‘Above 20C is shorts territory’: City workers use heatwave to push the boundaries

Summer in the City of London: as the mercury climbs you can leave your tie at home – and even brave a pair of shorts and trainers.

Companies based in the capital’s financial district have for years adhered to more traditional dress codes than other employers, with many firms demanding “business casual” from their staff, whatever the weather.

Yet in the post-pandemic, more flexible world of work, employees are working out how to remain office appropriate while trying to beat the heat, when the mercury reaches 30C, as it did in central London on Tuesday.

A striped bow tie, linen jacket and straw hat were one law firm employee’s concessions to the temperature.

“I usually wear a long tie but I feel less encumbered with this [bowtie],” said Jake, who did not want to give his surname. “I’m not ready to let go of ties completely.”

Carrying his briefcase as he walked along Cornhill, he said he would not usually wear a linen jacket: “But when it’s too hot I make an exception. I’m not very good in the heat.”

An open white or blue shirt worn with trousers or chinos appeared to be the unofficial uniform among men, while there was greater variety among the outfits worn by female workers.

Mary Trussell
Mary Trussell says go loose and wear natural fibres to beat the heat. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

“I think loose is the way to go rather than constricted, and natural fibres,” said Mary Trussell, wearing a navy and white polka dot linen dress and neutral jacket, as she walked to a board meeting at the financial services firm where she works.

Despite the temperature and her journey from her home in Cornwall to London, the 59-year-old was wearing a pair of tights with heeled suede shoes.

“For me, part of being dressed for a board meeting is shoes with at least a small heel and tights,” she said.

Trussell said choosing a work outfit is more challenging since Covid, as dress codes have shifted along with working patterns.

“The remit is dress appropriately,” said Mark, who did not want to give his surname, employed in financial services, and wearing a blue shirt and navy trousers.

“You can wear a jacket and tie for an important meeting if you want,” he said. “It has changed since the pandemic. People are more flexible and want to be seen to be more flexible.”

The change in City attire hadn’t gone unnoticed by Tom Benfield, eating lunch with a friend on a bench close to the Royal Exchange. The employee at a financial technology firm said he was more dressed down than usual, having opted for a blu and white-striped shirt, black chinos and white trainers.

“It’s noticeable this week that people are little bit more casual,” said the 33-year-old financial technology employee, adding he would usually be dressed more like his friend, who was wearing a more formal outfit of grey suit trousers and a white shirt. “This week there are shorts and trainers.”

Andy, who did not want to give his surname, recently started a new job at a foreign exchange firm, and said the heatwave hadn’t had an impact. He had been admonished for his outfit during last week’s warm weather, and was told by his boss that chinos were “unacceptable”.

Fernanda del Aguila, eating lunch with three fellow interns on the steps of the Royal Exchange, is spending two months of her university holidays in London working at a procurement consultancy.

The 21-year-old discovered she had not packed a suitable summer work wardrobe: “I brought long sleeve tops, trousers and cardigans.”

“We had to run to Zara yesterday,” laughed her colleague Olivia Ford, 22. “I came down from Scotland and even brought a trench coat.”

Stefan Ogrisi
Stefan Ogrisi makes no concessions to the heat except not wearing socks. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

One of the few workers wearing a tie was Stefan Ogrisi, 35, taking a break from his job at jewellery retailer Boodles, even though it was not required by his employer.

“I’m Italian, I like to be presentable,” he said, in a navy suit, white shirt and leather shoes worn without socks. “People are too excited by this heatwave, this is a normal summer in Rome, or even hotter.”

Matthew Kemp
Matthew Kemp follows his workplace’s ‘dress for your day’ policy. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Baring his legs in shorts was insurance worker Matthew Kemp, who said he was allowed more relaxed attire because his role does not involve meeting clients.

Sporting a pair of brown shorts and navy-blue long-sleeved shirt, 27-year-old Kemp said other members of his team also did not shy away from wearing shorts to work, particularly because his office’s air conditioning hasn’t been working.

“Anything above 20C is shorts territory for me,” he laughed.

“The dress code is ‘dress for your day’. If I did see clients I would wear a suit, but I get to hide away on the fourth floor out of sight.”