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7 Dress Styles for the Office You Need to Know About

Dressing for the office is never easy. You want to look professional but also feminine. Stylish but not too sexy. You want to be taken seriously…but does that mean you have to wear pantsuits all the time? It does not. There are lots of dress styles for the office that are professional and appropriate but still a little bit feminine and sexy. Start experimenting with your office style and see which dress styles you enjoy wearing the most. 

Woman trying on dress for work office

Types of Office-Appropriate Dresses

Dressing for the office and looking great while you’re doing it is much, much easier when you have a list of go-to dress styles to choose from. Get to know the types of dresses that are perfect for the office and you can put together a great professional wardrobe that will have you looking sharp and successful in any working environment. Putting together great office outfits is a lot easier when you have a list of choices to start with.

1. A line

Tommy Hilfiger Women's Neck Tie A-line Dress, Black, 12

A line dresses create a classic silhouette that can be worn to any occasion. An A line dress can be casual, professional or even formal, as the situation requires. The bodice fits around the torso but comes out at the hips, flaring outward to form a shape like a capital letter A. 

Because the fit is not tight through the hips and thighs, this is a very appropriate dress for the office as long as it’s properly styled. An A line dress pairs beautifully with a cardigan or a short, cropped jacket, which adds a great professional touch. A line dresses are made with a variety of sleeve types and necklines, so you may need to add the extra layer to make an A line dress look more office-ready.

2. Fit and flare

Tommy Hilfiger Women's Classic Belted Fit and Flare Midi Dress, Soft Black, 12

Fit and flare style dresses are known for being universally flattering on all body types. This is a very forgiving type of dress because it flares out from the waist, creating a wide skirt that makes the waist look smaller. The wide cut of the skirt also hides any access weight in the hips, rear end and thighs that you may not be keen to show off to the world. Fit and flare dresses are made with a variety of bodice types, so choose styles that will be office-appropriate. 

3. Pencil 

JASAMBAC Women's Wear to Work Dresses Long Sleeve Business Pencil Midi Dresses Black L

Pencil dresses were practically made for the office. This is a slimming silhouette that’s just a little bit sexy and still conservative enough to be considered professional. Pencil dresses are made with skirts that fit close, hugging the curves of the lower body. Typically, these dresses end at right around knee-length. The longer length keeps these dresses appropriate for the office but the snug fit allows you to show off your shape.

This is a very flattering dress on hourglass figures. Pencil dresses can be made with a variety of bodice and sleeve styles, so they aren’t always appropriate for the office. However, pencil dresses look great with a blazer or cropped jacket so it’s easy to make this style look professional. 

4. Sheath

Calvin Klein Women's Essential Sleeveless Sheath, deep Black, 6

Sheath dresses are straight dresses that fit very snug on the body, showing off every single curve and line. This dress is not for the faint of heart. The tight fit doesn’t give you anywhere to hide anything you may otherwise want to keep out of sight. The tight fit also doesn’t always easily lend itself to office wear. Sheaths can be made in just about any length, including mini, so make sure you’re wearing a sheath dress that reaches just above the knee at the shortest. 

It’s also a good idea to wear an extra layer with a sheath dress to make it look a little less sexy. The tight fit all over can be a little provocative for the office. A cardigan or blazer helps a lot. 

5. Shift

Floerns Women's Tweed Short Sleeve Shift Tunic Dress with Pockets Grey-2 L

The straight-fitting shift is a great choice for office wear, though sometimes this dress is made in shorter styles. Look for a longer shift, one that’s around knee-length, and you’ll be in good shape for dressing for the office. The shift hangs straight down the body. And while it fits somewhat close, it merely skims the figure rather than hugging it. This helps to obscure the various curves and dips in the body and doesn’t really show off the figure, so the shift is a nice, conservative choice that makes a great office look.

The only problem is that the shift dress can look a little too casual, so material matters. Choose a shift that’s made in a knit or a sturdy fabric, rather than something that’s silky or satiny. A shift can look like a perfect cocktail dress with the right material and that’s definitely not the look you want in an office setting. 

6. Sweater

ANRABESS Women's Slim Fit Cable Knit Turtleneck Long Sleeve Sweater Dress A145zhuanhong-S Rust

Sweater dresses can be good for the office if they have the right style. These are knit dresses that are clingy, fitting tightly against the body and showing off every single curve. But in a knee-length and sleeved style, sweater dresses are absolutely perfect as fall or winter office wear. These elegant dresses are very easy to style and they look good in just about every single setting and occasion. Sweater dresses also pair well with other layers, such as blazers or even additional sweaters. However, pulling off a knit-on-knit look can be a little tricky, so play around with this to see what works. 

