Ask Belle: “Casual” Dresses for an Ultra-Conservative Office
Jun 26, 2013
I work at a large law firm where the dress code is suits, suits and oh, suits. Women are required to wear nylons when not wearing slacks. Nail polish must be clear of sheer pink. The partners recently decided to implement their version of “Casual Friday.” Men are excused from wearing ties and jackets, but no chinos, polos, athletic shoes or short sleeves. Women are also excused from wearing jackets, but dresses or skirts must still be knee-length and sleeveless dresses or blouses are not permitted.
Sounds like a blast, doesn’t it?
I’d like to find a few dresses to wear. I am looking for a good wrap dress, which HR deemed acceptable if the neckline is modest, but I need more suggestions. Sincerely, DP
My head is spinning. I just mentally threw away 2/3 of my wardrobe.
Before we start, I am assuming that all of these dresses could be “knee-length” on you. It’s difficult to determine length from a photo because you have to consider the height of the model, your height, ability to tailor, etc. So we are going to err on the side of knee-length. (Other photos of the cobalt dress suggest it is longer than this photo would make it seem.)
Faux Wrap Dresses. If you’re the least bit concerned that a wrap dress might reveal too much, I’ve found that faux wraps usually have more coverage and less chance of slipping down or blowing open in the wind. I don’t usually favor paisley, but I like this print and the leather accent on the buckle.
If it’s short sleeves that you’re after, this aqua (?) dress is nice. I also like this cobalt if you prefer solids to prints. And if you want all of the waist-cinching concealment of a wrap without the v-neck, try this black dress.
I also like the subtle print on this grey plus-size dress, and the black and white swirl on this petite, short-sleeve dress.
Cap Sleeve Dresses. Always a favorite for hot days, I’m intrigued by how the details on this dress shape the waist. I’d definitely want to try it on if I saw it in the store. If you’re looking for a similar dress for less, this Target cap sleeve sheath is $28.
Shirtdresses are also a great place to start because there are so many styles to choose from. This straighter style is a bit more casual, but toss out that belt in favor of a wide leather one, and it will add a bit more chic.
If you like this straight style, may I suggest this pale pink Ralph Lauren dress? I like a slightly fuller skirt, so I would choose this crisp, white Jones of NY dress, which also comes in plus-size. For petites, this Brooks Brothers number caught my eye.
Shift Dresses. Simple, classic and perfect for days when you don’t feel your figure looks its best, shift dresses are a great addition to most wardrobes. I adore this cobalt, and this black and white print would be a good choice for summer or winter (with black tights, of course). I also like this short sleeve coral dress, which I would dress up with a navy statement necklace.
My one word of caution with shift dresses is not to choose a large or tropical print just because that can make the dress look to casual for the office. But a solid or a small print should be fine.
Good luck with your quest, the marketplace simply isn’t catering to very conservative environments anywhere. Most of the most stylish “business casual” dresses are sleeveless or they’re not long enough. Your dress code is certainly a challenge.