What To Wear: Office Temps, Dress Codes, What’s Just Right?
Who knows what business casual is anyway. And when the temps outside rise, it seems the temps inside turn frigid—thanks to air conditioning—making your wardrobe needs split between getting to and from work, and staying at work.
A recent study highlighting the temperature comfort gender gap shows that men prefer to be cooler, while women like warmer temps and are more productive when it’s warmer. That is probably why every woman in America has a sweater in her desk drawer.
According to The Atlantic, “When the room was warmer, women answered more questions on the math and verbal tests, and got more questions right. A 1-degree Celsius increase in the room’s temperature was associated with a nearly 2 percent increase in the number of math questions the women correctly answered, and a 1 percent increase in their performance on the verbal task. The men, meanwhile, did better at cooler temperatures, but their decrease in performance at warmer temperatures was not as great as women’s gains.”
But how do you solve a problem like what to wear when it is scorching outside and your office dress code is vague? You may feel a sleeveless romper is what the weather calls for, but perhaps your vice president is not on the same page.
I worked in an office a few years back where one of the associates would always take off her shoes and walk through the office all day barefoot. I suggested she put on her sandals.
“This is more comfortable for me,” she insisted.
Soon we posted a policy that everyone needs to wear shoes.
As a university professor, I often suggested to female students going out to interview sources to have “your top meet your pants or skirt” so there was no bare midriff gap. I also told male students that tank tops where a great deal of shoulder, side and underarm peeked out was not a good idea.
Perhaps it’s common sense, but I suggested to all students across genders that you want sources to remember you and what you say, not what you are wearing.
As a leader in the workplace, you want to set the tone and set an example of what is cool to wear even when it is hot.
Not that anyone wants to endorse a gendered directive on wardrobe that feels antiquated—like skirts and heels—but how do you know if one person’s comfortable halter top is another person’s deal-breaker?
Jeff Spross writes in The Week, “Surveys and anecdotal evidence do suggest dress codes have loosened significantly over the last five to ten years, particularly thanks to the demands of younger workers. To take a few examples, PwC now allows jeans and sneakersif employees aren’t interacting with clients, Virgin Atlantic no longer requires its female flight attendants to wear makeup, JPMorgan just requires business casual, and Target now allows bluejeans. Half the companies surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management now say they allow casual attire every day, according to NPR.”
Spross writes, “However, another survey suggests that even in the famously freewheeling tech industry, most companies still require business professional or business casual. And definitions can be sketchy: Firms like General Motors, eBay, and Amazon simply say “dress appropriately,” “best judgment” and “comfortable at work,” respectively. Those are pretty vague directions that still leave a lot of room for all sorts of biases, from gender norms to plain old-fashioned sentiments, to sneak into individual office spaces. Minimum requirements above which all is allowed might be more helpful — a ‘no shirt, no shoes, no service’ equivalent for the workplace.”
Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead, created the 9 Leadership Power Tools, with Power Tool No. 6 addressing literally and figuratively what you wear. “Wear the Shirt (of Your Convictions),” Feldt writes, is for you to express outwardly who you are.
Feldt says that how you present yourself reflects your mission. She suggests, “What are your core values? What’s your vision? How can you make it happen? Stand in your power and realize your intentions.”
Realizing that makes your work attire more meaningful and less random.
According to Refinery 29, “Based on intrepid research and conversations with a few experts — including the human resources department here at Refinery29 — we’ve narrowed down the three traditional categories, and we’re even proposing a fourth, based on how much the work environment has evolved in the last few decades.”
Those suggestions for office attire, can be “business formal or business professional — two historically separate categories that have slowly been merging together as work dress codes evolve. These rules of dress are common in industries like finance or hospitality,” Refinery 29 reports.
“Business casual relaxes this hyper-formality, allowing for prints and brighter colors to co-exist with suit separates that should be tailored, but don’t always have to match. Smart casual begins to incorporate jeans and sneakers.” Creative casual is up to you, and it allows many different approaches to what is office appropriate, according to Refinery 29.
You can say it doesn’t matter what you wear, just as long as you are there (a nod to Martha & The Vandellas) but every leader knows you have to look the part to demonstrate your leadership. No judgment here on how creative you want to be, but perhaps considering these five weather appropriate solutions for summertime may help.
Flip flop on the flip flops. You can wear sandals for sure, but think about if rubber shoes made to wear in the shower are work-worthy. You decide.
Long on shorts. Really short shorts for women and men are not ideal for sitting around in the office and taking meetings. I once worked with a much older man who wore his very, very short khakis on warm days and everyone in the building cringed.
Layer up. Practically speaking, your commute could be sweltering and your office can be freezing. So pack an extra jacket or a long sweater to layer on so you can think about the work instead of thinking about the shivering.
Consult with a good friend. If you are unsure if your favorite, completely worn out t-shirt that you always wear to the farmers market is not cool for the monthly team meeting, then for sure ask someone who knows you well if this seems too casual for the office. Sometimes even just checking in with another point of view will be helpful.
If you would wear it to a wedding, maybe don’t say yes to that dress. I recently attended a business breakfast meeting where an associate was wearing a gorgeous dress that was far too much like a cocktail dress to be considered cool. It was sparkly and sheer and perfect for a June wedding, but not for work.
When in doubt, check the workplace policy or ask. There might be suggestions on all of this that someone failed to mention.
“Recent research from online human resources service XpertHR shows that office workers are getting more chances to dress the way they want, even in situations where formal dress codes normally exist,” according to Silicon Republic.
“A survey of almost 500 employers’ policies showed that more than half tear up the rules regarding dress codes for certain dress-down days such as casual Fridays or charity support days.”
The bottom line is, when the weather gets warmer, you can relax a bit, but make sure how you present yourself is in line with who you are and fits comfortably with your workplace culture.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldonwww.micheleweldon.com