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Arguably the easiest, most comfortable, and business-appropriate outfit option is a work dress. Instead of piecing together separates and figuring out if they work, a dress is a one-stop shop for looking put together. Plus, if you choose the right dress, you’ll also feel as comfortable as you feel confident. Still, knowing what’s appropriate and stylish when it comes to workwear can be complicated. When you factor in trying to match what you’re wearing to your sense of style, too, it can be even more difficult. But there are more work dress options out there than ever, and many of them are so cute you’ll even want to wear them after work, too.
To help determine the best ways to wear dresses at the office, Byrdie spoke to Mary Wilson, whose work as head stylist at Stitch Fix means she knows all too well how to make different styles of clothing work for a variety of aesthetics, lifestyles, and careers.
Below are Byrdie’s picks for the best work dresses on the market, plus Wilson’s tips on what to look for when shopping for your work wardrobe.
Best Overall: Banana Republic Poplin Shirt Dress
The best work dress you can own is a versatile one. This thigh-length shirt dress from Banana Republic is a classic silhouette while being a great option for all seasons. Simply add some thick tights underneath for fall or winter, and pair them with some booties or sandals for spring or summer. The best part of a shirt dress, though, is knowing it’ll be in style season after season.
Material: 100% cotton | Colors: Black, Striped | Size Range: XXS-XXL (petite, regular, tall) | Length: 37 inches (petite), 38.5 inches (regular), 40 inches (tall)
Best Budget: Old Navy Puff Sleeve All-Day Midi Swing Dress
A simple puff-sleeve dress is perhaps the simplest way to be on-trend while still looking office-appropriate. This dress could easily be dressed up or down, too, depending on how formal your office may be. For example, dress it up in the fall with a wool coat and knee-high boots, or dress down in the summer with a pair of platform sneakers. The best part, though, is that it’s less than $45.
Material: 100% cotton | Colors: Black | Size Range: XS-4X (petite, regular, tall) | Length: Mid-calf
Best Midi: Everlane Parklet Shirt Dress
This dress is the perfect combination of the previous Old Navy and Banana Republic items, and that’s why it lands as the ideal work midi dress. If you work in a casual office, pair this piece with high-top sneakers. If you're commuting to a more traditional office, wear it with heeled booties or pumps.
Material: 100% cotton | Colors: Black | Size Range: 00-16 | Length: Midi
Best Maxi: LVIR Ribbed-Knit Turtleneck Maxi Dress
It can be difficult to find an ankle-length dress that’s stylish and office-appropriate but doesn't feel like you're being swallowed up in it. This sweater dress hits all the marks. The wide rib-knit weave adds surprising detail to the otherwise subdued silhouette, meaning you can look stylish without adding a ton of accessories.
Material: 85% rayon, 15% nylon | Colors: Brown | Size Range: S-L | Length: Ankle
Best Designer: Jason Wu Long Sleeve Silk Crêpe de Chine Shirtdress
A great way to bring luxury fashion into the office is by focusing on fabrics. This 100 percent silk dress is decadent without being too over the top. Plus, the understated silhouette means it’ll be in style for years to come, and will likely be a good investment for your wardrobe.
Material: 100% silk | Colors: Red | Size Range: 0-14 | Length: Above knee
Best Printed: Mango Printed Retro Dress
We fell in love with this print because the groovy feel is interesting enough to not be boring but, at the same, time, subdued enough to not be distracting to others in the workplace. The ochre and black colors transcend seasons; make it summer- or winter-ready by pairing it with appropriate footwear and accessories. Plus, this style is size-inclusive.
Material: 100% viscose | Colors: Ochre | Size Range: 0-20 | Length: Midi
Most Versatile: J.Crew Ribbed Button-Front Dress
This button-front dress is the perfect example of an office-ready piece that can be worn throughout the seasons. The button-down shirt silhouette is put-together while still being a little bit playful, and the color options mean you can play around to find the dress that works best for your style. Plus, you can even embrace the dress-over-pants trend without going overboard.
Material: Tencel, acrylic, silk | Colors: Desert Sand, Dusty Wisteria, Black | Size Range: XXS-3X | Length: Midi
Best Sustainable: Reformation Cyprus Dress
When it comes to sustainably-made pieces that feel sophisticated enough to wear in any boardroom (or to any event, for that matter), Reformation is the best in the business. While a lot of Reformation’s styles are a bit sexier, this beautiful midi dress would be equally appropriate for date night or an important meeting.
Material: 98% organic cotton, 2% spandex | Colors: Black, Cherry, Countryside, Jolene | Size Range: 0-12 | Length: Midi
Best for Summer: Anthropologie Somerset Maxi Dress
This breezy, lightweight dress would make staying cool during the hot months of summer a piece of cake. Despite being quite airy and flowy, this dress has a decent amount of shape and structure to it, meaning that it’ll help you feel put together during meetings and work events (no sweating necessary).
