With temperatures blazing and end-of-summer sales in full force, it’s an ideal time to talk about how older job seekers and employees can look their best despite the heat and humidity.
You might view this as a curious departure from my usual focus on weightier career topics. But I maintain that your appearance is an important piece of your professional brand – just as much as a well-crafted resumé or a polished LinkedIn profile.
Although I run a career-coaching business now, my first job in HR was with Saks Fifth Avenue, where I learned to appreciate the transformational power of clothes. As John Molloy, author of the bestseller Dress for Success, wrote: “The way we dress has a remarkable impact on the people we meet professionally or socially and greatly (sometimes crucially) affects how they treat us.”
(MORE: The New Job-Interview Dress Code)
But looking crisp and professional on hot summer days is easier said than done, especially for those of us over 50. Many of us have more lumps and bumps to camouflage, thinning hair, the added challenge of hot flashes and shifting body types (for women) and sweat-soaked suits and stifling ties (for men).
So to help keep you looking chic in the heat, I turned to some of the country’s leading style experts for advice. Their head-to-toe tips:
For Boomer Women
Office Outfits Sherrie Mathieson, a Phoenix-based style consultant recommends building your hot-weather wardrobe around lighter neutrals such as white, tan, taupe or pale gray — they'll help you look summery but still sophisticated. Or, if you prefer, try the fresh look of a combination of white and navy.
If you work in a suit-only office, opt for a sleeveless blouse that you can wear jacket-free (instead of a a basic camisole or tank), advises Bridgette Raes, author of Style Rx: Dressing the Body You Have to Create the Body You Want and president of the New York City–based Bridgette Raes Style Group. Then just slip on the jacket or a cardigan when a more polished look is required. Mathieson recommends one that’s ¾-length for a slimming and modern twist.
(MORE: Stylish Alternatives to Going Sleeveless)
Speaking of cardigans, Raes says, don’t fall into the trap of relying on Grandma’s old cardigan to cope with frigid office air conditioning — you know, the one that’s been hanging on the back of your office chair since 2001. Replace your trusty standby with an updated lightweight sweater that easily coordinates with the rest of your wardrobe.
Dresses are another great summer alternative to the suited look, says Mathieson. Whether you choose a suit or a dress, look for items in lightweight but wrinkle-resistant fabrics, such as cotton blends or silk-linen blends. A little bit of Lycra or Spandex in the mix always helps.
Just don’t go too lightweight. Stay away from 100-percent-linen garments, which tend to wrinkle excessively.
Most importantly, don’t forget the power of a good tailor. A great-fitting garment can make all the difference between frumpy and fabulous.
Accessories Summer clothing tends to be a little more casual than cold-weather attire, but with the proper accessory you can add sophistication and polish. In her book Steal This Style, Mathieson recommends choosing a prominent piece like a statement necklace, an oversize watch or a chunky bracelet. Simple jewelry, such as a chain necklace, tends to get lost on older women.
Stockings Nothing’s more uncomfortable for women than having to wear pantyhose in blistering heat. So even though you may have been brought up believing that bare legs in the office were a no-no, now’s the time to give your hosiery the heave-ho.
If you happen to have varicose veins or blemishes, Raes recommends Sally Hansen's Airbrush Legs, a $10 leg makeup that offers a cover-up until you wash it off. “It's really inexpensive, can be purchased at most drugstores and is more instant than self-tanners,” she says.
Footwear A pair of tan heels is a summer must. Raes says they go with everything and make your legs look longer and leaner.
(MORE: Step Forward with Proper Foot Care)
I concur. A few years ago, when I worked with 0, The Oprah Magazine creative director Adam Glassman on an article about moms returning to work, he also categorized nude shoes as a “must-have.”
Mathieson also recommends black patent-leather shoes because they’re versatile and work well on rainy summer days.
Cindy Joseph, a boomer supermodel and CEO of BOOM Cosmetics, says dressy or business-style sandals are also appropriate. But unless you work in the most casual workplace, women over 50 should stay away from flip-flops and Crocs.
If your feet tend to slip, slide and blister during the summer months, Raes suggests trying Foot Petals, stick-on padded inserts that help prevent shoe discomfort.
Hair Ah, summer hair – the humidity, salt water and intense sun wreaks havoc on our thinning, graying and wiry locks. Sadly, the days of being able to simply go with a headband or ponytail are long gone.
Joseph says the best solution is getting a great cut that flatters your hair texture.
Sueellen Castros, a stylist with Brianna Salon in Stamford, Conn., recommends a good leave-in spray conditioner, an anti-frizz gel and – if you color your hair – a shampoo and conditioner designed to prevent fading from the sun. Using these products can keep your mane under control even on high-humidity days.
For Boomer Men
Summer fashion rules for men are, not surprisingly, much simpler. A few recommendations:
Suits-only workplaces Mathieson says that if you’re going to a job or an interview where suits are required, wear wool "tropical" suits or khaki cotton suits.
To add some summer spice, she says, slip on a silk tie — navy with white polka dots, for example. Alternatively, accessorize with a bright yellow or orange tie — solid or with tiny understated prints, perhaps, or a diagonal "Rep" stripe.
Don’t wear a short-sleeve dress shirt. And absolutely never pair one with a tie.
For summer Casual Fridays, you might want to wear a seersucker sport jacket with khaki slacks and no tie. Pair that look with a white or blue cotton shirt; if your office is supercasual, a polo shirt could work, too.
Casual-all-the-time offices Khakis with button-down shirts (solid or patterned) are always stylish. And if you’ll be heading to an office where shorts and T-shirts are the summer norm, you’ll project a more polished look by wearing a polo.
For footwear, Topsiders or canvas shoes are best. Steer clear of running shoes, flip-flops, casual sandals and Crocs. They’re a bit too informal for most offices, even casual ones.
Grooming Whatever the office culture, don’t use summer as an excuse to get sloppy.
Your hair should be well-kempt, not shaggy or drippy. Carry a hanky to blot off excessive sweat. And if your scalp tends to burn under the piercing sun, wear a stylish hat. Whether you’re hunting for a job or already have one, you’ll want to look cool even in the scorching heat.