The Hunt: Simple Sheath Dresses

sheath-dresses-2 Sure, 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.

I’m the kind of person who wears sheath dresses year round — with tights and sweaters in colder seasons, and usually with bare legs and pumps in warmer seasons.  To me, the perfect sheath dress: a) is sleeveless (so I can throw a blazer or cardigan on top without feeling like the sleeves are bunch), b) requires zero consideration of which bra I’m wearing with it because it has wide enough straps and a high (if not entirely covered) back, c) is a bit fitted, but not skin-tight like a “body con” dress (body conscious) or boxyish like a shift, and d) has a high enough neckline that I can wear it by itself.  No beading/sparkles/bows/artistic folds, please, and the plainer the color, the more versatile the dress.  Of course, I should note: although you see “professional” women everywhere on television with bare legs and bare arms, you really must know your office — if you’re still learning the culture, prepare to wear pantyhose, as well as a blazer or cardigan if you’re walking around the office/attending meetings.  Readers, what does your perfect sheath dress look like?  Have you gotten any amazing sheath dresses recently?


(Do note: everything pictured below comes in simple colors like black, navy, or gray, but I may be showing a more colorful dress because it’s easier to see the details quickly.)

sheath-dresses-1This Land’s End ponte dress is a best seller, with 138 mostly positive reviews. It comes in a nice range of sizes (2-18 in regular and petites), and has pockets. It’s normally priced $69, but today use code BRIGHT and pin 4520 to take 40% off, bringing it down to $41. Sleeveless Ponté Sheath Dress with Pockets
sheath-dresses-2 I’m always a fan of Anne Klein’s EDV collection at Macy’s — great quality for the price, and I’ve always found the cut to be very flattering to my curves.  I like this cap-sleeved sheath dress — the detail at the neck is just enough to be interesting without being too memorable, and I like that the dress is fully lined.  It’s $79.98, available in black and “midnight sky” (pictured), sizes 2-16. If you’re buying more than $99 worth of stuff, use code SPRING to bring the dress down 20% (to $64ish) and get free shipping.  (It’s also available in charcoal, marked down to $59.)   Anne Klein Dress, Cap-Sleeve Sheath
sheath-dresses-3It seems like everyone has pinkish/coralish dresses this spring, but I’m more a fan of the basic black. Still, the pink does show the details — namely, the vertical seams running up and down both sides in the front and the back, which I think would be really flattering. It’s $99 and available in “red cayenne” (pictured), green kelly, and black, for $99 in regular and petites, sizes 0-16. Halogen Seamed Sheath Dress
sheath-dresses-4Ann Taylor has a TON of basic sheath dresses that look great to me, including this, this, and this. I’m featuring this fourth dress, though, because it has 61 glowing reviews, and has apparently sold out in other colors (at one point it also came in a pink). It’s $128 at Ann Taylor. All-Season Stretch Seamed Sheath Dress
sheath-dresses-5The Emmaleigh dress from J.Crew looks like a winner — nice high neckline, ruching details at the neck, and a fitted look throughout with darts. It’s available in NINE colors, too — lilac (pictured), light blue, and “deep violet,” as well as two grays, a navy, a black, and (on another product page, marked down to $148) a navy pinstripe and charcoal pinstripe. All of the dresses are Super 120s wool, all are lined, and all have slash pockets in the front. They’re available in regular and tall for $188; petite sizes have a few colors available for $120. Take 25% off your entire purchase using code SPRINGBEST, bringing the full-priced $188 dresses down to $141. Emmaleigh dress in Super 120s
sheath-dresses-6It’s always been a bit too high-necked for me, but Theory’s “Betty” sheath dress is a classic.  It’s available in indigo, charcoal, and black, in sizes 0-12, for $295 at Bloomingdale’s. Theory Dress – Betty Sheath

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  1. Violet's Fan :

    I have the Ann Klein dress in charcoal, and I love it. I probably wear it more than I should! Fit seems TTS. Highly recommend.