Material: 100% cotton | Colors: Peach, Red, Navy, Black/White, Floral +more | Size Range: XXS-3X (standard, petite, plus) | Length: Maxi
Best for Winter: Madewell Polo Sweater Dress
Dressing for the office in winter means ensuring that you’ll be warm on your commute but not sweating at your desk. This polo sweater dress would achieve just that. Made from a wool/cotton blend, this shift-style sweater dress would be cozy on its own and lightweight enough to layer with scarves, coats, and tights. Add a belt for a more structured take.
Material: 55% wool, 25% polyamide, 20% cotton | Colors: Heather Artichoke, Heather Camel | Size Range: XXS-1X | Length: 36 inches
Best Maternity: Emilia George The Michelle Dress
Finding a maternity work dress that looks a little more elevated can be difficult, but this dress by Emilia George, a sustainability-focused maternity label, hits all the right marks. The silhouette and silk tie belt mean you can wear the dress comfortably throughout your entire pregnancy—and beyond.
Material: Bamboo rayon blend | Colors: Blue | Size Range: XS-XL | Length: Midi
Best A-line: M.M. LaFleur Malala Dress
One of the brand's best-selling dresses, this A-line dress is refined without being overly frilly or busy. Not only is it wrinkle-resistant, machine washable, and odor-resistant, but it’s also made from recycled plastic bottles, which is just the cherry on top. (Oh, and it has pockets.)
Material: 53% polyester, 40% recycled polyester, 7% polyurethane | Colors: Midnight, Rhubarb, Steel Blue | Size Range: 0P-18 | Length: Knee-length
Best on Amazon: Berydress Classic Wrap Dress
Everyone needs a classic wrap (or, in this case, faux wrap) dress in their lives, and this Amazon option fits the bill. Not only is it affordable, but it’s one of the most well-reviewed work dresses on Amazon, meaning that customers are happy with the fit and material.
Material: 65% Cotton, 35% Polyester | Colors: Black, army green, polka dot, leopard, floral, brown, burgundy, coral, dark blue, dark green | Size Range: S-XL | Length: Knee-length
What to Look for in a Work Dress
As Wilson explains, both work dresses and workwear as a whole are continuously evolving. “Stitch Fix’s 2022 Style Forecast highlights this shift in workwear dress codes, noting a rise in popularity for a category we coined ‘business comfort,’” explains Wilson. “People got a taste for comfort during lockdowns, and they aren’t about to give it up—almost one-third would rather take a 10 percent pay cut than dress up for work every
People still want to look stylish, though, Wilson says, which is why she recommends that clients remain true to their style while shopping for work dresses.
“Regardless of your dress code, I always recommend clients remain true to their style, pulling in elements that showcase their confidence while leaving them feeling polished and comfortable," she says. "Timeless silhouettes such as a black shift dress or a cozy midi sweater dress are guaranteed to be work dress staples in your closet year after year.”
What makes a dress work-appropriate?
According to Wilson, the factors that make a work dress “work appropriate” are pretty simple: Fit, fabric, and silhouette.
“Look for dresses that provide comfort when sitting or standing, fabric that gives structure while offering stretch, and timeless silhouettes,” Wilson says. “Today there are no hard and fast rules for what makes a dress work appropriate. Gather insight from coworkers and don’t forget to showcase your style.”
What shoes should I wear with a work dress?
Found the perfect work dress but stumped when it comes to shoes? Don’t stress. Instead, don’t overthink things and keep the shoe classic, Wilson suggests.
“Look for a timeless closed-toe heel, a ballet flat with a pop of color or subtle conversation print, or a loafer for an on-trend (yet comfortable) shoe option,” she says. “When wearing a more casual dress, you can add a little flare while playing up the comfort of the outfit by completing the look with a suede ankle bootie, a mule, or a sneaker for an effortless look.”
How do you wear a summer dress for work?
Getting dressed for work in the summer can mean less fabric, but that doesn’t always make things easier. When in doubt, Wilson says to concentrate on layering pieces to dress up or down your dress.
“The delicate fabric of a summer dress plays off the structure from the blazer, creating the perfect balance,” Wilson says. “Complete the look with a simple loafer or heeled sandal and you will bring a whole new element of style to your workwear wardrobe.”
Why Trust Byrdie
Olivia Muenter is a fashion commerce contributor for Byrdie, and she has been published in Refinery29, Bustle, Fashionista, Glamour, and Woman’s Day, among others. Her search for this piece covered retailers of all types. For criteria, she evaluated customer reviews, size range, versatility, and style.