The Hunt: Sheath Dresses

Louben Sheath DressSure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

A good sheath dress is one of those must-have basics for a working wardrobe.  They can be worn in a multitude of ways — gussied up with a blazer, stylized with a cardigan and a skinny belt, or (depending on whether bare arms are appropriate in your office), worn by themselves with some fun accessories.  They’re great for travel, for transitioning from desk to dinner, and always seem to work well for those “I don’t quite know what to wear” situations.  A true office-appropriate sheath dress will be bra-friendly, and I generally think of them as having a zipper in the back that comes all the way to the base of your neck (i.e., none of your back is exposed).  Personally, I look for a neckline that is high enough for the office without being too high. (Random Kat story here: I once bought a great Previewwool sheath dress at an outlet mall — it was a well-known brand reduced from something close to $200 down to $9.99.  I wore it four or five times before I figured out what was wrong with it — the crew-cut neckline was too high, and I kind of looked like I was choking in it.  Since that day: I never recommend something with too high of a neckline.) I round up the best dresses in the most classic colors below, but if you’re looking for a colored sheath dress, check out the ones I found in teal blue, brown, green, beige, purple or orange, gray tweed, leopard, and navy linenReaders, have you gotten a great sheath dress recently? Have you found them as versatile as I have?

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Charter Club Sleeveless SheathMacy’s has a number of sheath dresses in their EDV line, including this simple ponte sheath from Charter Club. I like the scoop neckline, as well as the fact that it’s machine washable. Note that reviewers say it runs small, as well as long, so order a size up and possibly prepare to spend another $10 or so on hemming. It’s $49.98 at Macy’s. Charter Club Dress, Sleeveless Sheath>
AK Anne Klein Sleeveless Notched SheathI like the notched neckline for this AK Anne Klein dress (also part of Macy’s EDV line), as well as the fact that it has matching blazer. It’s available in navy, black, and a pale grey for $79 at Macy’s. AK Anne Klein Dress, Sleeveless Notched Neckline Sheath
Jones New York Dress Platinum V Neck Suit DressThis plain v-neck dress from Jones New York has everything (although the back dips a bit lower than I’d like, it still will hide bra straps).  I like the slight A-line to the skirt, as well.  It’s $99 at Jones New York. Jones New York Dress Platinum V Neck Suit Dress (Black)
Louben Sheath DressI’m not familiar with the brand Louben, but I’m intrigued that this dress is “designed to travel with ease,” allegedly coming out of the suitcase “looking lovely and ready to wear.”  Nice!  It’s $158 in black at Dillards (sizes 4-16). Louben Sheath Dress
Allura shift dress from J.CrewI like the Allura shift dress from J.Crew, available in both Super120s (in black, navy, heather flannel (pictured), and light heather gray) and superfine cotton (in navy, smoky graphite, and beechwood). I particularly like the shirred neckline.  The wool is $178, and the cotton is $158 at JCrew.com.

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Comments

  1. I have a sky blue Brooks Brothers outlet sheath dress (bought on deep sale!) which I adore. I have a large chest so I was skeptical that I could wear sheath dresses at all, but on the recommendation of commenters here I checked out that brand and it fits fabulously. That + suit jacket + great shoes = compliments galore.

  2. My favorite new-ish sheath is from Target. I wear it with a cardigan + skinny belt, or just with a wide belt, or with a blazer. Tights, boots, flats, whatever. It looks like the JCrew one but for $30 instead of $$$. It’s out of stock, which is sad. http://bit.ly/gKU77U

  3. in my world, the Theory Betty dress is the best sheath dress out there

    http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/theory-betty-tailor-dress/3074255

    • I have this dress in black and think it looks very sharp. But it is not lined and it runs short, which is weird because Theory skirts are usually super long. Despite those issues, I still bought it. With a matching jacket, it makes me feel like a million bucks. Speaking of, I tend to think of dress + jacket as being more formal than a skirt suit, but have seen a number of people on here say it is less formal. Am I just out of the loop on this one?

      • CDNLawyer :

        I recently purchased the same dress (together with the matching blazer and pants both of which I highly recommend). Unfortunately I didn’t realize until I wore it to work that the back slit goes really high! Luckily it was Friday and I was wearing a long cardigan. I’ve since had the back slit particially closed. I’m quite thin with a long torso which might explain why it was so high on me.

      • I have also always considered a jacket + dress to be more formal, as well as (for me) more convenient. Mainly because I hate tucking in shirts, but feel that an untucked shirt (which can still be office-appropriate) is just less formal. Plus, there’s the added bonus of less items to coordinate!

