Given the choice, most men wouldn't reach for neckties and suit jackets in record-setting heat, but there's little leeway when the dress code calls for professional attire.
The buttoned-down look may seem harsh in 90-degree temperatures, but it's the customary way to do business for men in many lines of work, said Bruce Baird, owner of Bruce Baird & Co., a men's clothing store on Broad Street.
"You have a different attitude when you're dressed in a suit," he said. "Owners of businesses will tell you that the more professional you dress, the harder you work. And people seem to have more respect for you. I have stockbrokers who require their employees to wear professional clothing five days a week, as do law offices and accountants."
No matter the outside temperature, lawyers are expected to dress professionally in the courtroom, said retired Chattanooga Judge Douglas Meyer, 78, now living in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla.
"Lawyers must wear suits in court to present the proper decorum," Meyer said. "I tried to look cool in my summer suits, although I was often soaking wet with sweat."
There are secrets to staying cool in the summer - even in a wool suit, Baird said.
Men's clothing store owner Bruce Baird offers these tips for staying cool.
• Wear a long-sleeved shirt. Sound counterintuitive? Baird says a long-sleeved, 100 percent cotton dress shirt is cooler than a short-sleeved one "because most coats have lining. The cotton shirt prevents the lining from touching the skin, which would feel clammy. So when you take off your jacket, you just roll up your sleeves, and that's totally acceptable."
• Choose your fabrics wisely. Your best choices are two that don't seem to belong together: wool and seersucker. However, Baird said, a lightweight wool and all-cotton seersucker both wick away moisture and thus are ideal for hot weather.
• Reward your feet. If you wear a light-colored suit or pants, such as seersucker or khaki-colored slacks, you don't have to wear socks, Baird said. "Just use a good talcum powder on your feet, and they will stay cool."
"Right now I'm wearing a navy wool suit, and I'm very comfortable. People don't realize that wool is an ideal fabric for hot weather. It has a wicking factor that keeps you cool. It's a very lightweight wool. In fact, the majority of clothing in my store right now is made of lightweight wool."
The other ideal fabric is seersucker, he said.
"A seersucker suit is 100 percent cotton, and it is as cool as you can get. Chattanooga is humid, and you want fabrics that wick away the humidity. A seersucker suit is known as the Southern gentleman's suit. It's very popular, especially in the South. It's one of the best fabrics you can wear in the hot summer."
Baird, 57, said he's been wearing suits to work for the last 40 years, since he began his career as a salesman at a local department store.
"I never thought about going to work without wearing a coat and tie, no matter what time of year it was," Baird said, noting that attitudes toward clothing have relaxed in the last 20 years.
"It first started out as casual Friday, and then [casual dress] became accepted five days a week," he said. "But in Chattanooga, we stayed pretty much a fairly dressed-up town. The rule of thumb has been that you should be dressed as well or better than your clients, customers or bosses."
Jay Robinson, broker/owner of Robinson Real Estate, said he wears 100 percent cotton khakis as much as possible in the summer, often with a suit and tie, but he tries to "mirror image" what he anticipates his clients will be wearing.
"If I'm meeting with an older couple, I'll will wear a suit and tie, because I expect that's what the man will wear," he said. "But if I'm showing close friends a house, I'll be wearing shorts because I know they will be, too."
Robinson said that at a recent lunch meeting, none of the 40 men in attendance wore a tie.
"Many businesses are more forgiving and understanding, even businesses with a high level of dress code, if you dress casual in weather like this," he said. "You have to or you would be miserable. Overall, there's a more casual attitude, particularly during the hot weather months. I'm flexible in my own company."