    • Not to single you out for this in the least because everyone does this all the time but I always find it funny when someone says that something fits TTS — the whole reason I ask tends to be that NOTHING is TTS anymore. What does that mean? TTS in most mall brands for middle age women? Mall brands for young women? TTS in higher end brands? TTS as in what a size 6 was actually meant to be which is a size 2? Forgive my rant, but I have a closet full of clothes that currently all fit me just fine ranging in size from 2 to 10 and some in those sizes from the same maker. TTS is just not a helpful descriptor.

      • Violet's Fan :

        Gosh. Sorry! I guess my experience is different from yours. I agree that sizing can be inconsistent, but when I say TTS, I mean that I wear a size 6 in this dress and most of the clothes in my closet are also size 6. Sure, I have a 4 and an 8 here and there, but I think TTS is the best descriptor I can give for others who may be interested in the dress. I’m open to suggestions, though! :-)

        • Anonymous :

          Yup I am the same way. In my closet, 95% of my dresses, pants, skirts are size 10. 99% of my tops are medium. There absolutely are brands that vary (I am an 8 in Loft pants) but there is such thing as TTS!

          • Lucky you. I am not that way at all. Maybe I shop in too many different types of stores or maybe it’s my build. Anyway, like I said, didn’t mean to single Violet out in any way, but I still think TTS is not the same for everyone. To the extent that it exists, I’d still say that it’s only “TTS for brands like this one” or “TTS for this brand” which is good to know but not that helpful if it’s an unfamiliar brand.

        • I believe that’s what TTS indicates – most wearers believed the garment’s stated size was the same as their past experience with garments of that size. I’m almost always an 8, so when reviews of the size 8 say it’s TTS, I feel more confident about purchasing it online. So I appreciate that descriptor and hope people don’t hesitate to use it!

  2. Also nice right now (and posted separately to avoid mod) is the Halogen seamed sheath.

  3. Ted Baker sheath :

    I recently got a black Ted Baker sheath dress with cap sleeves that I absolutely love (the “core” wool blend dress at Nordstrom). I’m very straight up and down, and never thought a sheath would work for me, but the waistline is slightly higher than other sheath dresses that I’ve tried, so after alterations it is very flattering on my small bust. It’s also fully lined.

  4. Great picks and agree on the versatility factor. But for me, the “perfect” sheath dress has some kind of sleeve, even if very short. I like to take off my blazer when I’m just working at my desk and I hate to have to put it back on every time I walk to the bathroom or go to get something from another part of the floor. I don’t find that slim sleeves bunch up or create any other problem with cardigans or jackets.

  5. I would give a limb to find a good selection of sheath dresses in size 18W.

  6. DC search firms? :

    Any DC ladies know of a good search firm with deep networks on the hill? My non-profit org is hiring a senior exec to manage public partnerships. Thanks!

  7. I like the Anne Klein the best of these. I don’t like the “tank top-like” shape of some of the others like the Halogen, I wouldn’t wear that without a cardigan or blazer.
    I finally got some of the Payless Karmen pumps I’ve read so many rave reviews for here, in red patent. And you all were totally right, they are very comfortable, and simple but cute. I’m stocking up on a few more colors the next time there’s a BOGO sale!

  8. Anon in NYC :

    My sheath dress criteria is virtually identical, Kat!

  9. I love the Jcrew sheath, which I own in black but the biggest challenge with the sheath dress I find is the arm hole size. If I fit to arm hole size, the rest of the dress is too big. If I fit to my body, then the arm hole is just a smidge too small.

  10. TO Lawyer :

    This is great. I love sheath dresses – I could probably use a few more in suiting fabrics.

    I really like the Anne Klein one, the JCrew one and the Theory one. The high neckline on the Theory dress would look great with a big statement necklace

    • My Position EXACTELY! Ann Klein is my FAVORITE, tho I would perfer haveing more sleeve then this one, b/c Frank like’s to look at me where he should NOT. FOOEY on him! I am not abel to coment b/c the manageing partner is sitteing right next to me on the treain. I do NOT like traveling with him b/c he alway’s ask’s question’s and he has just eaten alot of food but has NOT brushed his teeth. When he has FOOD in his teeth, it does NOT smell good. FOOEY!

  11. I just ordered and returned the Betty, along with the coordinating Golda skirt. Despite the high prices, they were totally unlined!