    • Oh!!! I have this dress in FOUR colors: black, grey, taupe and navy! All purchased at the Theory outlet near my city. I absolutely LIVE in this dress during the warmer months! It has become a game how many ways I can wear each one…scarves, jewelry, cardigans, belts, etc. make each dress look so different…and to this day I doubt anyone has noticed that my dresses are actually all the SAME. Lol!

  4. in the office :

    I have a few MICHAEL Michael Kors sheath dresses – they’re fantastic, and you can always find them on sale somewhere.

  5. tory burch and tocca do the best sheath dresses ever. i also have very good luck with banana republic and michael michael kors sheaths (but not any of their other items)

  6. What does everyone think about linen dresses? I found a lovely grey linen dress this weekend, but reluctant to buy it because of how easily it creases. I always think linen = casual for that reason, but can it be worn to the office?

    • I have a burnt orange banana republic 100% linen structured sheath with a notched neckline that i bought on a whim because i loved the color, i never expected to wear it as much as i do!
      Of course i wear it casually with sandals in the summer or with tights and flats in the spring, but i wear it endlessly to the office – the creasing doesn’t bother me and it looks good with a tutleneck/collared shirt underneath or a blazer/cardigan over. it’s almost irrelevant to my wardrobe that it’s linen, except i have to physically stop myself from pulling it for wear in the coldest months. to each her own, but so long as it doesn’t scream summer casual, i don’t see why the fabrication should matter

    • It’s hard to explain why, but linen is one of those fabrics that — to me, anyway — doesn’t look sloppy even when it’s slightly creased/wrinkled.
      I think you just expect it too be a little rumpled and the effect works more often than not (assuming the dress/whatever is otherwise office appropriate). The key is also to wear it only when seasonally appropriate (i.e., on hot sunny days). This way, if everyone look like a sweaty mess in their more serious fabric, you look quite sensible and chic in comparison.

    • AIMS is right – the wrinkling doesn’t look as bad as another fabric would look, with the same amount of wrinkles.

    • I think it depends on how linen items are structured. IMHO, linen wrinkling only looks “bad” on someone when it looks like the designer tried to make a super-structured piece out of linen. Think of the most severe business suit out there, and then crumple it – not so good. On the other hand, when linen is worn in more relaxed profiles – think wider leg pants, less structured jacket, dress with a little give and flow – I think it looks fabulous, and the wrinkles that develop over the course of a day don’t detract at all.

    • If you’re in the South, you can definitely wear linen to the office in the spring and summer months.

  7. Today I’m wearing a plain black sheath dress from Target. I think it was like $30, and looks perfectly fine. Sure, it’s not super nice, but it works well for days that don’t require super nice clothes, and it’s machine-washable. I also used to own one from H&M that I got a number of compliments on (I wore it to my business-casual work one day and was asked why I was dressed so much nicer than everyone), but sadly I er… outgrew… that one in the hip area.

    I also have good luck finding Calvin Klein sheath dresses on sale either at Macy’s or Marshalls/TJ Maxx. Lately they seem to have one thing strange with them that makes them a little off for work (usually a low neckline or an exposed zipper, which I hate but many people like, I suppose), but still worth looking.

    • I have a lined black sheath dress from Target that actually looks like one of the most expensive things I own. :) I bought three of them when they went on sale from $39.99 to $12 and I wear them all the time. If Target ever carries them again, they are definitely worth picking up. They are a lined black polyester with a zipper back.

    • I have 3 sheath dresses from H&M and they look so much more high quality than the typical H&M stock – they were only ~$35. I have one each in navy, black and gray. LOVE them.

      • Oh and they’re all lined.

      • Ru – how do you style a sheath dress, may I ask?

        • Hey MM! I wear a long sleeved t-shirt or blouse underneath and wide-legged dress pants. I really like that sheaths nip in at the waist so that I don’t look like one huge column of fabric (although I do wear jilbabs/abaya to work occasionally). I try to coordinate the shirt or blouse with my hijab. I rarely wear belts but when I do, it’s usually to tie my hijab in with my outfit (ie turquoise belt to go with a royal blue hijab with turquoise flowers).

          • Also, sheaths are my go-to for when I wear a pantsuit. I make sure that the dress and pantsuit complement/contrast in color.

      • I have the same H&M dress in black and brown-grey. They were $35, no belts, notched-neckline on the black one. I get a compliment every time I wear one. They can get a little tight in the hip (but at least I know when to cut back on the candy).

