Hot weather often means a relaxed dress code for many corporations. But what exactly does "relaxed" really mean? According to business etiquette expert Barbara Pachter, warmer weather doesn't mean you can suddenly wear short skirts, skimpy tops or otherwise inappropriate clothing. "Sexy is not a corporate look," says Pachter, author of the book NewRules @ Work: 79 Etiquette Tips, Tools and Techniques to Get Ahead and Stay Ahead.
She warns that dressing seductively can severely damage a woman's credibility in the workplace. "Recently, a manager asked me to talk to one of his employees about professional dress. At her recent performance review, he said that her top was so low, he couldn't look at her."
Although warmer weather is often to blame for unsuitable work attire, Pachter also blames inappropriate television role models (see House star Lisa Edelstein and Marg Helgenberger of CSI to the right), fashion designers and a lack of self-awareness as some of the reasons why many women dress seductively. But, she stresses, you can still be feminine -- just without flaunting your figure.
Here are 8 tips to make sure that your business wardrobe should stay professional, all year long -- regardless of the weather.
1. No cleavage -- period.
I am amazed that I need to tell women that cleavage is not appropriate for the office. And it's not!
2. Avoid short skirts.
Showing too much leg (even really good if you have great gams) is never an appropriate way to dress for the office. Avoid high slits and keep your skirts no higher than the top of your knees. When the skirt is significantly above the knee, the knee becomes a visual anchor and draws people's attention down to your legs. Is that where you want people to look?
3. Don't skip the stockings.
Men ask me if they have to wear socks. I tell them I have to wear stockings, you have to wear socks. Women can get away without them when wearing slacks. A skirt without stockings is just too sexy a look.
4. Less really is more.
The less skin you show, the more professional you'll be -- so no exposing your belly, no see-through tops, and no sleeveless tops. (And -- ugh! -- no thongs showing from the tops of your pants. We just don't need to see it!)
5. Stay away from skintight outfits.
Your clothing needs to fit, and not overemphasize body parts. Fabrics bulge and buttons pull when the item is too tight. One woman I coached had her skirt so tight that every time she stood up, she had to pull her skirt down.
6. Pay attention to color.
Light and bright colors are seen a lot more in the summer -- just don't shout with exceptionally bright colors. You don't want this saying being applied to you: "Your clothes are speaking so loudly, I can't hear you."
7. Shoes count.
People notice shoes. It's one of the little details that add polish to your professional presence. No flip flops or sandals. It's not the beach; it's work. One manager said, "I do run a casual place, but when a job candidate showed up for the interview in flip flops, I just couldn't hire her."
8. Know that sex appeal has it limits.
If your road to success is being based on how sexy you look, you are dooming yourself to failure. Eventually you won't be able to compete.
The key, Pachter suggests, is to ask yourself what you may be drawing attention to via your clothing. "Are you promoting your ideas and your competence or your sexuality? Regardless of your company's policy or the particular item of clothing that you are wearing, your clothing still needs to project professionalism."