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.
The sheath dress: it’s one of the most stylish work dresses a woman can have, and if you buy the right dress, it can be a workhorse for your wardrobe, whether your office is formal or business casual. Get one that matches your blazer and wear it as a suit! Top it with a fun blazer (like this morning’s) for a more casual but still formal look, or with a cardigan or denim jacket for a more casual look. Layer it in colder weather with a light jersey turtleneck, a crisp collared blouse, or even a long-sleeved jersey tee that best matches the neckline (or, ahem, raises it where it needs to). It’s hard to go wrong with the sheath dress, but watch out for these pitfalls when buying it: is the cleavage too low? is the hem-length appropriate? does it have any trendy detail that will make it more memorable and thus less wearable in regular rotation (exposed zipper, embellishment at neck, etc)? is the slit too high? does it look “tailored” (good) or “body conscious” (less good) to you? is the back inappropriate for work? (In general, look for a high neckline in the back, not a scoopneck in the back or other “tank dress” type of vibe. Definitely nothing cut like a halter, at least for a traditional sheath dress in a conservative office.) Once you’ve purchased it: make sure you cut your vents. Hang it up immediately after each wearing and let it air out a bit. If it’s part of a suiting set, be sure to dryclean all your pieces together so they show the same wear and tear. (While today’s feature is focused on sheath dresses, fit and flare dresses can also be workhorses; our last roundup is here.)
First, we’ll link to a few stylish work dresses in specialty categories before getting to our featured pieces for today:
- Hall of Famers (the dresses we’ve admired year after year — see many pictured below): Theory, Adrianna Papell, Ellen Tracy (waist detail), Calvin Klein, Talbots, Lands’ End, Limited, Black Halo, French Connection, DvF, Boden
- Under $100: Adrianna Papell, Halogen (50% off), Halogen (wrap effect), Halogen (seam detail), Limited, Merona (twill), Merona (ponte), Spenser Jeremy, Old Navy, Talbots, Banana Republic, Lands’ End, Calvin Klein, Calvin Klein (seamed), Ann Taylor, Ellen Tracy (almost – $108)
- Decent sale: Ann Taylor (50% sitewide!), Halogen (50%), Adrianna Papell (33%), Theory (ruched detail, 30%), Banana Republic, St. John (30%), Michael Kors (60%), Limited (30%)
- Matching blazer available: Theory, Ann Taylor, Talbots (seasonless wool), Reiss, Lands’ End (wear to work), Limited, BOSS, Merona
- Machine washable: Halogen (50% off), Halogen (wrap effect), Ellen Tracy (waist detail), Vince, Merona, Spenser Jeremy, Old Navy, Lands’ End (ponte), Lands’ End (wear to work), Halogen, Merona (ponte), Boden
- Sleeves: Halogen (50% off), Halogen (wrap effect), Ellen Tracy (waist detail), Classiques Entier, Catherine Catherine Malandrino, T Tahari, Spenser Jeremy, Boss Hugo Boss, Boden
- Colors other than black: Halogen (wrap effect), Adrianna Papell, Ellen Tracy (waist detail), Classiques Entier, Talbots (peekaboo), Talbots (seasonless wool), Old Navy, Merona (twill), Merona (ponte), Banana Republic, Lands’ End, Boden
- Petite: Classiques Entier, Halogen (seamed), Boss, Ellen Tracy, Eliza J, Tahari by ASL, Lands’ End, Limited, Boden
- Tall: Ann Taylor, Ann Taylor (print), Loft, Lands’ End, Lands’ End, Limited, Boden
- Plus sizes: Calvin Klein, Mynt 1792, Halogen, Louben, Talbots, Lands’ End, Nipon Boutique, Lafayette 148 New York
- Cusp sizes: Adrianna Papell, Elie Tahari, Pendleton, Lands’ End, T Tahari
Curious for past roundups of sheath dresses? Here they are from 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011. For other sizing issues you may want to check out our last discussion on bespoke dresses, which you can order fit exactly to your measurements.
Note that even if a color is shown below, all of the featured dresses also come in black.