Grown Up Lady Work Dresses.
August 10, 2017 7:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm 35 years old, I I'm getting promoted, I look very young for my age, I worry about this in a career context, and possibly contributing to this is that I'm still wearing jersey-knit nonsense dresses to work. This has got to change. Easy part: I know what I want. Hard part: I'm petite, proportionally tiny in the shoulders and rib cage, yet hippy and large-assed, picky, and extremely uninterested in toting everything I buy to the tailor. Seeking: SHIFT DRESSES.

I seek shift dresses--NOT SHEATH DRESSES (shifts are looser and skim the body rather than cling to it)--in a palate of business drabs, such as black, brown, navy, and grey. Open to other shades, but these basics are key. Short sleeves, 3-quarter-length sleeves, and sleeveless all fine. No belts. Preferred length: from some inches above the knee, to just above the knee. The real issues are as follows:

-I am five feet two and very petite-proportioned. Non-petite sizes are not going to work.
-I prefer shift dresses with a slight a-line, due to my proportions (measurements: 34 (30DD)-24-37.5)
-I prefer a business-like fabric for appearance, but I require some stretch, or at least some looseness. (No more jersey knit. Weep).
-I definitely do not want fit-and-flare or sheath. The shift silhouette is something I really like and it works well with my body, it's comfortable, and I want it to be my uniform.

No jersey knit and none of that slinky, cold-feeling polyester that seems ubiquitous in female business attire.

(I feel like someone is going to suggest MM.La Fleur so I'll say: they don't currently offer the shift silhouette, and even their 'petite-friendly' dresses are way too roomy for me in the shoulders/back (I've been to the showroom and tried things on). That being said, I do like the aesthetic and that level of formality).

Price is not that much of an object; I'm unlikely to pay 500 dollars for a dress, but it doesn't have to be super cheap.

posted by millipede to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Between your budget not being too tight, and that being a fairly simple silhouette -- you might be happy if get them from a seamstress rather than take them to a tailor. It's relatively easy to make variations on a theme after she gets a base pattern fitted.

Not all towns have them -- does yours have a fabric store that carries fabric you would wear to work?
posted by clew at 7:58 AM on August 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

(NYC. Nevermind. The rest of the country thinks NYC and LA have *all * the seamstresses! Ask at Mood?)
posted by clew at 7:59 AM on August 10, 2017

eShakti is what you want -- they will make any dress to your measurements, and let me tell you, it has changed my life. Here are their current shift dresses.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 7:59 AM on August 10, 2017 [9 favorites]

Go straight to Nordstrom.
posted by bq at 8:06 AM on August 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Not sure if it's too downscale for you, but Ann Taylor is one of the few stores I've found that stocks a wide range of subdues basics in petite sizes.
posted by Diablevert at 8:09 AM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

(Quick clarification: I know all the major stores. I'm looking for links to exact dresses)
posted by millipede at 8:14 AM on August 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Size 12W petite or XP might work.

Here are some from Talbots. On sale, full price, also on sale. Here's the whole dress page. They have some that they call a sheath, but I would not, so take a look.
posted by jgirl at 8:29 AM on August 10, 2017

Second quick clarification and then I'm done with all clarifications, I promise: Dude, I'm not plus-sized. Not sure where you got that? I provided my measurements. For other answerers, I'll amend: I'm a size 2-4 petite.
posted by millipede at 8:39 AM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Congrats on the promotion!

The suggestion to start at a seamstress is likely the way to go. The first dress will be expensive, but let them know up front that you want five or 8 dresses, the same, maybe some with short sleeves or something. Buying clothes off the rack is a horror and, I shudder with you. You might also have some like finding an FIT/Pratt/Parsons/SVA student willing to do this for reasonable costs. Make sure, of course that whoever you hire for this shows you samples. Inspect seams (like you would take the time to do in a store, right?) and ask for photos of the garments on people.

A colorblock shift pattern from Vogue sewing. Obviously that can be done in one color.
Simplicity pattern with variations for pockets and sleeves

A seamstress can make these patterns petite and use a variety of tools and techniques to get you fitted. They'll also work with you to get an appropriate length for office wear while maintaining the correct shaping.
posted by bilabial at 8:46 AM on August 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm petite (5 ft) but busty. I got this last month and it's worked well in a government setting with a jacket (stiffer material) and killer heels- link

I also like wearing shift dresses (basically work pajamas, I call them). I've had some good luck just browsing Nordstrom Rack.
posted by inevitability at 8:49 AM on August 10, 2017

I think we are the exact same measurements, so I know what you are looking for. Ann Taylor is my go-to for petite work clothes because they actually have a decent range of petite items.

