Reader Request: Looking Professional in the Summer Heat

how to dress professionally in hot weather

Reader Heather sent me this question:

I’m a music teacher in rural Southeast Missouri, and when I’m doing an August band camp, it is ridiculously hot (think 95+ degrees with 100% humidity for 7 hours, no AC). A lot of blogs have articles on how to dress professionally during the summer, but they are almost all geared towards people who work in an (overly) air conditioned office. I think there’s a tendency to assume that people who need to dress professionally work indoors, while outdoor workers need to dress in a less polished way. I also look very young, so shorts, flip flops and tank tops just don’t work, and are against dress code anyway.

And she’s so right – most blog posts on professional hot weather looks aren’t geared toward anyone teaching outside in August in southern Missouri. Most of what I’m recommending today is specific to looking somewhat dressy while working outdoors, but I hope some of it will be helpful to those of you who live in extremely hot, humid climates but work indoors. Here we go!

Explore athletic brands

My mind goes directly to Athleta, Title Nine, Prana, Toad & Co and the other athletic/streetwear companies. (Many of which are on Amazon, too, often on deep discount.) They can hook you up with dresses that wick and won’t wrinkle, and will help you look great without suffocating you. This one looks fantastic. These brands can also get you set up with some cute skirts and skorts – this one wicks!

Incorporate a few cotton knits

Regular jersey or ribbed cotton tanks can look a little casual, but a cotton sweater shell like this will breathe and look more polished. (They can also be thrifted very easily.)

Wear button-fronts as jackets

For days when you do want a bit more coverage, skip cardigans and pick up a short-sleeved linen camp shirt. You can wear it as a jacket over a tank and pants, or even tie it at the waist unbuttoned over a dress. This one comes in a bunch of colors. You can also try this trick with long-sleeved shirts in any natural fiber, and cuff the sleeves for more ventilation.

Try cropped pants

In terms of pants, finding some unlined cotton crops in neutrals would be a good start. Ann Taylor has these, and J.Crew has a slim and a wide leg. It’s amazing how much an exposed ankle affects your overall body temperature!

Upgrade your tees

A well-made tee can make a huge difference, and Everlane’s are fantastic AND sustainable. I like the drop-shoulder style myself, which has a slightly boxy/shorter fit. Look for tees with smooth finishes and interesting necklines or meticulously finished hemlines.

Try stylish sneakers and oxfords

So long as you don’t need serious coverage for actual foot protection (which you might, of course), you could try a perforated oxford like this or this. Keds usually look good with dresses, too, as do Converse low tops if your work skews casual. Also explore comfort brands like Clarks and ECCO, both of which design shoes that are relatively professional-looking but durable.

Images courtesy Athleta

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details. Sustainable options are either used, handmade, made in the U.S., artisan made in non-sweatshop conditions, or made using sustainable/fair trade practices.

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6 Responses to “Reader Request: Looking Professional in the Summer Heat”

  1. Rebekah Jaunty

    Good advice! I work in an un-air-conditioned office in Germany, and every summer my standards and ideals for “dressing professionally” shift dramatically as I try to avoid sweating to death.

    If your readers enjoy wearing skirts, very full/circle knee-length skirts in lightweight fabrics are great for summer; they allow air to circulate freely and appear “modest” when in public, but can be hiked up when your legs are hidden under a desk or you’re alone. I may look prim sitting behind my desk, but underneath it my knees are nine feet apart.

  2. calikancab

    I grew up in southeast Kansas, same kind of summer weather, and I still visit there from time to time. I have a tip about accessories: the fewer the better for coolness. I find that stud earrings are about as much as I can handle. (I hope you’ve got a decent-looking hat for the sun, by the way. Actually, I hope you’re able to work in the shade most of the time.)

  3. shriker_tam

    I’m finding light woven blouses in looser cuts much cooler than knit t-shirts, and thin wide-legged trousers in silk/linen-type fabrics. Again, woven, not knit.

    I wore a blouse similar to this with wide-legged light linen trousers for a trip to Cordoba recently and did quite well in 35-40C weather.

    Those types of garments/outfits are fairly easy to make more formal too – so long as you don’t mind looking a bit boxy 😉

  4. Sonja

    It is not really clear to me if reader Heather is going to spend August conducting bands,
    and these bands just happen to play outside, or if this bandcamp includes
    activities like running around with kids on grass, so I’m not totally sure if
    all of these tips will be appropriate, but here are some ideas:
    I second the proposal of wearing wide kneelong skirts. Half of the bottoms my
    wardrobe consist in A-line skirts in kneelength, and they are wonderfully breezy
    in summer. Yet they look professional and appropriate, if you choose plain,
    dark colours and thicker fabrics. You could combine a skirt with a button-down
    or a blouse.
    Woven fabrics are breezier and look more professional than knits. Natural fibres are
    breezier than synthetics. Those natural fibre-mixes that have 3 or 4 % elastane
    are more practical and crinkle less.
    If you don’t have to do much running around, widelegged trousers, like palazzo
    pants, in a very thin and breathable natural fibre could be a good option. I
    wear these a lot when I want to look presentable in the summer heat. The
    problem here: To my eye these look better with a fitted top made of jersey, and
    jersey is a bit too warm for the heat, especially when you wear a t-shirt with
    Sleeves / no sleeves: I find it much breezier to wear a spaghetti-strap top + a stiff
    little jacket made of woven natural fibre than wearing a t-shirt with sleeves.
    Like Sally proposes, this “jacket” could be a button-down worn open.
    Shorts can look more elegant and grown-up if you combine them with a blouse and
    elegant shoes instead of sneakers and a tee.
    Apropos shoes: Some options that are not too warm or too dressed up but professional enough in this context: ballerina flats / dainty, feminine flat sandals / an elegant
    version of espadrilles in a darker colour
    Hope that helps, greetings from sweltering Spain!

  5. Jessica M.

    I second the athletic dress recommendation. Also, dark colors are hotter in sun, but a dark color can make the difference between scandalously sheer and office-appropriate, in lightweight and breezy fabric. They also show sweat stains less. Potentially worth it. I have a breezy rust red maxi skirt that is the coolest thing I own for hot days, very professional too. But I’d never get away with the same skirt in a light color.

  6. Maggie Thurmond

    I grew up in rural SE Missouri, so good luck finding something that keeps you cool and looking professional!