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Appropriate Summer Workwear Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

Question: Now that summer's here I have a question about what to wear at work. It seems like everyone's going casual. Short sleeves, no sport coats, ''Dockers'' instead of dress pants, and open toe sandals wherever you look. I'm thinking of showing up to work in short pants next time the heat hits 30 degrees. Think anyone will mind?

Francesco, Medicine Hat, Alberta
Dear Franceso,

One of the reasons I switched to self-employment after working for years in the corporate world was to gain more control over my life, including the right to dress as I pretty much like - depending on the circumstances, of course. So on steaming hot summer days you'll catch me in my home office, pounding away at the keyboard while sporting thin weave hiking shorts and a light tank top. If I'm heading out to meet with a coaching client at a café? I'll change into a nicer pair of shorts, a high quality polo-style short sleeve shirt, and slip on a decent pair of leather sandals.

Granted, if this were a first meeting with a potential new client, I'd instead wear dress slacks topped off with a summer-weight sport jacket. But my top would be an expensive looking collarless t-shirt.

Even the self-employed can't look like schleppers when it comes to greeting customers in person.

I realize, Francesco, that my own circumstances differ from yours. Since you're an employee, you need to consider your employer's workwear norms, and maybe even written policies - particularly if you work in a manufacturing environment where proper clothing could be a safety factor. You also have to consider the sensibilities of your co-workers and upper management. What impression do you think you'll make by showing up in shorts (e.g. Does it make you look less likely to work hard? Or does it show that you're so confident that you can dress boldly and still be a top performer?)

Then there's an even less tangible implication, that has to do with appearance and judgments. Maybe you're lucky enough to have sculpted, Elvis Stojko kind of legs that, I expect, bulge with muscles and look toned to the max. Because, dare I say it, if you've got spindly, pasty looking gams, possibly mottled with unsightly hair or permanent pockmarks, do you really want to be displaying these at work?

Of course, where you work and what you do will dictate your actions to a large degree. If, for instance, you're a Park Ranger or a camp counselor, you'd look kind of silly in a suit and tie. You'd likely sweat to death too.

If you happen to work in an office, there are times you may have to meet with the public, such as on sales calls and the like. If this is the case, it wouldn't hurt to have a change of clothing (something business-like, including a decent pair of shoes) folded neatly in a garment bag, stored handily at work or in the trunk of your car. That way you won't be caught under-dressed should you need to impress.

My apologies at this point to my readers who count themselves among the fairer gender. Lest I appear non-inclusive, a similar rule of thumb applies to working women: assess the need to stay cool and dry in terms of your wardrobe requirements, and also think about the impressions you may make by wearing certain outfits. In my experience, it seems to me that women who dress scantily at work tend to get pegged as flirtatious, or may be taken less seriously, more so than a man doing the same would. Am I right about this? Feel free to share your thoughts with me.

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