Dress up shorts to avoid taking heat in the workplace

Style commentator Mary Alice Stephenson recommends keeping shorts classy and demure in the workplace.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Is it OK to wear shorts to the office on days with record-setting temperatures?

Designer runways might have you think so. Short suits were a trend in spring-summer womenswear collections. They’re also showing up in fall and resort collections.

Seen on the models, with their perfect spray tans, long legs and high heels, there’s little to quibble with. They appear polished, stylish and appropriate — and that’s what everyone should strive for with this look, experts said.

“Shorts can really replace a skirt — they’re actually easier to move in,” said Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. “What’s the difference between shorts and a skirt — even if they’re the same length? It’s that shorts are perceived as casual by nature, something that children wear, something we wear on weekends. That perception is changing.”

But pick your ensemble carefully to make sure your look isn’t too casual.

Sherin likes to see women heading into the office wearing knee-length shorts that are either slim and tapered or wider with a cuff, made of cotton poplin or gabardine. Linen will keep you cool, but might end up rumpled, she warns.

Pair the shorts with a crisp button-down shirt and a cropped blazer, she says. The strappy sandal is a must-do accessory, too, and a chunky platform version in a neutral color will elongate the appearance of the leg, Sherin said. An espadrille is an acceptable alternative.

However, flip-flops really don’t ever belong at the office, and the casualness of those items are exaggerated by shorts, Sherin said.

Style commentator Mary Alice Stephenson treats her weekday shorts as if they were dresses, and that can mean pairing them with jewelry and pumps.

With a heel, though, be aware of the length of the shorts. Stephenson advises: “Keep them long. ... Think Bermuda.”

She adds, “Cargo shorts, denim shorts and Daisy Dukes cannot come out to play at work. Keep your shorts classy and stick to a more demure short.”

Pleats are OK, and so is a high waist, she said, but anything too showy or too beachy is not.

How do you know if shorts are acceptable at your office?

If starched shirts are the norm, then maybe you should save your shorts for the weekend. But if women are walking around in sleeveless dresses or miniskirts, the office culture might be trendy enough for shorts.

Maybe start with shorts on a casual Friday and gauge that reaction before wearing them to a Monday-morning presentation, said Stephenson, who styles celebrities, runway collections and magazine photo shoots.

If it’s hot enough, the rules might be relaxed.

Elayne Seligman, a parent coordinator at a public school in the Bronx, typically wears a suit to work.

But on Thursday, when temperatures soared into the 90s in New York City, Seligman wore black linen walking shorts. “I really never wear shorts to work, but I am today because it’s so hot,” Seligman said. “Today everyone is quite dressed down — even the principal is in flats, and she always wears heels. Some teachers are in long shorts.”

At the Manhattan public relations firm where 24-year-old Esther Akutekha works, there isn’t a strict uniform, but there is a line — that just-above-the-knee line — that shouldn’t be crossed. “You don’t want to be too sexy regardless of how casual we are here,” she says.

Designer Jason Wu says shorts can be worn anywhere, but they have to be worn as a total look, and that look has to be dressed up. He stepped up shorts at a recent show by complementing a pair of black ones with a tweed jacket with leather trim and a tuxedo-style shirt.

“The new short goes from beach to cocktails,” he said.

The look is easier for women to experiment with than for men.

“I don’t sanction men wearing them to the office in any way shape or form,” said trend analyst Tom Julian, president of Tom Julian Group. The problem for most men is that the rest of their closet can’t support dressier shorts — they have neither the right shoes (driving moccasins, boat shoes or clean, canvas sneakers) nor the right shirt (a safari style or a polo, not a T-shirt or a tank).

He makes the exception for an office-sponsored field trip to the ballpark or golf course.

But not everyone likes the shorts-for-work look. Kimberly Shepherd, a 25-year-old interactive coordinator for Univision, doesn’t want to see shorts anywhere — on anyone — near her Miami office building. She saw someone wearing them with tights when the weather was a little cooler, and she wasn’t crazy about that look, either. “It was not inappropriate, but it was still odd.”

“The alternative for a woman is a skirt. You can always wear a nice summer dress, even a sundress can be dressed up,” Shepherd said. “A dress keeps you much cooler than shorts, anyway.”

Designer L’Wren Scott said she can appreciate the look on others, but when it comes to her professional wardrobe, shorts are only for days off.

“I wear those on the beach,” she said. “I’m not a shorts person in the city.”Clothes Make the Man (or Woman)

How to Dress for Work and Interviews

By Dawn Rosenberg McKay, About.com Guide

Unless your job requires you to wear a uniform, choosing clothing for work can be difficult. Of course there are industry standards, such as the navy blue suit for accountants and bankers. What do you wear, however, if you work in an industry where there really isn't a typical style of dress? Complicating the matter further are companies that allow more casual attire. How do you keep from crossing over the line from casual to sloppy? What about the job interview? You want to look your professional best, but you also want to appear as if you "fit in". Here are some pointers for dressing for any type of work situation:

·                     First and foremost, no matter what you wear, your clothes should be neat and clean.

·                     Keep your shoes in good condition.

·                     Your hair should be neatly styled.

·                     For women: makeup should be subtle.

·                     Nails should be clean and neat and of reasonable length.

·                     Dress for the job you want. If you aspire to be a manager, dress like managers in your company do.

Rules for Casual Dress at Work

Although in theory most people love the idea of not having to wear a suit to work, they are often confused by the casual dress policies some employers have instituted over the last few years. Here are some simple rules:

·                     Casual doesn't mean sloppy. Your clothing should still be neat and clean.

