Casual Friday: Dressing down for summer

The summer sun invites many of us to trade in our formal garb for something more relaxed. But going for a casual appearance in a business environment requires caution. Adjusting your attire to suit the warm weather can make for some tricky decisions about how to be both comfortable and presentable.

“As a general rule, if you’re asking yourself, ‘I wonder if it’s appropriate,’ it’s probably not,” says Joanne Blake, business etiquette expert from Style for Success in Edmonton. “It’s always better to err on the side of being more conservative.”

Some may find it time-consuming to strike a cool summer look. In Blake’s experience, men in particular sometimes feel pulling an outfit together requires too much thought. Still, it can be worth the effort, if only because you can shed the stuffy, buttoned-up image that’s standard in the cooler months.

“Casual Friday was intended to break down barriers, to make you look more approachable,” Blake says. “But you always have to consider your own brand and be consistent.”

Blake offers the following office-appropriate styling tips for going business-casual this summer:

> Take cues from your peers and clients
Much of what’s considered acceptable depends on the environment you work in. Your peers and clients are the yardstick for gauging whether you can lose the tie but keep the collared shirt — or, for women, swap closed-toed flats for strappy sandals. The look you project can be a reflection of how others dress.

“Visualize someone who is successful in your business,” Blake says. “How do they present themselves? And how do you compare?”

> Pay attention to the details
Little touches can add flair and evoke individuality. For example, Blake says, you can elevate your attire with a piece that has zipper detailing to lend a bit of edge or sophistication. With classic pieces, such as a tailored summer dress, you can polish the outfit with a striking blazer.

Blake recommends integrating a bit of tailoring into your wardrobe, adding that your focus should be on “looking professional first, casual second.”

Generally, it’s best to limit the amount of skin you bare — and that goes for the feet, too. “In business, the more skin you show, the more credibility you lose,” Blake says.

> Update your look
While you don’t have to present yourself as a walking endorsement of the latest trends, a dated wardrobe can suggest your work process is dated, too.

“You may not think of investing in new clothing,” says Blake. “It’s not just about having things in good repair, but also looking current and modern.”

> Pick a focal point
Accessories — a fun pocket square or a chunky necklace ­— that accent your appearance shouldn’t compete for attention or be a distraction. For example, Blake says, avoid jewelry that jangles, and loud prints.

“You want to have a major focal point, and everything [else] is subordinate to that,” she says.

> Always keep a sports jacket handy
Summertime calls for breezy fabrics and fewer layers. But for occasions when you need to suit up without notice, Blake says, keep a light cardigan or blazer at the office: “I always suggest having a jacket in case there’s an unexpected client meeting.”

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