Dressing for the Beastly Heat

Already Pretty outfit featuring black maxi dress, Mephisto Barbara sandals, Dana LeBlanc druzy pendant, fringe handbag

Mana G popped this request into the box, and I wanted to address it before summer leaves us:

How to dress in ridiculously, stiflingly hot weather… And still look fashionable.

I wore the outfit above on a day when it was 95 degrees with a heat index of 105, and humid as hell. I was indoors most of the day, it’s true, but this outfit still fits my main criteria for a stylish hot weather ensemble. And they are …

Washable: If you’re like me, you sweat mostly from your armpits. If it’s hot out, there’s no WAY I’m putting on something that needs hand washing or dry cleaning.

Breathable fabrics: This dress is cotton, with only a few traces of spandex. Natural fibers like linen and silk work, too, especially in loose weaves.

Minimal layers: I avoid scarves, camis, slips, and all other layering devices when it’s hot. Keep it simple, and avoid more cloth than is strictly necessary.

Body-skimming garments: Super-loose clothing makes me feel hotter, since it creates a tent-like area around my overheated bod. Super-tight clothing makes me feel sticky and uncomfortable. But clothing that sits quiet and flat against my bod is ideal for hot weather. (Not sure if this is the case for all, but it’s certainly true for me.)

Maximum exposure: Everyone has levels of comfort with exposed body parts, so these standards will vary … but I am most comfortable in stifling heat when my skirt is both light and short, and I prefer short sleeves or a sleeveless top. Please, please ignore anyone who says that only women with toned arms should expose them. Those people have never experienced the joys of heat rash. …

Skirts and dresses: A bit of a breeze on your nether regions helps cool the whole. No, really!

Heavy on the accessories: A giant leather belt may feel heavy and hot, but a statement necklace, a few brooches, or a bright scarf worn around your wrist or waist will add interest. Since keeping it simple is the order of the day, make sure to keep it chic by adding accessories. (Caveat: I prefer those statement necklaces against cloth, not skin, as they just stick to my neck otherwise. Not always possible, but definitely preferred.)

Fabulous shoes: OK, fabulous shoes are ALWAYS a good idea. But again, since you’re likely to be very simply dressed, picking a pair that adds flair is an even better idea when you’re dressed for horrible heat.

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  • unmitigated me

    NOW let's hear your tips for keeping the armpits of those white shirts from turning that yucky dirty yellow, even after washing!

  • Stephanie

    Well there is an argument that I do not remain stylish but it is horribly hot here in NC. I like light weight dresses Atheleta has some great ones with built in support. I also tend to do trendy cotton tops with boyfriend style shorts quite a lot. I like dresses and skirts but when it gets super hot if I'm going to be running around outside chafing can still be an issue. Maybe one day my things won't rub together but I doubt it.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with everything that you said but I could not stand to wear closed toe shoes, I would have to wear sandals.

  • Sal

    unmitigated me: If only! Mine are ruined – as in bleach, Oxy, NOTHING helps – after two years. Drives me batso.

  • eek

    Fabulous tips! The heat and humidity in Houston is really disgusting as well. Fortunately the AC everywhere keeps me cool! I tend to stick with sleeveless tops and skirts or cropped pants. I wear a lab coat at work that keeps me warm in the AC, but a light cardi or blazer would work too!

  • Sarah R

    I live in Florida, so I agree with your rules for the most part. However, I never wear closed toe shoes unless I'm at work (they require it.) And sundresses all the way. I know most people sneer at flip flops, but they do make nice ones, and I wear mine basically from April to November. Also: talcum powder is my friend. I sprinkle it in my bra, on my back (I'm a back sweater, not a pit sweater…weird) and even in my underwear to absorb moisture. Then I pray for January. It's all I can do.

  • Erin

    unmitigated me, I found the perfect solution for yellowing armpits! Every time I wear my white tops, right after I take them off I douse the pits with oxiclean (seriously). After a few washes they'll turn yellow anyway, so then you just need to soak them in an oxiclean solution for a day or so, spray them again, and wash them (always in cold water). That's been working well for me for the past couple of months.

  • Erin

    Oh, well, didn't see Sal's comment on that. Maybe Oxy only works for me?

