How to Combine Office and Summer Wear – and Enjoy It!

[This article has been written as an original contribution for, and published by, the LatinBusinessToday online]

3 golden rules (in order of relevance!) to help you rock your summer office look

Summer is here. You have been waiting to put away your dark and heavy suits in favor of lighter, more relaxed attire.

Fortunately, even some of the most formal workplaces institute a business casual code, which gives more comfort and freedom with styles, materials, and colors. But wait: how much casual is “good casual” for the office? When does it start to be “bad casual”?

It is frustrating that business casual is nowhere clearly codified. And when people add to the confusion by talking about “smart business casual,” the frustration may undermine your initial excitement about summer clothes.

Pero no te preocupes. No need for therapy here.

These 3 golden rules (in order of relevance!) will help you rock your summer office look:

First Golden Rule: always look professional (the business element)

Summer business casual starts by ditching the suits, but it is not an exact science. Bermuda shorts may be okay for a creative company but not for a financial institution.

This is challenging because you want to make sure to look professional at every given moment. An important impromptu meeting can take place regardless of the season, and you don’t have a second chance to give a first impression (cliché, but true).

While every workplace has its own rules, there is a baseline for what men and women should avoid:

  • Overly revealing attire
  • Workout wear (and why not also jeans!)
  • Tank tops, halter tops, sleeveless shirts and T-shirts
  • T-shirts and untucked shirts
  • Flip flops and sandals (closed toe always preferred)
  • Items that are too tight, too short or too loose
  • Stains, wrinkles, tears (yes)
  • Nails and hair left to self-determination (women and, yes, men)

The rule of thumb is easy: when in doubt, don’t wear it! (Remember you have one shot at first impressions!) And then ask HR.

Second Golden Rule:  think about your body (make casual work for you)

Once you have the business element down, it is time for casual! And you have to make casual for work your wellbeing and body type.

Beware of changes of temperature. I live in Berkeley, CA, where summer is a notional category. But I lived in NY for many years, and during the summer, I boiled in the streets, and froze the second I entered a building. I got sick a lot. It took some time to adjust to this abrupt change of temperatures (despite the hot summers in Buenos Aires, where I grew up, ACs at the time where not in vogue).

These seven tips will provide suggestions on what you can do:

Tip 1: Opt for breathable and light fabrics

Fabrics like cotton, linen, and silk keep you fresh, so you can cover more skin, and be temperature comfortable in the office and outside.

~ For a wrinkle-free look, favor a linen blend of natural and acrylic.

Tip 2:  Layer

Layering light breathable fabrics allows you to have versatility for different temperatures while conveying a polished look.

Always dress for your body. I know you think you do. But enthused by the summer, you may rush to embrace the trend of the season, which may not be the most figure-flattering style for you. There are no “must-haves.” You have to choose clothes and styles that are a good fit for you.

Tip 3: Choose the colors that are good for your skin undertone, eyes and hair

Most business fashion blogs favor neutral pastel colors for summer business casual. But pastel colors do not look good on everyone.

~ For those with a warm skin undertone (as many Latinos have), ditch pastel colors and white in favor of a yellow-based palette and off-white.

Tip 4: Dress to create a visual balance according to your body type

The goal is to achieve a harmonious look that flatters your figure with cuts and colors.

~ For example, if you have wide hips, don’t wear blazers with big pockets that add volume where you don’t need it. But wearing an open or tailored blazer helps to create vertical lines that elongate your figure.

~ Remember that light colors draw attention (and widen your figure) while dark colors have the opposite effect.

 Photo courtesy of model Nancy Rosales

Third Golden Rule: have fun, and own it! (the smart element)

To me, “smart” business casual means bringing your individuality and summer spirit into the office. Have some fun! La vida es demasiado corta para vestirse triste.

Tip 5: Add color

Choose one colorful piece to add a personality to your outfit and enhance your best features.

Tip 6: Start with a statement piece

Build your look around a statement piece by combining it with other items. This way, you will always look stylish.

~ Ideas for men are “smart shirts,” a blazer, color pants; and for women, a patterned pencil skirt, a blazer, a fashionable top.

Tip 7: Accessorize

I love accessories. An accessory brings a splash of personality to your look and helps create visual balance. The option of removing it adds versatility to your outfit (more on accessories in my next post about dressing for networking events). Choose them wisely and creatively!

~ Think silk scarf or colorful necklace if you want to add elegance and draw attention to your face.

~ Think belt if you want to “create” a waist for a rectangular body type.

My final tip fulfills all three golden rules: wear a colorful or patterned unlined blazer in a light material.

I hope you now feel unburdened and inspired for your summer office look… And if you need more help, let me know! 

Warmly, Mara