Are You Violating Your Company's Summer Dress Code?

Check your summer look with a professional wardrobe stylist

Composite by Sarah Browne from Urban Outfitters

It's that time of the year again. The snow has finally melted, the daffodils are in bloom, and HR departments across the nation are shuddering in anticipation of enforcing "The Summer Dress Code." This year the hottest style trends seem especially tempting, ranging from cut-outs in skin-hugging summery dresses to knee high gladiator shoes to gossamer-sheer shirts. Then there are the "man sandals."

Before you stash your sweaters in the bottom drawer and switch to tube tops, keep this career research in mind: in a study conducted by staffing agency Robert Half International, 74 percent of companies surveyed said they don't relax their dress codes during the summer. While some have adopted a business casual policy all year round, others believe the no-jacket, no-tie, untucked shirt approach isn't ever, summer or not, going to be polished enough for the workplace. The casual look that feels right to you may not feel appropriate to employers. Much depends on the kind of business, the work culture and location. What is acceptable to wear for an ad agency may be taboo in a bank. This fashion fuzziness is enough to confuse anyone.

At AOL Jobs, we believe that looking professional is a vital part of a successful career. As the saying goes: Dress for the job you want, not the one you have. We turned to an expert for advice about how to stay stylish yet continue to be taken seriously during these steamy summer months.

Kristen Kaleal is a professional wardrobe stylist whose clients are C-level executives, media personalities, recent college grads, and just about everyone in between. She is a former president of the Association of Image Consultants International (AICI) OH/PA chapter and a writer and media expert on style matters. She guides her clients by teaching them to send the right strategic messages to help them achieve their personal and professional goals.

What do you think are some of the challenges of dressing for work during the summer?

One of the biggest challenges is that what's office appropriate is so arbitrary. It depends entirely on the employer. "No cut-offs, halter tops, spaghetti straps, bike shorts or flip-flops." Bike shorts? Seriously? Some of this has to be common sense, folks.

Tip: HR should issue a specific set of guidelines for employees. If for some reason they don't, ask for clarification. This is an area where making assumptions can swiftly and negatively affect your career path. One of my clients didn't understand why she was suddenly dropped from going on sales calls. I suggested she ask her manager directly. He told her the boss didn't think her bare legs and summer-short(er) skirt gave the right impression. The business development team needed to appear powerful and capable to prospects. She was too casual, and as the manager said, "too girlish."

Are t-shirts or sundresses ever acceptable for work?

T-shirts can be okay if they don't have a recognizable logo on them and if they're worn under something else, like a button-up shirt.

Women love their sundresses, especially if there is the promise of sitting on a patio somewhere for an after work happy hour. Surprisingly, I would say that many of them are actually fine for the office. The caveat is they absolutely must not show too much skin and they need to be layered under something. Depending on the formality of your work environment, you can combine them with anything from a blazer to a cardigan, or for a less formal office, you can even put a tailored shirt over a sundress. Make sure the dress isn't too low-cut or too short. It should be knee-length and not flimsy or see-through. If in doubt, wear a half-slip like it's the early 60's and imagine you're on Mad Men. Too much skin or sheer is a distraction. So are visible bra straps.

Tip: When you wear a summery, less structured dress, step up the formality of the rest of your outfit. If possible, belt it to give it more shape and wear a dressier, more closed-in shoe. Take off your sunglasses when you're inside, and don't wear them on your head either.

What about footwear in a world where it seems like flip-flops are everywhere?

Flip-flops are dangerous. Not only to your ability to climb the corporate ladder, but they're actually dangerous for other reasons. First, they rarely have any kind of arch support and can cause long-term foot problems. Second, it's easy to trip or roll your ankle in them. And third, some flip-flops make so much noise when you're walking around that you should beware of coworkers attempting to throw office supplies at you out of frustration. "Loud walkers" are a no-no.

If you work in a more liberal footwear environment, be grateful, but guarded. Always have well-groomed feet. If you're going to wear sandals, make sure they are of a higher quality (leather is always a safe bet) and that they have at least a small heel or wedge to give your feet the support they need. Sandals shouldn't be ridiculously high, but they shouldn't be totally flat, either.

Man sandals at work? Not. Ever.

Tip: Pedicures are your best friend if you're going to dare to wear anything open-toed.

What if your workplace has Casual Fridays? How informal can you really be?

I always think it's safe to let management set the tone. Of course, if your boss is in board shorts and Birkenstocks, you might not want to emulate that. But as a rule, let the higher ups be your guide. If everyone else is uber-casual and the managers are only slightly more relaxed than during the week, it's best to err on the side of dressing more like management. Especially if you want to go places at that job.

