Lez Get Dressed For Work: Hot & Sweaty Summertime Femme

Because you deserve to be the best dressed homo in the office. Read previous posts here.

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Well creatures, it’s been a long fucking road but it’s finally here: post-Memorial Day territory. It’s just a matter of time before our pit stains grow as long as the early evening shadows, and my pores are filling with dread. Having a job to go to in the summer is a special brand of hell and not just because of the precious beach time one has to miss out on. Between the heat outside, the air conditioning inside, the schlep to and from the office, and your sanity, dressing for work in the summer is real challenge. As a people who, in general, know their way around some layers, it can be jarring to suddenly have to make an outfit out of as little clothing as possible. And how do you wear as little clothing as possible while also looking professional and appropriate?

I had planned to write posts on this topic later on in the summer, but based on your feedback it seems you all need to talk about it like yesterday, so let’s do it. This one is a femme-ier take on the problem, so if the following advice and conversation doesn’t apply to you, hang tight! I haven’t forgotten about the needs of your sweaty office bod, I promise.

Before we talk about clothes, I want to talk about faces. Specifically, the greasy puddle my face would be without the magic of Fresh’s mattifying serum. This product has changed my life so much that I really can’t talk about summer fashion at all without telling you to buy it. I put it on instead of a moisturizer and then put my makeup on top of it, and it totally de-greases my face for the day. Even if you don’t wear makeup, this is a good thing to have. It will also help you out on those days that you don’t have time/the will to shower before work. I also switch my lipstick out for a matte stain (Sephora Collection Cream Lip Stain is made of miracles) and I stop wearing liquid eyeliner because that shit runs in sweat like that. Instead, I go for a waterproof mascara and I actually just put my foundation on my eyelids instead of eyeshadow. This gives my eyes a bright pop and stays put for the day. I also put foundation around my lips to be extra sure the lip stain stays where it’s supposed to. Between my natural greasiness and all the matte products at work, I end up in the middle at “dewy.” It’s a nice place to be considering the alternatives.

Fresh, Sephora, Benefit

If you ever wear dresses at all to work, summer is your time. There is nothing, in my book, that feels better when it’s a million degrees out than that perfect summer dress. Of course, searching for that perfect summer dress is something many of us spend our entire lives doing, and finding the perfect summer work dress? Femme, please. But listen you guys I promise it’s out there! My favorite summer work dress is vintage, from Etsy. I love it because no one else has it, it’s just 90s enough to look pretty gay (I don’t know, I just feel like 90s fashion looks dykey, this might just be my feelings though), and most importantly it meets my personal qualifications of soft, loose-yet-form-fitting, ventilated, and work-appropriate when worn with a light cardigan. It looks like this, but is longer on me because my legs are shorter than this person’s:

It’s important that you have a go-to summer work dress because who the eff wants to plan an outfit when you’re sweating your brains out? I did some femme sourcing and many of the fashionable femmes I spoke to agreed that the best summer dress for staying cool meets the following standards: cotton, knee- or midi-length, and super breathable. I also prefer to wear sleeveless dresses with a short sleeve cardigan or blazer so that I can shed the outer layer and free my armpits as soon as I leave.

If your office is on the fancier side of things, consider dresses with black and white color blocking. White because summer, black because fancy, and a dress because the aforementioned reasons. It will look super chic, and because of the two-toned nature of the dress, it’ll trick people into thinking you planned a whole outfit when really you just put one thing on. This one would look cute on you:

via zara

via zara

One issue faced by the femmes I polled for this post was not the work dress, but things that surround the wearing of the work dress. Specifically, thighs. Thighs that chafe; bare thighs that now touch gross things like the subway when your dress rides up as you sit down; thighs that sweat and sweat and sweat with nothing to absorb it but your office chair. Anyone else ever leave a butterfly-shaped sweat stamp on their chair on a dress-wearing day? No? Just me? Cool. I hope no one from my day job reads this.

