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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The Best Washable Pants for Work

washable pants for work

2017 Update: We’ve updated links — enjoy this post on washable pants 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 talked about washable pants in far too long, so I thought I’d do a round-up today. (If having machine-washable garments is important to you, check out our Washable Wednesday feature over on CorporetteMoms, or our roundup of the best brands of washable workwear.) As we’ve discussed before, these are my best tips for how to wash your washable pants:

  • Look for stretch if you’re shopping online. If you want to narrow your search to pants that are machine washable, look for ones with stretch in them — they almost always are washable. (But most online descriptions will tell you what the recommended care is.)
  • Get them tailored only after you’ve washed them first. After the first wash there may be a little bit of shrinkage — wait to get them hemmed until then. (But, note that there are a ton of brands that offer shorter inseams for “regular” pants, so you may not need them hemmed.)
  • Wash them in cold water at home — and don’t put them in the dryer. At least, not for very long. I usually like to put my pants in the dryer for about 15 minutes — it gets the wrinkles out, and just a bit of time with the dryer sheet makes them softer. I always wash my pants on cold, and I usually do use Woolite and the delicate cycle for my pants.
  • Hang them upside down to dry. The weight of the waistband will pull the pants taut, effectively smoothing them out. (I almost never iron ‘em!) When you put them on the hanger, do your best to keep the crease the pants came with — if there was no crease, just put the inseams together neatly.
  • “Dry clean” on the label usually means you can wash them (but proceed at your own risk).  The big thing to know here is that “dry clean only” means, well, DRY CLEAN ONLY. If it just says “dry clean,” though, you usually can either dry clean them or wash them. Your mileage may vary here, but: unless I really loved the pair of pants, I would give “dry clean” pants a whirl in the washer, as well — particularly if the pants are made up entirely of natural fibers (one of the benefits to unlined pants).  You may want to do a spot test first.

Readers, which are your favorite styles and brands for washable pants for work?  What are your best tips for caring for them? 

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The Hunt: Button-Down Shirts

button-down-shirts-for-women

2017 Update: All of these button-down tops are in our Workwear Hall of Fame, and links below have been updated — you may also want to check our most recent discussion of the best women’s dress shirts.

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.

Of all The Hunt features we’ve done, I’m kind of surprised that we’ve never done one on the best button-downs for women — a crisp white blouse is a classic for the office.  (All of these shirts come in white, even though I’ve mostly featured colored shirts so you can see the details better.) Now, a few points: yes, yes, most women’s collars do not button down, so these should all properly be called “button front” shirts. But most of these stores call them button-down shirts, and that’s what I’ve always heard, so I’m going to go with “button down.” A second point: a big decision (as far as blouses go) is whether you want one that is non-iron. Personally, my iron is gathering dust because I always buy the non-iron ones for myself — but I have heard (but not researched) that there are some health concerns regarding the chemicals that treat a fabric to make it “non-iron.” So — readers, if you HAVE researched the subject, please weigh in. Finally, a few random tips: a) if you prefer silky button-fronts, check out our Hunt for that one, b) if you’re busty, check out our guide to specialty shops for busty blouses, c) this post is being updated, but you can still check out our original top 10 ways to wear a button-down shirt, and, finally, d) as a laundry tip, I’ve had great success with putting the shirts in the dryer for no more than about 15 minutes and then hanging them up to air dry.  Oh, and I’m on Team White-Camisole-Beneath-White-Shirt–but many others are on Team Nude Camisole; you can check out our discussion here.  Readers — which are your favorite button-down shirts? Do you purchase non-iron shirts? And what are your best tips for laundering (and wearing) a button-down shirt? [Read more…]

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