Dressing for the office in the summer

Published July 8, 2013

Michael Crom had traveled to Microsoft's Silicon Valley, Calif., facility to discuss a business deal and he followed his usual routine of donning a jacket and tie for an appointment with professionals.

The software company's representatives were decidedly more casual. "They put on their nicest and cleanest T-shirts for me," said Crom, chief learning officer for Dale Carnegie & Associates, a Hauppauge, N.Y., training and coaching firm.

He wasn't offended, he said, because casual attire is widely accepted as the standard for the tech sector.

But clothes that don't garner a second look in the California tech belt wouldn't necessarily be as well-received in Crom's office on the opposite coast.

"It depends on the organization, and there are clearly different expectations in different parts of the country at different times of the year," he said.

During the summer, many workplaces relax their dress standards. Still, there's a risk that employees will show up at the office better suited for a picnic if managers don't spell out a policy of what's acceptable and what's not.

The Society for Human Resource Management in Alexandria, Va., suggests that a summer-dress-code policy be in effect all through the traditional summer time frame (Memorial Day through Labor Day). The society's model for such a policy, found on, stipulates that employees dress more casually only "on days when they have no in-person client contact."

While solid-color T-shirts, walking shorts (with hems that fall about 1 inch above the knee), tennis shoes and denim jeans and skirts are deemed appropriate in the human resource society's hypothetical summer dress code, other things are not. That includes standard shorts, clothing with logos, halter tops and thong-type sandals.

For companies trying to draft a dress code, the society advises including a sentence stating that employees who don't follow the rules will be asked to leave work to change, "and will be required to use personal time or vacation time to do so."

At the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, summer interns this year received guidelines on how to dress when working in the newsroom and when assigned to leave the office to cover stories and conduct interviews.

Among the don'ts for women: spaghetti straps (unless they are layered with a sweater or blazer), strapless mini-dresses, shorts and low-cut tops. For the guys: no baggy pants, graphic T-shirts, wrinkled shirts, cut-off shirts, shorts or sandals. For both genders: no flip-flops.

For bosses who need to address issues about skimpy or inappropriate dress, Crom said it is easiest when a written policy is in place.