Formal Business Dress in Summer – A German View – Naked Legs and visible nipples are not encouraged

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For those of us who have been doing business in Germany for many years (and in my case actually managing some German Companies) it will already be pretty clear that the country’s business community has a fairly well understood set of rules with regard to business dress.

Well understood that is if you are German and have had sufficient ‘guidance’ from peers and family or have had the opportunity to make, and correct, some etiquette boo-boos in your early career (preferably in a safe environment which did not have a lasting effect on your current reputation – in other words working somewhere else!).

At the weekend I was interested to read that the Süddeutsche Zeitung published an article explaining for its readers the German Business Dress-code for the summer. The article was entitled ‘Nackte Beine sind tabu’ or naked legs are tabu and for any readers interested in the original in German here is the link.

For those of us who do business in Germany but are not able to read the original German text I have tried to provide some of the highlights in English. Let us start with the introductory pre-amble to the article (roughly translated/interpreted by the author):

“As soon as sauna temperatures appear in the office hemlines on skirts and trouser legs start to creep up. However, short trousers and flip-flops in the office are neither sexy nor appropriate. Rest assured there are a few tricks which will help you to still appear serious with 30 C temperatures while avoiding turning into a sweaty heap” (the last two words reflect my anglicised adaptation of what they meant to say!).

The article goes on to explain that in some countries there are rules requiring employees to leave off their jackets in the summer in order to avoid the need to keep air-conditioning running at full power. In Germany, by contrast, the dress code even with 30 C is relatively strict, particularly in the offices of the classical business areas such as banks, insurance and legal companies. The newspaper asked the style advisor Bettina Geißler to advise on how it is possible to look good in summer and provide tips on how to keep the sweat at bay. (Here the original article presented a row of business lady’s exposing their legs which clearly a highly respectable website like this can not publish. For readers who need entertaining pictures in their news articles here is a picture of pink lips showing off her naked legs under a palm tree!).

Pink Lips singing on the beach under palm trees
Pink Lips singing on the beach under palm trees

The German style guru pointed out that even when the summer temperatures go above 30 C the idea of men wearing short trousers in the office is a strict no-no. The socks must also be long enough to ensure that there is no risk of exposing any flesh. Shorter skirts are acceptable for ladies in the summer but with these fine stockings are an essential part of creating a uniform business outfit appearance. The only exception to this rule is with the evening dress where it is a requisite to wear open shoes without any stockings or socks covering the feet.

The summer skirt should be knee-length (or literally translated – it should ‘swirl around the knees’). When the lady sits no more than a third of the thigh should be visible (here the same dress code applies to both summer and winter).

With regard to shoes the same rules apply to both summer and winter for men: formal closed shoes are the norm. For ladies the shoes must be always closed at the front although shoe straps are acceptable at the rear. Flip-flops and sandals should never appear in the office.

The article went on to discuss the exposure of flesh in the summer. The rule is simple, the average ‘middle-european’ business person should not expose any flesh in the office. The eye reacts to light, and since these people have a light skin colour this could be a distraction. In other words an exposed upper body is tabu. This makes sense because in the office ladies should not wish their tummy button to be the main object of their colleagues attention (a professional opinion expressed by the style expert).

Under a lady’s business costume or trouser suit there should be a blouse which covers the shoulders. Beneath this a ‘none-see-through’ T-shirt or body may be worn. These upper body garments do not need to have (short) arms because in contact with customers or colleagues one should always wear a jacket or blazer.

The article then goes on to discuss underwear. The style guru had some very clear guidelines here: in the office your underwear should remain a ‘secret’. In her view this means that string tangas which are visible above the trouser or skirt waist band are a strict no-no. The same philosophy applies to braziers – their appearance and style should not be apparent to the other office staff.

Similar rules apply to gentlemen: vests, like ladies shoulder straps, should never be visible. Clearly wearing absolutely nothing under a white shirt is also not necessarily attractive and therefore a close-fitting t-shirt with short arms is appropriate. T-shirt arms must, however, never stick out below shirt or blouse sleeves.

In German formal business dress the rule continues that only long arm shirts are appropriate for gentlemen. Cuffs and the top button should be fastened and a respectable tie with a nicely fastened knot should be worn with the bottom of the tie just touching the top of the trouser belt.

With regard to summer colours the style advisor recommends that the higher the seniority of the person the darker the colour: black, grey, dark blue or brown. In summer a slightly lighter suit can be considered if the situation is appropriate. A light beige or white suit should be avoided.

In summer men should always appear in a jacket. It is dependant upon the hierarchy how long the jacket stays on in a meeting. Once the most senior person has taken off his or her jacket then the others may follow (but not before!). This approach applies only to company internal meetings – with customers the jacket should always remain on.

Clearly with a number of layers the choice of fibres and textiles is important to avoid over heating. Light cotton clothes are recommended. Linen is not considered appropriate despite the tendency towards ‘elegant creases’ in recent fashions. Even elegant creases are still creases and therefore unacceptable. Most important is the avoidance of synthetic fibres in summer. These will simply make the heat even more unbearable.

Please keep in mind that these are not necessarily my views but they are those expressed in a serious German business newspaper and reflect the view of a respected formal business style consultant. If you are doing business in Germany and do  not want to appear ‘out of the norm’ these tips may provide a basis for selecting your travel wardrobe.

Gute geschäfts Reise und viel Erfolg (have a good business journey and lots of success)

Chris Duggleby.

4 thoughts on “Formal Business Dress in Summer – A German View – Naked Legs and visible nipples are not encouraged”

  1. Forget it!
    I won’t submit to such reactionary, non-productive, and uncomfortable standards!
    So I guess I’ll have to stay out of Germany?
    Too bad!

    1. Please don’t forget – its a country of extremes – in both directions. Check out my article here there a plenty of lakes around munich where any form of dress is purely optional (although I would not recommend trying the FKK or ‘Free’ Body Culture approach in the office)!

  2. Much amused by the image of Munich offices full of workers attempting to wear their braziers so that their appearance & style is not visible to other office and staff.

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