    • Resounding “Second!” of your sentiment on the exposed zipper trend. Talk about instantly devaluing how polished or expensive a piece looks, not to mention how it will totally date said piece once the fad fades away.

      Back on topic: I love H&M sheaths and pencil skirts! all $35 and $25, respectively, are lined, and have a bit of stretch so sitting is still comfortable. As I’m in west coast tech, we’re really only expected to wear a suit jacket during formal customer presentations; so no concerns with investing in multiple high-end suits here :D

  8. I had a situation similar to Kat’s – a quality brand sheath picked up on a ridiculous discount but with too-high of a neckline. I had my tailor put in a notch long enough that it now works as either a notch neckline, or as a (high) v-neck when I fold the flaps under.

  9. threadjack, not for the weak-stomached. sorry for the visuals :(

    I have the really bad habit of gnawing on my cuticles and peeling them when stressed. this week has been hands-down insane and now my cuticles are raw and swollen in places.

    I am looking for advice on how to treat them (they are painful) in the short term, and also how to quit this habit in the long run. I seemed to do it a lot less when my nails were manicured but I don’t have the time or money to do that regularly right now (and i don’t have the patience to do a good job on them myself).

    Thanks in advance!

    • Oh my God, I do that, too! I’ve never met a fellow cuticle-killer. I’ve never been able to bring myself to get a manicure, either b/c of the embarrassment!

      • Well, as a start, maybe, Sephora has a cuticle oil pen. Maybe if you use it on your cuticles they’ll start healing, and improve in appearance enough for you to stop peeling/chewing them enough to feel comfortable getting a manicure?

        • Smith’s Rosebud salve (in the little blue tin jar, sold at sephora among other places) is great for this. It’s normally used as a lip balm, but I use it on my hands, too.

          If it’s really bad, try some neosporin.

        • The Sephora cuticle oil pen is a lifesaver. I also have bad cuticle habits and keeping that cuticle oil pen in my purse does a good job of reminding me to stop nibbling. It is the only way I’ve ever been able to keep my nails looking half-decent (manicures are a complete loss on me).

        • Yes – stick some salve on there to soothe them. If you pick a salve that doesn’t taste great, then you won’t chew on them as much. I have a salve/ointment made with Calendula flowers that I picked up at a health food store one time that I’d use. Neosporin would also work.

          You don’t want them to get infected, and there’s lots of bacteria in your mouth.

      • I too am a cuticle killer — law school was terrible, studying for the bar was bad. Job searching is killing them again!

    • Jas (other Jas) :

      I do that when I’m stressed, mostly because my cuticle starts looking a little ragged on its own and I can’t stop poking at it. I find if I keep nail trimmers on me and trim it right away, I stop poking.

      Topical application of witch-hazel is good for soothing minor injuries and reducing skin inflamation. I’m partly saying that because of my granola-crunching upbringing, but I also have seen a few studies confirming its effects on blood vessels.

    • Sometimes if I paint my nails a nice color, it visually dissuades me from picking at my cuticles. The worst offender-cause of this is impatience while in DC traffic.

    • Ugh. This is my one truly nasty and disgusting habit. I do it when I’m stressed, but also when I’m bored. I came back from a recent conference trip with completely shredded cuticles and it took forever for them to heal.

      For the damage that’s already done – soak your hands in peroxide for five minutes when you get home. As I’m sure you’ve experienced before, cuticles get infected easily from mouth bacteria and then there’s really a bad scene. If you have or can get some of those cotton gloves people wear to moisturize their hands, after you use the peroxide and bandage any really bad spots, slather your hands with a really thick cream and sleep with the gloves on. That will help moisturize the dry parts so they A. don’t hurt as much and B. you aren’t as tempted to gnaw.

      For the future – it helps to carry nail clippers with you, so if you get a hangnail or one of those little cuticle “tags” that will tempt you to start biting/peeling, you can just clip it off. My worst shredding comes when my cuticles are ungroomed and dry in the winter and I start getting those little pulled bits – it doesn’t take much for me to start peeling them the rest of the way, until my fingers are a mess. Keeping your fingers manicured, whether you do it yourself or get it done, helps for the same reason.

      I have never tried that “anti-nail-biting” gross-tasting polish, but some of my friends use it, and apparently it helps.

      Hope some of this advice is helpful – I do all these things myself and yet I still peel/gnaw/bite sometimes. Like jaw-clenching/teeth-grinding (which I also do), it takes a lot to break the habit once it’s ingrained.