  12. To Mpls (or anyone with similar hair) :

    You said in a previous post that you have wavy/curly/potentially Klingon hair and then mentioned how you tame it while keeping it somewhat natural. What specific products do you use/recommend? I’m going to Hawaii this week and I really don’t want to have to bring along my flat iron, curling iron and a dozen products. If anyone else has any recommendations, I could use your input!

    • I can recommend Organix defining cream (blue bottle). I used some higher-end stuff but found this drugstore version to work just as well. I work it through my shafts and then twist my hair into sectioned spirals to dry. Wash every other day and dry shampoo on off days.

  13. I like Elie Tahari sheath dresses. They’re not always easy to find in neutral colors, but the fit is great for pear/hourglass figures. I usually choose my same size as JCrew No.2 pencil skirts, but unlike those, I don’t need to nip the waist on Elie Tahari garments.

    • Agreed. My Elie Tahari black sheath dress is my number one most useful wardrobe item, and the best-fitting dress that I know of on my high-pear shaped body. I want another one in a different colour.

  14. I have to say as a longtime reader, and considering this is your job now, you’re going to have to do better than scouring the Internet for clothes. I don’t want to hear it “looks like” a winner. I want to know you’ve tried it on, felt the fabric. That’s the extra service you can offer. The commenters can provide links to dresses, but I want to know you’ve seen and tried them.

    • Really? I wonder how much you’re paying to read Kat’s work because it appears free to me. She always mentions when an item is a personal review and when it’s an Internet pick. I appreciate that. But mostly I appreciate the unique community of smart professional women Kat has built. That’s what keeps me here. If you want buyer reviews most stores have that option online. Amazon does that. Review site do that. If you want a personal shopper to advise on fabric/fit there are other professionals out there offering that service.

      You have a free service here. No one is forcing you to use it.

    • Then don’t read the blog if you don’t like it. You didn’t sign a contract. Kat can post blanks, and if people keep coming, then advertisors will keep paying. That’s how it works–that’s how our entire economy works, in fact. It’s supply and demand.

      • Bessa’s comment could have been said better I think. I also agree that if this isn’t your cup o’ tea, by all means don’t read. All that said though, I generally agree with her point. This is why I don’t really buy clothes recommended here. I am much more likely to buy something that Kat can say she personally saw and can vouche for, just like I am more likely to take a reader suggestion that they own more seriously v. someone posting, “here’s a pretty dress.”

        Or maybe that’s just me. However, if Kat’s income comes in part from people buying things she recommends, I would say that this is good feedback for her to have. As much as I appreciate posts like this for their informative value, I think I’d be waaaaay more likely to buy something if Kat did something like, “here’s a roundup of cool blouses I found from BR, Loft and Talbot this weekend.”

    • Calgon, take me away!

    • I actually don’t disagree with Bessa (and I think that the response to any critiques of this blog doesn’t have to be “so don’t read it” or “its free so who cares?”) But I also wouldn’t want this blog to be exclusively “what Kat wore” or “what Kat can see in NYC”. For those of us who aren’t in NYC and don’t have access to those stores, a mix of on-line retailers is nice. But having some in-person reviews would also be nice – though any in-person review is going to be somewhat limited since Kat is presumably built different than most readers (given the law of averages), so on-line reviews may be more useful in most contexts.

    • Olivia Pope :

      I actually disagree for the most part. My body, skin, and hair are different from Kat’s, so how flattering a particular product is for her does not help me at all. A large collection of links in a general category is useful. Plus, the community here is a real asset. I can ask the readers with similar skin, bodies, etc about a particular product if I need to.

      There are other blogs that focus on particular women trying on clothing. Maybe you can find some of those that meet your needs? A blog can’t be everything to everyone.

      • i see your point about body type, etc, but i think it would still be useful to hear basic info about clothes – eg i found this fabric to be itchy, no lining on this dress, seemed to run small, was knee-length on me and i’m 5’4, etc.

    • i actually agree with this. a lot of blogs i read have actually tried on all the clothes they write about, which makes them much more useful.

      • i posted before i read the comments above me – we all used ‘actually!’ wonder what that means . . .

      • The blog Extra Petite is fabulous for this, and she talks so much about fit, I’ve learned a ton. I bought a silk shirt once that was recommended on this site, and it was nothing like the picture so I returned it. Online shopping is really inaccurate if you are only judging from a picture. I try to avoid it now because it’s usually a let down.

