Some like it hot: what to wear to the office during a heatwave

MT is tired of seeing flip-flops in the office, so it's consulted the experts and come up with this fool-proof guide on how to dress for work when temperatures are soaring.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Heatwaves like this only come around once a decade, so no wonder us Brits weren’t prepared – but that’s no excuse for the number of strapless dresses, floaty ‘gypsy’ skirts and (shudder) flip-flops sported in the nation’s offices over the past few days.

MT could stand it no more: we’ve consulted the experts to bring you our idiot-proof guide to dressing for work in a heatwave. Handy hint: hot-pants will never be ok.

For the ladies

The sandal*

Obviously, it depends on your company policy, says Girl Meets Dress founder Anna Bance. As long as you’re nicely pedicured (or, indeed, hastily pedicured 10 minutes before you leave the house. Not that MT would ever do that), a sandal is ok.

‘There are so many nice leather sandals in the shops at the moment,’ she says.

But that isn’t your only option. If you’re in a more corporate office, go for a peep toe with a sling-back, which allows a bit of air to your foot without showing too much toe.

Bance recommends against ballet pumps.

‘They’re too hot. I start the day off wearing them, and end up taking them off,’ she says.

‘Most girls are lucky, though – we keep lots of shoes under our desks as backup, so we can mix and match.’

The strapless top or spaghetti strap

Let’s be clear: strapless tops are barely ok for the beach, let alone the office. In fact, MT firmly believes there’s only one place for those strapless jersey maxi-dresses, and that’s a beach in Thailand.

We digress: Bance says of both spaghetti straps and strapless tops that they can be ‘a bit revealing’, but if it’s sweltering in your office and you must wear them, keep a pashmina or scarf – or even a jacket – on your chair to cover up if you have anything important to do.

‘That way, if you’re called into a meeting with your boss, you won’t feel so exposed,’ she says.

The short

It should be clear that denim cut-offs are a no-no, as is anything which reveals any quantity of cheek. But Bance points out that the shops are full of tailored shorts designed to be worn in a smarter context. The trick is to know how to dress them up.

‘Make sure you wear a smart shoe and a smart top, or even a blazer,’ she says. ‘I love dressing up shorts and making them work. Big statement necklaces are one way of doing it – it’s not hard.’

The hemline

Just because the thermometer is pushing 30 degrees doesn’t mean it’s time to crack out the super-mini.

‘I don’t think the temperature is directly related to the length of your skirt,’ says Bance.

Instead, go for a skirt which sits above the knee – nothing too tight, she says.

If you must go for a mini (and MT is very supportive of this option), find a way to dress it up. Bance explains that a good rule is ‘the shorter the hemline, the longer the sleeve’.

‘You can always keep cool in a nice cotton shirt with a longer sleeve,’ she says.

For the gentlemen

The sandal

Neil Fennell, director of tailor October House, is strongly against sandals.

‘Personally, I would say no. I don’t think the open toe is a good look for a man, especially in the office environment,’ he says. So all those ‘creatives’ flipping about in their Havaianas are doing it wrong?

‘I’m probably quite traditional, but I think men’s feet should always be hidden,’ says Fennell. Given the state of some of the feet it’s seen over the past few days, MT is inclined to agree…

The short-sleeved shirt

In MT’s mind, short-sleeved shirts are inextricably linked to pocket protectors and steel-rimmed glasses – but Fennell says they should ‘always be in the wardrobe’.

‘As long as it’s cut right, a short-sleeved shirt is great. If it hasn’t been tailored and doesn’t fit around the chest or waist, it becomes like a tent – but if it’s worn right and it fits, it looks great,’ he says.  

The short

Shorts for chaps have been a no-no for a long time, but they’re coming back in. Fennell says it’s fine to wear shorts to the office, as long as they’re tailored – although ‘there are some people who would frown on them, especially in corporate environments’.

But what does the discerning gentleman wear with his office short? A tailored polo shirt is a good bet, says Fennell, although you can wear a shirt if it looks right.

The shorts suits on the market at the moment are trickier, but Fennell recommends dressing them down.

‘I’d wear tailored shorts and a suit jacket and dress them down with a nice polo,’ he advises.

What shoes to wear on your feet is another problem.

‘As soon as you say socks with shorts, everyone thinks that’s a horrible look. But it can look good – as long as you wear coloured socks. No white or black, please.’

The tie

Those who wear ties to the office usually do so because their boss makes them. Fennell says whatever you do, just make sure you look ‘together’.

‘I was walking through Birmingham today and saw three guys who had undone their ties but left them around their neck. It looked like 11 o’clock kicking out time.’

If your boss is ok with you just wearing a shirt, don’t think that just because it’s summer, you can let it all hang out. No more than one button undone at the collar, please. Two is too much; three is one button short of a party.

* in time-honoured fashion-writer style, MT has chosen to use the 'fashion singular'.

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