They have several shift dresses right now, but their sizing (as you may know) is wackadoo. I'm anywhere from a 2 to an 8 there so you really have to try stuff on. Also some of these are out of stock in what is likely your size online, but if you are near a store might be worth checking their sale racks.

But just looking online I'd suggest:
If you like orange.
Another orange.
Probably more sheath than shift but maybe worth a try?
I might get this one myself
Pretty color and professional style and tailoring.

Might also be worth taking a look at their (or other stores') shirt dresses, which if worn without a belt can be pretty shift-like. I just bought this one for an interview the other day and the belt is not attached. (In fact, I wore it with a different belt - ties look too much like I'm wearing a bathrobe for my tastes.) Without the belt it could work as a shift. Might be *too* loose, but the color is so pretty and it's a good substantial fabric. I wore it with a navy blazer and thought it looked sharp.
posted by misskaz at 9:10 AM on August 10, 2017

I love Kelly Lane's clothes, although I can't wear shift dresses so can't speak to those specifically. Her clothes are very well made and since they are made to order you can do some customization (shorter/longer hem, for example). I am petite, a little shorter than you but otherwise similar size, and an XS fits really well. Some may be too casual for what you are envisioning, but worth checking out.
Wade (LOVE this one)
posted by john_snow at 9:26 AM on August 10, 2017

I second eShakti. You can order by specific measurements and they customize everything to your height. Even the standard sizes They also add new designs literally ALL THE TIME, so I would bookmark that link and check back every day.

Hot tip if you do find stuff you like at Nordstrom: basic alterations are free on any full-price item you buy. If you get a Nordstrom credit card, you get a certain $ amount of alterations every year as well.

Okay, on to the specific dresses! Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, a pink one, Tahari, and a summery off-white.

For what it's worth, Corporette seems to approve of ponte knit for conservative workplaces. (Usually those are sheath dresses, but something to consider.)
posted by purple_bird at 9:33 AM on August 10, 2017

Uniqlo usually has work-appropriate shift dresses.

Sleeveless A-line dress

They are constantly adding new styles, and work-appropriate dresses tend to go fast, so I suggest checking the site periodically.
posted by needled at 9:41 AM on August 10, 2017

Boden maybe?

I like shift dresses too but it doesn't seem like a big style this year. Also, at 5'2" you might just have to resign yourself to using a tailor at least for length.
posted by vunder at 9:42 AM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

^ Came in to say Boden. Boden Boden Boden. Their dresses well made and comfortable, and the sales are pretty good.

Here are some shift or shift-esque dresses in your size:

I promise I'm not a Boden employee. Just a huge fan, and I would honestly say that discovering Boden was a major turning point in my wardrobe's history. It's like if J. Crew had never started bedazzling t-shirts and stuck to good basic solid colors and cute prints.
posted by witchen at 12:32 PM on August 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you ever get tired of the monochromatic aesthetic, try ASOS (they're very good with their petite section and have many of their regular designs in petite sizes.) They have shifts like this, this, and this, some of which I like to wear to my very science-y, tech-y job in biotech. I find they look youthful, but still professional - I'm not petite, but my proportions are similar to yours in that I have hips!
posted by Everydayville at 12:53 PM on August 10, 2017

Given your small frame, Theory shift dresses might work for you.

Poshmark link to work-appropriate wool shift dress in petite 4!

Which is to say that if you don't mind secondhand, J. Crew had a serious-ass obsession with winter shift dresses a couple seasons back, so if you google "shift dress J. Crew wool," you'll get a bunch of work-appropriate hits from Poshmark (along with a bunch of sheath dresses that are clearly not relevant for you, because people can't fucking tell the difference).
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:53 PM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Those dresses on the Talbot's link DO come in petite. Don't know why they are showing as plus size. There's a box at top left to sort by size and tons of them come up as available in petite.
posted by raisingsand at 4:34 PM on August 10, 2017

I just bought this eShakti dress in the second color because it was so good, and I think it'll hit what you're looking for:
Asymmetric ruffle front leaf print crepe

I love eShakti but I didn't find it the greatest for suit-equivalent dresses. Still, there's some good stuff there and worth looking. I tried Boden but I guess I am just far enough from standard that the fit wasn't right (plus only a few have pockets, and they weren't the more work ones. Pockets are crucial).
posted by Salamandrous at 6:53 AM on August 12, 2017

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