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How to Dress Your Best — Whatever the Weather

in Succeeding At Work

by Talmundo
September 21, 2017

No matter how hot or cold it is in your office (or outdoors), it’s still important to dress for success at work. The clothes you wear play an important role in how people view you, and even how well you perform your job.

Looking the part can give you a confidence boost — as a study by Dr. Adam D. Galinsky at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University found. In the study, students who simply wore a doctor’s lab coat performed better at attention tests than those who wore an artist’s coat, or simply looked at a lab coat.

Of course, looking nice is helpful. But if you want to do your best work, it’s also important to be comfortable. You probably already suspected that it’s hard to concentrate when you’re too hot or cold, but studies back you up here, too. Researchers at the Helsinki University of Technology found that the best temperature for productivity was 21.5 degrees Celsius (71.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Too much hotter or cooler, and performance suffers.

Whether you’re trying to beat the heat, bundle up against the cold, or just enjoy those three perfect days in fall, here’s how to dress to be comfortable and productive in any weather.

(Looking for more tips for a good day? Check out: Forecast: Sunny, With These Top 5 Ways to Have a Great Work Day)

Hot weather office wardrobe

It’s tough to look polished and professional when the temperature soars. But don’t ditch your good office clothes for a shorts and a T-shirt!

Instead, look for garments made with lightweight, breathable fabrics. Cotton, silk, and linen are all good fibers for hot days. Bonus points if they’re knit or have added stretch from Lycra or Spandex, as this will help make them more wrinkle-free. Look for suits, trousers, and jackets made in linen, although even a tropical-weight wool can keep you cool since the fibers are so breathable.

One good thing about hot weather is that it’s the perfect time to bring out your bold colors and prints. For men, that might be a lightweight button-up in a fun shade, or a brightly-patterned silk tie. Women can opt for a classy sleeveless blouse or summery dress, with a 3/4 length sleeve jacket to toss on for a bit more formality.

Summer is also a great time for clothes with a slightly looser fit (like flowy skirts and relaxed-fit trousers), as they help air circulate better. And, ladies, unless you work in a very formal office, ditch the stockings in the summer.

As for accessories, hot days are perfect for bright silk scarves to add a pop of color without being too warm. If you tend to be a heavy sweater, carry a handkerchief with you to mop your brow.

Illustration of bad office dress options

While it might be tempting to drop the pretence and the extra layers of formality (and clothes), there is a limit to temperature-related leniency in a corporate environment. Look to the images above for the ideas of things NOT to wear to the office, no matter the numbers on the thermometer. From overtly casual options that include sportswear for males, to the biggest no-no of shorts in the office - there is a fine line between comfortable and unprofessional. Swap that V-neck tee for a light shirt, add linen trousers and a smart pair of shoes and you are good to go. 

For ladies, bearing it all depends not only on the shape of your garments, but on the style of their presentation - for summer ensembles with shorter skirts, make sure to cover your arms and vice versa. Accentuating a short dress with heels would only work for an evening social look and should be supported with a smart suit jacket or a blouse during the day at the office. 

While style depends on a person, look around your office for specific cues - the end goal is to feel comfortable and represent your team to the best of your abilities, so it is a given that you should not be caught wearing something your grandma would have disapproved of at the office for everyone to see. 

Cold weather office wardrobe

When the temperature drops, nothing feels better than curling up under a blanket with a good book and a cup of tea. But unfortunately you can’t wear your flannel pajamas and fuzzy slippers to work.

Staying warm while you’re not moving around is tough, which is where having a good base layer comes in. But forget those bulky long johns from old timey movies! Today’s long underwear comes in fibers like silk and merino wool, which both make breathable, smooth fabrics that fit perfectly under your tailored trousers. A silk or merino tank top or long sleeve base layer can provide warmth to your core.

Wool is definitely going to be your friend in the winter. The fibers lock in heat, while still staying breathable so you won’t feel like you’re in a sauna. Use winter as a perfect excuse to indulge in your favorite wool or cashmere sweaters, and look for trousers, suits, and jackets in a nice wool tweed. Thick tights and tall socks will help keep your feet warm.

For the ladies, pick up a few pairs of fleece tights to wear under skirts. The higher-end versions still look quite classy while making you feel like you’re wearing your favorite lounge pants. During the winter, you may also want to keep a pair or two of dress shoes at work so you can navigate your commute in more practical winter footwear.

A few key accessories can help you stay comfortable in cold weather, and are easily stashed in a desk drawer until you need them:

  • Knit fingerless mitts (can be classically chic or funky and fun)
  • A silk scarf or knit cowl
  • An unobtrusive lap blanket or shawl
  • Hand warmers and heating pads

(Looking for more tips for thriving at work? Check out: Career-Building: What Managers Secretly Wish Employees Knew.)

Office wardrobe for varying temperatures

You might remember a few years back when a scientific paper with the decidedly unsexy title, “Energy Consumption in Buildings and Female Thermal Demand” spawned a slew of headlines reading “Battle Rages Between Men and Women Over the Thermostat,” and “Why Your Sexist Air Conditioning is Stuck in the 1960s.”

The gist is that the current model for office air conditioning was established by the American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers in the 1960s. It was designed to account for a number of variables, including the metabolic rate for an average male. However, women have a metabolic rate that’s about 30 to 40 percent lower than the average male, meaning they burn less energy and are therefore more comfortable at a higher temperature.

Whether it’s air conditioning turning your office into the Arctic on sweltering summer days or the heater blasting while snow falls outside, sometimes it can be more of a challenge to dress for the inside of your office than the weather outside.

Illustration of good female office dress options

In this case, layers are your friend. Layer a nice sweater over your button-up shirt to look professional whether the sweater is off or on. You may also want to invest in a good cardigan or jacket to keep at the office. Sure, you could just grab that old one from the back of your closet, but it’s worth it for your comfort and image to buy something you’ll love that will coordinate with your wardrobe. For ladies, a lightweight silk or cotton shawl makes a great barrier against the office air conditioning.

With some good planning, you can put together a versatile wardrobe that rises to the occasion no matter what the thermometer reads.

What are some of your favorite ways to dress for weather challenges? Let us know in the comments.