What to wear to the office when it’s too hot to wear anything

Editor and fashion director Caroline Issa wears a blue dress and sandals ©Getty Images

I live in New York, where temperatures are regularly above 29°C – and the subway gets much hotter. How can I beat the heat and still look appropriately dressed in the office?

If you’re heading to the office, you need space to store a few essentials. Even if you’re in a shared office, try to commandeer an area where you can keep an emergency cover pod. I’m not talking about woolen hats and gloves, but rather a jacket and a nice piece of knitting.

If space is tight blazers and knits can sit happily on the back of the chair and I would try a summer wool for the jacket and a cotton merino or cashmere blend for the knit.

What is the weather zone of your office? Is it freezing due to aggressive air conditioning or more like a greenhouse? My first job was in a prefab building with a corrugated iron roof (the fashion is so glamorous) that looked like a barracks in the dead of winter and a tin can in the summer.

For warm offices, choose natural fabrics, longer lengths and artful cuts. If you hate your arms, which unfortunately so many women do, don’t suffer through a full sleeve.

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First, look for a lower armhole. I realize this raises the issue of the dreaded underarm pudge – but it’s worse if an armhole is too tight and digs in. A lower armhole allows more airflow around the armpit. Apologies if it’s not recommendable, but it prevents sweat stains, makes your clothes last longer and you don’t feel so limited. If you go too low, you’ll see your bra. If so, you can wear a bralette or just choose a similar bra color to the top or dress. Sleeves matter – choose an open cap, fluttery short sleeve or roomy cuff – blessed ventilation and flattering fit all in one go.

For offices where suiting is encouraged, choose cotton, linen or natural fiber blends. Bottega Veneta offers several linen blend pants that you can pair with a jacket or a simple silk shirt or t-shirt. Vince, The Row and MaxMara also have stylish summer pants in cool fabrics. Ralph Lauren has this beautiful soft linen suit.

Long blue dress with cap sleeves, gathered at the waist

Three Graces London Clarissa Dress, £475, thegraceslondon.com

Long white dress with cap sleeves, gathered at the waist

Palma Martin Unchartered Pleated Shirt Dress, £400, palmamartin.com

If your office dress code is more relaxed, Classic Clarissa of the Three Graces in cotton poplin is perfect for coverage. I also fell head over heels in love with two-year-old Australian brand Palma Martin, which combines old-world nostalgia with a modern lens. His Original cotton dress creates a sculpted waist whether you have one or not, and the sleeve cut allows air to flow. The jersey is also so comfy – Tory Burch’s belted striped dress has a square sleeve and can be dressed up with a heeled sandal (£272 on sale, farfetch.com).

Building an outfit around a tailored piece helps keep it stylish. During the mid-June heatwave, I chose a Hanro cardigan layered under a much-loved Margaret Howell linen cardigan. I added a pair of elastic waistbands, wide silk pants from Markus Lupfer and a flat sandal from Marni. Presto! A great outfit that kept me cool and undeterred by the Saharan conditions. It’s easy to dress this type of pants up or down, working great with sneakers and a white t-shirt or a strappy sandal, a smart blazer and a silk top.

camel color cardigan

Veronica Beard Amika linen blend double breasted vest, £475, net-a-porter.com

Orange-red bridal pants with a light geometric pattern

Totême embroidered silk twill wide-leg trousers, £485, net-a-porter.com

Match this camel Veronica Beard Vest with white, cream, black or red pants for a sophisticated way to stay cool. Or opt for optical white and layer a colorful waistcoat underneath (SIR Clémence button-up waistcoat, £223, farfetch.com).

For pants, channel the sunset with Dorothee Schumacher’s orange silks. They’re elasticated at the back and flat at the front for the epitome of comfort (£560, mytheresa.com). Or Totême’s signature pajama pantswhich fits a larger frame.

If your workplace is colder than a Starbucks, build layers. Merino is a devilishly tricky yarn because it’s adaptable and does what’s known in the trade as “cold/warm” – meaning it can perform no matter what temperature you’re in. Suppose you are moving on a hot day in a sleeveless cotton top, light cotton pants and smart sandals, then you can add a simple crew neck or v-neck merino to protect you from the freezing cold in the office. . I really like the ease of Jigsaw’s casual jumper (£110, puzzle-en-ligne.com)

One button white blazer

Ralph Lauren linen blazer, £349, ralphlauren.co.uk

Chunky knit grey/brown cardigan

Charl knitwear Codling cardigan, £295, charlknitwear.co.uk

If it’s the Arctic, use a lightweight cashmere (Zadig and Voltaire’s ‘Brumy’ is a good bet and currently on sale, £199, zadig-et-voltaire.com) or throw a thick cardigan over it. Be careful here though, cardigans, fashionable as they are, are still tricky. You want Sofia Coppola not to be a nosy neighbor. Wear a lower top or a silky shirt underneath, roll up the sleeve and fold it in a bit. NavyGrey’s classic cardigan is easy to wear and Charl Codling’s new unisex style, is a lightweight alpaca with just the right amount of flexibility. &Daughter and LouLou Studio are also worth checking out.

Instead of the ubiquitous trainer for commuting, you need an easy walking sandal. I’m not talking about an actual walking sandal – we’re not hikers. What you’re looking for is a sporty, supportive sole and an upper that doesn’t look like something your dad would wear for gardening. Look to sports brands for these. I buy an Adidas or Nike sport sandal every few years. I like this style from Nike (£91, farfetch.com).

Black leather high heel sandals

Jil Sander Quilted Leather Sandals, £300 on sale, mytheresa.com

I don’t often recommend buying used shoes, but if they’re in perfect condition, like these Oran sandals from Hermès, then it may be worth trawling. This The Jil Sander pair has deliciously thick straps and will bring a stylish finish to any summer outfit.

Whatever you do, don’t succumb to those tantalizing shapeless linen dresses that look like a tossed dishcloth at the end of the day. They don’t do anything for anyone.

Anna Berkeley is a London-based personal stylist and style columnist for FT Weekend. She has worked in the fashion industry for over 25 years, previously as a buyer for Selfridges and Prada, and a consultant for Margaret Howell. Each month, she answers readers’ questions about fashion and what to wear

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