Sure, we all know what wardrobe essentials for work 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.
Readers had an interesting conversation a while ago about how if they only go into the office rarely they don’t want to be in “basic law student interview garb” — and instead were on the hunt for statement dresses for interviews, important meetings, and more. Challenge accepted! After a bit of hunting for what to call these statement-making dresses, let’s go with “power dresses,” even though that feels maybe a few years ago. (What else would you call these kinds of dresses, ladies?)
I’ll include links to some of our more basic sheath dress roundups and the like — you can always add accessories like blazers, necklaces, sweaters and more to make them more interesting! — but if you want more interesting dresses for the office, let’s go on a hunt.
(First, let’s all bow a head to one of the OGs here: Claire Underwood. We never did a roundup but if anyone else suffered through Seasons 6 and 7 of Younger, I also think of Quinn Tyler.)
Some of the more classic “power dresses for work” include these: green / black / navy / red / cobalt — I’d also check MM.LaFleur, Diane von Furstenberg, Black Halo, Karen Millen, Roland Mouret, Akris, Victoria Beckham, and Chiara Boni La Petite Robe (and of course Rent the Runway can be great for this!)
In addition to some Hall of Famers above, we definitely have some usual suspects — if I were on a hunt for a standout, power dress for work I’d check MM.LaFleur, Diane von Furstenberg, Black Halo, and Karen Millen. On the (much) higher end I’d check Roland Mouret, Akris, Victoria Beckham, and Chiara Boni La Petite Robe.
Readers, how about you — where would you start your hunt for a statement-making power dress for work?
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Classic Dresses for Work You Can Dress Up or Down
Some of the best plus-size dresses for work as of 2023: 1) Karen Kane 2) Lands’ End 3) CeCe 4) Calvin Klein 5) Talbots (not pictured but these also)
Power Dresses for Work: One & Done Statement Dressing
I tend to love dresses like this with lots of interesting folds and tucks, as you might have while folding an origami crane. I love these because they’re usually pretty easy as they’re usually a faux wrap.
The pictured one is from ASOS (and only $54!!), but I’ll round up a few others below…
Architectural and Structured Power Dresses
I always think of this kind of dress as “architectural” in that it feels like more design work has gone into it in some way — prominent darts that are meant to be seen, or a detail that feels extra sharp. I’d even include J.Crew’s Resume Dress here.
The one above is Roland Mouret (GORGEOUS) – but a few other options are below.
Asymmetrical Details on Power Dresses for Work
Here’s a fun fact about me: despite writing the word “asymmetrical” like weekly for almost 15 years now I still can’t spell it.
STILL: One of my favorite ways of statement dressing for work includes asymmetrical dresses (and tops) that make everything feel a little fresh and new.
Many times these dresses will feature cutouts or slashes/keyhoes in interesting places — just remember to know your office here! I would caution that “unexpected skin” may not go over well at many offices, to which I would include the usual areas (cleavage, upper thigh) but also your lower back, your midriff, and more.
One of the classic asymmetrical power dresses is the Black Halo Jackie dress; Of Mercer has a great version as well. A few others are rounded up below.
These are classics, and for great reason — but definitely wear a slip beneath them the first time you wear them if they’re a real wrap (instead of a faux wrap). The DVF wrap dress is still around (pictured); the rumor last time was to size up at least one size to help them wrap more tightly. Other favorites we’ve mentioned over the years include Kiyonna and the faux wrap dress from Karen Kane. (On resale sites keep an eye out for BCBG and DVF wrap dresses.)
A few other cute wrap dresses on the market right now include these…
The Shirt Dress
I’m not a HUGE fan of these since personally I feel like they’re less flattering on curves and you often have to deal with gaping issues. Definitely consider wearing them with a slip the first time you wear one (this slip looks great), and do check out some of our DIY solutions for gaping.
The dress pictured above is from The Kit; check out other options for shirt dresses below.
Readers, what are your favorite power dresses for work — for days when you don’t want to wear a suit, but want to make a statement?
