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Dressing for the office is tricky enough at the best of times. In summer, it’s a nightmare. The climates on either side of its windows are radically different, as are expectations of what you should wear. Dress to impress indoors, and you’ll be a sweaty mess by the time you get there. Wear clothes that keep you comfortable on your commute, and you’ll be side-eyed by your boss all day.
But there is a way to win in both. With these tips – and enough outfit inspiration to see you through a whole month – you can craft office-ready outfits that let you keep your cool on your commute, too.
Toeing the office dress code is at least as important as picking your
clothes based on the weather forecast. If you work in the City, a 30-degree day does not mean you can turn up in shorts and sliders. Instead, think in sunshine tweaks to what you’d wear the rest of the year, like breathable materials or lighter – and less heat-absorbing – colours.
Nature has already solved all your warm-weather style conundrums. Cotton is breathable, and therefore perfect against skin. Linen is even airier, plus absorbs sweat without showing, making it ideal for heatwaves. If you have to wear a suit, look to tropical wool, which is full of tiny holes through which cooling air can flow. If you don’t, then lyocell or rayon shirts are as soft as silk but much more comfortable when the mercury rises.
The suit you wear in winter does not transition to summer. You need something with less bulk – in tailoring terms, something deconstructed – which means no padding, lining or stuffing. It feels lighter, breathes better and is generally more relaxed. All of which means you can look dressed-up, but feel dressed-down.
Just like every other day, your clothes need to work for everywhere they’ll be encountered. Shorts might be fine on a desk-bound admin day, but if you’re out meeting clients, you need to step your style up a gear. Plan your outfit for the smartest place you have to be that day, then you can adapt it to everywhere else.
Nailing that smartest look could be as simple as wearing a blazer to a meeting, then leaving it on a chair for the rest of the day. Layers mean your clothes are more adaptable, not least to the 10-degree swing between the street and your over-air-conned office (to beat a swinging thermostat, it’s often wise to stow a light knit or in your desk drawer).
You’re going to have to wear a suit, but that doesn’t mean you have to sweat. If you stick to lightweight tailoring and make circulation-friendly adjustments elsewhere – linen shirts, losing the socks – you can still look smart enough to keep your boss happy without melting.
When it’s sunny, you need to lighten up. Brown tailoring is a cooler alternative to black or navy, in every sense of the word – it’s less heat-absorbing and a touch unexpected.
You only need to look as far as Cary Grant in North By Northwest to see the transformative power of a plain grey suit. Wear yours with a plain white dress shirt and tonal knitted tie to look silver screen sharp.
Navy suits are a solid option, but they’re also a bit passé. In summer, you can afford to go for a paler blue which will pair handsomely with a pale pink shirt and brown brogues. Still smart, way less stiff.
If your office is okay with socklessness (and for hygiene reasons, that actually means invisible socks) then embrace it – you’d be surprised how much cooler you’ll feel with a breeze around your ankles.
Nobody actually wants to wear a suit in summer, do they? If you must, think slim in cut but not too restricting, and pair it with simple accessories – a club stripe tie, subtle pocket square and sharp loafers.
A looser dress code means tailoring is still your bedrock, but you’ve got more scope to play with colour, pattern and interesting accessories. Since you don’t have to wear a tie, don’t. Instead, look to layers that work best without them, like granddad and Cuban collars, or loose-weave knits.
Double-breasted tailoring is a huge trend right now, especially worn open. Which is perfect for summer. Sun-reflecting shades like light grey will make it more comfortable on your commute, too.
You’d be forgiven for thinking knitwear has no place in your summer wardrobe. However, rendered in a breathable fabric like cotton, silk or linen, in a loose weave and worn with smart pleated trousers, it’s an easy way to do smart with out sweating.
High summer’s probably the only time you can pull off burgundy tailoring at work. Embrace its Riviera feel with loafers and a shirt in the same colour family.
Despite the name, the grandad collar is one of the freshest ways to change-up your tailoring get-up. Balance the casual lean of the shirt style with more formal darker shades and keep the fit of your suiting slim, tapered and sharp.
If there’s a better way to show you mean business than by riffing on the uniforms of blue-collar workers, we’re yet to see it. Layer a rugged chambray shirt beneath an unlined blazer and get to it.
In a smart-casual office, hit the sweet spot between dressed-up and -down by ensuring that’s always at least one tailored element. Then, you can go casual – and comfortable – everywhere else. Experiment with paler shades and barely-there fabrics, which mean even structured clothes won’t feel quite so oppressive.
The practically minded will be aware that even the balmiest summer day isn’t immune to downpours. A mac is the only coat you need right now – lightweight, smart and versatile, it goes with anything, and will withstand anything.
More laid back offices require more laid back dressing, but it still pays to make an effort. Dress down a suit with a crew neck merino knit underneath and, if you’re feeling extra jazzy, a neckerchief to add a pop of colour.
The off-white suit is a power move, but one built for summer. Slip into the jacket for meetings when you want to impress, then leave it on its hanger for the rest of the day.
This outfit is a lesson in how a monochrome colour palette makes even casual items – the sneakers, the shoved-up sleeves – feel more refined. On scorching days, swap the dark knit for cream or beige.
Interchangeable weather is no match for the utility of the humble cardigan. Slip one over a white grandad collar shirt, chinos and brown chukka boots and simply peel it off when things heat up.
When there’s no dress code, it can be tempting to slip into holiday mode and turn up in whatever’s most comfortable. Fight this. Summer is a chance to experiment with print, colour and interesting textures. That way, you can keep your outfit simple, but still look put-together.
Nothing dresses a suit down quite like a pyjama shirt. Look for fabrics like lyocell, rather than silk – it’s more breathable – and avoid outré designs. Sorry, you can’t wear your Simpsons PJs to work.
Just because you work in a relaxed office environment doesn’t mean you can schlep into work in your sweats. Throw on a linen shirt for the next best thing in comfort. Unbutton those cuffs, roll those sleeves< and punch that clock.
A short suit is an advanced move. So keep the tailoring as crisp and clean as possible and dress it up with a shirt, tie and as much confidence as you can muster.
Florals for summer isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it works. They’re especially handy if you’re the kind to dress all in darks, but still want to nod to longer, warmer days.
To hit that middle ground between smart and casual, try tucking a polo shirt into a pair of smart chinos and slip on some leather sandals. The contrast between the formal and informal elements of your outfit will ensure that you’re neither under nor overdressed.
Nothing undermines a killer outfit more than you sweating to death inside it. If you want to impress, think quality basics and interesting cuts that help rather than hinder you while you make those coins. That way, you can wear fewer clothes but make more of an impression.
Working in a fashion-related office or retail role will likely give you more creative reign over your day to day looks. Experiment more with colour – perhaps a tonal red/burgundy – which would otherwise be too bold for more conservative companies.
If you need to look fashionable for work but don’t want to do it with a capital F, opt for muted colours and small design details. Try tucking a T-shirt into pleated trousers and go for formal shoes worn sockless to gently showcase for style credentials.
Jeans can be sweatboxes in summer, so look for lighter denim (below 11oz is best) and looser cuts. When it’s roasting, skinny jeans will ruin your day.
Stripes will never go out of style. But they’re even better when you pull their tones together by echoing the colours of your T-shirt in your trousers and trainers.
Working in a fashion-forward office sadly means you’ll have to think far outside the suit and tie box. A knitted polo can look just as clean cut especially if you stick to the office approved combo of white and navy, while simultaneously showing off your style chops.