Summer Clothes for a Female Engineer (Customer-Facing)
April 2, 2012 2:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm a female engineer I've figured out what to wear in the cool weather, but with the weather warming up, I can't quite figure out how to adjust my wardrobe to the temperature.

The background:
-Customer-facing technical engineer
-Tend to dress more "masculine"
-Like simple styles and colors
-Tend to sweat through shirts
-Do not wear dresses or skirts
-Currently located in continental EU

Current Winter/Cool Weather Wardrobe
-These pants, in various colors
-This wool sweater, in various colors
-Button-down shirts in various colors

What works well with this current set up
-Shirts require little-to-no ironing
-Wool sweaters do not show sweat stains
-Pants are quick to iron
-Everything packs small for multi-night trips
-Looks reasonably sharp, professional and competent
-Is comfortable to travel in (and wear, generally)

Frankly, I've been considering just continuing to wear what I have, but from previous experience wearing long sleeves and sweaters in the summer just (1) looks ridiculous and (2) causes me to have beads of sweat forming at my temples and running down my face.

So, any ideas on getting through the warm weather while still looking professional? Items available by mail in the US or in Europe are fine. I have access to most common EU stores in my area.
posted by chiefthe to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (22 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Female engineer (who gets to hide at a desk though) here. My summer wardrobe is not too dissimilar from your winter one, although I will wear skirts. (Patagonia makes awesome cord skirts that last forever; zappos usually carries them in the fall & winter.)

I tend to stick to the JCrew jackie cardigan in a bunch of colors. It's go 3/4 length sleeves, which I prefer so that I don't have to keep rolling up my sleeves.

Tshirts -
Three dots t shirts are nice & thick

Garnet Hill usually has nice, long wearing t shirts also
posted by lyra4 at 3:51 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like the t-shirt or tank under cardigan suggestion. Cotton cardigans on the thin side will look more Spring/Summer.

How about the same shirt with 3/4 length sleeves?

Here are two posts about what to wear to work in the Spring, from

Work Wear for Spring: The Compact Capsule

Work Wear for Spring: One Capsule, Many Outfits
posted by Fairchild at 5:01 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

They tend not to work with my body type, but they may with yours -- what about capris or crop pants? When I do wear them (in defiance of how stumpy they make me look with my short legs) I find that little extra bit of exposed skin tends to cool me down significantly. You can get them jeans-style or in khaki and other dressier fabrics.

Second the Jackie cardigans from JCrew, I'm a big fan.
posted by olinerd at 5:10 AM on April 2, 2012

You dress a bit like I do - although I'm a bit more butch, sounds like. In the summer I wear lightweight button-front shirts (from Land's End or Talbot's, although LE is the better bet this year - also, since you're probably thinner than I am, LE Canvas has some in sizes 12 and under). I also wear lightweight cotton pants, sometimes cropped, from J Crew or the Gap - J Crew has a "classic cafe capri" and a "capri trouser" this year, although the capri comes in only like, three colors. J Crew cotton pants are still, even in this age of diminished quality, generally good for three spring/summers of twice weekly wear. Gap pants are a lot more hit-and-miss. I usually wear my summer pants cropped/hemmed at the ankle - of course, since I'm short, your average capri hits at the ankle. Anyway, ankle-length pants and loafers. I wear men's suede ones, but whatever you get should be leather-lined to the to and have smooth seams so that you can be comfortable without socks. Add a couple of nice belts and a couple of cardigans as back-up and you should be all set.

I roll my shirtsleeves, too. And I keep my eyes open all year for light-weight shirts in thin cottons like voiles.
posted by Frowner at 5:19 AM on April 2, 2012

Oh hey, you're me, work-style-wise. In the summer, I have looser-legged pants in thinner material (one pair like this) that I wear more often. I also used to have a pair of linen pants that were nice, though they did require lots of ironing.

For shirts, I have some of these wrinkle-free 3/4 sleeve button downs, and I just got some shirts similar to this, which may be more fitted than your taste, but may be comfortable with a cardigan over it indoors. There are a bunch of variants on the t-shirt that are nice enough for work, though--silk knits, or slightly drapey material, or some detail that's not frilly but still makes it more than my nerd-t-and-jeans uniform outside of work.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:25 AM on April 2, 2012

Also, I feel like the LE patterned (non-broadcloth) stretch shirts are running thin this year - which is a bit of a boo for quality but nice for summer anyway. Also, if you're small enough to fit them, I recommend J Crew cotton shirts. My shoulders are too broad even when I'm thin enough, but the quality is good.