    Also nerd alert: I've been using the bedouin's tradition of wearing all black loose clothing to cope with the 103 heat here. The physics are that black also absorbs heat that you generate away from your body, and that creates a vaccuum which sucks up more air under your clothes and cools you down, while white clothing just reflects the heat back onto your body, just as it reflects it away on the outside. cool huh?

  • elle s’ennuie

    I don't want to machine-wash my tops too often, so what I do with tops in hot weather is gently rinse them in lukewarm water immediately after getting home, before the sweat has dried and then hang them to air-dry on the balcony. Of course this won't work as well if you've worn it for the whole day and had a chance to cool off at some point (e.g. at work). But works well if you've just been out running errands for a few hours.

  • Katie from Interrobangs Anonymous

    There are some studies that show that wearing loose, dark fabrics may keep you as cool, or sometimes even cooler, than light fabrics.

    Light colors reflect external heat away from you, it's true, but they can also reflect internal heat coming off your body back onto your skin, making you feel hotter. Dark colors, while they absorb external heat, also absorb the internal heat light fabrics reflect back onto you. Plus, just a little breeze will convect heat away from cloth faster than it's being absorbed, and the looser the clothing, the more air circulation there can be.

    So both light and dark colors can work, depending on how you wear them.

  • Anonymous

    With jewelry, I like to stick to natural gemstones or pearls in hot heat. I'm a huge fan of metal jewelry, but they seem to suffocate me in hot weather.

    I'm attempting to buy more 100% linen clothing for summer for two reasons:
    – Keeps mosquitos away
    – oh so cool.

    It's difficult to buy linen clothing that covers, but isn't too "old lady."

  • The Raisin Girl

    You talk as if summer's almost over! Heh, down here in Georgia it's just getting into the swing of things. We have at least a good month and a half left before it starts to cool down EVEN a little bit. 95 would be blessedly mild right now. :S

    I've personally found that color doesn't matter as much as the fabric or the cut of the garment. It's certainly a contributing factor. I can't stand ANYTHING with a high neck right now. I like things with scooped or V necks, short sleeves or straps. And I agree: tight clothing is just a bad idea, clothing that's too loose just allows for a giant heat bubble under your clothes, and any clothing that rubs or chafes (ill-adjusted bra straps, I'm looking at you) really suck.

    @unmitigated me: Try some apple cider vinegar in the wash with your whites. Actually rub it into the fabric a little bit wherever the stains are before putting it into the washer. They won't smell nice when you take them out, but after they're dry you can't smell the vinegar anymore.

  • Nora

    I live in Austin, where it is almost always crazy hot. I find that my style of dress varies little from season to seaon–once you ge tused to the heat, you can wear anything. Like eek said, everywhere has AC. I have also lived in parts of the world where in order to keep cool you cover up–long loose pants and tunics with long sleeves. that really works for me here too.

  • AbraCat

    You can't go wrong with a skirt and tank top, or a strappy sundress.

    As for the yellowed armpits, after every wearing, I spray peroxide directly on the pits of my shirt, yellow or not, then I let it sit until I do the next whites load. Seems to work.

  • Rad_in_Broolyn

    I try to take cues from hot weather places that have little A/C (as we don't use AC at our apartment)- looser, woven fabrics. I am a fan of knits in the winter, but in the summer, light woven fabrics are my friend.
    I also think I sweat less in my armpits than most folks, and more from my legs and back, so trapeze style, flowy and loose tops work best for me. And nothing can touch the backs of my knees ever.

  • Erin

    I actually like wearing dark colors, especially black, when it's beastly hot. That way if I pit out a shirt, no one is the wiser.

  • Hope

    Dresses/skirts! And lots of em! 🙂

  • staceyedenly

    Great tips! Recently moved somewhere hot from the UK (okay, most places are hot compared to the UK…) and been struggling a little on the summery but stylish look!

  • Anonymous

    I live in Austin too and I am a serious sweater, unfortunately.

    Here's what I've learned — unless you're going to be indoors in AC all day, skip the jeans. Skip anything with too much of a waist band. Longer, fuller skirts are a bit better than mini skirts because they catch the breeze and you can hike them up when you get in the car and aim the AC at your lap. (not kidding)

    Also: it's important to have a good summer bra. T-shirt bras with molded cups are my staples, but they are HOTTTTT. I got a mesh underwire that isn't quite as wonderfully supportive of my DDs, but is quite thin. It helps a ton with the under-boob sweat.