7. Wrap

VamJump Women's V Neck Long Sleeve Sweater Wrap Front Tie Waist Knitted Bodycon Dress,Khaki,S

Wrap dresses are known for being flattering on literally all shapes and sizes. These dresses almost always fit, even when your body changes and they pretty much always emphasize your curves in just the right way to make your waist look small and your curves look…ample. Wrap dresses are literally made to wrap around the body and cinch closed with a belt or a tie. This creates a V neckline that shows off the bust in a great way. It also emphasizes the waist. The skirt then flares out only slightly, making the hips look more ample without being too tight on the body. 

Wrap dresses are perfect all-occasion dresses and they aren’t too sexy or revealing for the office, so they are perfect as a professional garment. 

Following an Office Dress Code

Business attire does vary from office to office but there are some general rules you should always try to follow in the workplace. Stick to these basics and you will never go wrong with one of your outfits. 


The cut of the dress always matters. Under no circumstances, even in a relaxed working environment where this is a casual dress code, should you show cleavage. You can sometimes get away with a sleeveless cut but only if your collarbone is covered and then only in moderation. Don’t attempt to wear spaghetti straps. 


The color of the dress you wear to work is important, too. Even in casual dress code environments, even on casual Friday, you don’t want to wear too much color or colors that are too bright. Stick to a more neutral or muted color palette. Grays, blues, browns and blacks are the most appropriate. You don’t want to wear anything too vivid. Bright jewel tones, for example, are typically too strong for the office, though sometimes a power red will serve you well. Be discerning and choose colors that suit you and suit the environment and you won’t go wrong. 


The material you wear also matters. Silk and satin dresses are not really a good choice for the office. Stick to linen, cotton or synthetic materials, such as polyester or rayon. Don’t wear anything too sheer or too thin, as this is more appropriate for cocktail hour than for a power lunch. You definitely don’t want to wear a cocktail dress to the office!  


Still have questions about the right way to dress for the office? There’s a lot to learn about dress code and finding the right style, so it’s normal if you’re still confused. We’ve got the answers to all the most common questions about dress styles for the office. Get the answers you need and you’ll start to become a style expert when it comes to dressing for work. 

Why is business attire important?

What you wear says something about who you are to the rest of the world. You want to present a polished, professional image in any workplace setting, even a relaxed, casual place of business. Clothing that is conservative and fits well communicates that you are well put together, that you put time into your appearance, that you care about how you present yourself and you take time to present yourself well. They will see someone who is successful, someone who pays attention to detail, someone who understands that presentation matters. Dressing well and dressing professionally makes a positive impact and a good impression. This can only help you in any workplace.

There’s an added benefit to dressing well. Not only will you look more professional and present a more professional and successful image to others, but you will also boost your own confidence. Don’t you feel better, walk a little taller, feel a little smarter and more attractive when you know you look good? You always want to project confidence in the workplace because to others, this directly translates as competence. You want to be seen as a confident person who can get the job done. Knowing you’re well-dressed will help you project this attitude. And when you have confidence in yourself, you actually tend to e more successful in all your endeavors. It sort of feeds itself. You dress well to feel confident, you do well at work because you feel confident and you become more confident as you do well at work. 

In other words, business attire isn’t just important. In the workplace, it’s the beginning of everything! 

Remember that dressing well for the office is more than the type of dress you wear. You should also keep your hair and nails well-groomed and perhaps wear a little makeup to polish your look even more. 

What type of dress code does your office use?

Most office environments maintain some type of dress code. Usually, the dress code will be business professional, business formal, business casual or even casual, which you can find in the most relaxed office environments. Often, an office will tell you which one of these dress codes you should adhere to but may not give you any specific explanations about the details of each of these specific dress codes. 

If you’re not quite sure, follow some general rules of dressing for the office by wearing clothes that don’t reveal your chest or your legs above the knee. Stick to darker or more muted colors and clothes that are elegant in design. Avoid loud patterns and graphic designs. If you’re wearing something tight or form-fitting, top it with a blazer or a jacket so your look won’t be too sexy. 

Which dresses work as office wear for pregnant women?

