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10 Dont’s of Summer Work Fashion

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By Rachel Zupek, CareerBuilder.com

RISMEDIA, June 25, 2007 (MSN.com) After 15 years of employment, Cynthia McKay has seen it all when it comes to business casual summer attire. From an employee falling down the stairs because of a flip-flop malfunction to another who spent the day pulling up and adjusting her strapless dress, McKay finally wrote a dress code to alleviate confusion concerning her staff’s concept of proper work wardrobe.

“An employee fresh from Mexico came into my office asking for a raise wearing a t-shirt saying, ‘Got wasted in Cabo,’” says McKay, chief executive officer of Colorado-based Le Gourmet Gift Basket Inc. “The message I got from her attire was, ‘I’m a joker and the company is financing my drinking expeditions around the globe.’”

Improper message t-shirts are only one of many fashion faux pas surrounding business attire in the summer. When everyone around you is wearing fewer clothes, it’s hard to trade in your flip-flops and polo shirt for closed-toe shoes and a long-sleeve button-down.

While you don’t have to cling to your winter wardrobe during summer, choose your wardrobe carefully. Consider the industry and the environment in which you work. Pay attention to any unwritten laws. Do you have regular contact with clients? What image do you want to portray?

Putting a little effort into your outfits (or at least looking like you did) shows that you care about the way you’re presented. Something sexy might be better for weekend wear, but dressing too-buttoned up won’t make you the most approachable co-worker either, says Maggie Gallant, chief executive officer and founder of New York-based firm, Spotlight Communications.

“You know that feeling when you just love the outfit you are wearing and you just feel fabulous?” Gallant asks. “With that kind of boost, along with knowing you have talent and love your job, nothing can stop you.”

Don’t let your summer outfits sizzle your credibility, a coveted promotion or even your job.

Here’s a list of summer don’ts and how you can turn them into a do:

Ladies, don’t…

Bare your midriff.
If you do… Keep a sweater on hand in your desk. McKay’s company has a stock of pullover and cardigan sweaters for such an occasion. If an employee is a repeat offender, she can go home and change or “rent” one of the sweaters for the day.

Leave sunburns exposed — especially the flakey ones.
If you do… Throw a pashmina over those shoulders. “If your sunburn gets much worse during the course of the day, step out to the drugstore and pick up aloe and moisturizer,” Gallant says.

Wear strapless dresses or plunging necklines — too competitive, too much information.
If you do… Throw on a top or sweater over the exposed area. Showing too much skin is inappropriate for the workplace, McKay says. Scandalous dresses and tops show too much and have the potential to cause public nudity.

Sport wedges that are so high you can barely make it over to the copy machine.
If you do… Walk with confidence and don’t make the mistake again, Gallant says. “The worst thing you can do when you sport a fashion don’t at work is talk about it all day. Your co-workers may not even notice; they are worried about their own wardrobe.”

Wear a short skirt.
If you do… Find a cute trench coat to pair with it. “Just like in grade school, if it’s shorter than your longest finger when your hands are at your sides, wear it to a party this weekend instead,” Gallant says.

Guys, don’t…

Wear different colored leathers.
If you do… They should at least be in the same hue, say Ron Elkus and Rod Brown, co-owners for Michigan-based men’s clothing store, The Shirt Box. “Always have your belt and shoes match,” they insist.

Wear shorts.
If you do… Make sure they come to right above the knee, Elkus and Brown say. “Shorts should be avoided even in a casual work environment. Pants should always leave at least a half-inch break at the front bottom of the pant — with your shoes on,” they say.

Wear sandals to work.
If you do… “Avoid wearing socks and make sure your feet are well groomed,” Elkus and Brown suggest.

Wear your shirt untucked.
If you do… Make sure it has a straight edge bottom and/or side vents, Elkus and Brown say. “Better yet, play it safe and tuck your shirt in when in any business setting.”

Show your undershirt — or your chest hair.
If you do… “Try a V-neck t-shirt if you are going open collar,” Elkus and Brown say. “The athletic shirt — no sleeves — will give you certainty that your sleeve does not exceed your short sleeve sport shirt.”

Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

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