And the Heat Goes On...

By Karen R. Smith


While the rest of the country is starting to plan for Autumn temperatures, we’re just hitting our stride here in southern Arizona, where the three-digit days will go on for several months, and maybe more!

One of the reasons to love this season is that you can put away anything heavy or fussy and stick with simple basics. A good friend of mine hones her wardrobe down to four foundational pieces to ride out the heat, and it’s a brilliant system. She culls everything else out for spring and fall, keeping only white tee shirts, black tee shirts, denim shorts and all sorts of skirts out for the dog days of summer. I suggest you give it a try, because it’s truly an easy and fabulous way to ride out the heat!

White (and black) tee shirts

I’ve written about these dozens of times, but it bears repetition. Take the time to find a white tee shirt that works for you. Not just one you steal from your husband’s drawer, or from your son’s laundry. Lots of gals have written me asking how to judge ‘fit’ when it comes to a tee, which is basically a somewhat boxy garment.

The proportions are critical, precisely because it is boxy. Too big and you look like a Russian weightlifter...too tight and you look like you’re trying to get cast on a telenovella spinoff! The size (and whether it’s working for you or against you) will be most evident in three places: the neckline, the shoulders and the sleeves. Besides, if those three parts work, you can always take in (or let out) the side seams to make the torso perfect!

The standard gent’s tee shirt has a round neck with a bound edge. This is not a shape that flatters most women. It makes men’s necks look wider, and their jaws more square...neither of those are traits we are aiming for! By now, you probably know what shape neckline works best for you, and ideally, you’ll head out to the shops (or on to the internet) and find a tee with the vee, scoop or boat neck you desire. Today, mens tees are also available in vee and scoop necks, and they are often less expensive than those in the ladies department.

Once you’ve found the neckline you fancy, start trying on different sizes, because the shoulder fit you are looking for might be tricky to locate. If you’re in the men’s department, no matter what your regular size it, start small and work your way up. In the ladies department, the reverse is usually better  - start big and work your way down.

You will know you’ve found the perfect size for your body when the shoulder seams are sitting on the edge of your shoulder bones, right before your arm drops down. If your bones are not obvious, you can judge the fit visually -- the shoulder seam should be the last horizontal thing before the vertical plane of the arm.

Where you shop for your tees should be easy; pick the store whose other clothing you like and you will likely find a tee that’s right for you. Looking for reasonable price? Try The Gap, which makes a really nice tee for under $20. Looking for designer panache? Alexander Wang’s Torqued Tee is fabulous and under $200.

Denim shorts

If you’ve got the thighs for it (or the courage for it despite your thighs) denim cut offs are as American as apple pie and there isn’t a better summer outfit than a white tee, denim cutoffs and a smile!

Personally, I’m happier with a longer short, but they are still denim and still look great with either a black or white tee. I lean towards a traditional, east coast walking short -- which ends right at the knee, and looks as good with high heels as it does with flip flops. Where you want your denim shorts to end is up to you, but there are some easy ways to figure out what looks best on your body.

Take a look at the length of your favorite skirt; usually the one you love best is a length you feel fabulous in. Duplicate that in your denim shorts and you’ll be a happy camper! Do please factor in the length of your tee shirts, and whether you’ll be tucking, tying or untucking same!

You can either shop for shorts in the appropriate length, or appropriate jeans that are past their prime but still a great fit. Failing that, head to one of the thrift stores and buy a pair and scissor them to perfection.


The fourth quarter of my buddy’s four-piece approach to the summer is skirts, which are going to look brand new under your tee shirts. You can wear the tees long and belt them over the skirt, which looks very fresh now that belts are exciting again. Or you can partially tuck your tee and let the back gather, giving your waist more visual length. Take a new look at how terrific your silk ‘dress up’ skirts look with the contrast of a black tee and you’ll realize that the combination has an energy you’ve been missing.

I like to change up lengths in the summertime, because different hemlines give me a chance to wear different shoes; otherwise I start to feel like I’m in the same sandals day in and day I’m in a mini one day and a long flowing maxi the next. You may decide on something more regimented, or might have a personal style that dictates one or another. Whatever your skirts are like, they will see you through the summer both comfortably and fashionably. And that’s worthy of a summer smile for sure!

About the Author:
Karen R. Smith is an award-winning journalist and publicist. Her book, "Stylishly Sexy" is available online and she takes private style clients throughout Arizona and across the country. Visit her at