One of my clients made the mistake of wearing an aloha shirt on Casual Friday. It was a designer shirt, bright, colorful and rather nice, but unfortunately, it destroyed his big break. He worked at a television station and had been waiting for his chance to be on camera. That Friday, major news broke and the other reporters were already on assignment. The news desk would have sent Jim. But not in that shirt. There was no time for him to go home and change. An intern got the break instead. The next week, Jim called me!

Tip: If you're going to participate in Casual Fridays, keep a more formal outfit in your car or office in case you have a surprise meeting.

How about trends? Like that flower child look that's all the rage?

I think if you want to indulge your inner hippie in your private life, that's totally up to you. But the message it sends to your superiors and peers may not be the ones you want to send. There are a lot of "sweet print" florals out right now, and if you make those your regular go-to look, be careful because you're giving off a very young, soft, ingénue message that may undermine your credibility. Your look should positively affect your potential raise or promotion.

Tip: Jackets, shirts, and lightweight sweaters are great work-arounds if you absolutely must wear some of these trendy styles -- such as dresses with sexy cut-outs or bold, bright prints. Slip a jacket on during the day and reveal your true trendy self at night.

One last question. What advice do you have about summer hair?

You're not at the beach. No flower pins or scrunchies. Wild beachy waves, natural or not, should be styled neatly. Ponytails, especially in sleek Kate Middleton style, can be appropriate. Men, this may not be the time to go scruffy, grow the ironic hipster beard or surfer hair!

> Here's a job where you can wear your trunks

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Dress code of company is import for your wardrobe of summer fashion

May 13 2014 at 9:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jenny` news

Women should wear dresses every day to work along with a slip and pantyhose. No thongs or bras that show through.
Heels are female attire and should be worn at work. If stockings are picked instead of pantyhosee then girdles with garter stockings should be worn.
If it is felt that pantyhose and girdles are to hot then plain white cotton briefs should help.
Looki at the dress codes of the 50`s and before and be greatful corsets and bloomers are not required.

May 06 2014 at 2:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey, the "so called standard" for inappropriate dress starts in school. Have you ever watched the kids getting off the school bus? Look at the stuff they wear to school. Tube tops, belly shirts, jeans so tight their azzes squeal for mercy, skirts so short, you can see their thongs, see thru clothes, makeup applied with a grease gun...adn the boys-they look like Rocky Horror Picture Show and/or ax murderers...many have their pants hanging down so far off their azzes, you can see the toilet paper flecks they missed when they last wiped their butts, hats on backwards, piercings and tats and some even have thick black eyeliner. So...they eventually translate THAT look to workplace America, with their useless, complimentary college degrees and wonder "why" they are unemployable. But, perhaps, they look to their equally bizarre parental role models and can't understand "what" the problem is in their defective perception of what's "socially acceptable and appropriate..." AND that, America, is why a huge proportion of our workforce has been OUTSOURCED.
Damn. But, if you ask "them," "they" think it's ONLY because Corporate America doesn't want pay "them" the BIG BUCKS "they" believe "They" are worth..." that "they" aren't being offered PLUM jobs. LOL!!! What do YOU think?

May 05 2014 at 11:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to KatiaOne's comment

Katia, along with the comment about parents, you could comment about the 'dress code' for teachers. If they present a respectable image, at some point students will show respect. Although I do not advocate suits and dresses for teachers as when I went to school they should dress more professionally.

May 06 2014 at 3:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

...pardon my many typos...

May 05 2014 at 11:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Someone should teach Michelle Obama HOW to dress appropriately, so she does NOT always embarrass America when she is photographed next to foreign dignitaries and women with high profile political or social positions. It's sickening, how the media panders to her bad wardrobe choices and it is ridiculous, given how AWFUL she always looks (with some few exceptions), no matter what the event. Frankly, she usually looks like a slob, dressed in any old thing, withot ant sense of style...and the pimpish media tries to tell us (like we have NO eyes) that she is as fashion-forward as "Jackie Kennedy." (Yeah, it IS absurd right?) STOP it. Help that foolish woman. She represents America (sadly) and it is humiliating enough, having to face the fact that her husband has destroyed America's image and international position, without pretending his wife is the "trendsetter" for American women. I mean...LOOK at her, bare arms and all...she looks like a thrift shop nightmare.

May 05 2014 at 11:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to KatiaOne's comment

Bare arms??? Kat... Come into the 21st century.