    • I do this exact same thing. You should see my cuticles right now. I count seven out of ten fingers that are chapped, and, disgustingly enough, bleeding.
      I used to treat this problem by slathering my hands with cetaphil and neosporin on the cuticles especially, and sleeping in a pair of cotton gloves and then going and getting a manicure religiously. Not the fancy manicure, just the $8 polish, because then I truly leave my fingers alone. Because they look pretty :)

      If I can ever remember to go pick up a pair of cotton gloves… maybe I can follow my own advice!

    • backtowork :

      I swear by Burt’s Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream — the next best thing to a manicure. I keep it in my purse, my office, and at home and use it constantly.

      • Apparently, there are a lot of us here. I stopped biting my nails (mostly) only to turn to cuticles. I also chewed my pens to death, but have stopped that. I find myself doing this while waiting around. Guess I need to find something to occupy my hands. Too bad I can’t play Angry Birds in public (I add my own sound effects. ).

    • If they’re raw and swollen, I’d put some neosporin on to avoid an infection. I used to be a nail biter but stopped by using the nasty-tasting nail polish. Something like this: http://www.amazon.com/Orly-0-6oz-Biting-Thumb-Sucking/dp/B000PI16WI/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1300131602&sr=8-4

    • You are definitely not alone in this, obviously! :)

      What has worked for me is actually NOT getting manicures. I find that whenever I get the full-on manicure with cuticle trim, my cuticles get really dry and look shredded just days later. When I have time/money to spend on my hands, I ask for a polish change plus hand massage — they will usually use moisturizer or oil for the massage, which keeps the cuticles healthier. Sometimes I really have to be emphatic that no, I do not want a cuticle trim, thankyouverymuch, but it’s worth it.

      Usually I try to use a nail strengthener 3x/week — OPI has a good one, it goes on clear and dries quick. I moisturize my hands and put the strengthener on before bed. It actually makes my nails look so nice I’ve even gotten “nice manicure” compliments the day after I use it. Weird.

      • thank you all! so glad to know I am not alone. The worst part of this problem is that the more you bite/peel/pick, the more your skin gets rough and yucky and the more you WANT to do it. I will head over to CVS in a little while and see about getting some of the products mentioned. And, I do have a formal even coming up soon so I will get a manicure for that.

      • I have a terrible habit . . . I’m so embarrassed even to admit it. When my mascara gets a little clump on it (I don’t wear clumpy mascara; just the tiniest thing will be irresistible), I can’t stop myself from picking it off. It’s like the old puff paint shirts in the 80s that I also couldn’t resist. The problem is that often my eyelashes come off with the mascara clump! I probably lose 2 – 3 eyelashes per day. And I can’t stop!!!! Any help?

        • Do you need to wear mascara? If you’re wearing it for color, you can brush your lashes with a dark eyeshadow instead of wearing mascara.

        • I knew a girl who used to just pull her eyelashes out–to the point where she doesn’t have any. If it gets really bad, talk to a psychiatrist b/c it’s a form of OCD. (Doesn’t sound that bad yet for you!)

    • I don’t chew my cuticles but have a hard time with cracks in the skin around my nails due to dryness, and when cracked they hurt like crazy. I use NewSkin liquid bandage. It dries clear and keeps me from wearing bandages that look ugly and get dirty etc., while still protecting the skin from infection.

      I also just started using CND’s Solar Oil for my nails and cuticles at the recommendation of a manicurist. It is a quick-absorbing, nice-smelling conditioner and I’m hoping that it will work miracles on my cuticles. It’s pretty cheap, too, $8 at salon, probably cheaper elsewhere. Also, it is gluten-free for anyone else who needs GF things.

      • I swear by Lansinoh for my lips, cuticles and heals. Yes, the stuff used for raw chapped nips while breastfeeding. Buy it in the baby aisle by the butt paste. It seriously works wonders.

    • I pick my cuticles and the skin around my fingers, and the only solution for me was to have acrylic nails put on. I know these nails generally scream “trashy,” but I keep mine very short and only a very light pink. Women frequently ask where I have my manicures done and mistake them for real. It is a complete pain to go to the nail salon every 2 weeks for an hour and to pay the money, but it was the only way for me to avoid the disgusting habit. If I could find another way, I would, but nothing else worked. Good luck!

      • Bridget, you’re not alone — my nervous habit of biting my nails drove me to acrylics. I keep them just short of the end of my finger and go every week (!) but decided it was worth the $3/day to have pretty nails. Yes, I know that adds up… but not being embarrassed to live draft with the client next to you in the conference room with all eyes on your laptop? Worth it.