    Sometimes a woven shirt that stands a bit away from your body can be cooler than a t-shirt that's too thick.

    Open toed shoes are a mandatory.

    And I carry a hand fan in my purse.

    -Martha

  • Erin

    I needed this advice. I've felt gross and unfashionable for several weeks.

  • La Belette Rouge

    I tend to dress for air conditioning when it is really hot as I won't go anywhere unless they have the a.c. blaring. So the hotter it is the more likely I am going to need to carry a cardigan with me.

  • fashion herald

    And are you getting all that crazy rain they are getting in Iowa?! Nuts! Your beastly heat outfit is perfect.

  • Anonymous

    Sal, how on earth can you wear closed-toe shoes in the heat and humidity without getting blisters? Or do your feet just not sweat?

  • tinyjunco

    oh lord, we could have another couple months of hotness here, depending…i don't like to use the ac and stay at home so i'm IN the heat a lot. you can make a 'capsule' or 'mini wardrobe' of pieces specifically to deal with the heat so you can remain stylish.

    if you get some tanks/tees, sleeveless blouses, skirts and dresses that can mix and match you'll have a lot more flexibility in your look during heat waves. it makes sense to build a capsule specifically for the heat if you spend months in 90 degree + weather where you live.

    loose woven fabrics in cotton and linen are coolest for me. eyelet is nice (all those little holes!) i like a roomier fit (easier to hike up). too many accessories make me feel even hotter, so i look for staple pieces that reflect my style -you can find plenty of tees and tanks with lace, stud, zipper, embroidery, etc. details to enhance your look. and the range of graphic prints out there is astonishing – no excuse for a boring top because of the heat!

    lite vs. dark colors don't make much difference to me unless i'm directly in the sun (incl. in the car). then i definitely want a liter color.

    sundresses are great, esp. when you are too hot to think of what to wear! but separates will give you more options if you live in a place with prolonged heat spells.

  • Sal

    Anonymous (4): Ya know so many folks have insisted on open footwear in these comments, but I'm fine with closed! My feet sweat a bit, but not tons … plus my office is FREEZING and my feet get cold faster than any other part. So I do open-toe footwear a lot of the time, but closed-toe just as often!

  • GingerR

    Since I work in an air conditioned space I sometimes don't add everything in until I'm at work.

    Belts are comfortable enough in the air conditioned office, but too sweaty outside. The same goes for any spandex undergarmets that might make a skirt look better.

    I like to wear a cotton cami/t under summer blouses, particularly if they've been ironed. I feel like they mop up the trickles of sweat and keep my blouses looking fresh and unwrinkled.

  • Katie K

    I love these tips and I would add that linen pants are your friend. I know a lot of people automatically disregard linen (it's sloppy and wrinkles even if you look at it wrong!) but I bought a pair of linen pants at the beginning of summer and they are a revelation! By their very nature, they're supposed to look casual and wrinkly so just go with it. And, on the positive side, they're lightweight and usually loose-fitting and they're comfy but not casual. And for us bigger gals, you don't have to worry about thigh chaff-age (skirts are great but if I have to coat myself in baby powder or body glide to wear them and walk around in them, that doesn't make me happy). I usually wear them with a more structured or fitted top to balance out the loose pants. They're seriously a lifesaver.

    As far as decoration, I love the trend of embellished ts. They're casual, (usually) lightweight and if I have some sort of embellishment on my shirt, I don't have to wear necklaces. I also love big earrings for summer, especially if they're longer and can help accessorize the neck area.

  • virago

    Dresses cut on the bias (diagonally) so they are body conscious w/o being too clingy — hence, avoiding the need for a belt. (Which don't usually flatter me anyway. I have a small but short waist, so belts tend to make me look like a sofa cushion tied in the middle!)

    I have a gorgeous sleeveless gray viscose rayon dress by Ghost of England that I bought for cheap on eBay. I wear it to work with a cardi.

    I don't have a picture of it, but here's a link to a similar Ghost dress (mine includes a slip of the same fabric underneath): http://cgi.ebay.com/Ghost-Dress-Size-S-Stunning-/170525249874?pt=US_CSA_WC_Dresses

  • Rebecca

    I tend to like loose fitting clothes when it is hot, because I like to avoid having fabric touching me. I also like to wear black, but that is only because it hides the sweat better than light colors.

