When the temperatures rise outside, dressing professionally can feel eminently more challenging. You’re freezing inside the office building, yet immediately burning up when you step outside. This can make getting dressed in the morning stressful and complicated. To combat this summer wardrobe dilemma, I like to help my clients curate closets of light layering pieces that allow for ease in dressing in the heat. We also focus on breathable fabrics in summer colors and textures. When you have the right pieces in your closet, it’s much easier to get dressed for work daily, especially in the warmer months. Here are a few of my favorite tips and tricks, including specific items to have on hand.


First, let’s discuss the types of fabrics to look for when shopping for summer workwear that will keep you looking and feeling cool all summer long!


Cotton is a durable, breathable fabric that is often machine washable. While it is a very airy material, it is not always a wicking material. This means if you know you are going to be sweating outdoors, you may want to avoid cotton, as it’ll show sweat. Even so, cotton is an excellent fabric choice for a summer blazer, cardigan or vest — your light layering basics.

cotton blazers are perfect for summer

Cotton blazers are perfect for summer. This pink option is light, bright and warm weather-friendly. Image: Anthropologie

Another cotton blazer option

This blue cotton blazer from J. Crew is another great option. Image: J. Crew


Linen is a summer fabric well known for being breathable due to its open-weave knit, but it is also well known for wrinkling easily. The best way to combat the wrinkles is to select linen blends or lined linen garments that are less likely to wrinkle quickly. Avoid boxy linen items as they are unflattering and matronly. And when in doubt, opt for items like a linen blazer (versus a linen pencil skirt) that still looks professional when wrinkled.

RELATED: 5 Easy Tips for How To Wear Linen This Spring & Summer

Linen tees that are perfect for summer!

Linen tees like this one are another great summer option. Image: J. Crew

A linen blazer is a great option to look sharp and stay cool this summer. Image: J. Crew

Polyester & Rayon

Polyester and rayon are excellent, breathable fabrics for summer blouses. They are often machine washable, which is nice when you are worried about sweat. These fabrics give the same look and drape as silk but without being so delicate, and they don’t have the “dry clean only” requirements of silk. They will also hide sweat better than silk.

Polyester blouses are a great option to stay cool and hide any sweat stains

Polyester and rayon blouses are lightweight, colorful and breathable. Image: Ann Taylor

This polka dot blouse is lightweight and adds a fun pattern to a work outfit

Another option is to add a fun print, like this polka dot top. Image: Ann Taylor


Now that you know summer’s go-to fabrics, let’s focus on the professional basics every wardrobe needs. When you have these foundational garments on hand, you can then build countless outfits with ease.

Tailored Linen Blazers

Tailored linen blazers are one of my personal summer wardrobe essentials — they pull together any outfit. From jeans to a dress to a trouser, this third piece is a must! While the rest of the year you may not even pay attention to the contents of your blazer, I invite you to always look for linen, cotton or a blend of the two to keep you cool and polished during the summer. Remember, your blazers should have some shape to them, preferably with some waist definition for a flattering look on all body types.

Linen blazers add definition to your outfit when dressing in the heat

This embroidered linen blazer will keep you cool and stylish. Image: Anthropologie

Another linen blazer option for dressing for work in the summer

This option from J. Crew is another great selection for a lightweight summer blazer. Image: J. Crew

Open-Weave Knit Cardigans

Open-weave knit cardigans are another great third-piece option for the workday. I have many style coaching clients who are more “cardigan girl” than “blazer girl,” and that’s okay! You have to know your personal style, what makes you feel your best, and make worthwhile purchases from there. So, if you are a “cardigan girl,” focus on cardigans that have a larger weave, which allows for more breathability. Just be careful with your jewelry when wearing these types of knits as they are easy to snag.

Instead of a blazer, try a lightweight cardigan

This cardigan is a great option if you’re not a fan of a blazer. Image: J. Crew

This cardigan is another great summer option

This blue cardigan is another great option. Image: J. McLaughlin

Linen-/Cotton-Blend Vests

Linen-/cotton-blend vests are perfect for those looking for more unique work-appropriate third pieces. Depending on the dressiness of your workplace, you can do something more casual like a cinch-waist linen vest, or for a more business professional environment, opt for a blazer vest in a cotton material. Vests are wonderful in the summer months as they give you a professional, polished look without the extra fabric and warmth.

sleeveless vest, perfect for dressing for work in the summer

This sleeveless vest by Anne Klein is a great summer workwear option. Image: Nordstrom


dressing for the heat sleeveless vest

Another Ann Klein vest option is this black long vest, perfect for dressing up an outfit. Image: Amazon

RELATED: How to Wear a Vest… and How NOT to! 

Poly-blend Blouses

Poly-blend blouses need to be your go-to for layering under your third pieces. These types of blouses are breathable and often good for wicking sweat in the summer months. Focus more on polyester, nylon and rayon in the summer, instead of silks, for a cooler look and feel. Wear a poly-blend shell (sleeveless) under a blazer, a short-sleeve blouse under a cardigan and a ¾-length-sleeve blouse (or long-sleeve rolled up) under your vest.

lightweight blouse, great for dressing for work

This breezy top from Loft is an easy summer staple. Image: Loft

easy summer wrap blouse Loft

This wrap top is another great option. Image: Loft

Cotton Trousers

To finish out your workwear basics, go for a pair of cotton trousers. These are perfect for the summer months since they are a breathable fabric. Select ones with some stretch (spandex) as that will prevent any wrinkling throughout the day. I always tell my clients to select the trouser shape that best suits their body type, which can be a slim ankle leg, boot cut or even culottes. If your workplace calls for more formal attire, remember the pants should never hit above the anklebone to maintain a professional appearance.

how to dress for work - cotton pants

Cotton trousers, like these from Loft, are a great way to keep cool this summer. Image: Loft

cotton pants, dressing in the summer

Another cute and cool option is wider leg trousers like these. Image: Loft

By implementing these summer dressing tips and tricks, you are sure to look professional and polished all while staying cool during the hot summer months.

Stay cool, ladies!


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