    • Watch “Black Swan.” That should cure you immediately.:)
      Actually, as usual, the crowd has great suggestions.

    • I’ve tried Sephora’s cuticle oil pen, but in my experience it just makes my fingers oily, and thus my keyboard, mouse and whatever document I’m reading gets oil prints on them haha. Now during the day I carry nail clippers and good hand lotion (curel, vasoline’s hand lotion or even neutrogena’s hand cream) and trim hang nails/apply lotion every time I have the urge to pick at them. I even have a bottle of liquid bandage (New Skin brand) at my work desk for when they are really raw and painful.
      At night I slather them with vasoline gel/salve, or even neosporin before I sleep to soften up my cuticles and the tougher scar tissue from excessive biting.
      Hope you’re able to turn this around soon :)

  10. I actually just bought that Charter Club sheath for a Breakfast at Tiffany’s themed bridal shower a couple of weeks ago (to be worn with giant fabulous costume jewelry and big sunglasses), and then wore it to work a week later with a patterned cardi and a skinny belt, and then switched out the cardi that afternoon for a blazer to head off to a 2nd interview.

    Officially the most versatile item in my closet. I’m in love.

    It is a tiny smidgen lower cut than is ideal though. Just a tiny hint of cleavage. No actual boobage showing, but the clear suggestion that my boobs are in fact *right there.*

  11. I bought and returned the JCrew dress – it was too low cut ending just above the top of my chest. It really needed another inch or two on the top to keep it decent. I’m 5’4″, 32B, size 2. Maybe the larger sizes are more generously cut…

  12. backtowork :

    I’m tall and have narrow shoulders and wide hips, and have never been able to find a sheath dress that doesn’t make me look like I’m the shape of a football. Any suggestions?

    • Sounds like FLOTUS, Michelle Obama to me ;-) And it doesn’t stop her! Sheath dresses are her go-to. Maybe it’s a fit issue? I’m sure she gets everything tailored to fit like a glove.

  13. I bought this dress recently from Nordstrom and love it: http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/ingenuity-tricotine-sheath-dress/2884286

    • SF Bay Associate :

      Would you mind sharing your general body shape, Bonnie?

      • I’m really bad with describing body shapes. I’m a fairly curvy 10. I’ve had problems with sheath dresses being too tight on top and too baggy in the waist. This one follows all the curves without clinging.

  14. recently preggers :

    PSA: Ann Taylor has free shipping on everything today and buy one get one 50% off on full price items. I just ordered a black sheeth dress and decided to go for the whole suit (jacket, skirt, pants) too since Ive been in need of a new plain black suit.

  15. I remember us discussing maybe a few months ago a good book that would serve as a primer on the financial services industry. Does anyone remember what the recommendations were (or even what page the discussion was on)?

    And, while we’re on that note, is there a way to search the comments? I hate to ask the same question that’s already been discussed at length.

  16. Someone else mentioned larger bust – any recommendations for sheaths that fit well? 5’8″, size 10, but 36D+ (ugh). Would love to have one or two of these, but crew neck sheaths, shirts, shells, etc etc tend to make me have the uni-breast look, which is so (not) hot. Any suggestions would be appreciated…

    • Corporate Tool :

      I’m 5’8, size 8/10 and 30F (welcome to my absurd life), and I have a great one from BR (with tailoring), one from H&M (again, tailoring) and from Brooks Brothers (with, *sigh* tailoring). I tend to get the size that fits my bust, and get it taken in elsewhere. Not cheap, but it looks much better.

      • 5″4, size 8-10, 30F. I do the same. But my UK 30F is probably like a US 34C/D since I fit perfectly into size 8-10 clothes (no need to alter anywhere).

        Go-to sheaths: one from Ellen Tracy I picked up 3 yrs ago, LK Bennett grey pinstripe & DKNY black one. Cannot provide links as they’re all old models!

    • I’m also size 10, 36D. My go-to sheath is a tricotine (slightly stretchy) with a shallow V-neck. I got it at Macy’s — Jones New York brand. I think the v-neck is key to avoiding uniboob (on any dress/shirt, frankly). My sheath is probably just 1/2″ too low for my preferences, as I get slight cleavage when I’m sitting. But for me personally, I prefer that to uniboob. I usually wear a shorter, chunky necklace, which I think draws the attention up to avoid these problems.

