Here's a controversial take: Denim is the worst thing you can wear in the summer. Don't get me wrong; it's essential to any wardrobe. But when it's hot outside, the last thing you want to wear is anything formfitting and thick (sorry, skinny jeans). After all, who's clamoring to have beads of sweat roll down their legs because they're squeezed into a pair of jeans like a sausage? If that makes you happy, I love that for you. Personally, though, there's nothing more hellish than walking around New York City's humid streets in denim.
And I'm guessing that if you clicked on this article, you, too, share these sentiments. With record-breaking heatwaves worldwide, choosing what to wear isn't just a matter of personal preferences but physical safety. Heat exhaustion is no joke, and while there are other things you can do to stay safe, a simple way to mitigate risks is through your clothing. You not only want to choose pieces made from lightweight materials but avoid denser textiles that trap heat (once again, I'm looking at you, denim).
So what can one wear when it's as hot as an oven outside? I set out in search of styling alternatives to wearing denim. After hours of image research, I found 20 summer outfit ideas that don't require jeans and will keep you looking stylish without breaking a sweat. Plus, I shopped out the key pieces you'll need to create the looks at home.
The secret to looking elevated no matter how hot it is outside? An arsenal of minimal staples. When in doubt, a structured strapless top paired with relaxed trousers and flat sandals will always work.
Can't be bothered to put on pants? Throw on a neutral slip dress and spice it up with sculptural earrings and thong sandals.
Sadly, it being summer doesn't mean we can skip out on the office. If you're trying to find an outfit that will keep you cool without procuring glances from coworkers, you'll want to try the outfit above. A waistcoat styled with matching shorts (ideally knee-length) and fun accessories will give off the illusion of modesty without having to fully cover up.
Try this outfit if wearing a waistcoat as a top is too risqué for your workspace. A tank top layered under a button-down shirt, and paired with pleated shorts and mesh flats, will allow you to toe the line between formal and heat-friendly.
Another foolproof work ensemble for the summer? A linen shirtdress. While this staple may seem a little cliché, adding fun accessories can make it feel a bit cooler.
Unless you're a modest dresser, chances are you don't want to even think about wearing anything with sleeves until the fall—enter the look above. Pair a tube top with a breezy linen skirt and Mary-Jane flats, and you've got the perfect summer outfit.
Apprehensive about ditching your denim shorts? Let the look above change your mind. Not only will opting for a pair of baggy cargo shorts allow you to keep your body temperature lower, but they can make you look 10 times cooler. Style it with a vintage baby tee or fitted tank and slingbacks to look as cool as a glacier.
When traveling to a far-off destination or heading out to a fancy dinner, chances are you want to give off an air of elegance—something excessive heat can make challenging. Don't fret, though. There's a simple solution: a '90s-inspired strappy maxi dress. Opt for one made from lightweight materials, ideally in a neutral hue (you can get away with black after the sun sets), and styled with sandals and a shoulder bag. You'll be all set for the evening.
If you hate covering up your legs when it's hot, miniskirts are likely one of your favorite summer staples. Of course, this style isn't the most formal, but that's something that can be changed simply by a few small swaps. Instead of wearing a formfitting miniskirt, opt for a pleated version and pair it with a button-down shirt, a blazer, and sneakers to make it a bit more modest.
In addition to the miniskirt, this hemline can make any dress feel more comfortable, at least temperature-wise. But if you want to make this style even more effortless during the summer, try opting for a version with a modest silhouette (so you're not worried about fashion mishaps), and style it with sneakers and simple shades.
If you're a modest dresser who can't get away with wearing a miniskirt or minidress, don't give up hope on staying cool this summer. One easy outfit formula you can rely on is the matching set. Breezy plissé pants or linen trousers with a matching button-down shirt will be your go-to for hot days.
Something that's just as easy to slip on as a matching set? A tube dress. Throw it on with ballet flats and a woven shoulder bag, and you have a chill outfit formula to carry you through the rest of the season.
The biggest allure of denim is just how easy it is to style, but if you can't be bothered to wear them, there's one other staple you can rely on: the matching set. I can't emphasize enough that finding a fun set paired with other summer staples (e.g., woven bags and sandals) will save you so much energy this summer.
Nothing gives off the coordinated feel (sans effort) better than linen shorts and a matching button-down shirt. But should it still lack a little bit of that extra shine, add a fun slingback heel into the mix. It's a surefire way to make your linen separates feel more luxurious.
Not the biggest fan of a matching moment? Take notes from the look above and try pairing contrasting separates together—e.g., a black top and navy circle skirt—to create visual intrigue.
When you want to wear as few layers as possible but still look polished, there's no better piece to turn to than a blazer dress. Just make it feel more summer-adjacent by opting for a version in a light hue and pairing it with a baseball cap and sandals.
By now, I've already shown a few ways that suiting can be a great way to look buttoned-up for work during the summer. But the secret to making a suit friendly for higher temps is ensuring you check the fabric tags. You can wear a waistcoat and trousers so long as they're made from more breathable materials like linen and cotton.
Dressing for the office isn't the only wardrobe challenge that can come up in the summer; it can be just as hard to determine what to wear during the evening. If you can't be bothered wearing a dress and your plans air on the more casual side, then you can't go wrong with re-creating the look above. While a T-shirt and miniskirt may not seem evening-ready, you can dress them up with a shoulder bag and slingback heels.
By now, you're likely already sick of how much I've talked about matching sets being one of the best alternatives to wearing denim in the summer. But I must get the point across fully. For those evenings when you want to grab a drink after work, a linen crop top and matching skirt are far easier to put on than even your most beloved pair of jeans. Plus, they look better too.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn't leave you with one last piece of advice: keep it simple. With excessive heat, anything you wear should be as easy to style as denim—without actually having to wear them. So when you are stressed about what to wear in high temperatures, turn to the printed slip dress. The beauty of this dress is that it's the most streamlined thing you can easily put on, it's versatile enough to feel tailored to your sartorial preferences, and, more importantly, it will keep you from living in a puddle of sweat this summer.