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I’m really curious what world this is aimed at? We are still WFH in the Bay Area (large tech company) until at least January 2022, probably longer. Who’s getting dressed up like this? Where are you going? Who are you meeting with? After the pandemic I anticipate most things will stay largely virtual.
Maybe for you (SF, large tech company), but I doubt for the rest of the world. I think that SF gets a pass b/c tech and no one really lives there (but like 1.5 hours round-trip away, possibly longer), but in my city, if you lived an hour away, you wouldn’t likely be hired (it’s more like Pat lives in X, so Pat will likely leave as soon as a good job in X opens up).
This is a weird comment. People in NYC commute more than an hour all the time. I live in a city in the SEUS where mega-commutes are common. And I manage someone in a major midwest city who has a regular 90-minute commute. 1.5 hours round-trip isn’t even particularly long as commutes go – I would say everyone I manage except a team in a smaller city (think Birmingham AL or similar) commutes at least an hour round-trip.
I’m in a very staid non-tech industry and we are going to be hybrid WFH/in-office post-pandemic and are planning for significantly reduced T&E spend due to an expected increase in virtual meetings and a resulting expected decrease in business travel.
What? I’m in the Bay Area and I live 11 miles from the city. If my commute took 1.5 hrs something would have gone really, really wrong. If “no one really lives there” why are housing prices so high?
So if the prices are as outrageous as I read about, most people would have to live somewhere else. Probably pretty far out, from what I gather. Not us executive types, but the person who works at the lobby desk, etc. Lots and lots of the rest of the workforce who often has to work in person.
Most people yes, but probably not most people commenting on this site.
Not everyone here makes Big Law partner money! Also I would point out that a salary that would make you comfortably upper middle class in much of the US basically renders you a pauper in the Bay Area. When I worked in a law firm in the Bay Area, my assistant made $80k, which is considered a pretty decent salary in many places (especially if you have a spouse who earns a similar amount, which she did). She had to commute almost 60 miles (which can take 2-3 hours in Bay Area traffic) each way in order to afford a house. They never let her work from home even though I and the other attorneys she supported advocated for her to have regular WFH days. It was awful.
I used to live on one side of Palo Alto and work on the other side of Palo Alto. It was 4ish miles. Some days it took over an hour each way by car, so two hours round trip. (Yes I know it would have been faster by bike, but I hate biking plus I worked in a business formal office and couldn’t really show up at work in athletic gear.) I gather things have only gotten more ridiculous traffic-wise in the Bay Area since I left.
Rest of the world chiming in: Australia and we are working from home until next year.
Yeah, we’re still WFH for the foreseeable future (top-5 US bank). And while I think it’s possible we’ll get back to statement dressing eventually, these picks look very 2019 to me (a lot of them are, in fact, the same dress styles that have been featured on this page for years (the J. Crew Resume dress, the DVF wrap dress, most of the sheaths). The WSJ had a good article this weekend on “new” statement dressing for women and the choices were way more interesting and creative than this.
It’s just hard for me to imagine that when we do go back, we’ll all be throwing on our MM LaFleur sheaths and jardigans, picking up our Lo&Sons totes, and slipping into our “comfortable” black heels. The future (of dressing and many other things) isn’t going to look like the past.
I think that if what is in our closet fits (big if there) and is event-appropriate, it will get worn again. I have a lot of conferences that were suits or very dressy in before times and doubt that they will be jeans-and-hoodie the next time the are put on (spring 2022 likely). Maybe MMLF Etsuko (comfy, stretchy, travels well), but with flats and a sweater-jacket thingie or large scarf or comfy pants that still look sharp worn with a statement jacket or blazer? Like bits of the old with comfy bits of the new. Shoes will be lower to the ground.
During the early summer COVID hiatus I attended my first in-person conference since March 2020, also likely to be my last until at least 2022. Everyone there was joking about how we’d pulled our old work clothes out of the closet and were relieved they still fit. Except for the masks, it was a fashion flashback to 2019. I can’t see people revamping their business formal wardrobes, with the possible exception of shoes, until the COVID situation has stabilized. I’m certainly not investing in clothes I may never get the chance to wear.