    • Off topic, but Anon IB and Bridget, have you been fitted by a professional bra fitter recently? The reason I ask is that none of the women that I fit into the shirts I’ve created who wear a size 10 have a 36 band. There’s a good chance that you actually need a smaller band (32 or 34) with a larger cup (E or F). That doesn’t necessarily solve the dilemma of dresses that fit your top AND bottom, but if I’m right, you’ll look a lot slimmer in the right bra because you’ll be properly lifted.

      Corporate Tool, I would LOVE to know more about your tailor and the specific alterations he/she makes. That’s just the kind of information I try to provide to my blog readers.

      • Hmm, Im a size 10/ 36 C-D. I know for a fact I wouldnt fit into a 32 or 34. No way I would be able to hook the band! Of course, so much depends on the fit/brand for the size 10.

        • You’re right–there are different size 10’s, and different 36’s. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to try several different bra brands in a 34 just to be sure . . . but only with a professional fitter if you haven’t had one in a while. You have probably already done this.

  17. Got an absolutely lovely black sheath dress from Ann Taylor last August. It’s a boatneck so I have to get it to a taken in for just a little bit on the top but other than that, it fits me like a glove, gives off that impressive and totally polished look, and I can wear it with ANYTHING! My only beef (and it’s not that bad) is that because of the boatneck I end up wearing a strapless bra. Perhaps after it’s been adjusted it will be easier with a regular bra though. I can’t wait to rock it with a bun or high ponytail and one of those colorful Coach ponytail scarves for spring :)

    • anonymous :

      I wonder if lingerie straps or whatever they’re called would help – it’s a snap attached to a thin ribbon or thread at the shoulder that holds your bra strap in place.

  18. I actually bought this dress last week. I bought it in pink and wore it today with a black sweater, receiving many compliments. I love the orange also, but I have a few other items in that color and wanted to branch out.

    http://www.thelimited.com/detail/ruffle-neck-sheath-dress/3276595

    I’m curious if other readers buy work clothes from the limited. I don’t generally shop at the store for core pieces of my wardrobe but find that they have nice accent pieces that are decent quality, typically dresses or shells.

    • That is a really beautiful dress. How is the length? Well above the kneecap? I haven’t bought antything at the limited in years, but I would consider doing so.

    • Tired Squared :

      Most of my suits are currently from the Limited, and I love them. A couple are polyester/blends, but they do a tropical wool now that is really nice. I imagine that their stuff wouldn’t fly for older well-established career women, but for a law student like me, their stuff is great!

    • I buy from the Limited, but I’m also a student (yay last year!). If you shop carefully, you can find great staple pieces for a good price. I grab their Luxe line – which is wool – when it is on sale. I do have a few cotton/poly suits from them, which are pretty basic. The oldest one is going on 3 years now and is just starting to look a little worse for wear. I plan to upgrade to J-Crew/BB/Theory as they wear out.

      I haven’t found a dress for work from them, but they are my go-to for wedding reception dresses.

  19. Dammit Janet :

    I bought (what I think is the same) Loubin sheath last year at Nordstrom, and the wing-collar jacket. Love them both, were stables in my convention capsule wardrobes, and I swap out blazers, cardigans, scarves, and belts. I’m pear-shaped so I bought the size to fit my hips and had to get the top of the dress taken in, but it was totally worth it.

  20. Sydney Bristow :

    I got one with a notched neckline from Old Navy a few years ago. It is lined and miraculously fit perfectly when it was delivered. I’m plus size with extra large breasts, and I think the notched neckline pulls the focus up (as someone was discussing in an earlier thread).

  21. Another question: I have recently seen a few women in my office wearing shirts under their sheath dresses, more like a jumper (http://www.serengeticatalog.com/itemdy00.asp?T1=W9283%20BK%20S&srccode=NXCSC1). I have a hard time layering that way (find that the shirt bunches under the dress and looks lumpy), and I also find that I either look like I am 12 years old or much older. But I would like to hear other people’s thoughts. Thanks!

    • Not a fan of this look, I feel like it look like an elementary school uniform. I also have issues with things bunching beneath the dress! If you’re worried about sleeveless, why not use a cardigan or blazer? Just my opinion, but I think cardi/jacket OVER is much more classy/polished than shirts going under the dress.

    • There are a couple younger associates in my office who do this, and, frankly, I think it does make them look longer and adds to the perception that they aren’t to be taken seirously (along with myriad other things they do).

      And, related to this, when you are a few years older than someone, but definitely not their superior and they don’t work “for” you in any way, and you see them making mistakes and hear on the grapevine from older partners, etc. that these mistakes are hurting their perception at the firm, do you or should you say something to those people? And how do you go about doing it?