·                     You can't go wrong with khakis and a sport shirt or a nice sweater.

·                     If you are going to a meeting or making a presentation, professional attire may be in order.

Dressing for a Job Interview

In addition to following the general rules for dressing for work, heed this advice when you go on a job interview:

·                     Adhere to the employer's dress code: find out whether it's formal (suit and tie) or casual by asking around or by observing employees arriving for work.

·                     Dress slightly better than you would if you were an employee. For example, if the dress code is very casual, you should take it up a notch.

Cover up tattoos and remove body jewelry until you know whether they are acceptable at that particular workplace. What You See is What You Get... Or Is It?

You would think someone being interviewed on television would dress professionally, but unfortunately not everyone knows to do this. The host of a television show about my local job market was interviewing two women — one the chief economist of a regional business association and the other a newspaper journalist who reports on international business. The chief economist was dressed in a business suit and her hair was neatly combed. She sat up straight and looked at either the host or camera when answering questions. The journalist, by stark contrast, was dressed casually in slacks and shirt. Her hair looked wet, as if she had just gotten out of the shower or pool. She slouched in her chair and looked at her lap a lot of the time. Both women were very knowledgeable and had a lot of useful information to convey to the audience. However, I had more faith in what the economist had to say than I did in what the reporter said. Why? The way they carried themselves.

Maybe the current trend toward casual dress at work has made people more lax about what they wear. In addition, many people work from home where there are no rules regarding dress. As a remote worker, I can tell you that I don't give much thought to what I wear while working at home. While I don't work in a bathrobe and fuzzy slippers, unless of course I'm working at 1 a.m., if it's good enough for the supermarket or picking up my daughter at school, I can wear it to sit in front of my computer. When I give a presentation, though, it's a whole different story. I try to look my professional best, in a skirt, blouse, jacket, and dress shoes. I make sure my hair and makeup are neatly done. In other words, I dress for success.

Why You Must Dress Professionally for Certain Situations

Maybe it's unjust to judge a book by it's cover, but we all do it. It's human nature. While the person in jeans may be as competent and as intelligent as the one wearing the formal suit, or more so, we do assess these attributes based on appearance. That's not to say you can forget about preparing for a presentation, put on a nice suit, and you'll wow 'em. All the ingredients -- knowledge, preparation, and appearance — are necessary to make a good impression.

When you work at home or in an office where casual attire is the norm, it's difficult to get out of that role and into the role of the professional in front of the audience or in front of a television camera. But, if you want to make a good impression, it's worth the effort. Here's what you need to do.

How to Dress Professionally

Should you go out and purchase a suit for the one or two times a year you'll have to make a presentation? It's probably a good idea. You should buy something classic. After all, if you're only going to wear the suit a couple of times a year, you don't want it to go out of style too quickly. Women can probably get away with a nice skirt and jacket, while men can wear dress trousers and a jacket. There's also nothing wrong with a pant suit for women. If you're going to be in front of the camera, some special rules apply. Wear neutral colors — dark blue or grey are good, don't wear large or glitzy jewelry, and wear a button down shirt or a jacket so they have somewhere to clip a microphone.

Now about your hair. Your hair should be neat and clean. Try to keep it out of your face. As for makeup (for you women out there), keep it simple. If you're going to be on camera, you should stay away from anything iridescent, frosted, or glittery -- matte is best.

As your mother may have told you, sit up straight. When you slouch you look bored. If you're bored, how do you expect your audience to feel? You'll also look more confident if you're sitting or standing up straight. Look like you're happy to be there. Put a smile on your face. Don't fidget, bite your nails, or play with any jewelry you are wearing. Oh yeah — don't forget to breathe.Is it true that clothes make the man or woman? Do people form an opinion about us based on the way we dress? They do. Does that mean we should avoid any sense of individuality in the workplace? Of course not. With that said, some types of clothing are inappropriate for certain work environments. In addition, some work environments have a dress code that all who work there must follow. Sometimes you won't find these dress codes in writing; but if you look around you'll find that all employees are dressed in a similar way.

This gives us something to think about when choosing an occupation, or a place of employment. Do we want to fit in, or do we want to be able to express our individuality on the job? The answers to these questions should play an important role in our career plans.

Let's say you work somewhere where expressing one's individuality is okay. Does that mean anything goes? That brings us back to being judged based on what we wear. Is it improper to wear revealing attire to work? It depends on where you work and whom you work with. A teacher should stay away from revealing attire, for instance. A retail sales clerk might be able to get away with it depending on where she works. In other words, good judgment is important here. If what you wear is distracting to others then maybe it's time to go shopping.What's more important? Our deeds or our words? Some people use language others find offensive or at least feel doesn't belong in the workplace. Does the fact that someone does great things outweigh the fact that he or she may be offending those around him or her? Well, if your language puts just one co-worker off, it's probably a good idea to shape up. In social situations, one can choose to stay away from someone who uses foul language. At work that person is a captive audience. While you may be protected by freedom of speech laws, that doesn't make it okay to irritate those around us.

Let's not forget sexual harassment. Can your words be misconstrued as sexual harassment? It all depends on who is the recipient of your comments and how far they plan to take it. Even an innocent joke can be taken as harassment.

Being outspoken can be a good thing. However, being a loud mouth is not. It's true that the "squeaky wheel gets the oil." But how squeaky should you be? Again, look at your work environment. Is this type of behavior encouraged or discouraged? Having opinions is a good thing, being opinionated is not. There are some people, and we all know who they are, who must have a strong opinion about each and every thing. And, that person must make that opinion very public. Choose your causes wisely or it will look like your primary cause is hearing your own voice.