I bought some clothes in March of 2020, back when we thought WFH was only going to last a few weeks, that still haven’t been worn in an office/work context. And now I am permanent WFH, business travel is suspended, and I likely won’t be going anywhere until maybe winter/spring of 2022. No way am I going to buy new work clothes until and unless I know there’s a definite opportunity for me to wear them.
I agree these dresses look dated particularly the brightly colored ones. I may be biased because I started wearing only neutrals around 2017.
Those fold over neckline ones and the Resume dress remind me of the Victoria Beckham dresses that came out in the early aughts.
Okay, lots of other people are going to have different experiences from you? I’m going to an in person work conference just next week.
Canadian gov here and we’re all still wfh too.
You do know that not eveywhere works like a Bay Area tech firm, yes?
Of course I do. I’m responding to the 10,000 comments on here to be location specific. I’m curious about who’s back to power dressing because that’s so far from the norm right now where I am and from anyone I know.
IDK re power dressing, but I see lots of people going to work in workwear, especially if they are on external zooms, particularly with court “appearances” or in-person ones. The dry cleaners down the block is busy.
We are starting to have in-person court hearings and depositions in California. I expect that most hearings except status conferences will be back to being in person by later this fall.
I realize that many workplaces are remote through the end of the year but that is highly industry and location dependent.
My office never closed. I have had several in-person court hearings and have three in-person jury trials set this month. I wear business attire on Zoom — depositions, status conferences, mediations, hearings, jury selection, etc. And I keep looking at all the “relaxed” (aka sloppy) versions of business attire being marketed now with a real side-eye because they are going to look appropriate for maybe the next six months, if at all. I am just grateful that I already had enough suits and business casual dresses in my closet, in my new size, to avoid shopping in the current desert of appropriate workwear.
Seriously, it is a true desert out there, and comments like this (you seriously don’t know anyone who is back in the office?) really irk me. I’m in the Bay Area too and I’ve been back in some form or another for more than a year, and all I want is to buy a few new clothes.
Yeah I’ve been in the office the whole.freakin.pandemic. When courts were “shut down” in my state we still had to appear for cases where the defendant was incarcerated. So, court the same number of days, just really short dockets.
I don’t understand why people keep making these comments. A lot of people work in offices. A lot of people have been working in offices for quite a while. I don’t think I know anyone personally who is consistently and continuously working from home (who wasn’t pre-pandemic). Just because you’ve made the change to full WFH for the foreseeable future doesn’t mean everyone has.
I’m really curious why you think there aren’t people going into the office? Surely you’ve seen on this board or on the news or whatever that not every place has been working from home this whole time?
Seriously. And I like in-person work, so if I was permanently WFH, I would probably look for another job. I need people. I like WFH when it suits me (let in a contractor or stay home with a sick kid), but generally I could not do this on a FT forever basis without becoming dead inside. I’m glad it works for some people, but I am not wired that way and was pining to at least go to the store or doctor or get takeout during lockdown.
Serious Q – were you actually unable to go to the store/doctor or get takeout? Or are you saying you appreciated when you got to do those things?
I absolutely did not go to the store or the doctor’s or to pick up carryout while we were locked down.
Literally no one I know is working in an office.
I’m not sure if you’re the OP, but you don’t know literally everyone in the country (or world!). Almost every day there’s a thread about people dealing with returning to the office, or interacting with people in person, or being in the office or in court throughout the whole pandemic. The way the OP was phrased was so condescending to people who either like going to the office or who have no choice.
Well then let me introduce myself…
I could easily put on a power dress tomorrow, looking at my agenda. I’m back at going to the office, I have the kind of meetings that welcomes gravitas, and strict dresses look good on me.
I’m probably not going to, but yeah, this is a more relevant post for me than the beige jersey sweatsuit with lapels in the next post. (While I have had a couple of jersey blazers in my time, I don’t do beige anything.)
We were back to physical meetings as soon as it was possible given vaccination status and current level. One-person offices. I’m not in the US, though.