      • If it’s a fashion mistake, point them to this blog. :)

      • Anonymous :

        Yes. Tell her as a woman trying to help another woman succeed. Explain that understanding the culture is important, and while what they are doing may not be “wrong” outside the office, and the opinions of others may seem arbitrary or old fashioned, the perception it creates is going to affect her career. Explain that you wanted to take the time to give her a peek at some of the unwritten rules because she has the potential to succeed based on skills, intelligence, education, etc. Then, never hold it against her unless she simply ignores your advice, and never take credit for her improvements. you’ll have someone loyal to you when you are her superior or need to delegate something.

    • Alias Terry :

      If the sheath, jumper, or whatever you call it is cut like a tailored shirt dress or coat dress, it makes all the difference in the world. Ditto with choosing a more monochromatic color scheme. I have a picture in my style files of a model in a rust sheath, blouse hose and shoes that are in the same color family (but different tones/not an exact match) and it looks like million bucks.

      Avoiding school looking color schemes or heaven forbid, the sheath in navy and green plaid and the shirt in white, is a good idea, too.

      As to the bunchy problem, no answer to that on. I refuse to wear body suits of any kind.

    • Someone at salon.com had a brillant analysis of this look: it’s either “Let me introduce you to my sister wives!” or “I play bass in an all-girl indie band” depending on the length of the jumper. (With some overlap between sister wives and stereotypical middle-aged elementary school teacher, IMO).

      That said, I have a wool sheath dress that is much better with a blouse underneath. I’m careful to wear a great belt and shoes so that it’s a fitted shape and not dowdy looking.

    • Maybe I AM one of the young associates making the faux pas, but I really like this look. I have a black A-line sheath dress that I like to wear with navy or grey silk blouses underneath.

      • I think as long as the shirt isn’t white and is kept from bunching the look works fine. For instance a short sleeve blouse that’s not cotton-matte would look polished, given that the rest of the outfit’s styling is age appropriate.

      • soulfusion :

        Alas, I’m not a young associate anymore but I love the look of a button-up or a silk blouse or even a turtleneck under a sheath dress. In fact, I’m wearing a sheath dress with jacket and button-up today. I agree you have to pay attention to color and accessories to avoid the school girl/elementary school teacher look.
        As for avoiding bunching of the shirt under the sheath . . . today I tucked my shirt into my tights to keep everything looking smooth.

  22. With the exception of the J Crew dress (which is too short), these are all synthetic. Synthetics have come a long way since the 1970s, but they still can’t compare to wool. I wish more stores carried basic women’s clothing in quality fabrics. I just can’t do synthetic.

  23. Anono, I had a conversation about this very topic at lunch today with a woman who is superior to me but not my boss (let’s call her Carol). We both work for a large corporation, so the context may not be completely applicable. I asked Carol how she handles younger people who make mistakes (bad clothing choices, inappropriate comments, etc). Carol said that when she sees that type of behavior, she asks if the young person has a mentor and if not, she says she would be happy to introduce the young person to a good mentor. If the young person shows genuine interest in a mentor and makes an effort, Carol will have a private conversation with the mentor and gently refer to the behaviors and usually the mentor can coach the younger person effectively and without embarassment. Carol said that when she has addressed the behavior in the past, the young person tends to overreact. In a mentorship setting, the young person has a better frame-of-mind to take helpful hints. Also, if the young person does not make an effort to seek out a mentor relationship, Carol does not feel the young person is worth any additional effort on her part.

    • This is brilliant. Such a graceful way to handle a sticky situation.

      • Being a young person myself, I hate when I do something wrong and someone shares it with someone else who wasn’t there or involved. They may think they are helping, but I feel like it quickly undermines the mistake-ee. It seems like because I am so young, people are really quick to point out my mistakes or habits.

        • Amen! Especially if the ‘mistake’ we are referring to is wearing a blouse under a sheath. Love love love this blog for comparing sartorial and professional notes– a chic worldwide peer group. But sometimes our note-comparing makes our collective take-aways much more conservative, concrete, and judgemental (self-judgement included) than neccesary, helpful, healthy or even stylish. Wear a blouse if you want. Wear a turtleneck under a shell. Please don’t jusge yourself for failing a nonexistent style panel, and really, really don’t judge others. Yikes. A mini kilt and a halter top? Judge away. The ‘wrong’ proportion of belt or 3/4 sleeves or navy with black? Get over it for your own sanity– you’re gorgeous as-is!– and please try to avoid passing on such neuroses.

