There is no reason why the heat should leave us struggling to strike a balance between what’s appropriate for the office and what works for the weather, writes Carolyn Moore
Walking around on a sweltering day, there are two types of women I feel for: those who have to endure the heat while heavily pregnant, and those who are soldiering through soaring temperatures in the opaque tights and stuffy sheath dresses that are the unofficial uniform of the Irish workplace.
While the former can’t do much to improve their situation, there is no reason the latter can’t loosen up and let their bodies breathe when we’re blessed with a rare but wonderful reminder of what summer is supposed to be.
Though figure-hugging power dresses were once the calling card of Victoria Beckham (and an effective signifier of her transition from pop star to the serious business woman), the last few seasons have seen the designer relax into an easier silhouette — without diminishing her professional demeanour. Teaming crisp white shirts with loose midi-length skirts or tailored trousers, Beckham has embraced a more effortlessly pulled together look.
“This is really what I want to wear,” she says of her new approach. “It’s a modern way of dressing that’s not too try-hard. It’s just easy and fun.” While switching stilettos for sneakers may not be an option for everyone, Beckham’s style does epitomise a fresh, new, versatile approach to workwear, and summer is the perfect time to explore it.
There’s no reason why hot weather should leave us struggling to strike a balance between what’s appropriate for the office and what works for the weather, but many women fail to adapt their workwear for the season. In a bid to stay smart they end up looking (and feeling) hot, sticky, and deeply uncomfortable.
“Women should feel confident and comfortable in their work clothes,” says Marie O’Shea, Personal Shopper at Brown Thomas, Cork, who encourages her clients to invest in the building blocks of a good working wardrobe — whatever the season.
“Really good basics, like a Hugo Boss trouser suit, a Roland Mouret pencil skirt, and a Victoria Beckham shift dress, in navy or black, can be built on with pops of colour or seasonal essentials,” she says. “Keeping your basics simple and neutral gives you the flexibility to adapt them to your style, your workplace, and the season at hand.
“The scope of your workwear does depend on where you work,” she adds. “What’s acceptable in IT maybe be completely unacceptable in a solicitor’s office.” Nonetheless, Marie acknowledges there has been an overall relaxing of the rules. Though many women have comfortably leaned into that, for others it has blurred the lines between what’s acceptable in the office and what isn’t. Add hot weather to the mix and dressing for work becomes fraught with additional challenges. But fret not — the bar for looking professional may not drop as the mercury rises, but as Victoria Beckham proves, the parameters have shifted to give you plenty of breathing room.
And staying cool is all about the breathing room. Look for cuts that sit away from the body, allowing air to circulate, and chose breathable fabrics. Marie suggests light wool crepes are the ultimate trans-seasonal fabrics to invest in; likewise, cotton shirting works year round. Silk blouses and camis are an invaluable addition ; and even light gauge knits can feel cooler in summer than a polyester top.
When it comes to tailoring, exercise caution with linen. “While we all know it’s breathable, linen does crease,” Marie says. “If you’re meeting a client, you want to get up from your desk looking smart, not creased.” Airy midi-length dresses and skirts are summer saviours, and shirtdresses are a ‘one and done’ essential, but maxi dresses are too casual for most workplaces. If you could feasibly wear it to the beach, it’s probably not right for the office – and that goes for footwear too.
Flip-flops are a no no, and pool slides are out for all but the most fashionable workplaces. Mules are a smarter alternative; and even if you wouldn’t wear them for a night out, sling back kitten heels are a great, comfortable way to sharpen up relaxed cuts.
The looser your look, the more you should seek out details that smarten it up. A structured bag is the perfect counterpoint to easier cuts, and tailored details add a veneer of polish to relaxed shapes. A classic cotton tee is office appropriate teamed with cropped tailored trousers; or comfortable joggers can be smartened with a shirt.
COS do an ingenious collared bib for a sharp finish under a dress or knit without the bulk of a shirt; and a light, unstructured blazer you can roll up in your bag will save you in an air con emergency or a sudden downpour. Because as much as you should be prepared to work it when it’s hot, this is Ireland after all!
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