Where I live, the hottest months of the year are traditionally August and September, but the higher temperatures often continue into October – and sometimes even November! During those months, I don’t usually need to wear a topper and, in fact, it’s typically too warm for any type of layering in my ensembles. This is the most difficult time of year for me in terms of getting dressed, especially in my less svelte, post-menopausal years.
Two Primary Issues
As I see it, there are two primary issues when it comes to dressing for hot weather. The first relates to our physical comfort when trying to stay as cool as possible in scorching heat and humidity, while still looking stylish and well put together. The second issue has more to do with our emotional comfort when we’re not able to cover up as much and are therefore showing more skin than we might ultimately prefer.
Some of you may struggle with one or both of these aspects, while others may absolutely love dressing for summer. Summer used to be my favorite sartorial season, but that has shifted in recent years such that I’m feeling more challenged by it. My menopausal body changes have necessitated more adjustments to my warm weather style than in what I wear the rest of the year.
I’m actually still working on honing the way I dress during the summer months, and it’s proven to be more difficult than I expected. Although it seems like the hot, sticky weather may be over for 2021, I want to get a better handle on what to wear for warmer temperatures so that I’m more prepared when next summer rolls around.
Introducing Part One…
In today’s post, I talk about the challenges that some of us can experience when it’s too hot to wear a “third piece.” The questions that I ponder and try to address include:
- What should we do when it’s just too warm to add layering pieces to our outfits?
- What steps can we take to feel put-together on sweltering summer days?
I’m only going to address the practical, physical comfort issues around dressing for hot weather in this essay. However, this will be another two-part series, so next week I’ll delve more into the emotional comfort issues some of us encounter when we’re not able to “cover up” as much with our clothing.
The Role of a “Third Piece”
A “third piece” usually refers to some sort of topper, such as a jacket, coat, or cardigan, but there are alternate forms that I’ll discuss later in this post. Adding a third piece to our outfits is an easy way to incorporate more color, pattern, texture, and overall style into what we’re wearing. Of course, layering pieces have the added advantage of keeping us warm when the temperatures drop, but the issue of warmth isn’t germane to today’s discussion (quite the opposite, in fact!).
Third pieces can also provide coverage for the sake of modesty or to camouflage areas of our bodies that we’re self-conscious about. Using layering for “covering up” will be more the topic of my next essay. I’ll mostly focus on the style aspect today, particularly around when layering isn’t really practical and what to do instead.
Since I wrote about the power of twenty-five good outfits back in September, I’ve been working on creating my list of “go-to” looks. In doing so, I noticed that I almost always incorporated some sort of topper into each outfit. Even the stock image that I included in my twenty-five outfits post featured a cardigan as an important part of the ensemble. The look also featured quite a few accessories – sunglasses, necklace, earrings, ring, belt, shoes, and handbag. Here’s a reminder of the image in question so you can see what I’m talking about:
If a woman wearing the outfit above were to take off her cardigan, she’d probably need all or most of the accessories shown in order to look “finished,” especially since the top and jeans are quite plain. Even with the cardigan, at least some additional accoutrements would be necessary to cultivate a put-together look.
Having a “blank canvas” of basic pieces is one type of outfit formula that many women like to use, but if you want to look stylish, it usually requires a bit more thought and effort than just throwing on a top, bottom, and shoes and calling it “done.” Adding the gray cardigan pictured definitely helps to pull things together, but since it’s also a solid basic, I still think some careful accessorizing is needed in order to create a well-dressed look.
An Overreliance on Toppers
I’m revisiting the stock outfit photo from my September post because it reminded me of my own wardrobe and some of the issues that I experience with it during the summer months. Because I have a fairly minimalist style aesthetic, I tend to gravitate toward a lot of solid, basic pieces like the ones shown above. Thus, I also tend to rely heavily on toppers (as well as accessories) to add more “pizzazz” to my outfits. Because I live in a temperate climate, I don’t need those layering pieces for warmth during much of the year, but I find myself wanting to wear them anyway.
Going through the exercise of listing out twenty-five good outfits drove the point home about my overreliance on toppers. I not only included a cardigan or jacket in each outfit on my “cheat sheet,” I frequently gave myself several topper options. I felt the outfits needed that additional layer in order for me to feel good wearing them, both in terms of looking put together and for my emotional comfort. The hot days I encountered in recent weeks underscored my issue around layering pieces. When it’s too hot for a cardigan or another “third piece,” I struggle with pulling together a look that feels right to me.
Inspiration from Old Outfit Photos
Clearly, I need to figure out alternative ways of dressing for when the thermometer rises and the humidity spikes. To help me with this effort, I went back and looked at some of my old outfit photos from my days of chronicling what I wore on a day-to-day basis. Although I mostly stopped taking pictures of my outfits back in 2017 (because I was being too self-critical), I have a large archive of “what I wore” images from previous years.