Pregnant bellies need extra room, so there are some professional dress styles that could be uncomfortable for you when you’re expecting. Stick to dresses that are more forgiving, such as wrap dresses. Wrap dresses have a lot of room to match the size that you are, as they can be wrapped more tightly or more loosely around the body as needed. 

Sweater dresses, which are knit, are also nice and stretchy on the tummy. Knit naturally expands as needed, though you may still need to go a size up to accommodate your belly as it grows. Baby doll dresses are made with high empire waistlines that sit just under the bust. This leaves lots of room for the belly and makes the babydoll dress style an excellent choice for women.

What is a business casual dress code?

Business casual is possibly one of the most confusing phrases in the entire English language. How are you casual if you’re doing business? The two don’t seem to go together so of course, it’s difficult to find a style that meets this weird mishmash of fashion. 

So what the heck is business casual? Put simply, it’s a professional style that is relaxed. Different companies have different ideas about what counts as business casual and what doesn’t. Basically, you want to dress professionally but not formally. Think of it this way: would you wear it to a job interview? If the answer is yes, then you should be good with your business casual look. 

For women, business casual looks mean you can probably get away with wearing maxi dress styles, which are considered too casual for formal office environments. For the most part, business casual and smart casual dress codes are the same.

How do you dress business casual in the winter?

Sure it’s easy to slip into a dress in the summer, when you can step into some flats and a cute shift and be ready for anything. But winter? Now, that’s difficult. 

Luckily, the same dresses you wear in the summer can be worn in the winter, too. You just have to add some extra layers to it. The secret to dressing for the winter is always winter. For starters, put some thick tights on under your dress. Wool tights will go a long way toward keeping your legs warm and keeping you from getting chilled in cold winter weather. Switch to knee-high or ankle boots to give your feet some extra warmth, rather than wearing high heels. Add a cropped jacket or blazer for an additional layer of warmth. You can also slip a blouse or dress shirt under many different types of dresses for an extra layer. This will add a collared shirt to your style, which never looks unprofessional, as well as give you additional insulation against the cold.

Finish off your winter business casual look with a long overcoat, like a trenchcoat, to give your entire upper body and some of your lower body plenty of warmth, too.

What is the difference between business casual and business professional?

There are different types of office-appropriate clothing, depending on the dress code of the office you’re in. There are a lot of differences between business casual and business professional attire, for example, though both styles are worn to work. They’re just worn in slightly different office environments. 

Business professional is a very conservative dress code. You will often find this strict dress code in banking, government, law and finance business offices. In a business professional environment, you don’t want to wear any dress that is shorter than knee-length. You also don’t want to wear anything too revealing. Cleavage has no place here, though it is okay to have bare arms as long as you also have a high neckline. Don’t wear a neckline that’s more than an inch below the collarbone and don’t wear anything with spaghetti straps, because that looks too casual. 

As far as your shoes, they should always have closed toes. Also, wear darker or neutral colors. Bright jewel tones and pastels are a little too bright and loud for business professional wear. Stick to a palette of grays, blues, blacks, browns and earth tones.

In business casual attire, the dress code is slightly more relaxed. However, it’s only slightly relaxed. Business casual isn’t the same as casual wear. In other words, you still can’t wear blue jean trousers. You do still need closed-toe shoes and you need to stick to longer dress lengths. Go no shorter than just above the knee. You can experiment with some brighter colors in a business casual outfit look, but avoid super vivid prints and highly graphic designs. Remember to just keep it professional and you should do fine. 

Business formal attire looks don’t mean you have to dress in black tie. This is the most strict and conservative office dress code. Basically, dress to look extremely professional. Wear dresses that are absolutely no shorter than knee length, don’t wear open-toed shoes no matter what and keep your collarbone covered with a high neckline or a scarf. Wear dark or neutral colors only and choose sturdy fabrics, nothing with too much sheen or shimmer.

You can still get away with dress pants if you don’t want to wear a dress, but always pair it with a matching jacket to create a suit. Business suits will work most of the time no matter where you are. Formal business attire doesn’t mean you should be ready for cocktails; it means you should be dressed as conservatively and professionally as possible. it’s a very polished look with minimal jewelry and makeup, neat hair and subtle clothing. And when you don’t want to rely on a business suit or skirt suit, you have lots of dress styles to choose from.

Can you wear jeans in business casual settings?

In most cases, it’s not acceptable to wear blue jeans in a business casual office. You can wear jeans in casual office environments and sometimes, you can wear jeans on casual Fridays even in a business casual office. If you’re not sure, just ask!