window and wear whatever feels good.

Whether it is summer or winter, the number one rule to follow when choosing what to wear to work in client-facing environments is to dress like a professional. People are going to make judgments about you based on your attire. Your choice of apparel speaks to your professionalism and your credibility.

One size does not fit all in business. What you wear depends on four factors:

1. The industry in which you work

2. The job you have within the industry

3. The geographical region in which you live

4. Finally and most importantly, it’s what your clients expect to see.

Here are some tips for how men and women should dress in client-facing environments during the hot summer months.

For men

1. If your usual attire is a business suit or a sports coat and tie, dressing down might mean simply leaving off your jacket or sports coat. Wearing a long sleeve shirt and tie will still give you the look of a professional.

2. A solid white or blue dress shirt offers the most polished look. Small checks or stripes are fine, but resist the urge to break out your favorite Hawaiian shirt.

3. Short sleeves rarely look business-like but are acceptable within certain industries and jobs.

4. Choose a quality trouser for work even if you are not dressed in coat and tie. Jeans have no place in the workplace unless your workplace is the great outdoors.

5. Wear socks! Going without socks just because it is hot will greatly detract from your appearance.

6. Your choice of shoes matters. A casual shoe, such as a loafer, is more appropriate with your dress-down attire, but unless you are a lifeguard, sandals and flip-flops do not belong in the workplace.

For women

1. If your usual attire is a skirted or pants suit, you may opt to leave off the jacket.

2. Your choice of a blouse or top needs to be one with sleeves. Short sleeves are acceptable, but never sleeveless. Blouses and sweaters provide color and variety, but they should be appealing rather than revealing. Inappropriate necklines and waistlines can give the wrong impression.

3. Dresses are back in fashion again. Although the stores are filled with sleeveless dresses, let me repeat that sleeveless is not for the professional office. There are plenty of dresses out there with short or elbow length sleeves.

4. Sun dresses are not appropriate in an office environment.

5. If a dress is sleeveless or simply has shoulder straps, a light jacket or sweater should be worn over it. That can be a jacket with short or three-quarter length sleeves.

6. Although they are popular, sandals of any kind and flip-flops are not workplace appropriate unless you are a Yoga instructor. In that case, you may even go bare-footed. It is not easy today to find flat or low-heeled shoes that look professional. You might choose a shoe with a closed toe and a strap around the heel or one with a closed heel and a hint of an open toe.

7. Skirts, if they are short, should come to your knee. Hot weather is no excuse for those that only reach mid-thigh. A skirt more than two inches above the knee raises eyebrows and questions.

For those who think it’s not what you wear but how you do your job that creates success, give that some more thought. Business skills and experience count, but so does personal appearance. Impress your clients and customers all year with the choices you make in what to wear to work. If you arrive home at the end of the day and don’t have to change your clothes, you may have worn the wrong thing to work.

Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, professional speaker, trainer and author. Contact her at 912-598-9812 or visit her at LydiaRamsey.com to leave a comment, ask a question or learn more about her programs and products.

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