Revisiting my old outfits helped to remind me of previous layering “workarounds” that I employed on days when it was too hot to wear a topper – or when it was likely that I would need to remove that piece at some point during a given day. I plan to use some of my old “formulas” to help me dress better when next summer rolls around. I’ll likely have to tweak the “recipes” somewhat to accommodate my 2022 body, as well as new clothing styles/silhouettes and my shifting preferences, but I was happy to find inspiration from my own prior outfits.
Below are some of my old outfit photos that illustrate ways of looking put-together without the use of traditional types of “third pieces.” Although I’m not going to discuss clothing fabrications much here, it’s important to note that we can stay cooler when we wear natural fibers as opposed to synthetics (although some synthetic blends can also be “breathable”).
As a reminder, most of the outfits shown are from 2017 or earlier, although a couple of more recent ensembles make an appearance as well. I still have some of the pieces that are featured, but I wouldn’t necessarily wear them as they are shown. For example, I now prefer to wear longer cropped pants, I now favor midi skirts instead of knee-length styles (as I wrote about in my recent “do’s” and “don’ts” series), and many of my shoe preferences have changed.
However, I would definitely use the same concepts today. Some of the outfits shown actually incorporate more than one of the alternate third pieces or third piece “workarounds” discussed, but I’ve included each outfit picture in only one category for the sake of clarity. Although I employed multiple methods for making my outfits look more interesting in many instances, just one third piece alternative will often suffice.
Instead of a Jacket, Coat, or Cardigan…
I’m sure many of you already use these types of “third piece” workarounds for hot weather, but perhaps you’ll find a new idea or two in the mix (or you’ll appreciate the reminder). I know that my wardrobe creativity has been reinvigorated through perusing my old outfit photos. I’ll add a few notes in each section about the looks shown, as well as what I might do differently today.
On the hottest and stickiest days, scarves may not be practical, especially when they are tied closer to the neck like in the center photo. I haven’t worn scarves in hot weather for several years, but I can see myself doing it again on days when it’s too warm for a topper but not so scorching that a bit of fabric around my neck might bother me. I like to do a looser tie with scarves in the summer, and I like that they can add pattern and visual interest to plain ensembles similar to the ones shown above.
Vests are another layer, but since they only cover the center portion of the body, they can work on warmer days. I still own the first and second vests shown and would still wear similar looks today, although I would probably switch out the jeans and shoes for alternate pieces. I usually find jeans to be too hot and stifling during the summer.
I actually prefer the vest in the center photo with long-sleeved tops, but it can work with short-sleeved tees as well. I would still wear the outfit at right as shown (fortunately, I cut the oddly-placed tag out of the skirt a while back!), but I no longer own the top and vest. I still like the way the outfit looks, but I purged the top because it was too snug and the vest due to “fussiness” issues. I’ve struggled to find good tops and toppers to pair with skirts for the past few years, but hopefully I’ll have better luck when next summer rolls around.
When it’s just too hot to wear a scarf or a vest, a necklace is a good option to try. When your outfit consists of solid, basic pieces, adding a fun necklace can make a huge difference in terms of pulling your look together. I think that longer necklaces are usually a better option, as they tend to show up more, but a shorter necklace can also work, especially if it’s on the larger side and/or incorporates color and detailing.
Almost all of my necklaces are silver and black, but that’s just because it’s in line with my style preferences. Any type of necklace can work well, but if the weather is very hot, it might be a good idea to stick with a necklace with less material on the neck, such as the one on the right with a thin material holding on to the pendant.
Other Third Piece Alternatives
Interesting shoes like the ones I’m wearing in the necklace section also help with outfit refinement. My sandals on the left include textured “bumps,” the center pair have a cross-front with some texturing, and the ones on the right lace up. I didn’t specifically call out shoes as an alternate third piece, but they can be just as effective as a necklace sometimes, especially if one is wearing a dress or cropped pants that show off their footwear better than a full-length bottom piece would.
Other third piece alternatives that add visual interest include belts, hats, purses, glasses (especially ones that are worn all the time, as opposed to sunglasses that are typically removed indoors), bracelets, earrings, rings, and hair accessories. Statement earrings are particularly effective when one has short hair or is wearing their hair up. Bracelets and rings don’t tend to add as much drama as necklaces do, but they definitely contribute detail and style to one’s overall look. I usually like to wear several pieces of jewelry, but one item is typically the “showpiece,” and it’s usually the necklace.
Details That Can Replace a “Third Piece”
Sometimes you don’t actually need to add an additional piece to your outfit in order to create a more interesting and complete look. In this section, I introduce multiple methods you can use in any degree of heat that won’t add warmth or bulk to what you’re wearing.