My bet is that LE will be getting a bunch more summer-weight shirts in soon.
posted by Frowner at 5:27 AM on April 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you very much for the suggestions so far. I will have to sort through them in some more detail and see what will work, but there are a few good ideas there.

But, a few people have suggested cotton, or a single layer shirt. The problem I have run into with cotton shirts or single layer is sweat.

I'll end up with wet marks the size of Rhode Island under my arms, that with cotton, take ages to dry and go away. Part of the reason I wear the sweaters over my button-downs right now is if I didn't I would have those wet marks even in the winter. The wool sweaters don't show these at all (I rotated out all my cotton sweaters from my work line-up, as I was sweating through them...).

I spend a lot of time being the center of attention (training, presenting) and raising up my arms to point at stuff. I really want to avoid that self consciousness, that only leads to more nervous sweating, by wearing clothes that hide it well.

So, any ideas for avoiding that would be much appreciated.
posted by chiefthe at 5:35 AM on April 2, 2012

Best answer: I'm going to address the sweat situation first - I find that the "clinical strength" antiperspirants work as advertised (I have the same problem, and that's helped beautifully). Try that.

As for spring clothing - lightweight cardigans over colorful shortsleeve shirts are generally my go-to during spring. You can even get away with only getting a couple different color cardigans and a couple basic pants, and then just go nuts with a lot of shortsleeve shirts, and you can mix and match to your heart's content.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:47 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Seconding clinical strength deodorant: read this article for good brands.

If you want to be a million percent sure you will never visibly sweat though, use Certain Dri. It's more expensive than ordinary antiperspirant, but it works. I present a lot too, and it completely eliminated that worry for me, which was awesome.
posted by Susan PG at 5:56 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ironically, I find that I get sweatier when I'm a little cold than I do when I'm a little warm. (I think that I hold my arms close to my body when I'm cold, which doesn't give the sweat a chance to evaporate quickly.) So for me the solution is a light weight cardigan when I'm indoors.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:08 AM on April 2, 2012

Okay, I think I have it - you should wear short-sleeved or sleeveless button-front shirts in light, crisp fabrics paired with summer cardigans in lightweight, textured fabrics. This isn't actually the world's greatest example, but J Jill and Eileen Fisher (and probably other similar makers) always have simple cardigan or cardigan-jackets in loose yet substantial knits - like a sort of ropey linen knit, or a big, coarse cotton. The knit should be made of big and bulky yarns yet not tight - ie, it's not totally opaque. The coarseness of the knit will both allow it to breathe (less sweating) and make it much less prone to absorb and show sweat.

Alternatively, there are a lot of loose linen-blend sweaters in the shops right now with dropped sleeves/dolman sleeves and a loose body. Some would need a thin camisole underneath, but many are opaque. Something like that would be dressy enough for work but actually very light. It would also stand away from the body so that it would breathe more and again the coarser texture would hide sweat.
posted by Frowner at 6:46 AM on April 2, 2012

Don't underestimate the air conditioning in the places where you work in the summer! It's possible that you can wear a couple of layers and still be comfortable inside, thus covering up your sweat without resorting to heavy chemical antiperspirants (not that there's anything wrong with them; they're just not for everybody). I have always worked in places that are too cold for summer clothes. Maybe you can get away with a plain tank top under your wool sweaters for the summer instead of a full new wardrobe. Or does your favorite company make short-sleeve sweaters, possibly? I tend to wear thin sweaters all year round.
posted by aabbbiee at 7:40 AM on April 2, 2012

Response by poster: @aabbbiee: Absolutely true if I was in the States. Many of the sites I have been to here in Europe do not have much (if any) cooling climate control and tend to open windows and use fans. My experience from last summer was that I had soaking armpits the entire time.

Thanks for the ideas on some super antiperspirants. I've been off the antiperspirant wagon for a while, but maybe part of the summer wardrobe is a shift of underarm products as well.
posted by chiefthe at 7:57 AM on April 2, 2012

Not sure if it's available in Europe, but Mitchum Clinical Anti-Perspirant (scent-free, for men) is the only thing that keeps me from having sweat stain problems similar what you describe.