        • I try to shop on-line mostly from (a) stores that I’m familiar with, (b) stores that have good return policies or (c) stores that have on-line reviews. But I think that if you want to but from a large quantity of retailers, you have to shop on-line. Not to mention the fact that a lot of retailers (like Talbots) sell some percentage of their stock (sometimes the most interesting items) on-line only. So its a toss up.

          I think learning what works on you and what doesn’t is really important for on-line shopping. And isn’t necessarily something a blogger can give you – though they can help (I try to get that information from people who write in, so I’ll recommend certain things for people who are long waisted or tall or ample of bosom that I wouldn’t recommend for myself…if that makes sense.) I do enjoy Extra Petite’s website, but she is petite in all senses of the word, which I am not (I’m short, but not small). I’ve seen other blogs for people who are built more like me, but don’t have the same taste. I think its all about balance…if you know what I mean.

    • Anonymous :

      This is one of those comments that I think has some merit, but was delivered so snottily I can’t take it seriously. This isn’t a good place to vent work frustrations, ladies. Take it to the gym, or something.

  15. This is a timely post for several reasons. First, I wear some sort of shift dress almost every day (mostly because it means that I really only have to pick out one, perhaps 2 articles of clothing). Second, I got (and am wearing) a cute shift dress at the Talbots F&F sale this weekend that I’m so pleasantly surprised with that I thought I’d share. (link to follow)

  16. Any suggestions for a dress like these for less than $50? Less than $70?

    I’d love to have one for my internship, but I can’t spend that much on a dress, even for work.

    • A Nonny Moose :

      Did you read the whole post? Kat links to several lower-priced options.

    • I’ve gotten a couple of great basic sheath dresses at places like T.J. Maxx (actually, my favorite sheath of all time is a basic navy Tahari dress) for less than $60. Sometimes Macy’s will have good basics on deep discount (look in the suiting section, not the dress section) – last time I was at Macy’s there was a great basic black Anne Klein for $30, unfortunately there was only one and it wasn’t in my size.

      J.C. Penny may also have some good basic sheath dresses for less than $50 (I’d check out their website first then look in store, I find it difficult to find things in their stores).

    • hoola hoopa :

      I saw a $10 one at Costco this weekend. Unlined polyester, but it looked like it would have reasonably good fit and drape for the price. I passed, but I was thinking it would be good for interns and recent college grads.

      • Anonymous :

        Yes – the Costco one looked pretty nice. I thought it cost in the $20’s though…. Still very cheap. I would have bought one, but most of the Costco clothes tend to run large and the smallest size they had was 4 and it seemed large.

        I was very happy with the quality of a Costco ponte knit skirt I bought recently, but again it runs big and the small is still large on me.

    • Anonymous :

      Thanks for all the responses! I’ll actually ask my mom to look out for the Costco one haha.

      • Not a lawyer :

        I have the Costco one-it’s awesome! Like PP said, it’s simple and unlined, but the cut is great and it’s very versatile. I wear it about every two weeks year-round either on its own or with tights and a blazer/ cardigan. It’s a great basic! Two warnings. 1. Unlined= well fitting undergarments. 2. The slit is VERY high; I had to see it closed by two inches, otherwise people would see my well-fitting undergarments. Definitely worth $10 though!

  17. New to Business Clothes :

    Are these dresses appropriate for a NYC business casual firm? No other women but the men wore dress pants and button down shirts. With a cardigan, etc . . . if sleeveless. I’m 5’4″, but thin enough that some dresses (like the last one) would be too large/box for me.

    • Veronique :

      I would say yes on the target dress, maybe on the banana dress (how low cut is it on you?) and absolutely not on the gap dress. The length, print, and tunic cut combined are far too cutesy/whimsical for any biglaw office, especially when you’re the only woman.

  18. Lady Harriet :

    I think this is supposed it be more of a bridesmaid dress than a work one, but isn’t it gorgeous?

  19. Katie Anne :

    I LOVE this black sheath from White House Black Market and it happens to be on sale right now!

    This is definitely one of those dresses that I rotate in pretty much every week and hope no one notices.

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