  • elbee

    Mana G should check out my blog, because that's exactly what my current project is about. 🙂

    I live in Phoenix, where it stays anywhere from 105-125 F five months out of the year. Previously I lived in Las Vegas, where it is not only as warm as Phoenix (and for just as long), but extremely windy all the time. It may not be as humid as other places, but it sure is hot as hell.

    Right now I am trying to explore my closet and see how I can beat the heat while still looking like a reasonable human being. It's fun! 🙂

  • Len♥reNeverM♥re

    love that necklace!
    I enjoy all my summer knits…nothing polyester thank you very much!
    Happy weekend Sal*

  • GlitrVamp

    Dresses and skirts are definitely my #1 hot weather go to. If my legs don't feel like they are breathing, my whole body heats up! But I agree with Stephanie, chafing does become an issue when doing lots of running around. Also, on particularly hot days that I know I'll be outside for a bit, I won't wear a belt around my waist because underneath of it is just a breeding ground for sweat. Every once in a while I will throw in some close toed shoes to mix things up, but for the most part my feet need to breath in the heat. And yet inevitably, at the office, I will usually need a shawl or even the space heater pumping for a bit to counter-act the AC. I'm going to have to follow Sarah R.'s advice about talcum powder…especially in the bra! Nothing worse than feeling like my girls are swimming around in there! Lol 🙂

  • Caroline

    I second skirts – who knew they were so much cooler than capris or even shorts? I started to wear capris yesterday but as soon as I put it on I knew I couldn't do that. Now I know why oldfashioned frontier women wore dresses.

    Oooooh, and have I had heat rash …! NOT my friend.

  • hope505

    omg you hit it right on the nail…whether indoors or outside, white clothing, light colors and khaki and loose-fitting garments are THE way to go!! Also to keep hair simply styled and up or off the face and neck if possible! Great tips!

  • dana

    Straw Hats! They really help keep the sun and heat away. But then you have to consider hair. Sometimes worth it, somtimes not.

    It's been high 102 and humid every day this week, with more coming. I am living in skirts and dresses. A slip does help keep everything flowing smoothly. Nice loose ones are great.

    For me, flat sandals! I can't stand having my feet uncomfortable in any way.

    Also, Sal you and Audi inspired me here, I found a black crochet bolero and am now getting work wear out of my maxi dresses. This is wonderful, it adds sleeves but not heat! And machine washable acrylic, but soft! $18 at Kohls. A steal.

    I've given up on white entirely. No time for the laundry messing about.

  • Emma at Daily Clothes Fix

    Great tips Sal. If only I had the weather to wear this – it pouring and chilly here.

  • lar

    Like eek, I live in Houston where we deal with months of heat on the outside and freezing A/C on the inside. I wear a lot of sleeveless tops and light skirts, but I never go out in the summer without a blazer or cardigan in my bag to ward off the inevitible A/C chill.

  • Brooke and Steve

    @ unmitigatedme: The aluminum that makes an anti-perspirant do its thing is what causes the yellowing in white shirts. I sweat so badly that it doesn't matter how much a-p I put on, so I switched to plain deodorant. Bleach will also turn whites yellow, since most whites are blue-based, not true white. I use bluing in my wash (I got mine from http://www.mrsstewart.com) instead.

    I go for natural fabrics, preferably slightly loose-fitting. Also, running shoes have good ventilation. Because of my unholy sweating, I wear flutter-sleeved or sleeveless shirts, and keep a shawl in my desk at work. I also make sure to have a hand fan in my purse, and a water bottle close by at all times. If I SEE the bottle, I drink from it, rather than waiting until I'm really thirsty to get up and go get a drink. I also use leave-in anti-frizz serum for my hair, and generally just either put it up or use a hair scarf.

  • lisa

    I love these tips! Unfortunately and fortunately the weather in Vancouver has cooled substantially from what it was in July. Unfortunate because I have the circulation of an old woman and I get chilly wearing actual shorts on a 20 C sunny day, fortunate because it means I can be creative with layering. 🙂

  • Sonja

    Thanks for the tips! I wear a whole lotta linen.

