Stay cool, but work-appropriate

July 20, 2008|By Elizabeth Wellington | Elizabeth Wellington,McClatchy-Tribune

We all know how burning, muggy summers can tempt us into making questionable style choices for the office: bare legs, cleavage-baring tops, flip-flops, and probably the biggest offense of all - wearing shorts in the cubicle.

So this week, as the temperatures climb to the 90s, humidity in tow, we should pay special attention to our workplace attire.

It can be the difference between spending the rest of the day in company-paid air-conditioning or trudging back home in the heat to try your luck again.

"We draw the line at revealing clothing, period," said Vicki Sessoms, senior vice president at Health Partners in Philadelphia, who says her company also discourages flip-flops.

Fashion rules vary from office to office, but in response to what many employers call casual-Friday abuse, businesses have gotten stricter with dress codes. Many Philadelphia-area companies have sent out e-mails about acceptable attire.

Vanguard's summer memo informed employees that capris, walking shorts and even sandals - not flip-flops - were allowed. Skirts needed to be knee-length or longer, and all had to be worn with hosiery. Belmont Behavioral Systems has similar rules.

Human resources employees at Comcast and Independence Blue Cross said employees are expected to dress in full business attire - fellas, that means shirts and ties - no matter how hot it gets. But Independence Blue Cross did allow employees to wear business-casual clothing when the temperature climbed above 90 last month.

Business-casual means collared polo shirts and khakis or slacks for men, according to Karen Burnham, a spokeswoman for Independence Blue Cross. For women, panty hose are optional, but flip-flops and low-cut shirts are definite no-nos.

"Employers have to and should let people know what's appropriate attire in the office," said Wayne Pinkstone, a labor attorney and partner at the Radnor law firm Fisher & Phillips. "The problems come when the rules are not applied across the board and in only certain instances."

What's our advice? Err on the side of conservative. Flip-flops - even the $195 equestrian orange Tory Burch thongs - should be worn only on the walk to work.

Blouses should have sleeves - this summer we like tulip sleeves - and please wear camisoles under sheer ones.

For optimum crispness, tuck your blouse into your black cotton pencil skirt, flat-front summer gray pants, or wide-legged white trousers. Another possibility is nice denim, also known as deep-indigo, cuffed tailored slacks.

Capri pants aren't an issue with even the strictest employers, but if your company expects you to wear them with panty hose, save your capris for the weekend.

Of course the easiest, most in-style option is a dress.

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