Now that March 20 is truly behind us, as well as the spring red-letter days of Easter and Opening Day, we'll really start to see more lightweight clothing in brighter colors sneak from their holding spots in catalogs and store fronts out to the streets, out on the town, and of course, in the office.
As I've already given several suggestions for spring wardrobe pieces to acquire this year, I'm now going to share with the population what exactly you should not do with spring/summer wear. When you are a professional woman, your spring/summer wardrobe can no longer subsist on polos, denim minis and flip flops. Yes, the warmer months are inherently less wardrobe-formal, and for sure a lot less stuffy. But with freedom comes the responsibility to make choices. And many a Casual Friday was taken away from employees who abused it, probably in the summer by committing one of the faux pas below.
1. Know your environment and audience.
This is the most important rule that should govern the rest of your decisions. A school teacher can certainly wear more casual spring clothing than a corporate lawyer. Also be aware of the environment and its changes (ie, meetings with clients, traveling to CHQ, etc).
2. Seersucker is Easter through Labor Day.
And the decision should be variable by unseasonably warm or cold weather. Seersucker would certainly look ridiculous during an Easter egg hunt if it's 45 out. And by the way, unless you're at the Derby, stick to one piece at a time.
3. Leave the jeans at home.
Ordinarily, for certain offices, I advocate a dark trouser jean with a jacket and blouse as a great casual outfit. But truly dark denim looks off in the spring, to me, and medium-wash denim is just too casual. Goes for jeans, skirts and (heaven forbid) shorts.
4. Be careful with khaki.
A great wide-leg khaki trouser looks very trendy right now, and when kept clean and wrinkle-free, khaki pants, skirts and Bermuda shorts can definitely be pulled off in the office. But if they have cargo pockets, drawstring anything, are stained or have detachable hems to create clam-diggers, save them for the lake. And please, ladies, no khaki capris in the office.
5. Outerwear counts.
Appropriate: trenches (classic! chic!), tailored canvas in some cases. No jean jackets, vests, quilted jackets, anoraks, outdoor exploring gear or anything with a hood.
6. Hemlines don't rise with the mercury.
The absolute limit is 2in above your kneecaps. This rule goes for shorts as well. Not only are mini-skirts in the office distracting and unprofessional, but the error factor goes way up when pale, jiggly thighs are added to the problem. Even if your gams are long, lean and bronze, cover them up at work.
7. Nothing on your feet should flop.
The following are never, in any shape or form, considered appropriate for the office: flip flops, Birkenstocks, Tevas, Chacos, Sperrys, sky-high cork wedges, and any sandal that exposes a lot of top and side skin. And no incarnation of the flip flop is OK. No amount of rhinestones, leather or even those weird heels make flip flops at the office OK. And use your good judgment when deciding on tricky stuff like a gladiator sandal or wedge.
8. Check your mirror.
Breezy skirts in pale colors are sometimes more see-through than we think, especially with the wrong undergarments. Same goes for linen pants. Make sure skirts are lined, and check your butt on the way out.
9. Keep nails, hair and makeup under control.
Nails shouldn't go too Miami, hair shouldn't go too beachy, and makeup shouldn't go too bright. Gold shades on the face are great, and manicured bare nails look great on tan skin. Hair can certainly be a little wind-blown or pinned up in a loose twist, but please don't look like you just ran out of the Atlantic to grab a towel.
10. Keep shoulders under control as well.
3/4, short, and cap sleeves work. A sleeveless sheath dress works with small arm holes, ample shoulder covering and a high neckline, like the dress at top.
11. Don't mix the seasons.
Finally, my biggest spring/summer mistake: wearing blatantly summery/wintry pieces together. If you're wearing linen pants and an Oxford with flats, don't carry around a black leather studded tote or don a Patagonia fleece.
Here are some great spring/summer outfit combinations that are tried and true.
Embellished tank/cardigan/full skirt
Belted tunic/shorts or pencil skirt
Silk scarf/short-sleeved sweater/slacks
3/4 sleeve wrap dress
And I leave you with this: Accessories make the outfit. Wear one of the combinations above and it'll cross from pleasantly lightweight to positively ditzy when paired with the wrong accessories. Avoid anything that says "hippie," "boho," "Florida," or "barbeque." I love pearls in the summer especially, and simple silver or gold jewelry is enough.
So we're no longer in the carefree days where a summer wardrobe had limitations which included pleasing people twice our age. But it's in your career's best interest, and your self-esteem, to keep those strong, tanned legs to yourself at work, and save them for the night and weekend, where they will not only be appropriate, but appreciated the way they should.