    BTW, regarding yellowed pits, a friend gave me a detergent that's specifically for armpit stains and it works like a charm. Will go check what the name is…

  • Audi

    I'd love to help you out with this one, but as you know I'm still layering out here…

  • lyrebirdgully

    Here’s my advice from a lifetime spent in a hot humid climate (comment posted originally over at YLF- apologies if you’ve read this before).I’m really happy with my solution.
    WORK: a really well-structured SHIRT designed to be worn out (not tucked in). For a classy “jacket” look, say no to badly sewn seams and fabrics that crush with wear (check the crush factor by squeezing the fabric in your hand). Surprisingly, expensive designer cotton shirts can be just as crumply as cheap ones. Synthetic shirts can actually be good, as they tend to hold their shape all day and won’t cling to your skin.
    WEEKEND: I only wear T-SHIRTS to the gym now, they are too pyjama-like/casual on their own and don’t provide enough sun protection for my arms. For a while I tried wearing unlined woven cotton or denim jackets open over pretty singlets/CAMIS; but this last hot summer, the camis were still too hot to wear with anything over them.
    I finally found comfort and class with UNLINED WOVEN COTTON JACKETS worn buttoned up with nothing under but a bra. The secret to their coolness is the LAYER OF AIR between the jacket fabric and your skin – as the jacket is not skin-tight, your perspiration, if any, can evaporate easily. You will not feel sticky and clammy as you can with clingy knitted T-shirt fabric.I like styles where I only need to do up the two buttons across the bustline, and leave the lower ones undone (more airflow!). For work I have a fake linen peplum wrapstyle jacket – the fabric looks heavy but it is divinely cool, in fact the stiffer the fabric the cooler it is. Test this theory out at home with one of your denim jean jackets, bra only under, and you will see what I mean!
    I'll send another comment with ideas on jacket-top styles…

  • l

    This is a follow-on from my earlier comment on the JACKET-TOP, as i couldn't fit it all in…
    CHOOSING AND WEARING A JACKET-TOP: You can get really cute fashion jackets with short or 3/4 sleeves; striped, patterned or whatever, in all lengths to suit. I’ve got a demure Princess Diana style one – and of course CROPPED bolero length styles let in more air around the waist, if these suit you – great to wear over skirts. The jacket will always look classy, it’s still sexy (up to you how much skin you show) and of course it hides any lumps you want hide much better than a T-shirt.
    AVOID: jackets that need to be belted – the belt will lock the fabric against your skin and cut off the airflow. Looser fitting sleeves will obviously be cooler than tight-fitting ones, so trendy BATWING sleeve styles are worth a second look.
    PLUSES: another advantage of the jacket-top is that you can wear a brooch or pin to accessorise, because the fabric is strong enough to hold it– unlike T-shirt or blouse fabric which is too delicate/stretchy to carry a brooch. A nice touch when you can't wear any of your necklaces or bracelets because they keep glueing themselves to your hot sticky skin.
    A NOTE ON SINGLE-BREASTED BUTTONED JACKETS: Since these styles mostly have fewer buttons than a shirt, there can be some unwanted gaping over the bust when you move about. I usually wear a V-front/plunge bra, as it's less likely to show than a standard or balconette bra. Then I safetypin the jacket closed on the inside, at bust level, to make sure (on my best jacket I have sewn a hidden button) — after all, I won't be taking the jacket on and off. If you like to highlight your bust, you can pin the jacket closed at this point with your brooch.
    DOUBLE-BREASTED or CROSSOVER-FRONT JACKETS: these are not necessarily hotter to wear, despite the additional fabric in front – as long as they have good airflow!
    Sal, would love to know how you go on a test run with this idea…

  • JennyDC

    Here's how not to do it: Do not go on a crazy shopping spree every April/May, convinced that this year you will find the perfect articles of clothing for getting through DC's hellish summers. You will be much poorer, but still too hot.

    That said, I agree with the Athleta recommendations. Their dresses are very breathable and some women could possibly forgo a bra with the ones with built-in shelf-bras.

  • Beauty Bets

    White tees (and layered necklaces) are my summer staples, so this trick for getting out pesky yellow stains is essential:

    1. Smash 3 aspirin in a zip-loc bag. Pour into bow.
    2. Add two tablespoons of warm water to bowl.
    3. Stir to dissolve aspirin and create a paste.
    4. Spread the paste onto the sweat stain of your shirt and allow to sit for an hour. The salicylic acid in the aspirin (also fab as an exfoliating face mask!) will lift the stain.
    5. Wash shirt per usual. Voila!