I work for a university. Some of the non-student facing staff (including me) are permanently remote, but faculty and student facing staff are all back full-time on campus as of August. Technically they can wear whatever they want but a lot of professors, especially women, try to dress at least business casual. I used to work in Silicon Valley and it’s definitely a more remote-friendly culture than most places. I think it’s a combination of tech skewing young and casual and the insane commutes so many people in the Bay Area have. I don’t think everything will be remote forever in most industries. I’m job hunting now and am finding most employers are more open to flexible work arrangements but want someone who can be in the office at least 1 day a week (which sucks for me, because I have very limited options locally and am trying to get a job in a different state).
Reposting here because I got the end of the morning thread:
Going off that convo about keeping a house clean . . .
I am having a very tough time keeping a 1 bedroom apartment clean, especially when I am working from home and here all day. This is the first time I have lived by myself and I love my apartment in general, had fun decorating it, etc. But I think that before when I lived with roommates I primarily had my room to worry about and shared other responsibilities with roommates. Maybe? I also may be a bit depressed, working on that separately. And I do not like working from home at all.
I guess I need a cleaning schedule. To pick up after myself better (put it away not down)? Clean for 20 minutes each day? What has worked for ya’ll?
Please don’t tell me not be lazy or something like that, I know, but I need help. Posting apparently inspired me because I did the dishwasher, cleaned the kitchen, and refilled things that had run out. I just need to throw away some amazon boxes that have built up and unpack another delivery now
If I were living alone and WFH in a one-bedroom apartment, I’d clean one room every day during my lunch break.
To avoid clutter, never set anything down, just put it away. Open packages and deal with the contents as soon as they arrive. Have a designated spot for items that require further action like bills to be paid or packages to be returned. Tidy the apartment every day when you finish work.
I find the ‘designated spot’ that you mentioned is key. When everything is messy, if I know where everything goes, it’s so much easier to clean up quickly. It’s when I have items that don’t have a ‘home’ that makes cleaning much worse.
Your last paragraph is onto something. I don’t think it’s just working from home that is so making keeping our homes clean harder, but all of the deliveries. It feels like I’m opening packages, unbagging groceries, or taking out recycling daily and it’s adding up to a couple hours a week just on those tasks.
I don’t think a cleaning schedule is going to help, honestly. When I lived alone, I bought less and cooked less and that seemed to make everything easier. I find myself wishing that I could go back to the days of cheese and crackers for dinner (one dirty plate! no cutting boards or dirty pans!) a lot right now.
I clean up after myself in the kitchen daily and then assign each room a day. I do laundry often. Sometimes there is not much to do and sometimes there is. I listen to audiobooks so I feel like I am multi-tasking/being entertained during the chores.
Do a google search for FlyLady
Here are my tips:
Manage or eliminate the no-mans-land between clean and dirty.
For me, this was the glass, plate, mug, cheese knife and cutting board on the counter because “maybe I want more later, don’t want to dirty another x” – just put it immediately in the dishwasher when done using it. Get stuff that’s dishwasher safe for everyday use. It’s not going to kill anyone to run the dishwasher slightly more.
Also clothes: the heap of clothes that are worn once but not dirty… if this is regularly more than 2 items, use a clothes rack or designate a rail in the closet or even mount a series of hooks inside/behind a door. I have 2 hooks. Anything to keep it off the chair/bed/floor
Also bills/mail: get a shredder and process the mail when you walk in the door if you can. It’s either shred, save, or deal-with. You can handle the first two right away and eliminate mail purgatory. The third you can stick in a pile and have a schedule for going through.
Finally, my favourite and least responsible: Boozy Friday-night cleaning. I pick a night (Fridays over the summer because my only social obligation was an early happy-hour) and have multiple glasses of wine and Netflix on in the background while I clean the kitchen, put away clothes, water plants, vacuum, and straighten up.
This is particularly nice because Saturday morning I wake up to a clean space and a grateful heart (thanks tipsy cleaning fairy!) and can enjoy the weekend.
Better, not perfect
Do you have a dishwasher? USE it. Don’t worry about whether it’s full, run it so often that you never have to put dishes on the counter because you are finally running the machine. No dishes out. If you are handwashing – do it. Don’t leave dishes.