I don't have any particularly original ideas for warm-weather clothing, aside from perhaps trying a skirt and seeing if it's bearable on particularly hot days. Ordinarily I wouldn't consider wearing a skirt or a dress, but when it's 90ºF, I have a dark grey cotton skirt that I wear to work and it makes a world of difference. (Usually work with plain black leather sandals, or at the hospital, plain black leather flat shoes.)
posted by brackish.line at 8:36 AM on April 2, 2012

T-shirts made out of sweat-wicking materials underneath super-lightweight overblouses might be one answer. I have no idea what's available in this vein in Europe, but let me show you some examples from US vendors to illustrate: something like this Title Nine runner's tee under something like this Territory Ahead lightweight linen shirt. It's a look I see here in Cambridge (Mass., US) on a lot of women lab scientists; the upside is that you can pick a tee that's made of some wonder sweat-absorbing fabric but dress it up with a slightly more elegant blouse and still look crisp.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:49 AM on April 2, 2012

Do you have seersucker where you are? Seersucker shirts or light jacket/blazers might be an option.

example: seersucker shirt at LL Bean; you'd obviously want to search stores in your country.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:57 AM on April 2, 2012

I was going to tell you about sweat shields, but considering your followup, I doubt you even need those. Just get a serious antiperspirant and use it every day. Most people would have gross armpit stains if we didn't use it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:44 PM on April 2, 2012

LLBean and Landsend also have fine gauge cotton cardigans, vnecks and short sleeve crew necks. I buy them whenever I get a good coupon. Just search for fine gauge. I wear some combination of tshirt or short-sleeve fine gauge cotton crewneck + cardigan or vneck most days. I pretty much want to get up and choose one from column A (top), 1 from column B (pants) from my closet, with occasional days when I feel like wearing skirt & boots instead of pants.

When it's warmer, I don't wear a tshirt underneath, or just wear the short-sleeve top. I buy good tshirts and wear them in the summer. I have fine gauge sweaters in argyle, some with embellishment, and lots of colors, some with 3/4 length sleeves, etc. I wash them in the washer & dry on a rack, then fluff for 5 mins in the dryer instead of ironing. I have various jackets and sweaters to add if it's cold, or if I want to dress it up a bit more. Light cotton sweaters, including cardigans, go well under a blazer.

I wear khakis, corduroys, and wool trousers, occasionally a skirt, occasionally well-cut jeans. I add washable linen in the summer, as my office isn't formal. I don't like boot-cut, so I look for straight leg trousers. I prefer a rise that isn't low. In addition to Landsend and LLBean, has good dress pants, but their sales aren't very good, and they charge lots of postage. My longest-wearing, totally versatile black twill trousers came from Eddie Bauer, so it's probably worth it. YMMV

Wear flat shoes in really good shape; worn-down shoes bring down the look. I also often wear a scarf, because I like them. Wear a pretty watch, necklace or earrings if you want to add some femininity.
posted by theora55 at 12:53 PM on April 2, 2012

Have you looked into summerweight/performance merino wool tops? Icebreaker makes some that look nice (but they're pricey; I don't own any and can't personally vouch for them). You might want to look at "performance" clothes marketed for sports and travel; here's a more affordable polo top from Athleta that's also supposed to be moisture-wicking. I can't follow your pants link to see what you usually wear, but Ex Officio sells some pants that aim for the combination of light weight, easy care, and office casual style.
posted by Orinda at 4:48 PM on April 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the comments.

I'll try out the antiperspirant route, as I noted above. I also just made an order from Banana Republic (big coupon today--w00t!), with a sample of cardigans and t-shirts. I've always thought that look as a little frumpy, but with all the support from the above, I'll give it a try and see what works. Same with the 3/4 sleeves.

@Orinda--good call on the wool as an under-layer. (I am an big fan of Ibex for just this sort of thing--and I owe one Icebreaker shirt as well) I actually do that for my casual-ware. Unfortunately, any of the wool and performance stuff for women that I have seen is a bit too casual for what I need here. (For any men reading, my husband wears Ibex t-shirts under his office shirts and will never go back to cotton.)
posted by chiefthe at 2:00 PM on April 3, 2012

A little late to the party, but I immediately thought of your question while looking thorough the Winter Silks catalog. They have some affordable, professional and fashionable sweaters that can breathe and perform well in a variety of climates and seasons, including warmer weather. I find classic, lightweight sweaters, short sleeve or even sleeveless if paired with a blazer or cardigan, usually fit the bill. Hope that helps!
posted by katemcd at 11:30 PM on April 3, 2012

Try taking a look at outdoors-y and travel clothing. My husband wears a lot of Royal Robbins and North Face button downs in the summer. Even after biking to work on the hottest, stickiest days, they dry very fast.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 1:16 PM on April 7, 2012

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