There are two kinds of women in the world, in my opinion: those who shed their winter clothes joyfully, like a beautiful butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, and those who cling to their 60 denier tights for as long as possible, muttering, “Of course it’s not too warm for a turtleneck jumper.”
I am one of the latter.
Cold-weather fashion makes me feel safe and smart. I love big coats, wool trousers, scarves you can loop around your neck 17 times; I feel at home in long sleeves, high necklines and ankle boots heavy enough to concuss a grown man. Present me with a forecast of 23°C and sunny, though, and I go into a tailspin of panic. I don’t care for girly florals, sugary off-the-shoulder dresses and flowing maxi skirts, and I feel ridiculous in skimpy vest tops and cut-off denim (besides, it’s not like you can wear those to the office).
And I’m not alone. All over the country, there are other women just like me, secretly resenting the onset of hot weather.
“I have never understood how other women seem to know what they’re doing when it comes to summer clothes,” says Polly Foreman, a 27-year-old journalist who once wore black jeans and a jumper to the beach. “I basically just wear what I wear in winter but without a coat. Sometimes I see other girls in florals and feel I should be wearing them too, but then I remember I hate florals.”
“I don’t hate summer clothes, they just make me uncomfortable,” agrees photographer Vannice Clarke. “I hate showing too much skin; it makes me feel self-conscious, especially when I’m wearing shorts.”
But there are women out there who have mastered the art of the perfect, grown-up summer wardrobe, with nary a floral Bardot dress or crochet crop top in sight. I know these enviable creatures exist, because I’ve seen them: on the street, on Instagram, casually wandering around the Stylist office.
And so I asked them the question I’ve been pondering all these years: just what is a wintery woman supposed to wear to look cool in the heat?
What to wear… on a casual day in the office
“The challenge of the summer months is that it’s difficult to sustain a pulled-together work look for very long,” says Heidy Rehman, founder and CEO of London-based workwear brand Rose & Willard. She cites sweat patches, crumpled fabrics and unpredictable temperatures as particular challenges. “Most working women have to battle the heat outside versus cold office air conditioning – and the latter is rarely conducive to sleeveless dresses and bare legs.”
For advice on how to dress for the office in the summer months, I consult Alex Fullerton, Stylist’s eternally chic fashion director. She insists that she also hates hot-weather fashion, although you’d never know it.
“In summer, keep your outfits as simple as possible,” says Alex. She advises making crisp, lightweight dresses the basis of your summer workwear wardrobe, steering away from anything flouncy, fussy or overly revealing. “A dress will keep you cool, literally, and look pulled together in the way tops, skirt and shorts never will.”
When it comes to the frock itself, Alex’s summer pick is a shirt dress in pinstriped cotton. “There are so many variations this season that are inspired by classic work shirting but have a twist, whether that’s a full balloon sleeve, an obi belt or a long back detail,” she says. “Wear it with a chunky heeled white slingback shoe, and slip on an oversized double-breasted blazer in navy if you need to wear a jacket at any point during your working day.”
The essential pieces: Cotton shirt dress, slingback heels, double breasted blazer.
What to wear… for an important meeting
So that’s everyday workwear down – but what if your office is more formal, or you’ve got a big presentation in the diary? Katherine Ormerod, editor of lifestyle and careers website Work Work Work, says that it is possible to dress like a (chic, Parisian) boss without keeling over from heatstroke. But first of all, remember the golden rule: keep bare skin to a minimum.
“I’m often spellbound at the way a 5°C surge in temperature can make people think it’s appropriate to dress as if you’re at a beachside bar,” she says. This has nothing to do with gender, she adds: “I don’t want to see a guy wearing mini shorts or a singlet in a meeting either.”
Katherine looks to Michelle Obama, Amal Clooney and Claire Underwood (Robin Wright’s character in House of Cards) as great examples of women who look impeccably power-groomed in all weathers.
“The key is always a balance between formality and femininity,” she says. “I always wear heels in a big meeting, and I love sleeveless tailored dresses, though you can also opt for a fluted elbow length sleeve – better than a tight short sleeve that will make you sweat.”
If you’re not a fan of dresses (or if you’d rather keep your legs covered), Katherine suggests pairing a pair of lightweight, tailored trousers in twill or cotton with a classic linen shirt. “Opt for classic summer prints like gingham, stripes or polka dots to keep things seasonally appropriate,” she says.
“What could be chicer than a well-cut navy top with high-waisted gingham trousers, an elegant Gucci-esque belt and a midi heel? Finish with a silk scarf and you’re basically French.”