Luckily, there are things you can do about it. Wearing bike shorts under your dress, for starters, will definitely make a difference. There’s also lingerie specifically made to address the issues that your thighs, though lovely, present. The brand Luvees comes highly recommended to me, and though I haven’t tried them myself, their products are both pretty and claim to address inner thigh burn. So don’t just suffer through it if this happens to you!

So what about the days when you don’t want to wear a dress? For maximum temperature control, my personal non-dress solution involves an extremely lightweight sleeveless button down and similarly lightweight straight leg pants that can be rolled up. I love the Gap’s broken-in straight khakis (see below) for work wear because the loose-ish fit makes them breathable but the leg is nicely tailored, and since they are women’s menswear-inspired pants, they add that touch of andro which looks sexy (yet work appropriate!) with a femmier shirt. Throw some cute summer shoes on and you’re good to go.

Gap

Okay femmes, let’s hear it: what are your secret solutions for not drowning in sweat at work now that summer is upon us?

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Gabrielle writes facts and feelings from an old brick house in an outer borough of New York City. When she's not writing about lesbians, she's editing/writing/producing things at her day job in the beauty department of a well-known online style magazine. In her spare time, she helps organize the New York City Dyke March and makes up songs about her dog.

Gabrielle has written 96 articles for us.

95 Comments

  1. Thumb up 0

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    1) I love this so, so much. Well-timed. Also that first look with the tie! I might try to steal that.

    I like those sandals too… I have been looking for a pair of summer sandals that I can wear and walk in (I walk a LOT every day, and so far every pair of cute sandals I’ve seen comes with the additional issue of “What the fresh hell even is his and how would this last more than a day of walking).

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      might not be the answer depending on yr work situation/gender presentation etc, but i can walk all day forever in dr martens sandals. i got them on their website on sale for like £25 and they’re like walking on clouds, super easily cleaned for city grime/mud and floral patterned, kinda 90s?

  2. Thumb up 5

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    This series has prompted me to create a work uniform set. I’m trying to amass 15 work dresses, with coordinating cardigans and tights, so I can wear them throughout the year. I went on a shopping spree during an AWESOME Mother’s Day sale at New York and Company and got five dresses this month. It’s awesome. Sure, I’m shaving my legs every day (but only to the knee! Thanks, 12 years of Catholic school) but it’s super-quick because it’s daily in summer. (Winter, hell no I don’t shave. What do you think tights are for?)

    I can’t advocate the “have 15 work dresses, always look work appropriate” strategy. I keep two pairs of heels in a desk drawer, the same pair in black and brown. They’re semi-nice, about $50 each at a department store. But you know what? They’re comfy and way professional. I always look on point now.

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    “…I love it because no one else has it, it’s just 90s enough to look pretty gay (I don’t know, I just feel like 90s fashion looks dykey, this might just be my feelings though)…”

    Nope, not just your feelings. I agree, and SO love that about 90s fashion. I also like at least one element that’s queer-ish even if the ensemble as a whole is femme-y.

    As someone who lives mostly in skirts and dresses, I have found sweet (thigh) relief in the shapewear shorts that Uniqlo sells. Nicely priced and they don’t roll up or down. Just wanted to let the ladies know. =)

  4. Thumb up 5

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    Today, in the UK, its BOILING… like no kidding. I’m roasting like a monkey in a wetsuit in a microwave.
    What did I decide to wear today?

    Skinny jeans.

    BLACK skinny jeans.
    Talk about fail.

  5. Thumb up 0

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    Honestly, Idk how to deal with the whole not-wearing-tights thing, because I tend to wear pretty shorts dresses, and they are so not work appropriate with bare legs.

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      This! Linen pants are a glorious invention, especially when working in areas where mean flying insects are around and you don’t want to sacrifice your legs to their hunger. Plus the need to be put togehter nicely while facing 47 Celsius outside heat (working in italy in summer ain’t always nice..). And they can look butch-y, at least a bit.(white linen pants, colored shirt – solid -, straw fedore, there you go.)

