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By Elizabeth Wellington

RISMEDIA, July 21, 2008-(MCT)-We all know how the burning, muggy infernos that are summers can tempt us into making questionable style choices for the office: bare legs, low-cut tops, flip-flops, and probably the biggest offense of all-wearing shorts in the cubicle.

So this week, as the temperatures climb to the 80s and low 90s, humidity in tow, we should pay special attention to our workplace attire.

It can be the difference between spending the rest of the day in company-paid air-conditioning or trudging back home in the heat to try your luck again.

“We draw the line at revealing clothing, period,” said Vicki Sessoms, senior vice president at Health Partners, who says her company also discourages flip-flops.

Fashion rules vary from office to office, but in response to what many employers call casual-Friday abuse, businesses have gotten stricter with dress codes. During last month’s surprisingly insufferable heat wave, many Philadelphia-area companies sent out e-mails about acceptable attire.

Vanguard’s summer memo informed employees that capris, walking shorts and even sandals-not flip-flops-were allowed. Skirts needed to be knee-length or longer, and all had to be worn with hosiery. Belmont Behavioral Systems has similar rules.

Human resources employees at Comcast and Independence Blue Cross said employees are expected to dress in full business attire-fellas, that means shirts and ties-no matter how hot it gets. But Independence Blue Cross did allow employees to wear business-casual clothing when the temperature climbed above 90 last month.

“We were happy to get that memo,” said Karen Burnham, a spokeswoman for Independence Blue Cross.

Business-casual means collared polo shirts and khakis or slacks for men, according to Burnham. For women, panty hose are optional, but flip-flops and low-cut shirts are definite no-nos.

“Employers have to and should let people know what’s appropriate attire in the office,” said Wayne Pinkstone, a labor attorney and partner at the Radnor law firm Fisher & Phillips. “The problems come when the rules are not applied across the board and in only certain instances.”

Of course, the heat, combined with this summer’s economic uncertainties and possible job layoffs, has given employees even less incentive to dress up for the office.

Yet, it’s a no-brainer that a lazy dresser will be more likely to get the ax if an employer has to choose between him and an equally skilled, well-dressed one.

In the meantime, those in warmer climates are going to have to slug it out; in other words, you may be a little hot under the collar if you want to save your image.

What’s our advice? Err on the side of conservative. Flip-flops-even the $195 equestrian orange Tory Burch thongs-should be worn only on the walk to work.

Blouses should have sleeves-this summer we like tulip sleeves-and please wear camisoles under sheer ones. Remember, spaghetti straps say beach, and a blouse hides any spur-of-the-moment tattoos you may have picked up in your youth.

For optimum crispness, tuck your blouse into your black cotton pencil skirt, flat-front summer gray pants, or wide-legged white trousers. Another possibility is nice denim, also known as deep-indigo, cuffed tailored slacks.

Capri pants aren’t an issue with even the strictest employers, but if your company expects you to wear them with panty hose, save your capris for the weekend.

Of course the easiest, most in-style option is a dress. Take the very classy 1960s-style chic dresses worn by two BMW executives, Andrea Carroll and Meredith Koeppel, on Samson Street recently. Carroll’s was a black Calvin Klein with cap sleeves. Koeppel’s sunshine-yellow Juicy Couture dress featured an empire waist.

“I just focus on lightweight fabrics. It’s all you can do in this weather,” Koeppel said.

If your office requires panty hose, you know what you’ve got to do. But if you have a choice-and your legs are flawless-then leave them at home. You’ll feel cooler and you’ll look better.

And men, unless you are doing manual labor, no shorts in the office. Check to see whether your employer requires a tie and jacket. If that’s a fashion rule, keep three blazers in your work space during the summer months.

Opt for lightweight slacks blended with cotton instead of chinos and jeans-they’re just too casual.

Polo shirts are always OK in more casual workplaces, as are short-sleeved, Hawaiian-style shirts. But only if they fit smoothly over the tummy.

Solomon Fulton of southern New Jersey has a game plan that works. The 50-year-old mental-health professional managed to keep it light with a button-front shirt and dress slacks one recent afternoon.

“I always have to be prepared to see people in a professional setting,” said Fulton, who never, ever wears jeans. Ever.

Does he ever get stuck in a hot-weather fashion conundrum?

“Nope. Because summer is bound to come around again, sooner or later.”

© 2008, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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