In tropical climes there are certain times of day When all the citizens retire to tear their clothes off and perspire It's one of those rules that the greatest fools obey Because the sun is much too sultry and one must avoid it's ultraviolet rays. At twelve noon the natives swoon and no further work is done. But mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun. "Mad Dogs and Englishman," by Noel Coward

Noel Coward had the right idea.For most people barer is better in hot weather. So are clothes that are looser, simpler, sleeker.

Washington's 100-plus temperatures have broken records and dress codes. Women have bared down to strapless and halter styles, shorts, bare legs; men have gone tieless, even topless on the way to work. Some distinguished men we know strip down to their shorts after work for their drive to the suburbs.

"When it gets hot enough," says designer Halston, "you simply do what works best for you. Rules don't count."

Barbara Hoganson, assistant coordinator at the Overseas Briefing Center of the Foreign Service Institute, calls largely on her own experience and comfort range to advise Foreign Service officers and families on what to wear in the "tropics" (like Washington). Among her suggestions:

Cotton underwear

All cotton or mostly cotton clothes

Dresses that hang loose from the shoulder, rather than fitting snugly to the body.

A straw hat or cotton-brimmed hat to keep the direct sun off the head, face and neck.

Barbara Feder, fashion director of I. Magnin, White Flint, who is often out of her air-conditioned office on business-related matters, says she is always more comfortable in light-colored clothes, sunglasses (which diminish the burning brightness of the sun) and low-heel shoes. "I find that irritation and heat from the sidewalk is relieved with low heels."

Halston says that wearing more -- rather than less -- clothes is sometimes helpful. A cotton jersey undershirt to absorb body moisture is "essential," he maintains, in hot weather. And usually he is in long sleeves. ""But if I were hot enough," he says, "I suppose I would cut the sleeves right out. It is hard to look orderly when you are really hot."

Feder insists on keeping hair short for the summer, and keeping makeup to a minimum. She goes without a base and uses "just a little blush and a little erase-plus skin toner to remove the extra face oil." And by midsummer when she finally gives in to going without pantyhose she manicures her feet frequently. "With a smooth tanned leg, and manicured feet (not just the toes), you can be excused on a very hot day."

Keeping jewelry to a minimum, just button earrings, for example, also helps. Even the tiny gold chain around your neck can heat up and add to a hot day's discomfort. A cluster of heavy jewelry at the neckline or on the wrist can weight you down in the sun. Some people opt for a cotton scarf at the neckline, as both an accessory and to absorb moisture.

The Foreign Service's Hoganson tells those traveling to hot climates to not only take in lots of liquids and replace salt lost through perspiration, but to replace potassium with oranges or orange juice. "Better still," she says, "pace yourself and avoid going out in the hottest part of the day."

We can all learn, says Halston, from how people traditionally dress in very hot climates. "Loose-fitting clothes that let the air circulate around the body work in the desert, why not here?"

As he talked, however -- on a near-100 day -- he happened to be wearing a black silk and cashmere turtleneck.

And designer Perry Ellis' concession to the heat? He takes off his socks.