  6. Thumb up 2

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    read this while waiting for the train this morning and i could FEEL the beads of sweat dripping down my back…sexy, i know.

    anyway, very timely, very helpful. i feel like my work outfits have really gone downhill because my office is pretty casual and i realized i could get away with not trying. i’d like to spruce things up a bit so maybe i’ll go look for some new dresses. thanks, gabrielle!

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      I feel like dresses are the ultimate in lazy clothes and simultaneously the best-kept secret because nobody seems to know that! It’s like, pull ONE thing over my head and BOOM! – done! That is less effort than sweatpants, y’all.

  7. Thumb up 5

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    Somewhere in the back/front of my mind I have always dreamed of wearing a dress to work or having to look cute for some reason. I think it is because I will somehow become the cute girl I think I am inside. Unfortunately after working all through college as a custodian or building facilities/maintenance tech and then going into construction; I can tell you steel toed boots and carrhart stuff isn’t that cute. Luckily now I have a desk job as an engineer…but I still have to climb around on tools and get my hands dirty every day. Thank you so much for this article just so I can sit and dream about what could have been if I’d just not liked to build stuff so much!

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      just wanted to say all your jobs sound really cool and i would love to learn more about your life! if you’re interested in being a straddler on the street you should email me at vanessa [at] autostraddle [dot] com so we can chat :)

      (yes, i’m going to now shamelessly solicit people in the comments section…WHAT OF IT.)

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      Um, I contest that idea that steel-toed boots and carrhart stuff isn’t cute. Well, I guess it’s not cute, but it’s definitely hot. I LOVE a girl in steel-toed boots. Actually, my first crush on a girl was on one who wore them all the time, and my gf wears them to work whenever she can get away with it. (She works in an academic library and wears dresses half the time.)

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      When I was in high school a billion + years ago, I was still in my Suzie Tech Theater persona. I wore biker boots with 501s that I’d flared by inserting pleated sari fabric in the outseam below the knee (okay, now you know it was 1971), along with a sleeveless leotard. I babysat for my drama teacher and little Jason would look down at my boots and say, “Daddy.” Then he’d look up at my chest and say, “Mommy.” Yep, I sure kept that kid guessing.

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    I don’t know a whole lot about professional styles, but I do know a lot about staying cool using fabric.

    I got some advice for the masculine-y suit wearers out there: http://asuitablewardrobe.dynend.com/2006/11/suitable-wardrobe.html

    It goes into all the different kinds of wool and such, and that helps you decide what to get in suits. I know that not everybody can afford a tailor, but knowing what to look for, helps. Also, don’t forget about Seersucker, Linen, Chambray, and the like!

    For more femme-ish fabric choices: I love cotton, cotton is great, as is rayon. Crêpe Georgette works well as well. If you live in a place that has cooler summers, silk is great – but only if you live in, like, England oceanic climate-y places, where the average highs are in the 60-70F/15.5-21.1C range. Don’t show up in Florida in silk – you will die. And of course, Seersucker, Linen, Chambray, and the lighter weight wools are wonderful.

    Fabric choice is like one of the biggest things you can do to stay cool, besides keeping excessive layering tendencies under control.

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    Anything linen is usually guaranteed to be cool, although it wrinkles like no other fabric (so it’s for people with patience and an iron). Cotton is usually pretty cool as well. Polyester locks in body heat and moisture and will make you sweat.

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    For chafing: Bodyglide. Seriously, y’all. I’m such an out of control femme that my workout gear is tennis skirts and tshirts, and Bodyglide can handle all of your thigh issues, it’s fantastic, and you can get it anywhere and people will think you are a powerful marathon runner instead of just femme and sweaty.

