The Hunt: The Best Dresses for Work

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.

What are your best dresses for work this year, readers — what are you hunting for, what do you love, and what dress trends are you frustrated by? I know a lot of readers dislike the “rufflepuff” styles, as they call them, for example.

For my $.02, here’s what I think makes a great dress for work:

  • thick enough straps or sleeves that there is no chance of bra straps showing through — look for lingerie snaps inside dresses to keep your bra in place, or ask your tailor to add them if you have a problem with falling bra straps
  • a work-appropriate length that isn’t too trendy — usually within an inch of your kneecap (here was our last discussion on when a dress is too short for work
  • if there’s a slit, it doesn’t rise too high when you’re seated (sit down and do the mirror test to make sure!)?
  • a fit that is tailored and polished but not “bodycon” — no one wants to work long hours in skintight clothing!
  • pockets, which can be great (because, well, pockets!) but often add a lot of bulk and detract from the sleekness (I still almost always want pockets, but that’s me.)
  • sleeves, which can also be a double-edged sword — sleeveless styles will inevitably layer better underneath cardigans and blazers. That said, sleeveless looks are not appropriate for every office — so know your office culture if you plan on wearing a sleeveless dress by itself.

Finally, note that on some sheath dresses you may have to cut your vents for the skirt — if there’s a little X sewn into the bottom of the vent, that probably isn’t supposed to be there. If your office is extremely conservative, you may want to check out our guide to pantyhose — for the rest of you, if you’re hunting for something comfortable to wear beneath your work dresses, readers love these comfortable “slip shorts” from Jockey; you can also look for a ton of shapewear.

(OK one more point:  If your dress is part of a suiting set, be sure to dryclean all your pieces together so they show the same wear and tear.)

{related: check out our Guide to Comfortable Heels!}

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Where to Find Great Dresses for Work in 2022

Having looked around at a bunch of stores this morning… pickings are kind of slim if you don’t want the “rufflepuff” look, as many commenters call it. There are a lot of tiered dresses, racerback dresses, floofy dresses, and so, so many mini (or maxi) dresses, neither of which are traditionally appropriate for work. (Know your office, but in our last discussion on skirt length most readers agreed that knee length or just above is the ideal length for work dresses.)

In general, broad strokes, if you’re on the hunt for good dresses for work, I’d check some of these stores — also keep an eye on our page of best work dresses, which collects all the dresses Elizabeth has recommended for our morning workwear reports.

  • MM.LaFleur
  • Of Mercer
  • Lands’ End
  • Hobbs
  • Amour Vert
  • ASOS can be tricky to recommend any particular dress because inventory changes so frequently, but don’t forget about their super affordable dresses for work…

If you’re on the hunt for more conservative, traditional dresses for work, these are some of our long-standing favorite dresses…

Great Sheath Dresses for Work

Some of the most stylish sheath dresses for work as of 2022: one / two / three / four / five (not pictured but also

Plus-Size Dresses for Work

A Few Trendy Dresses I’m Liking for Work Right Now…

If you’re hunting for an affordable dress (other than the gorgeous sheath Elizabeth picked a few days ago), this J.Crew Factory one is a pretty good option — it’s $69 today, comes in 2 colors, sizes 0-18.

Another really affordable option is this modal surplice dress from Lands’ End; some colors are as low as $23 today. It’s available in regular, petite, and plus sizes with a ton of different color options. Another great affordable option: this bright Eloquii dress that we’ve featured before, down to $39 today and available in 5 colors, sizes 14-28.

If puff sleeves are ok by you, there are a few different colors and prints of this ruched side puff sleeve dress from Karl Lagerfeld; some colors are as low as $89 today. If a high cowl neck is more your jam, check out this Express dress, which comes in a number of different colors and prints.

In addition to the modal surplice dress mentioned above, Lands’ End is a great spot for washable wool dresses like the one above (it comes in regular and plus sizes); they also have a few colors of a boring but solid ponte dress in regular, petite, and plus sizes.

T-shirt dresses are everywhere this season (I was even thinking of doing an article on how to elevate a t-shirt dress for work), but it can be really tricky to find ones that are acceptable for work. I really like this option from J.Jill — not only does it have pockets, but it comes in regular, petite, tall, and plus sizes. It’s $99, available in several colors.

Eileen Fisher also does good t-shirt dresses in a variety of fabrics, and Theory has some nice t-shirt dresses out now as well.

Shirt dresses are huge this season, but it can be a bit tricky to find one that looks like a dress instead of a coverup or “my boyfriend’s shirt.” This one from Everlane does the job nicely for an even $100; it comes in 3 colorways, sizes XXS-XL.

Foxcroft also has some nice shirt dresses now (I’m more in favor of the loose shifts than the belted ones, but your mileage may vary.) If you feel like adding a zero to the Everlane price, this Lafayette 148 New York dress is stunning.

I’m not a big fan of florals, personally, but this Amour Vert dress is a great example of one that is good for the office, I think. I like that the skirt isn’t too long or floofy, the sleeves aren’t crazy (maybe it’s just me but I can’t handle huge puffy floral sleeves), and it’s even made of a machine washable, recycled silk. The dress is $173-$278 at Amour Vert (sizes XS-XL).

Some other good options for floral dresses include Ann Taylor and Talbots.

This dress may be my favorite one in the bunch — I love the wide boatneck, the drapey sleeves, the side ruching — it’s classic but fun as well. As I mentioned above, MM.LaFleur has a TON of great dresses for work.

This one comes in five colors, sizes 0P-18, for $345. (And it’s machine washable and made with recycled polyester.)

Another brand with lots of machine washable work dresses is Of Mercer, where dresses are usually under $200 — same for British brand Hobbs (sizes 0-14).

On the pricier side, this Piazza Sempione dress seems striking yet classic — I love that lipstick red and the tailored, structured vibe. It’s $895 at Neiman Marcus, available in sizes 2-12. (If you’re looking for a much more affordable dupe, check out the Express dress I mentioned above.)

Readers, what dresses are you liking for work these days?

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