Summer is my favorite season for fashion. You don’t have to hide your style under a heavy coat or plan your footwear around a snowstorm, and there are endless opportunities to experiment. Summer office fashion is particularly fun. I can hang up my boring black slacks and have some fun with color, fabric, and cut.
Last summer, in the weeks leading up to the start of my current job, I spent a regrettable amount of time freaking out about the business casual dress code. How could I afford to buy an entirely new wardrobe before I cashed my first paycheck?! Thankfully, trusted friends and family talked me down from maxing out my credit card and insisted that I start shopping in my own closet first. After evaluating my warm weather options, meeting my office wardrobe needs felt way more manageable, and the preparation turned into an experience I could actually enjoy. Rather than going on a spontaneous, stress-fueled shopping spree, I made a few smart purchases that got me through the warm-weather months in a breeze.
When planning your summer office wardrobe, keep these three tips in mind.
1. Invest in a few staple pieces
The first time I went shopping for work clothes, I kept reaching for printed blouses and bright, eccentric patterned pants that were definitely adorable, but not exactly practical for my 9-5. Based on experience, I recommend building your work wardrobe around some key basics that will never go out of style and adding on fun accessories later. Shopping for basics isn’t particularly exciting, but you’ll thank yourself later when you have four or five key pieces of clothing that you can mix-and-match.
Find a comfortable blazer you love (actually love — don’t compromise on fit or comfort) and buy it in two colors. You can even keep one in the office — you can throw it over almost any dress, blouse, or button-down and instantly feel professional while protecting yourself from an over air-conditioned office.
A few other important items to have: A versatile dress (like this one from Everlane), flattering slacks/trousers (these are rare, so when you find them, buy them in a couple colors. I always get compliments on these slacks — and they’re machine washable!), and a button-down in a muted print that you can mix-and-match with different ties, cardigans, and blazers.
2. Choose shoes that will dress up your look
My belief is that shoes can completely transform an outfit. With the right pair of loafers or mules, you can take a Sunday lunch outfit to your Monday meeting, no problem. I’ve found that by swapping sandals for buckled loafers or trading straw espadrilles for pointy-toe flats, I can get a business day out of many summertime weekend outfits. This was a huge relief when I started my new job last summer because I realized I didn’t need to build an office wardrobe from scratch. A black sundress that seemed casual with wedges can feel office-ready with a pair of loafers and a cardigan. For men, a nice pair of shoes can dress up a polo or casual-looking pant.
3. Don’t be afraid to experiment (and have fun!)
If traditional pencil skirts and basic trousers aren’t your thing, have no fear! There are so many fun ways to spice up your summer office wardrobe. Once you have the basics, try experimenting with different fabrics or designs, and don’t be afraid to play with color. Trade in a basic pencil skirt for a tea-length pleated skirt like this one from Zara, and try a twist on a basic blazer with printed elbow patches or in a fabric like linen or cotton, two great breathable materials for hot summer months. You’ll still look put-together and professional but with a little extra flair. Accessories are another great way to push the envelope while remaining office-appropriate. Check out BaubleBar for bold, eye-catching earrings, and HappySocks for fun (and often, funny) printed socks.
Originally published on June 3, 2019.