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How can I dress in a heat wave and still be business-appropriate?

The question

It's so hot out that the only thing I can bear to put on in the mornings is the flimsiest sundress, which reads too sexy for the office. How do I stay business-appropriate without melting?

The answer

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Ha! Welcome to a man's world. You think you have it tough? Try loading yourself up with lace-up leather shoes, socks, a long-sleeved cotton shirt and a tie, then wrap the lot in a kilo of dark Italian wool. Managerial men have always been judged as much for their ability to endure discomfort in their impractical uniforms as for their administrative skills. Keeping your tie on in the heat has long been a European way of proving "character."

That's why the British sent armies to tropical colonies in ludicrous red wool – just to show how tough they were. Now you're going to be judged by the same pointless standards. But what do you have to complain about? You can wear a skirt with bare legs and a linen blouse and pumps or a simple sleeveless (high-necked) dress and still look like a manager. You don't need a jacket. Just make sure you avoid transparent fabrics. Also,the convention in conservative offices is to avoid wearing sandals that show your toes. North American offices are so harshly air-conditioned (to please the men in suits) that a woman in a flimsy sundress will resort to a sweater by the end of the day anyway – so you have it easy.

Russell Smith is a novelist. His recent memoir, Blindsided, is available as a Kobo e-book. Have a fashion question? E-mail

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