Keeping your cool in a heatwave… leadership wardrobes in the summer.

Something that came up with relative frequency in our survey responses was the particular challenge presented by wardrobes in the Australian summer.
With a heatwave set to hit this week, and many states still with a few days of school left before breaking up for the end of the year, it seemed timely to write about the challenges participants reported facing in trying to balance ‘professionalism’ and comfort / keeping cool.

For our international readers, many of Australia’s schools will be hitting temperatures well above 40 degrees C this week, with some remote areas anticipating temperatures closer to 50C. There are still plenty of schools that don’t have air conditioning (and won’t for 10 years) so kids are trying to learn in sweltering temperatures, and teachers and leaders are having to work in the same spaces.

There is an argument to be made about the occupational health and safety implications of this, and this is the space where the research literature tends to reside. For example, research has examined the implications of PPE / safety equipment and safety clothing while working in hot temperatures.
But this isn’t quite the same issue. The recurring issue here is related to what we have written about on this blog before – the unwritten rules about what is acceptable ‘professional’ clothing and presentation.

I did some searching to see what advice is out there and it’s just about exactly as I had expected. This one is a personal highlight – the advice for women to wear dresses that are ‘flattering’ and in ‘soft, friendly patterns’ is quite representative of the sorts of advice being given freely online.

Screen Shot 2019-12-16 at 7.34.02 pm.png

I’m not entirely sure that this advice from Glamour magazine hits the mark – how to dress for work in the summer… perhaps in a different climate (imagine a sweltering Brisbane afternoon with this SUIT on).

Screen Shot 2019-12-16 at 7.49.34 pm.png

Given what we’ve written in the past – that ‘professional’ clothing for women leaders is expressed as being dark and heavy trousers, suits, and stockings, we can see how this might pose some issues for the Australian summer, as noted by the participants in this study. The rules being largely unwritten then complicates issues further – what is appropriate and what isn’t? How do you decide?

Australian teachers and leaders who still have a few very hot days left – we salute you! Stay hydrated.




Word up, get a lapel.


We have been asked a few times whether our contention that there is a kind of leadership ‘uniform’ is justified.

So, here’s a bit of evidence – and you can find heaps more if you just google. There is no shortage of advice telling women what to wear if they want to lead.

From “The Executive Woman’s Dress Code” – here’s why clothes matter

If you are serious about being promoted … then take heed.

There is one problem that career women face that often goes unaddressed. It is what it means to be wearing the right clothes.

A woman’s wardrobe is an essential component of her presentation. It is as important as her handshake, her eye contact and her attitude.

The faux pas many women make is that they believe their wardrobe is a reflection of who they are. They are attempting to project their distinctiveness and their individuality. Others prefer to wear what is comfortable thinking that this is appropriate since they’ve noticed others in the office also dress this way. And then there are those who want to be known for their style and creativity. They want to stand out from the crowd.

All these women, instead of sending the right message they are signaling to those above that they are not a team player, that they are not ready for promotion.

The mistake is that they don’t view the clothes they wear to work as their corporate uniform.

If you’re like most women, this is eye-opening. Don’t lose the point that the real purpose of “the uniform” isn’t for erasing your identity; its purpose reflects the symbolism that “you’re part of the team.” It creates a visual representation of a common goal and a shared purpose.

In the corporate world, the business suit is still viewed as the uniform.

This means that, when its leaders are representing the firm, others are not distracted by what they wear but rather the intent is to keep them focused on the message.

But wait there’s more.

From the Globe and Mail, an item called “Dress your way to leadership success with these three pointers” – advice given in the piece suggests:

  • Choose clothes that reflect leadership traits— e.g. don’t wear a 10-year-old suit if you’re a young, forward-thinking leader.
  • Being comfortable in your position doesn’t mean yoga pants and tank tops. Women can be most comfortable by choosing professional clothes in the right fit for their body. For an executive, a well-tailored jacket allows for individualization and comfort — without completely ignoring the industry uniform.
  • Details matter. If you’re a leader who encourages and embraces creativity, pay special attention to the details of your personal style — wearing the same “uniform” of black pants and blouse every day doesn’t communicate adventure, risk or creative style.

And even more.

From Forbes Magazine, “ How to dress like the boss” comes the advice:

“Women should invest in basic pieces that can be mixed and matched,” says Joi Gordon, CEO of Dress For Success. No matter the career, building a professional wardrobe starts with the basics—but doesn’t have to break the bank.

“Splurge on the staples,” says Coles. “You want to buy the most expensive, conservative suit you can afford that will be timeless and get you through every interview, performance review and client meeting.”

“Black is the workhorse,” adds Arroz. “Avoid double-breasted jackets (which can make women look boxy, particularly if they’re busty), but don’t shy away from a jacket with an interesting collar or feature.

And finally,

Five Power Dressing Tips To ‘Boss Up’ Your Wardrobe And Empower You In The Workplace – their tips include:

  1. Develop a routine
  2. Go with a blazer
  3. Consider a wide shoulder
  4. Have fun. Personalise your suit.
  5. Go monotone

In these four articles – and all the rest that you can easily find – the suit, or at the very least the jacket, is the go.

This is DATA for our research. Early analysis? Have lapels, can lead. That seems to be it.