What to Wear at Work in a Hot and Humid Conservative Environment

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I have a business casual workplace, but do a lot of travel, and have many formal meetings in countries like the US and Europe. So I have many shirts, blouses and Jersey tops, and wear them mainly with light trousers suitable for the warm climate in which I work, and also for travel and business meetings. And I have quality lined suits and jackets for more formal meetings and visits, and for business travel to the US or Europe for meetings. And great shoes. And handbags.

My question for you is this… how do I, as an almost plus size (size 14) hourglass figure, who likes to look reasonably tailored and stylishly understated, dress appropriately for formal business meetings in hot tropical and equatorial countries without either looking too casual or too overdressed?

Some countries, especially Muslim countries, have very professional requirements for men’s and women’s business we clothing, which throws me into a mild panic.

Humidity is a style-killer. Suits won’t work (too hot) and I dread the idea of cotton or linen in humidity… because of the risk of looking crushed and unprofessional.

In some Muslim countries, skirts are preferred, and shorter skirts are required to be worn with pantyhose… not something I think I could pull off without turning into a perspiring mess. I don’t think Maxi skirts are professional enough in my line of work… are MIDI skirts the answer? And how to wear them and look streamlined when I am curved? Do I need to wear pantyhose with them?

And shirts? Are good quality jersey wrap tops professional enough? They travel and wear well in hot weather, but are they appropriate for formal business?

Formal suit jackets would be too hot….. any ideas?

Its almost like I need to rethink the whole package… travelling to cooler climes is easy compared with the thought of travel now to much hotter humid countries with quite formal requirements…..

Any ideas gratefully accepted!!!!

Aneli

I’m no expert on working in these environments and their dress code requirements, but from experience of hot environments and a little research on what is acceptable here are my thoughts.

What to Wear to Work in a Hot and Conservative Environment

What to wear to work in a conservative, hot and humid environment

  • Skirts that cover the knees (midi)
  • Tops that cover the shoulders, upper arms and don’t show cleavage
  • Trousers
  • Suits or suit style clothing
  • Work appropriate midi-length dresses
  • Unlined lightweight jackets
  • 3/4 sleeve length jackets
  • Closed toe shoes

Midi skirts are an appropriate length for this environment, but are rather leg shortening – so wear with a stacked heel or wedge (closed toe) or a nude flat.

And as far as hosiery goes – that would be up to the actual dress code of the people you’re dealing with.  If they wear hosiery you should too.  If they don’t you don’t need to either. You may find trousers rather than skirts are easier to wear if hosiery is the norm and you’re not keen on wearing tights.

What to wear to work in a conservative, hot and humid environmentWork appropriate dresses are another great option – no need for a jacket or an extra layer, just think woven fabric and covering cleavage, shoulders and upper arms and knees.  This way it’s only one layer to wear so will be cooler overall.

Many times, in those equatorial environments, once inside the office, the air conditioning is pumped up so high that you need your jacket to stop from freezing!  You just may want to carry it until you reach the office lobby.

When looking for tops, you either will want to tuck if it’s loose or have it hemmed to a flattering length.  Wrap tops work as long as they are not too form fitting or cleavage exposing (a no-no in these environments).  A collar always makes a top more professional, so if you don’t want to wear a jacket, think about a blouse with a collar instead.

What to wear to work in a conservative, hot and humid environmentFabric Choices for Hot and Humid Environments

Think about fabrics that breathe – natural fibres are best.

  • Bamboo is a very cool fabric
  • Linen or linen mixes (often they crush much less)
  • Cotton mixes (too for less crush)
  • Viscose
  • Silk
  • Cool wool

What to Avoid

  • Too tight or form-fitting clothing
  • Anything that exposes the knees
  • Sleeveless shirts and tops
  • Low-cut tops

As with any dress code – observe what the locals wear and then see how you can adapt their requirements for your shape and style to remain appropriate whilst still feeling comfortable in your outfit.

More Tips on Nailing that Business Dress Code

What to Wear in the Corporate World

Why It Matters How Much Skin You Expose in the Workplace

How to Put Together a Corporate Wardrobe on a Budget

Dress Codes and Your Work Culture

What to Wear When You Work in a Corporate Environment But Prefer a Relaxed Dressing Style

How to Look Smart When You Prefer to Dress Relaxed

What to Wear to Work in a Hot and Conservative Environment

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7 Comments

  • I have to deal with this too. I’ve found “slinky” skirts and waterfall cardigans and open jackets are great! They are made from a drapey polyester knit that looks polished and professional without being structured and do not wrinkle. Also, if the skirt is long and flarey enough to cover the knees then you can get away with wearing knee highs instead of full length stockings!

  • One other thought is a seersucker dress with jacket or even seersucker trouser suit if she would not mind the limited color palette. Traditional summer fabric in US before air conditioning was common. A light cotton fabric, but the crinkly, pinstripe, pastel material is made to show fewer wrinkles/creasing.

  • Long wide black trousers in light weight fabric are fine for even conservative Muslim work environments (in fact I was advised this is preferable to skirts or dresses). Black linen doesn’t show creases too much, but a blend might also work. And then add a tunic top or blouse, and a light jacket – I’ve found that, as Imogen suggests, it’s usually air conditioned inside, the real trick is to get to the venue without getting too hot!

  • Just a couple of thoughts to add, based on my experience:
    – Better-quality linen garments will be lined with lightweight, breathable rayon or silk fabric, which will cut down on the wrinkling and actually make them more comfortable to wear in the heat.
    – Giving yourself some airspace inside the garment will also make you more comfortable. Thus an A-line or flared skirt will be much less sweaty than a pencil skirt, and a boxy or swing jacket will feel better than a tightly fitted blazer.
    – If for some reason hose are absolutely required, consider old-fashioned stockings or thigh-highs (like knee highs but they come to the tops of your thighs). Thigh-highs pretty much saved my life through many years of summer traveling in a conservative business AND conservative locations in South America.
    – I agree with the above statements about pants. Business pant suits are just as formal as skirt suits, and in many cases, more conservative. I like to review recent news to see what female heads of state have worn to the Muslim country in question. They almost always wear pants.

  • Would you please be able to provide details on some of these clothing items? I liked the shoes and pants, but there was no indication where you got them from. Many thanks!

    Janice

  • I swear by my Theory trousers. They are black tropical-weight wool, bit of lycra, boot-cut and low rise. They are amazingly comfortable in even the hottest weather. I usually pair with a light-weight tailored 3/4 sleeve tailored shirt that does not need to be tucked. Fine cotton lawn is the best fabric. Other good fabrics are silk or poly georgette in a dark color. For shoes, a wedge that covers toes but is woven for airiness.

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