May 06 2014 at 4:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am still trying to figure out who (in their right mind!) allowed for flip flops to be everyday wear to begin with?! They are NOT sandals, they are flip flops. I thought these things were designed for wearing at the beach or the swimming pool or even around the house, but not to work, school, the mall, or where ever!!

May 05 2014 at 2:23 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jta062975's comment

Along with the looks of flip-flops, they are unsafe, particularly in a work environment. They do not provide even a minimum of protection against injuries. In many cases,if injuries occur, workmen's compensation could be denied by the insurance company.

May 06 2014 at 3:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Its not going to matter. There will always be a double standard. The men v women and the " model type v average/large person. Lets face it. How do I know? because working for a major cell phone company I was a victim of it. They have a dress code that states business professional Monday -Friday, no demin of any kind during those days, Jeans only on Saturday and Sundays. NO Spaghetti straps ever. Tanks to end of shoulder. COworker comes in to work on a Tuesday in a Demin, eyelet lace spagetti straped dress and does not get written up sent home or fired. I come to work on a Saturday in nice jeans and a tank the comes just down over shoulders and I get written up AND sent home. Why? She was a size 6 beauty queen from CA and I was a size 12 local girl. Also ladies I dont care if its 115 out if you have on a light fabric dress or skirt and going to work make sure you have on a slip and NYLONS. it looks professional. ESPECIALLY IF IT IS WHITE or pants

May 05 2014 at 1:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kim_bush's comment

I am sure a gentle anonymous reminder of dress code would have worked. I would have not have tolerated my boss not noticing or laying down the rules. Rules are rules for a reason no matter what anyone looks like.

May 05 2014 at 2:26 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

OK. You are a supervisor who must choose from otherwise equal employees for promotion to a higher paying position. One employee is always well groomed and dresses in business attire and the others do not. Which would you choose?
Dress for the position you want Dress for success.

May 05 2014 at 1:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

there are certain professions that require a suit. I'd be really concerned if I was meeting with an Attorney, banker, Real estate agent that wasn't dressed professionally. People just have no clue how to dress. I went into an attorney's office the other day & the receptionist had large breasts & I could barely look her in the eye (& I'm female)....VERY distracting & totally unprofessional. I have "work clothes", "going out clothes" & "casual clothes". I work as support staff in a real estate office. I am ALWAYS dressed professionally. But, I am also "one of those people" who doesn't go out of the house unless my hair is done, make up on, I don't own flannel, sweats or sneakers. I live in jeans when not in work but, always neat & clean.

May 05 2014 at 12:58 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Shelley's comment

For me, I don't really care of my attorney or CPA is wearing a tie with his shirt, if he or she can handle the job for me. Last week I visited my attorney and on a rather warm day, he had his shirt open at the neck, sleeves rolled up a bit, and still managed to handle a rather complicated bit of estate planning business for me. And afterward, since I'm an oldish lady using a walker, he actually accompanied me across the street to my car to make sure I had no problem on the way.
When I went to my accountant the month before, he also wore no tie, but he covered every possible question about my complicated tax situation very efficiently.
Now my banker does wear a tie, but then he's out in public view dealing with many people and lots of money most of the time.....and his office is nicely air-conditioned.

May 05 2014 at 6:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have met Real Estate agents in jeans and its okay with me. As long as they do their job. That's all I ask.

May 06 2014 at 11:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am a waitress in a high end restaurant in Miami Lakes, Fl and maybe what I can wear is different than what a pharmaceutical sales woman can many of you may just shut out my opinions and experiences...but I was also a mortgage originator for a local mortgage brokerage for 7 years. For this mortgage position, I met with clients in their homes and at our brokerage. The owner encouraged me to dress in a flattering manner, but also in a manner that would encourage "getting me in the door". Meaning in an enticing, flirtatious and, yes, sexual get in the door...Once seated with the client, I had to be as or more knowledgeable about our mortgage products, rates, Fanny & Freddie guidelines, etc. as all the other broker's. I learned over the years to dress as seductively as possible - based on the client being male or female as well as age, and the clients appeared to have a healthy respect for a professional female dressed in a flattering manner. I might add that I am a very submissive woman, happy to be so and take direction well. I am proud of the fact that I exercise and diet properly and take good care of myself in every way...

My waitress position and manager(female) openly encourages all the waitresses and waiters to BE sexy and DRESS sexy in a professional manner. I buy my clothes (professional waitressing and casual clothes) from

I am not a spokes person for this company but encourage all women to visit and see what is available to those of us who WANT to and CAN dress in an open and yet professional manner.


May 05 2014 at 12:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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