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Summer Office Attire

Those hazy, lazy days of summer can make a business suit feel as comfortable as a suit of armor. Fortunately, you can make a professional statement and still beat the heat with these tips.

How Casual Is Summer Business-Casual?

Even some of the most formal workplaces -- such as those within the financial and legal industries -- now institute a "casual Friday" policy all summer long. But what does "casual" mean in the workplace?

"You don't want the emphasis placed on the word 'casual' instead of the word 'business,'" says Sherry Maysonave, author of Casual Power. "Casual could be jeans, sneakers, T-shirts and shorts, whereas business-casual is a relaxed version of business dress. It's how you might dress to go out to a nice dinner on the weekend, not how you would go to the grocery store."

Business-casual may include chino trousers, pencil skirts, relaxed button-down shirts and linen, polo or knitted shirts.

Especially Tricky for Women

"Women face a particular challenge in nailing the right look for the workplace," Maysonave says. "That's because it's still a male business world. Fashion bombards women with more social attire than business attire. What a man would wear to a social event or a party, he could also probably wear to the office. That's not true for a woman."

According to Mary Lou Andre, founder and president of Organization by Design, a Needham, Massachusetts-based wardrobe-management consulting firm for corporations and individuals, "For the past few years, there has been a trend toward showing off a little more leg and leaving the hose at home. Many office environments, however, require that you wear hose and closed-toe shoes with skirts, dresses and dress shorts. Hosiery automatically sets a business tone and creates a nice business boundary, as does a closed-toe shoe. But some employers allow you to forgo hose and socks."

Office-Fashion Don'ts

While every workplace has its own rules, Maysonave suggests there are a few fashion statements men and women should avoid in any workplace:

* Shorts or capri pants.
* Tank tops or sleeveless shirts.
* Halter tops.
* Flip-flops.
* Overly revealing attire.
* Jogging suits.
* T-shirts, especially with logos or offensive print.

Look Around

As acceptable forms of summer business-casual attire may vary from industry to industry and office to office, it's important to get to know the fashion sense of your particular workplace. When in doubt, take note of what others are wearing in your office or consult your HR department. Also, consider whether you are behind the scenes (less-formal attire) or interacting with clients or the public (more-formal attire), become familiar with your company's dress code and -- no matter how hot it gets -- don't push it.

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