Dressing for the Great British weather has always been a challenge. Never more so than in the summer months when, after weeks of disappointment, soaring temperatures suddenly blast out of nowhere (waiting until mid-week to rise exponentially, of course, in order to taunt those of us who have to actually Get Stuff Done).
With a mini-heatwave hitting many parts of the country, then, office workers everywhere may well be tempted to pull a sickie - not least to avoid the sight of their bosses giving their crumpled ‘Man from Del Monte’ linen suit its annual outing.
But how do you get dressed for the heat without looking like someone who has just crawled out of the chillout tent at Glastonbury?
How can you look cool, calm and professional, when you’re fervently wishing you were in a park eating an ice cream instead of dripping hot beads of sweat into your keyboard?
Is it OK to go and stand by the air conditioning unit for the day? (Answer: yes. Take a clipboard with you and look imperious.)
The key is to avoid man-made fibres and have sunglasses on hand at all times, even indoors, to shield your eyes from the excess flesh on display from those who have not read this memo.
Don’t.... forget the spirit of 1976
1976 represents the greatest fashion challenge in the history of Great Britain. It was the hottest summer on record and many areas recorded up to 16 uninterrupted days of temperatures over 30C.
What did people wear? Bikinis under their work clothes, which they stripped down to at lunchtime. Rolled-up trousers. Handkerchiefs on the head. A lot of denim cut-offs. (Check your age first. Are you 23 or under? Then go for it. Otherwise? No.) For the first time in the history of Lord’s, MCC members were allowed to remove blazers in the pavilion – although ties still had to be worn.
Do.... channel your inner Margo Leadbetter
Margo was the style icon of the 1976 heatwave. This was a year that featured not one but two series of The Good Life. Margo ruled, and she did so with a maxi dress. Although it may be tempting to hitch your hemlines as high as the mercury, something floaty and floor-length is much less likely to leave you stuck to your seat.
Mrs Leadbetter has been a big influence on designers this summer: Roberto Cavalli, Rachel Zoe, Temperley London, Tory Burch, Alice + Olivia, Etro and Dolce & Gabbana, they all have Margo kaftans. Luckily they seem to have ditched her favoured nylon for high-temperature-friendlier fabrics. See Ebay for the originals (recommended search term: “1970s vintage maxi cape dress”).
Don’t... be like Jerry
Hot weather is so difficult for men. Unlike his wife, Jerry never found a solution on The Good Life and was generally to be found in a heavy poloneck and tweed jacket. That’s not the answer. Unless you’re trying to lose weight by perspiring excessively.
Gentlemen: embrace the short-sleeved shirt! They’re not just for those crazy Europeans! And, yes, of course you can wear linen to work: but it’s a myth that baggy means cool. Suits still need to be crisply tailored and well-pressed if you’re to look like you possess more sangfroid than you may feel - as opposed to a sack of potatoes.
Do... keep your feet under wraps
Only show some toe at work if you have gorgeous sandals and a fabulous pedicure. (This goes for men as well as women.) There is nothing more distressing in a professional context than to have to face the truth that the person you are dealing with is the owner of a pair of naked feet. (How dare they!) Be honest: would you want to meet your feet in this state in a job interview? Dress them accordingly. Definitely no flip-flops.
For men, in particular: carry spare socks so that you can change them during the day. This is not something other people need to find out about, it’s just your little stay-fresh secret.
Don’t... be afraid of (limited) beachwear
You can dress for the beach at work. You just have to be clever about layering. So that cover-up you wore by the pool in the Med can still work at your desk in Maidstone - as long as you wear it with something more substantial underneath than a swimming costume.
Do... ditch the tights
Whenever I spot a woman wearing nude tights during a heatwave, I want to give her a medal. I can see why, in some jobs (air hostess?), it’s almost impossible not to, but everyone else looks fit to spontaneously combust.
For those who struggle to let their limbs out on day release (and I, English and Stilton-hued of leg, do sympathise): maxi skirts, palazzo pants or other flowy trousers, quality cotton leggings. For anyone Anglo-Saxon still worried about blinding people with the fluorescent glow, St Tropez self-tan is your friend. This does not help the air hostesses but they have plenty of other problems, not least of all always having to scrape their hair into a really tight bun.
It’s a very British thing to be thrilled that the sun is shining and that you can finally uncork that bottle of Factor 30 that has been hiding in the back of your bathroom cabinet for three years - only to moan, once you have been in the sun/on the train for 19 minutes, that it’s way too hot and you’re going to melt.
In fact, Brits can go from “There’s been no summer at all this year” to “I don’t know if I can bear this” in the time it takes to make a cup of tea. (A drink that is in itself controversial at such moments. Can hot tea cool you down in the heat? Or is that a terrible idea? Either way, it’s an excellent family debate to have with the older members of your tribe.)
My point is this: however grouchy and red-faced and sweaty-between-the-thighs it makes you, enjoy the weather while it lasts. Because if experience has taught us anything at all, it is that it won’t last long.