What to wear to the office this summer

A print skirt adds pop to an office
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A print skirt adds pop to an office wardrobe but remains work-appropriate when paired with a neutral top and blazer. Marimekko skirt, $208 at Marimekko, Manhattan; Ann Taylor top, $44 at select Ann Taylor stores; Banana Republic blazer, $158 at select Banana Republic stores; Lia Sophia earrings, $38 at liasophia.com; Olivia + Joy satchel, $92 at select Macy's; Vince Camuto heels, $110 at Vince Camuto, Americana Manhasset and Wheatley Plaza.(Credit: Barbara Alper)

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Building a professional summer work wardrobe that makes you look and feel cool can be, well, a job in itself.

The sweat-inducing weather begs lightweight materials and summertime silhouettes, but the "brrr"-worthy air-conditioning that offices tend to favor necessitates heavier pieces. Another challenge: No matter how much the ocean beckons, beachwear just doesn't cut it in most corporate environments.

"The weather is no excuse to look sloppy," says GQ's Mark Anthony Green. "No matter where you work, you still want to look put-together."

A polished ensemble starts with breathable fabrics. Gents should swap heavy wool suit and sportcoats for cotton, lightweight wool, linen or even seersucker in a dark hue. "Your wool suits need a break after a harsh winter," says Durand Guion, men's fashion director at Macy's.

Whenever possible, ditch the tie -- or exchange it for a print pocket square -- and wear a fitted dress shirt, which allows men to "hold your jacket ... and still look neat and pulled together," says Guion.

The sleek staples of every woman's work wardrobe -- pencil skirts, shift dresses, cardigans -- can get summer-ready in bright hues and prints.

Summer is also the perfect time to scour stores for color. In a creative office, go wild and mix prints and hues, but in a conservative environment, pair a vibrant piece with a neutral like tan or navy blue, says Joe Zee, editor-in-chief of Yahoo Fashion. Or just "tiptoe into the trend" with a bright accessory, Zee says. "Color is always the easiest, most cost-effective and effortless way to spice up your summer work wardrobe," Zee says.

Or forget color. "It sounds simple, but it's also striking," says style expert and editor Bobbie Thomas of white. Instead of a typical black blazer, don a white one with black closet staples.

Meanwhile, men who don't wear bright colors in the winter "shouldn't feel pressured to wear them" now, says Green: "If you're a guy who's looking to brighten things up at work, try it in small punches -- a bright linen tie, a bold striped shirt, fuchsia socks, whatever."

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