What to wear when it’s stinkin’ hot out.

how to keep cool on hot summer days

Today’s post is an updated version of an old favorite. 

The heat index is 112 in my city today—that’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.

It’s sweltering at 6:00 a.m.  I’d like to just hit the pool, but instead, I need to look presentable for work. It’s hard to stay polished when it’s hot outside: makeup melts, hair frizzes, clothes wrinkle.

You may not be able to keep as cool as you’d like, but you can keep cool enough—and look good while doing it—by following these tips:

Hair and Makeup:

Hair and makeup are 80% of your personal appearance: if they look good, you’ll look good.  Unfortunately, good hair and makeup are much harder to get in the summertime! Minimalist routines work well this season:

• Skip the foundation—you’re better off without it than with it melting down your face.
• Go easy on blush and bronzer: they can melt, too, and it’s easy for them to look overdone in the heat.
• Learn to do a messy bun, cute ponytail, or side braid. (Tip: blow drying takes forever when it’s hot and humid. Just do the front and sides and pull your hair back to save time.)
• Don’t fight your hair’s natural texture. It’s too hard to maintain in humidity.

1. button back linen-shift dress ($110) | J. Crew
2. cotton tank dress ($24) | Everlane
3. pocketed pineapple skirt ($59) | Modcloth

Let Him Wear the Pants:

• Dresses and skirts allow for more air circulation than pants or shorts.
• Don’t tuck things in, and unless your workplace demands it, don’t even think about pantyhose.
• A maxi can be as comfortable as a shorter dress.
• Choose natural fabrics like cotton or linen for coolness (though knit dresses aren’t terrible).


1. stripe twist-front tea dress ($138) | Banana Republic
2. sleeveless dress in dotted chambray ($78) | Modcloth
3. dip-dyed midi dress ($128) | Anthropologie

Pay Attention to Color, Cut and Cloth

• Wear light colors. Dark colors absorb heat, and make you feel hotter.  Two of my favorite summer staples are white cotton pants and a white cotton embroidered shirt.
• Looser cuts keep you cooler by letting more air circulate.  I love trim sweaters for fall and spring, but loose styles (like this from Macy’s) are better suited to summer.
• Breathable fabrics like cotton and linen are best.

Choose Light Layers for Intense A.C.

If you visit an office building, mall, or grocery store in the summer heat, the air conditioning may be humming along at a nippy 72 degrees.

Here’s how to switch back and forth between wildly varying climates:

• Carry a lightweight cardigan or jacket (or stash one in your desk). I always have a 3/4-sleeve cardigan or denim jacket handy in the summer time.
• Plan ahead. Don’t wear short shorts if you’re going to the mall—wear a maxi dress, and bring a cardi.

Accessorize—but don’t add warmth

I don’t feel put-together if I’m just wearing a t-shirt and shorts (but there’s no way I’m donning a sweater or jacket in this heat!) Accessories make the outfit.

In cooler weather, I’d wrap a scarf around my neck, or schlep a giant tote–but neither option is appealing on hot summer days.

• Tie that scarf around your waist or in your hair for style without unwanted warmth.
• Go for statement jewelry—an armful of bangles, or a big necklace.
• Don’t just wear the same old flip-flops! You’ll look more put-together if you wear pretty sandals.

Accept it—on the dog days of summer, you’re going to be hot.  So you may as well keep your wardrobe in tune with the weather instead of fighting it.

But if you can swing it, I highly recommend the swimming pool.

How do you cope with summer heat?

P.S. Cold drinks for hot summer days, and what to read at the beach this summer.

photo credit


Leave A Comment
  1. Jamie says:

    I agree – maxi dresses are amazing! My secret weapons for surviving the summer heat are tinted moisturizer (sub for foundation), cream eye shadow in a light, soft shade and waterproof mascara. They take 2 minutes to apply, won’t melt off and make me feel put together even when it’s boiling outside.

  2. Allie says:

    This is great – any chance of a similar article in the winter (if you haven’t already done one)? I struggle with being dressed up for Mass and not killing myself from cold/ice on the way over… ^_^

    • 'Becca says:

      Cotton leggings and cotton socks (maybe multiple layers of socks, if you can fit them in your shoes or change shoes when you get there) instead of pantyhose or tights. I love the leggings from American Apparel: comfortable, keep their shape for years, soft and smooth with no pilling, made in USA, and not so expensive considering all that! (but their Website uses some photos of models wearing ONLY the one item featured while behaving startlingly, so go to one of their real-life stores if possible.)

      Also, silk underlayers are wonderful!

  3. Rebecca says:

    This was a fantastic article…thank you! I don’t get much hot weather up my way, but when I do it’s nice to know how you southern gals stay looking so calm, cool, and collected 🙂
    Allie: In northern New England we wear a silk base layer during the winter. They’re thin and invisible under clothing, slippery enough to allow the top layers to move freely so they don’t catch or bunch, and best of all they’re super warm without being itchy.

