I started this blog several years ago to document my journey of building up a wardrobe. There was plenty of trial and error along the way, but I’ve ended up with a fairly robust collection of items. Although I continuously update and “edit” this wardrobe, there are certain things I reach for time after time. These pieces aren’t exciting, but are functional, versatile, and especially great for packing on trips. I’ve been meaning to do a series spotlighting my closet staples, and how each piece can serve as a foundation for all sorts of outfits. Naturally I wanted to start with my most often-worn garment type – the classic sheath dress!
Style: Sleeveless dress with classic neckline, fitted waist, tapered skirt shape and back vent. If you work in a professional environment, a concealed zipper is best and length should hit no higher than 2” above the knees. A lightly-textured neutral fabric makes for a great starter piece, and there’s so many fun colors to expand into.
Fit: Should be close to the body throughout but not tight, nipping in at your natural waist. For a staple piece that can be worn for years to come, consider spending a little more for good quality and any alterations needed for a perfect fit.
The dress in this post is from Banana Republic Factory and has been hemmed + tapered in at the bottom opening. They carried this dress 2 years in a row so perhaps will bring it back for a third!
How to style it
For quick packing as well as getting dressed in a hurry, I follow this very basic formula:
1) Know the occasion: Will you be in a business formal, business casual, or just plain casual setting? Business formal often means a blazer plus closed-toe shoes no higher than 3.5,” but could be more conservative or laid back depending on the setting. Will you be walking around lots (flats needed) or mostly sitting down? Will there be drastic temperature changes (layering therefore a must) or wet weather?
2) Plan the palette: Weekday dressing for me is mostly about whipping together a safe, work-appropriate outfit and less about creating revolutionary pairings. I start with a neutral base, then add up to 2 different colors (more may be fine if in a similar color family) plus something of interest. “Interest” could mean a pop of color or print, a mix of textures, or a statement accessory.
3) Layer (if necessary): Some pieces look great as-is, but layering may be necessary to meet certain dress codes or to stay warm. If that’s the case, choose a combination of 1-2 layers from the “under” and “over” categories below.
4) Accessorize: Finish your look with shoes, bag, and 1-2 other items from the accessorize category below.
Now for some examples following these four steps! First up, a casual weekend or touristy outfit. If I were rolling out of bed on a Sunday morning at home, I would most likely not be reaching for a sheath dress. However, if I were packing for a work trip that involved some downtime for exploring, this would be a very welcome pairing. I’ve frequently worn sheath dresses with just this long-sleeved turtleneck underneath and some colorful pumps for the office. Adding cropped denim, tall flat boots (or booties!), and a hands-free bag transitions a more formal look into a comfy, casual ensemble.
The next two outfits are for a less conservative business formal dress code. Remove the jackets on either of these looks and they’d be everyday business casual. My most worn pairing with this particular dress is simply a striped long-sleeve tee underneath + waist belt.
Instead of a blouse layered underneath (could be too hot or stuffy for some), the below outfit would also look great with a floral print scarf that can easily be taken off to accommodate temperature changes. Please note that as much as I love bright colors like this neon yellow, I wouldn’t suggest breaking them out at more conservative offices or meetings!
The next two are examples of business casual pairings in which a simple color palette change can switch up the seasonal feel. When layering a blouse over, use an opaque one so the color or print of the dress won’t show through.
This pairing below is a great way to make use of blouses that are a little loose but not too long. A peplum cut top is a bonus as it will keep your waistline defined. If the dress and blouse necklines don’t match up completely, an easy way to conceal that is with a deliberately-placed necklace. I also don’t experiment much with colored tights (except for tried and true navy), but keeping hosiery color in the same family as your shoes makes it less jarring.
I wouldn’t wear this particular dress “as a top” since that trick is usually reserved for showing off pieces with interesting torso details. It is an option, though, if you have limited items in your closet and really want to stretch out the number of wears for each piece. Make sure to choose skirts with fuller, flared bottoms long enough to conceal your dress hem with ease.
And lastly, for drinks or a night out, this monochromatic example uses a mix of textures and fun prints to keep the outfit from looking too austere. As with the floral peplum blouse above, I had sized up on this top, which conveniently also makes it easier to layer with.