The essential pieces: Tailored dress, tailored trousers, linen shirt, lightweight jacket, heels, statement jewellery
The brands: “Kitri, Whistles and Stella McCartney are all good for workwear. Check out Uniqlo for linen shirts; for tailored dresses, head to Zara, Warehouse and Victoria by Victoria Beckham. I love Anissa Kermiche’s statement jewellery, and Bicester Village has an incredible stock of Burberry dresses for around £200.”
What to wear… on the beach
Figuring out what to wear to the beach can be teeth-gnashingly hellish if you feel stupid in floaty boho chic, or a bit nervous at the prospect of wandering around in nothing but a bikini.
But however silly you feel in a kaftan, you’ll likely look – and feel – even more out of place if you don’t at least try to adjust your everyday look for the sand. Think of it as the fashion equivalent of those people who turn their nose up at dancing at parties: in trying to avoid any potential embarrassment, they only end up drawing more attention to themselves.
Of course, anxiety about beach style can often be traced to a lack of body confidence – something that model and body positivity advocate Naomi Shimada is on a mission to change. “All bodies, no matter how they look, should be allowed on the beach,” she says. “That’s what the beach body means to me: a body you take to the beach. Your body!”
Killer swimwear can make all the difference between feeling on top of the world and wanting to hide under a towel, so it’s worth investing in a structural bikini or one-piece that you really love. “Pour Moi has some really nice fun swimwear selections,” says Naomi. “They make the most beautiful good quality swimwear that will last you years and you don’t have to sacrifice style over quality support or comfort. They are made to mix and match and mould to [body] nuances and diversities.”
Loose cotton shorts are a useful piece of kit to pack if you have to pop to the shop on an ice cream run, and Naomi suggests packing an oversized men’s shirt to throw over your swimwear if needed. “It’s to hide from the sun, not to hide my body,” she says.
The essential pieces: Bikini or swimming costume, men’s shirt, cotton shorts.
What to wear… to a picnic in the park
Of all summer’s simple pleasures, one of the sweetest has to be lazy Sunday afternoons in the park. A bag of crisps, a tub of hummus, a couple of cold Coronas and your favourite tunes drifting from a portable speaker… Heaven. But this easy-to-achieve bliss can be marred if you’re sweating in stiff black jeans, or shifting awkwardly in a skimpy dress that doesn’t feel like ‘you’.
If casual summer dressing doesn’t come easily to you, fashion stylist Alisha Motion recommends thinking of practicality first. “As you’ll be sitting on the grass, short dresses are a no-no,” she says. “Think a printed midi skirt, perhaps pleated, with a plain silk cami top and some espadrilles.”
As far as accessories are concerned, Alisha says that you can’t go wrong with delicate gold or silver hoop earrings and a straw handbag. “There are so many modernised styles this season – Muuñ or Cult Gaia do basket bags with a twist,” she says. “And bigger baskets will obviously hold all your picnic kit.”
Alternatively, match your outfit to your picnic blanket and stock up on the print of the summer: gingham. While gingham frocks can conjure up images of Brigitte Bardot on her wedding day, you don’t have to go retro if that’s not your thing.
The essential pieces: Midi skirt, silk cami top, espadrilles, gingham dress, straw bag, hoop earrings
The brands: “Reformation has seriously cool day dresses and linen separates. Check out Castaner for affordable espadrilles in great colours, Finery and Mango for designer looks at high street prices, and Iris and Ink for wonderfully elegant summer separates in good quality fabrics. Vita Kin has the most beautiful embroidered blouses – but they’re pricey, so look out for similar looks on the high street.”
What to wear… on a night out
Monikh recommends investing in some simple jumpsuits or midi silk dresses with long sleeves – and not ruling out florals altogether.
“Remember it’s more about the styling, so even the most anti-pattern woman can take on a floral dress,” she says. “If you’ve gone for a dress with a little strap, why not layer underneath? A clean white tee is always a babe.”
While wearing heels is a quick way to sharpen up your act in the office, don’t bother wearing them out for Saturday night drinks if they make you feel uncomfortable. Instead, Monikh suggests teaming your statement dress with a pair of gloriously eccentric “man-repelling” sandals or lightweight trainers.
“There’s nowhere that’s cool that wouldn’t let a woman in with trainers,” she says sagely. “And if they say no, you don’t want to go there anyway.”
The pieces: Midi dress, jumpsuit, t-shirt, flat sandals, trainers
The brands: “The Vampire’s Wife is a new favourite of mine; their dresses have that all-American housewife feel, but in simple straight cuts. Isabel Marant dresses are uber chic and effortless ‘for life’ pieces. For flat sandals, check out No 21, and Feiyue for trainers.”
Main image: Getty. All other images courtesy of retailers and contributors