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Summer Office Attire – Leave the Flip Flops at Home

Summer Office Attire

The approach of summer and summer office attire can make even the most seasoned HR person weary. No one wants to tell an employee that her belly button isn’t for public viewing or to leave the flip flops at home.

Like any behavior you want to generate, it’s much easier to set clear expectations of what is and isn’t acceptable summer office attire before the season begins.  So this spring, do some prevention before you have to give an employee feedback for wearing something that fits better at the beach than at work.

Most organizations have a written dress code. I recommend making it visual. Like the image here, post pictures of summer office attire do’s and don’ts in visual form. A picture makes a lasting impression employees are likely to remember; bullet points are easy to forget. If employees are wearing flip flops, tank tops, sheer blouses, spaghetti straps, wrinkled capris, etc., simply post photos of those articles in the no category. Don’t make employees guess if something is appropriate, make it visually clear.

I also recommend hosting a fashion show. Order food, have employees model summer office attire do’s and don’ts. Make it fun. Watching your peers walk ‘the runway’ in both appropriate and inappropriate summer office attire will make a much bigger impact than any ‘memo’ will.

But let’s say you already have a summer dress code violater and you know you need to say something to the person. Addressing inappropriate office attire is just like any other feedback conversation. Make it short. Tell the person why you’re speaking – because you care about him and want to help him manage his reputation – and be direct.

Here are a few examples of how to tell someone she is violating the summer dress code:

Preface each example below with something like, “I care about you and I care about your career. I’ve got some input about your summer office attire. Please take my feedback in the spirit it’s intended, which is to be helpful to you.” This language is appropriate for any type of relationship – peer, manager, and direct reports.

  • Summer casual dress code scenario one:  “Those are super cute shoes, but they violate our company dress code of no open toed shoes. Please don’t wear them again at work.”
  • Summer casual dress code scenario two:  “I can see your bra straps under that shirt. Please wear an additional layer under the shirt, the next time you wear it.” Women should have this conversation, men should not. If a man manages a female who needs to alter her summer attire, ask another female she has a good relationship with to have that conversation for you.
  • Summer casual dress code scenario three:  “Those pants are too tight for work. Please wear looser fitting clothing.”

Effective feedback is short and clear. You can do it. Unless you hire and manage life guards, simply tell the people you work with the truth about the impression their clothing makes and why that’s important. But it’s always easier to set clear expectations before challenges occur, so start there.


Shari Harley is the founder and President of Candid Culture, a Denver-based training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to give feedback at work. Shari is the author of the business communication book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. She is a keynote speaker at conferences and does training throughout the U.S. Learn more about Shari Harley and Candid Culture’s training programs at

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11 Responses to “Summer Office Attire – Leave the Flip Flops at Home”

  1. Lucinda Pick says:

    My company has removed its dress policy. I think this was 1) to avoid gender-based instructions and 2) to promote self-regulation. There has even been talk about allowing employees to decide how much vacation they need.

    I personally think that if we need policies around issues of safety (Ex. do not bring firearms to work, do not smoke near flamable materials, etc.), that individual discretion around clothing and vacation is a stretch.

    So, without a corporate policy, and knowing that some slightly-revealing clothing just may not be career-damaging as moral convention would suggest, how do you address this issue?

    • Shari Harley says:

      Hi Lucinda, Great to ‘see’ you here. Thanks for reading the blog and for your comment. Is it an issue? If an individual is making choices that impacts their image and credibility, I’d have those conversations individually. It could sound something like, “I know there is no formal dress code but I’ve noticed that you often wear _________________. While that is permitted, it may not be presenting you in the way you want to be seen/thought of. Can I make some suggestions?”

  2. Patti Ploehn says:

    Would be nice to have included side by side men & women wearing flip flops. It’s not just a girl thing! Thank you!!

  3. Lucy52 says:

    Unfortunately, it is our office manager (mid-60’s) who violates the dress code — one day she looks like she hosting a cocktail party and the next she looks like she’s gardening. Her clothes are ALWAYS two sizes too small — I don’t like to see her bulging midriff or her large bust bulging out of her too-small clothes.

  4. Ram says:

    Clear, to the point and anything 2 minutes or under, would be terrific! Practice! Practice! Change takes time.

  5. Madeleine says:

    Hi Shari,
    I do wish when you wrote about clothing you’d discuss both sexes. When you just show pictures of women or write about bra straps and “cute” shoes it comes off as a bit skewed. Not every man wears a three piece suit to work so I’m sure we could broaden our examples pretty easily – board shorts anyone?

    • Shari Harley says:

      Hi Madeline, Thanks for your comment and for reading the blog! It’s true, I often write about women’s clothing mishaps vs. men’s. Women have so much more flexibility and thus margin for error. Men just need to get the male “uniform” right – wear pants and a shirt. That said, you’re right. Lots of men dress inappropriately for work. I hope readers will adapt the feedback examples I gave for male recipients. The technique is the same. Thanks again for your comment and for reading the blog!

  6. JoAnna says:

    I am a new supervisor and I have to address my assistants attire. We do not have a dress code but she wears short shorts and dresses. We are pretty casual at work and I wear shorts and the shirts but always to my knee. I noticed today some of her friends dress the same way as she does but we are dealing with the public in our office. I need advice on how to address her without making her feel like I’m picking on her.

  7. Amy Tang says:

    Nice to read. So useful and informative tips. Especially Summer casual dress code scenario one is my favorite. Many thanks for sharing them all.

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