  4. Amber @ neuronmommy.com says:

    We are having our 31st day of 100 degree weather. I am so burnt out on the heat and it is only July! Your tips are right on.

  5. Sarah says:

    Thanks for this list! My summer makeup is (1) tinted moisturizer (2) cream blush/bronzer (3) under eye concealer and (4) mascara. With some light lip gloss. It’s perfect, but not too much.

    I love maxi-dresses and do wear a lot of light-weight cotton skirts and dresses in the summer. So chic and very comfy for hot weather.

    I like to pull my hair back with a headband (especially one of those cute ones with flowers on it), then its off my neck, but still sort of “done”.

    It’s always nice to get new ideas. 🙂

  6. I already do virtually all of this: dresses or skirts, hair up, very little makeup. I live in Nebraska, and it has been beastly hot this summer, so I’ve figured out ways to stay cool! FANTASTIC advice. 🙂

  7. Tim says:

    Re choosing light layers: My courtroom temperatures swing from hot and stuffy to cold enough to hang a side of beef. It’s an old building and the HVAC is not up to the challenge of keeping the cold or heat out, depending opn what season we’re in. I tell jurors to bring a jacket or sweater to wear as a layer, and just put it on or take it off during the proceedings as they need in order to stay comfortable. Men and women alike take advantage of that invitation, Anne, and are better able to pay attention to teh evidence as it comes in I think.


    P.S. New post on good looking food and the greatness of God over at Rachel Stone’s place. I linked it through my name. Hope you get a chance to check it out!

  8. Katie says:

    I wish the A/C were set to 72 degrees in our office! My thermometer says 62 right now, and it’s colder in my boss’s office and the conference room–try 59, plus a draft.

    The only way I can get away with a skirt is to wear tights and drape a blanket over my legs while sitting. So I actually wear skirts more often in the winter, when it’s not quite as cold inside (the boss tries, but the building manager bluntly refuses to turn on the A/C at some point) and tights are comfortable outside. I do wear short-sleeved shirts in the summer versus long-sleeved ones in the summer, but otherwise my work wardrobe is the same season to season. I keep a giant fluffy sweater at my desk and am used to my face and fingers being numb with cold.

    On the other hand, it means that the 100-degree-plus weather outside actually feels good for at least fifteen minutes when I walk outside….

    And on evenings and weekends, I wholeheartedly second your recommendations! Skirts and dresses for the win!

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  10. 'Becca says:

    Great advice!

    For hair, I find that braiding works well to prevent frizz in humid weather, and I do it all year round now that my hair is starting to go gray and has developed a more wiry texture; silver hairs woven into a dark braid actually look kind of interesting, I think. Usually I French braid back from the center of my forehead until I have picked up all the hair in front of my ears, and then I continue the braid for a few inches without adding hair–so my front hair is off my face, but I still have long loose hair to frame my face. (I don’t have bangs.) In very hot weather, when I want my hair off my neck, I’ll braid all of it.

    If you braid your hair while wet, it’s easier to get it very neat, and it can stay done for two days if you’re a calm sleeper and don’t go swimming. Don’t count on being able to unbraid it and brush it out dry, though–many textures of hair will turn into a huge frizzball if you do that, so it’s better to keep it braided until you’re ready to get it soaking wet.

  11. Stacey says:

    Fabulous list 🙂 Where I live, July is extremely hot as a rule, and August is worse…but I’m usually pretty cold natured, so I rarely leave home without a sweater.

    • Anne says:

      Ohmigosh, that’s quite a move! (And I’m afraid to say it, but it’s only May … yikes!)

      They’re both great cities. I hope you’re settling in to your new town!

  12. Corby says:

    Best makeup is one with no mineral oil in it. The oil just makes the make-up sit on your face on a layer of oil, so when you sweat, you face slides off. Products with no mineral oil soak into your skin therefore your makeup stays in place.

  13. Jennifer D. says:

    So, this year is the first time in YEARS I’ve had to worry about it. But now that we live in one of the most chic and modern cities in Europe, I definitely can’t get away with workout clothes all day long. Ha!! And with 85-90 degree heat plus humidity, and no a/c, I’m trying to find ways to still look presentable and yet not dying. Ha. These were great ideas, thanks!!

  14. Janean says:

    This made me laugh, Anne. Remember how I said I love the cold, am summer-averse and hibernate during all times bright and hot? The AC at “a nippy 72 degrees?” Ours is fixed at a perfect clip of 66! ? I still get too warm and my kids run around in their undies. We’re just warm blooded folks. ??‍♀️ Apparently, you’d need your winter parka to visit us in Minnesota, whether you stopped by in winter or summer! ???

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