Do a kitchen shine-up every night. No dishes, nothing out, clean counters. That’s a 5 minute job if you’re on top of it, but if you have some catch-up to do, do that first.
Take the trash out. Including recycling. If your thrash bag is full, don’t start a new one before you have handled the full one and have several on the go, take them out.
Do a five minute pick-up whenever you remember. Set an alarm on you phone, 5 minutes. Put things away, whether that’s laundry, paper for recycling, mugs for washing, shoes in a pile, whatever. After 5 minutes, you’re done.
If you do these things, whatever else you do, your place will be BETTER. Not perfect, but BETTER.
Will highly recommend Unfuck your habitat (no longer a regular blog, but the principles are sound for depression cleaning), and Dana K White from A Slob Comes Clean as great resources.
Dana is at youtube, but if you have the means I’d really get both her books and the Unfuck your habitat ones as ebooks, they are great resources both for how to start if you don’t really know to do, practical and non-judgemental.
I do not see the last three categories as “power dresses” for work. Black Halo is too slinky to wear to work in real life, although TV characters can get away with wearing it to work. Wrap dresses and shirtdresses are for the admin, not the woman in charge.
The admin? Yikes, that’s some internalized s*xism.
It’s not sexism, it’s about the level of structure and formality. For years my admin was a guy and he wore softer clothes like sweaters and chinos. I am the boss lady with the degrees so I wear structured clothes.
Yeah but… in most offices, a wrap dress is a perfectly appropriate piece of attire for a professional woman.
+1. Big yikes.
I’m a GC who wears a wrap dress on the regular (or did, in the before times), and it apparently has not hurt my career progression.
I can’t wear wrap dresses b/c I’m a pear and short, so the waist tie is down around my hips, but if I could, I 1000% would. They sit in my closet, but I think they are baller if you can pull them off.
The woman in charge is probably wearing a fashion sneaker b/c she does not GAF and I don’t blame her.
I am an in house attorney and I primarily wear wrap and shirt dresses. So do the other women attorneys with the exception of one who is counsel to the organizations’s board and a VP of the company, and so wears the occasional suit. The men dress more casually (khakis and polos or button down shirts), even those who are VPs.
I agree, however, that Black Halo, while gorgeous, is too slinky for work FOR ME.
I’m a lawyer in ND. We only worked from home from March 2020 to May 2020. We have been full time in the office since then.
“Readers had an interesting conversation a while ago about how if they only go into the office rarely they don’t want to be in “basic law student interview garb””
I also find suits to be a bit of a challenging fit if there are weight fluctuations involved. It’s either a suit that isn’t that well tailored, or if it is, it looks all wrong if five pounds finds its way to your hips. Some dresses are far more forgiving.
I haven’t worn a suit in years because they felt too junior. Dresses and blazers only since long before the pandemic.
One complaint I have about a lot of these dresses (and a lot of clothes right now) is so many high necklines. I know it’s a delicate balance, obviously you don’t want too low cut, but I find that touching-the-collarbone look both unflattering and uncomfortable.
The Donna Morgan Crepe dress (third dress in the third lineup) is a real workhorse for me. I’ve gotten it on sale for under $40 on three separate occasions (different colors), and it’s easy to wear and flattering. I’m debating whether grabbing a 4th color would be too much.
How is ASOS sizing?
It varies, they carry a lot of different brands. I’ve found most things under the ASOS label run closer to a Juniors cut, boxy and short in the torso
Does anyone have any experience ordering from The Kit (the pink shirtdress featured)? Size accuracy, fabric quality? I’m interested in more of their casual pieces.
I hate that the sheath dress has become the near universal symbol of professional workwear for women. I think they look wonderful on women who have model figures – tall and slender, which means they look terrible on most of the rest of us. Honestly, they hide nothing, so any lumps and bumps are on full display. I also don’t find them terribly comfortable to sit in or move around in all day, and they look best with heels which are also no longer my workwear shoes of choice. I find a lot of the alternatives to sheath dresses look much less professional which leaves me looking at suits with small but interesting embellishments as the workwear of choice for my body type.