  11. Thumb up 1

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    Here is my problem. Denver gets hella hot. Like oven dry hot in the summer. My office is FREEZING!!! I work with a bunch of menopausal folk and they crank that shit. So I’m dying of heat on my way in to work and freeze all day once I am there. I do the whole cardigan thing but it is just not enough. I need thermal tights or something.

    Sheesh. I think that was just venting. There is probably no solution other than lots of layering. It’s just such a pain to lug all those discarded layers to happy hour or whatevs after I get off.

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      I have the same problem. Sydney turns into a burning inferno every summer (just to give you an idea, we hit a city record this year – 47°C, or 116°F), but my part of the office gets all the air conditioning for various reasons of bad building design.

      One thing I’ll do is wear a button up over a tank top/singlet (usually with a cardigan) and then go with just the tank top when I commute home.

  12. Thumb up 6

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    I really hate dressing for summer. Summer is a fat person’s worst nightmare, especially if you’re not super “in” to showing off your upper arms (which I’m not), plus I live in the swampy, humid Ohio River Valley so I could go outside in the nude and still melt into a puddle of sweat and frizzy hair within five seconds. So basically I’ve just resigned myself to wearing my spring wardrobe but cuffing the pants/rolling up the sleeves on things. Plus, the ONE good thing about my work moving me to night shift is that I sleep all day when it’s hot and go to work when it’s cooler, so I have a little lee-way. But also I can’t dress that cute because I work in a fucking factory.

    BUT MAKEUP, YES. I am living for BB cream right now, and find that it really keeps the face moisture at bay better than a tinted moisturizer or a foundation. I think I have some cheap Target/CoverGirl BB cream and it works great. Two things I do splurge on, though, are Two-Faced eyelid primer, which keeps my eye shadow from sweating off or creasing, and NARS eyeliner marker, which goes on smooth like a liquid eyeliner, but doesn’t smudge or run. I get them at Sephora.

    We should all talk gay makeup more often.

  13. Thumb up 3

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    LOVE this article!

    I’m not sure I like the word Butch and Femme though.
    I feel like it separates us into groups. I sometimes find myself not listened to in a group of lesbians or treated as a “little woman” by women who embraced a more masculine appearance.
    Has anyone else felt that? Wearing a dress or wearing a tie shouldn’t make women treat you differently.
    Some lesbians love those butch and femme roles though and well I guess whatever floats their boat! :)

    • Thumb up 7

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      I LOVE being femme, and identify with that style very very strongly. But I totally see what you’re saying. Sometimes masculine of center individuals expect that because I dress like June Cleaver, I’m very accomodating and submissive and quiet and sober and cake-making. Anyone who’s known me for more than 5 minutes knows this is NOT the case, and I have no interest in being that way. Tried it. But I’m more the dress like a pink cupcake, swear like a sailor kind of girl.

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    I needed this! I’m still having all the femme feelings after camp, and I’m also starting my first real office-type job in a few weeks. I’ve been trying to find things that count as “business casual” which has never ever been active in my style vocabulary before. The only thing is that I’ll be commuting about an hour by train, so I’m also trying to make sure that everything is comfortable. This article is definitely a great start for me, thanks!!

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    I was told today my internship’s office dress code is “professional,” which I’m really hoping means generic “business” and not actual “business professional,” because I’m in the South and I want to wear dresses. Although I guess it’ll put all those suits and slacks and skirts and suiting jackets to good use (who buys four different shades of grey jackets? WHO?). And I just remembered I can’t go sleeveless because of this pesky tattoo situation, which I justified to myself by saying I’d always have to dress professionally anyway.

    Adult workplaces blow, you guys.

  16. Thumb up 0

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    Aaargh! This was great advice… But I desperately need the opposite! Aussiestraddlers just heading into winter.

    I grew up in the (always hot) top end of Aus, and have femmy dressing for sweat weather down pat, but now I’ve moved to Melbourne and its SO COLD! And I have no idea how to deal / look femmy whilst also being warm?? I thought itd be a matter of just putting tights under everything… But then my teeth chatter!

