Dress Code: How To Not Look Like Crap When It's Hot


In this installment of Dress Code, we’ll take on those days when the thermometer climbs and you’ll throw on just about anything to keep from fainting.

Let’s just say it up front: there’s not really any way to solve this kind of misery. When it comes to the dog days, the best we can do is damage control. If you live in Louisiana, nothing’s going to keep you crisp. And if you live somewhere with the theoretically better “dry heat,” well, you know that you still end up just wanting to loll around in a kimono in front of a fan like a Tennessee Williams character. The heat saps will and energy and starch, and it can be dispiriting. That said, if you can’t actually be naked, there are ways to keep cool while looking sharp. Here are a few general tips for dressing for the worst of summer’s weather:

I look forward to hearing more from those of you who battle the heat on a regular basis!

  • Wear natural fibers. They’ll breathe and allow a little air to circulate around your fevered skin. Think linen or cotton – silk if you have to dress up.
  • Looser is cooler. That’s not to say you can’t have a little structure or tailoring – but you probably want to avoid anything skintight when the mercury’s inching towards 90 plus and it’s not even midday.
  • Light colors will absorb less sun than darker. You’ll still be hot. But just remember: you could be even hotter!
  • It probably doesn’t need saying, but (light) hats and sunglasses will help you stay comfy.
  • You will wilt. Just accept it, and resign yourself to the fact that you will not get more than one wear out of most anything.

So let’s talk situation-specific options — and in this case, since crazy-hot days can totally redefine “comfort” (and, in turn, eliminate a good handful of warm-weather options), there are really only two routes here: casual and not-so-casual. (Note: formalwear will always be formal, and date-ready options will more likely fall under casual, or somewhere between casual and office-appropriate. Be creative!)

Casual Clothes:
This is a relative no-brainer: just wear the coolest thing you’ve got. When it’s really sticky, I can’t even bear to have anything around my waist, and I live in loose cotton dresses and sandals. There are, luckily, plenty of options out there that are both cool and nifty: boxy tops and tissue tees, loose shorts and a plethora of cheap dresses. Or, maybe you’re like my mom, and don’t like to show any skin, ever. Do like she does and stick to linen drawstring pants and flowing tops. Or maybe a long, flowing dress or those vintage tiered maxi skirts you can pick up at thrift stores or online.

Work Clothes:
Dressing for work in the heat, is both easier and harder than more casual dressing. It’s harder because, well, you have to wear real clothes, with coverage and waistbands and other uncomfy stuff. But it’s easier because the vast majority of offices are air-conditioned. To a fault, even. (And if you work somewhere that’s not, well, they can’t exactly expect you to look like the soul of professionalism.) So your real challenge is to get between the heat and the AC while staying reasonably human-looking and without catching a chill. Keep in mind:

  • Linen is a lifesaver. Ideally, linen with a little stretch in it, to keep its shape (this is especially important with trousers.)
  • Light layers will also get you between sweltering street and subway, subway and office. Think a thin cardigan or a light jacket.
  • A top that you can wear untucked without its looking crummy is always good – or at the very least a blouse that you can tuck and untuck with minimal wrinkling damage.
  • While I’m a fan of lighter colors in heat, with linen trousers that can get a little beachy – not to mention show wrinkles.
  • In a pinch, that light, tailored jacket can do a lot: you can even throw it over what might technically be called a sun-dress, provided it’s solid and demure and you dress it up with a proper shoe.
  • When in doubt or somewhere with major humidity, it’s no crime to keep a spare blouse at the office.

Of course, I look forward to hearing more from those of you who battle the heat on a regular basis!

For all of our handy Dress Code guides, go here.

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