The Hunt: Stylish Work Dresses

stylish work dresses

2017 Update: Check out our latest roundup of the best sheath dresses for work!

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 — and if you’re on the hunt, don’t forget to check out our top 5 dresses with sleeves and pockets:

favorite work dresses

Hall of Famers, pictured above: one / two / three / four / five

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.

Pictured at top: Vince, Reiss, Halogen.

Note that even if a color is shown below, all of the featured dresses also come in black. 

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The Hunt: Basic Sheath Dresses

sheath-dresses2017 Update: Check out our latest roundup of the best sheath dresses for work!

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.

We haven’t done a roundup of sheath dresses in almost a year (2014, 2013), so I thought we’d do one today. For my money, the best sheath dress for work has:

  • a work-appropriate hem length (with no slits to compromise that — test with the mirror trick!)
  • a high enough neckline and shoulder situation that you don’t need to give any extra thought to which bra to wear
  • a dark, neutral color like black, navy, or dark charcoal

And — for me at least — I think a sleeveless sheath dress is best because it looks best beneath blazers and cardigans.

I’ll round up some other dimensions though, as well:

Ladies, what do YOU look for in a great sheath dress? Have you bought any great ones recently, or worn any classics into the ground? 
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Wednesday’s TPS Report: ‘Sunmosa Ponte’ Seam Detail Dress

Classiques Entier 'Sunmosa Ponte' Seam Detail Dress | CorporetteOur daily TPS reports suggest one piece of work-appropriate attire in a range of prices.

I love a good discount, and there’s a ton of Classiques Entier on sale at Nordstrom for 40-60% off. This simple sheath dress (and its sleeved version) is now 40% off, in both the blue pictured as well as simple black. I like the high neckline and interesting seaming details at the waist, and the color seems really lovely. It was $228, but is now marked to $136.80 (sizes 0-16). Classiques Entier ‘Sunmosa Ponte’ Seam Detail Dress

Other great sale pieces: here, here, and here.

Here’s a lower-priced option (and one more, here), and a plus-sized alternative.

Seen a great piece you’d like to recommend? Please e-mail [email protected]

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Wednesday’s TPS Report: Starburst Pleat Sheath Dress

Our daily TPS reports suggest one piece of work-appropriate attire in a range of prices.

 Maggy London Starburst Pleat Sheath DressHappy Wednesday!  I love this starburst pattern — it’s so, so pretty, and such a great way to dress up a plain gray flannel dress.  I’d wear it with a blood red shrunken blazer, perhaps.  It’s $138 at Nordstrom. Maggy London Starburst Pleat Sheath Dress

Seen a great piece you’d like to recommend? Please e-mail [email protected]
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Wednesday’s TPS Report: Lexie Dress

Our daily TPS reports suggest one piece of work-appropriate attire in a range of prices.

Lovely sheath dress from Elie Tahari, which I first spied at Bloomingdale’s (on sale in black in limited sizes) – but then I realized Lord & Taylor had all 3 colors, more sizes, and a deeper discount: score.  I like the classic styling — especially the high back — as well as the interesting folded collar. It was $368, now marked to $128.49 $92.  Elie Tahari Lexie Dress

Seen a great piece you’d like to recommend? Please e-mail [email protected]
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Workwear Hall of Fame: ‘Jackie’ Belted Gabardine Sheath Dress

Our daily TPS reports suggest one piece of work-appropriate attire in a range of prices.

Black Halo 'Jackie' Belted Gabardine Sheath DressHappy New Year, ladies! I think it’s been ages since I featured a Black Halo dress on this site — even the Jackie, which has been around forever — but something about this lovely red dress is screaming my name. Love the long hem length, the wide waistband, and the asymmetrical neckline. It’s available in red, cobalt blue, and black at Nordstrom for $345. Black Halo ‘Jackie’ Belted Gabardine Sheath Dress

Seen a great piece you’d like to recommend? Please e-mail [email protected]
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2016 Update: This dress is now in our Workwear Hall of Fame! It’s been around forever and is reliably a great bet if you’re on the hunt for an interesting, stand-alone sheath dress. You can get it new from ShopBop or Saks, but if you’re on a budget, keep an eye on flash sale sites like Gilt and RueLaLa, which sometimes feature Black Halo. (Ooh: there’s even a jumpsuit version, should you work in a creative office or want an evening look.) Note that the neckline is a little low in the back if you’re sensitive about that area.

black halo jackie dress for work

work fashion blog press mentions