    How do I keep warm without looking like I’m expedition ready for Antarctica??

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      Also French knickers (sometimes called tap pants on the internet, but I’ve never heard anyone actually call them that irl?) are good for chaffing thighs for anyone who turns there nose up at bike shorts. They’re pretty easy to make yourself too

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          We do?

          To the google-mobile. Oooh, pretty pictures. Ahem. Anyway, I guess I had no idea what those were called because I had no idea they had a name. AS teaches me so many important things. Like what to google when I want to see pictures of women in classy retro-ish lingerie.

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            You’re probably right, I have a sneaking suspicion that Americans would never call anything French knickers. Freedom shorts maybe? Yeah, that joke just flew in from ten-ish years ago.

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        Thermal underwear. Then just throw slacks/jeans and a blouse over top, and you’re good to go. Invest in some decent merino or possum underwear, and make sure to get both round neck (for when cold>fashion) and v-neck (for if you want to wear something with a flattering neckline and not have two inches of wool sticking out). I live in NZ, and the only thing that really changes my outfit from Autumn to Winter is a nice coat and scarf, a pair of suede boots, and all the thermal underwear in the world.

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    for chub rub: ASTROGLIDE. seriously y’all. i’m looking at you, fat femmes. i only own two pairs of pants. not even pants. they’re jeggings. astroglide has saved my life countless times because like y’all know if your thighs are substantial they touch even when you’re wearing shorts or something. astrogliiide

  18. Thumb up 2

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    THIGHS. Omg, y’all, those of the chub rubbing persuasion need to get that monistat anti-chafing gel. It is a life changer. I used to carry tiny things of baby powder in all my purses, but this stuff you just put on in the a.m. and then live like a person whose thighs don’t touch. It’s amazing.

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    Love this article and all the office style everyone’s rocking.

    Can totally relate to what Vanessa said about wanting a dress code. At times I wish there was more of a dress code at my job, some days I feel like I should really put in more of an effort!

    On the other hand, the thing I love about workplace casual is that I get to feel like I’m queering things up a bit with my choices. I have so many work dresses (just above the knee, appropriate neckline etc)but I’m in a space where I can wear them with Converse, fishnets, tattoos showing, my favourite kids toy necklace, a rosary bracelet, my long hair under-cut super tight etc etc Basically I can do all the things that make me feel a bit more like me and nobody is remotely bothered. an totally relate! At times I wish there was more of a dress code for work, some days I feel like I should really put in more of an effort!

    On the other hand, the thing I love about workplace casual is that I get to feel like I’m queering things up a bit with my choices. I have so many work dresses (just above the knee, appropriate neckline etc)but I’m in a space where I can wear them with Converse, fishnets, tattoos showing, my favourite kids toy necklace, a rosary bracelet, my long hair under-cut super tight etc etc Basically I can do all the things that make me feel a bit more like me and nobody is remotely bothered. Which is so important, cos 40 hours a week is definitely too long to spend feeling like I’m in a really boring disguise.

  20. Thumb up 0

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    It’s good to know I’m not the only one stressing about all-around body sweat. Hyperhydrosis in the summer is a bitch. Que the uniform of all black everything for work, always. Great tips!

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    If you get thigh chafing, this product will change your life: http://www.2toms.com/products-page/sportshield/sportshield-roll-on/
    You can get it on Amazon or at sports/running stores. The roll on is way better than the solid stick anti-chaffing products. One tube of it lasted me all last summer. I also use it on my heels and toes to prevent blisters when I have new shoes, especially with strappy shoes. It is amazing. You will not live without it again.

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    Love the 90’s dress! It’s hard for me to find professional dresses to my liking. Maybe I need to look more on Etsy.

    Here’s a trick I figured out to prevent sweating and chaffing between the thighs when wearing a skirt or dress. I apply antiperspirant to my inner thighs after putting on my panties. Works like a charm.

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