By Susan Johnston
First Lady Michelle Obama took some heat for wearing a sleeveless shift dress in her official White House portrait. Some argued that the dress was too casual for such a formal occasion, while others applauded her toned arms and timeless style.
The controversy highlights a problem that many workers face when deciding what to wear to work in spring and summer: As companies embrace a more casual environment, it's hard to know what's appropriate and what's not.
Standards also vary depending on the company and the industry. "The rules for a graphic artist are going to differ from someone working in the banking industry," says Sherry Maysonave, author of Casual Power and an image consultant specializing in business attire.
Maysonave shared her tips on dressing professionally during the warmer months:
Dress Up, Manage Up
Maysonave says that if a company doesn't have an official dress code, then career-minded employees should "look to your boss and to your boss's boss" for cues on what's acceptable. Though the person in the next cube may be sporting sandals and Bermuda shorts or a sundress with spaghetti straps showing, the people who are most successful are those who dress for the occasion.
"Donald Trump is not going to sacrifice his professionalism based on weather," says Maysonave. "We're not going to see him shedding his coat." She adds that some men opt for slightly larger shirts in the summer so their necks and wrists stay cool. Women whose offices require hosiery might choose lightweight pants in lieu of a skirt and pantyhose. Maysonave warns that "a huge faux pas is wearing a longer skirt and knee highs" so that the top of the knee-highs show.
Upgrade Casual Clothes
As Maysonave points out, "If you have important meetings, you don't want to look like you're dressing for happy hour at 8 a.m." That's not to say that you need to bring a change of clothes for after-hours events. Women can go can sleeveless but cover up with a jacket or cardigan during the day. Rather than wearing flip-flops or a casual sandal, they might opt for slingbacks or peep-toe pumps. Both options are allowed at many companies.
"For men, the rules don't change as much, because women have so many choices," Maysonave says. "But they certainly can go with lighter colors." Some companies allow golf shirts and khakis, but Maysonave encourages those interviewing for jobs to dress up with a dark-colored suit. "Khaki just doesn't come across as polished as darker colors," she explains.
Choose Lightweight Fabrics
If you're in an especially warm climate, then the type of fabric makes all the difference. "Many people don't know this, but tropical-weight wool fabric is the coolest fabric, because it allows your skin to breath," Maysonave says. "Polyester is the hottest. A lot of cottons and silks are cool but they wrinkle easily."
In the end, it's also about your nonverbal communication, Maysonave says. "You're always making a statement, whether you intend to or not," she says. "Statistics show that your physical visual is 55 percent of your overall communication. People are looking at what you're wearing."