          • You are right. I should have clarified the context of the original conversation. Carol and I were discussing people whose mistakes are larger than average and repeated. I would say that mini-skirts are considered larger than average mistake in my office. In particular, we discussed someone who wore leather pants to the office multiple times. A shirt under a sheath/jumper would not qualify in my book and neither would not wearing pantyhose/tights. Style differences are natural and generally acceptable.

  24. Susan, I’m short (5’2”), and it hits me right at the knee. The material also has a slight sheen to it.

  25. I’m bummed.

    I recently moved to a new firm. And today, my boss said to me “You don’t have to wear a dress tomorrow”. I know we were at a construction client, but I really wasn’t that dressed up.

    I was wearing a new olive green sheath dress from Target with a grape colored cardigan. (SN: LOVE TARGET SHEATHS)

    I also had another boss point out my heels. Makes me feel too dressy, but they wear button up, collared, nice men’s shirts and pants. I don’t want to be too casual or fall into the secretary-zone.

    Plus I love clothes… that’s what really bums me out. lol

    • I think he was telling you not to wear a dress to a construction site and to wear pants.

      • Agree with the other posters, its fine to be stylish, but if you were wearing open toed shoes/heels/a dress to a construction site I can understand why your boss would ask you to change. Similarly, my peers will sometimes do plant walk-throughs and though they are senior consultant type folks, no woman would wear open toed shoes/heels/bare legs as they can simply be dangerous!

    • Sorry, were you wearing a dress to a construction site? Unfortunatley, although this blog is mostly about dressing up appropriately, sometimes you have to dress down for the job. I would save the dresses for in-office days only. And if you are in an occupation where ad hoc trips to a construction site or similar pop up, I would recommend keeping pants and more sensible shoes on hand.

  26. I absolutely love sheath dresses, especially Calvin Klein. I have one I bought at the Nordstrom’s yearly sale (I forget which one), and I have a standing ebay search for more. Pricey, but worth it.

  27. very timely post for me. thanks Kat

  28. Can anyone recommend a work-friendly sheath for someone who is not really pear shaped but, well, has a gigantic (ok, disproportionate) butt?

  29. A sheath dress is where I’m going to hit up Nordstroms Rack, Loehmanns or even TJMaxx. The shapes of basic conservative sheaths don’t change much season to season and the high end discounters are usually pretty well stocked with great options. Neckline changes usually aren’t that terribly trendy. Top a sheath with a jacket or cardigan and accessories that are more current and you’re ready to go.

  30. Carrying over from last week’s thread about plus-sized workwear, I recently bought this dress from Macy’s and *love* it. http://www1.macys.com/catalog/product/index.ognc?ID=535593&CategoryID=37038&LinkType=#fn=BRAND%3DCalvin Klein%26sp%3D1%26spc%3D11

    It either runs big or Weight Watchers is working better than I thought, but I get more compliments while wearing this dress than almost anything else I own.

  31. NYClawyer :

    The JNY dress seems to be on sale (at least in some colors and sizes) on macys.com today.

  32. Being a relatively young corporette, I’m just beginning to develop my own business style, and I’ve discovered a deep and abiding love for sheath dresses. So comfortable, so easy, so classic. But I have two questions:

    1) Can I wear a suit jacket over a sheath dress, even if they’re not the same brand? What about if they’re not the same fabric? Or the same color? Which leads into my next question …

    2) I’m still in law school but almost out. Right now I’m working in a gov’t office and have been rotating through my blue, black, grey and taupe suits but I’m sick to death of these neutral colors and I’d love to introduce some bright colors into my wardrobe for spring and summer. I am looking at these two sheaths:

    http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/adrianna-papell-pleat-neck-linen-blend-sheath-dress/3161538?origin=PredictiveSearch&resultback=1273 (note that it comes in the purple, not the blue)
    and
    http://shop.nordstrom.com/s/calvin-klein-diagonal-tier-sheath-dress/3150936?origin=keywordsearch&resultback=326

    Are these colors too bright for a conservative office? I’d wear something over (hence the suit jacket question) and conservative shoes, and probably a strand of pearls.

    Thanks in advance!

    • You can definitely break out of your color rut so long as you keep the rest of the outfit tame. I like the purple dress but don’t love the orange one. I think the pleats would look strange with a jacket. If you’re wearing non-matching dresses and jackets, I think the trick is to do so purposefully. In other words, don’t try to match a gray dress with a not-quite matching gray jacket.