Mamas, I recieved this email from reader Tracy:
Here's my challenge. I'm an aerospace systems engineer (yes, you MAY call me Madame Rocket Scientist) in Pasadena, CA and I have no idea what to wear to work when the weather gets hot. Oh, did I mention California? Yes, it will be 80-105 degrees here from now until November. That's half a year by my Excel spreadsheet calculations. My workplace is actually pretty casual, but the managers certainly dress nicer, and I've always heard you should dress like who you aspire to be at work. So, what to wear when skin is in season at the beach/park, but no so for those of us sweltering in their desk chair? Cut-offs, short skirts, flip flops, maxi dresses (any that scream "I'd rather be on a tropical island than here in this meeting with all of you!), bare arms, etc. are really not options. And, I am of course up to my elbows in mommy-mode (and other disgustingness) immediately before and after work so everything has to be kiddo friendly.
Tracy, I have a soft spot in my heart for geeks. Geeks who mention aerospace, spreadsheets and fashion? We should be BFFs.
As you know, engineering is a funny field from a dress-code perspective. It's not as conservative, as, say, some crusty old law firm, but neither is it consider creative, like marketing or a hip ad agency. And while my company flirted with a denim dress code in the heady dot-com days, the pendulum seems to be swinging back to fairly conservative roots.
Personally, I tend to favor a professional look, with touches of casual ease thrown in (especially in the summer). Here's a weeks worth of outfits:
MONDAY: Cheap, Modest, Summer Dresses
(wearing: Target dress, J. Crew belt, Marc Jacobs heels)
A few of my favorite places to find cotton summer dresses include Target, Shabby Apple, Modcloth, and Forever 21. Look for classic cuts with a bit of a sleeve in dark, conservative colors. I keep them professional with belts and closed-toe heels, and add cardigans (or blazers) to battle the air conditioning. The second I leave work I strip off the outer layer, and just run around in what is really just a cheap little cotton summer dress. Sometimes I'll even change into flip-flops.
NOTE: When buying cheap, you sometimes sacrifice fit. The Target dress above cost me $24, plus another $40 in alterations. Considering how many times I've worn what became a $64 dress, the CPW (cost-per-wear) is still in the pennies.
TUESDAY: Wear Work Separates With a Cotton Tee
You guys have seen this outfit before. But it's a good example of something I wear to work quite often. If the neckline is a little low (and this one is), I throw on a blazer. Else I just pair drapy tees (even concert tees) with trousers, pencil skirts or even a suit for a dose of professional-cool.
WEDNESDAY: Find Subdued (but cool) Accessories
(wearing: DKNY pencil skirt, tee from Anthropologie, J.Crew heels, Salt sunnies, Peter Pan necklace from a Common Thread)
Basic work separates and plain tees can get a tad boring day-in and day-out. So besides belts and heels, I look to a few subdued but cool accessories to add interest. Personally, I find dangley earrings un-professional, and too much arm candy gets in the way of typing at the computer, so a cool statement necklace is my top pick. I like something non-flashy, like this collar necklace from A Common Thread. (A giveaway is coming!! hopefully tomorrow, Mamas….our nap schedules are all. messed. up.)
THURSDAY: Blazer + Summer Dress + Closed-Toe Shoes = Surprisingly Professional
I'm not comfortable with bare arms in the office, so I cover up a sleeveless summer dress with a blazer. To find a sleeveless dress that works for work, look for one that combines a below-the-knee hemline with a drapy fabric. And stick to closed-toe shoes to further the office-worthy vibe. Save sheer, gauzy sundresses for the weekend. I ditch the blazer the second I leave the office: this was my go-to for catching a happy hour with hubs.
FRIDAY: Make Denim Work With a Blazer (and bright pops of color)
(wearing: DVF jacket, Stylemint tee, J Crew flats, bracelets from Macy's, Levis 535 Denim leggings)
Since I started my career in the 90's, wearing denim to work still feels right. You know? So I tended to take advantage of casual Fridays by throwing on a blazer with my fav denim. Bright accessories keep this look fun – and the stretchy bracelets are easy to throw on / off if I need to spend long periods of time at the computer.
So Madame Rocket Scientist, since I'm guessing you'd now like some summary bullets…my bottom line for summertime work-wear is this:
- Mix in one very casual piece: a tee shirt, summer dress or jeans.
- Pair with professional staples: trousers, blazers, pencil skirts, and closed-toe heels to keep the look office-worthy.
- Finish off the look with a few carefully chosen accessories.
Hmmmm….if I only had a bit more time, I could turn this into an automated Powerpoint presentation complete with flow charts. Or use cases! We could do use cases!
I'll stop now.