If you don’t like to wear statement jewelry and it’s too hot to put on a scarf or a vest, embellishment is another effective way of making your outfits look more exciting. I love to wear tops and dresses that include some type of embellishment. The tops shown above aren’t as dramatic as the embroidered dress, but I still think the visual interest from the embellished necklines helps to bring the outfits out of the boring and basic category.
I still own the skirt on the left and the top in the center, but the other pieces have all been purged (except for the jewelry and the shoes on the right). I still wear the skirt, but with less fitted tops because my midsection isn’t as slim as it was when the photo was taken. I paired the top in the center with black cropped pants and heeled sandals this past summer. I miss the dress, but the waistline hit me a bit too high and the tiered bottom wasn’t flattering on me at a somewhat higher weight. I would still wear a similar piece today, though, but with less gathering and without the tiers.
Wearing pieces that have some type of interesting details can also make your outfits look more finished without the need for a third piece. The tops above include color-blocking, ruching, an exposed zipper, and a cross-strap. I still have the tops at the left and right, but I now wear them with longer cropped pants that hit me a few inches above my ankle bone. I would wear a top similar to the one in the center with a longer, midi-length skirt and sandals with a lower vamp.
Other types of interesting details you can wear in lieu of a topper include: asymmetry, twist or tie-bottom tops, waist seaming, lace-front tops, and grommets. Wearing patterned garments is also effective, but I get more into that in the two sections below.
Pattern on the Top
One of the most effective ways to add visual interest to an outfit is through the use of pattern. The pattern can be on the top, on the bottom, or all over (as in the case of a dress or jumpsuit). I use all three options, but my favorite way to wear pattern is on the top half of my body. If you tend to be bottom-heavy, wearing a patterned top draws attention away from what might be “problem areas” and toward your face and preferred body attributes.
My favorite pattern has long been stripes, but I also like animal prints and dark florals. The patterned pieces above also include other interesting details, including an embellished neckline, a tie bottom (which I like the look of, but it’s often too fussy on me), and a lace overlay with a ruffle. I no longer own any of the pieces shown (except for the shoes in the center image), but I would still wear versions of these outfits today. I would switch out the shoes on the left and wear longer pants in the middle look. I would pretty much wear the look on the right as is, except I would aim for the skirt to be a few inches longer. Oftentimes, what is billed as a maxi skirt will hit me in a “no man’s land” place, which I don’t think is a particularly good look.
Pattern on the Bottom
I don’t wear pattern on the bottom nearly as often as on the top, but this can also be an effective way to “pinch-hit” for a third piece. When I do wear pattern on my lower half, I usually like for it to be a more subtle pattern, such as the one in the pants on the right (which I still own – the photo is from summer 2020). I wish I could find another skirt like the one on the left because the vertical stripes are slimming and I like the elliptical, high-low cut. The pattern on the skirt in the middle is a bit “louder,” but since the background is black, I still felt comfortable wearing it. It wasn’t long enough for me, though, and I had to wear it lower on the waistline than was really comfortable.
If you are happier with your bottom half and like to draw attention there, feel free to wear bold and bright prints. Of course, you can always do so regardless of your shape, but just know that bold prints tend to attract the eye. Again, I also included other types of details in my outfits above, such as ruffles, a long necklace, and neckline details. Although one type of “third piece” alternative can sometimes be enough, I usually like to incorporate two or three options to keep the look interesting and have it be true to my dramatic, polished, and elegant style guideposts (read more about that concept here).
Conclusion – and Your Thoughts?
I hope you found this post interesting and thought-provoking. Dressing for hot weather can definitely be more challenging than when temperatures are cooler, but there are many ways to make an outfit look interesting and pulled together when it’s just too warm to wear a jacket, coat, or cardigan. Ideally, your wardrobe should include a good assortment of pieces that aren’t super basic, as plain items are the most challenging to wear without a topper. I think I’m going to refrain from buying any new basic short-sleeved or sleeveless tops and instead aim to only purchase summer tops that include some type of interesting details like the ones discussed above.
Of course, the practical considerations and style elements are only part of the puzzle when it comes to hot weather dressing. For many of us, feeling overly “exposed” in summer clothing is a bigger consideration. That issue will be the subject of my next post…
In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for how to best dress for hot and sticky weather, I invite you to share. I know that I didn’t touch on fabrication much here, but I definitely welcome tips and tricks in that area, as it’s something I’m still learning about and working on. If you have input on the emotional comfort part of the equation, you can weigh in on that either now or following my next essay.
Even though the hot weather is either long gone or on its way out for most of us, formulating a plan for how to better navigate it next year will hopefully help all of us to be more comfortable – physically, emotionally, and stylistically – in summer 2022.