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Looking to strike a balance between staying cool and looking professional? Then get ready to make business casual summer dresses your go-to this season.
In fact, they’re a warm-weather favorite of our Next Level Wardrobe clients. We style busy, driven executives and CEOs who want to feel good about how they present themselves in the workplace. But, they don’t want to spend hours getting ready.
As temperatures heat up, these one-and-done pieces are the ideal way to simplify your morning routine and keep you comfortable.
Read on to learn how to incorporate dresses into your office wear and five essential styles to invest in.
Is a Summer Dress Business Casual?
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Yes, a summer dress can be business casual. Now, are summer dresses business casual across the board?
Of course not.
A summer dress is business casual if it follows your office’s usual work attire dress code. While every office has its own dress policy, here are a few general rules of thumb. Business casual summer dresses should:
– Lean conservative. Just because it’s 90 degrees doesn’t mean your corporate office will let you wear a spaghetti strap or mini dress. Aim for dresses that are knee-length or longer and always have some coverage on the tops of your shoulders.
– Be made of quality fabrics. Don’t wear something that looks and feels like a beach coverup. Skip see-through fabrics and stick to elevated materials like linen, high grade-cotton, or well-produced blends.
– Fit well. We know it’s tempting to reach for oversized, airy frocks during a heatwave. But wearing a sack to your job isn’t the way to go. Instead, choose well-tailored pieces that aren’t too snug or too loose.
Use these guidelines whether you’re shopping for casual work dresses for summer and you can’t go wrong.
5 Essential Styles for Acing Business Casual Summer Dress Code
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Now that you know what a typical business casual summer dress code looks like, it’s time to dig deeper. We’ve selected five main categories of summer business dresses to start you off:
– Power dresses
– Midi and maxi dresses
– Sleeveless dresses
– Wrap dress
In each section, we’ll walk you through why these are staples in any woman’s power casual wardrobe. Plus, we’ve hand-picked a few shoppable options to inspire you.
Dressing Business Casual in Summer: The Power Dress
What’s one of the best times to wear business casual summer dresses? When you need a statement piece or power piece.
Often, women think that the only choices they have for commanding attention in the workplace are suits. As much as we love all the different types of women’s blazers out there, you don’t have to limit yourself.
Especially if you feel more comfortable in dresses or feminine silhouettes.
Professional summer dresses exist and one of the best examples of this is the power dress. We define this frock as one that’s structured, perfectly tailored, and features a dash of personal flair.
Take this cobalt-blue sheath dress from BOSS featured above. This dress means business. The structured, precise fit complements your figure without straying into bodycon territory.
The belt, textured wool, and pop of color add visual interest and help this piece stand out from the crowd.
(Dressing Business Casual in Summer doesn’t have to be boring.)
Want an option that can go from business casual to business formal in a snap? Consider this black ensemble with an asymmetrical neckline from Black Halo.
Little black dresses work any time of year, but the sleeveless design works especially well for hot days.
Wear this with nude heels and you’re set for a presentation or conference.
The Midi: The Must-have Business Casual Summer Dress
If you’re ever stuck on what qualifies as a business casual summer dress, look no further than the midi. Midis and maxi dresses are perfect for workwear.
For one, they’ve got the hem length you need. Wear one of these and you’ll never have to stress about adjusting your skirt throughout the day.
Secondly, long-line dresses are the most comfortable types of business casual summer dresses. Choose an a-line or bias-cut silhouette so you can move freely and stay breezy even on the hottest days.
One approach to a Business casual midi dress is this teal, clip-dot pick from CeCe.
The flutter sleeve and tiered ruffle skirt give the piece a feminine, trend-aware twist. At the same time, the solid color and high neckline ensure that the dress isn’t too busy.
This piece is a great way to show off your personal brand through clothing.
Interested in playing with prints? Pop on this business casual maxi dress from T Tahari. You get the right amount of coverage from the long skirt, balanced by the button-down neckline.
If you’re familiar with the Next Level Wardrobe Style System, you know we keep prints and patterns to a minimum. But this one makes for a good starting point because it’s made up of two core colors: black and white.
That way, it’s easy to combine with other items in your closet and it doesn’t feel too loud.
Women’s Business Casual Dresses: Summer-Ready, Smart, and Sleeveless
What’s one of the biggest factors that make business casual dresses a summer item? Their sleeves (or lack thereof).
Not every summer business casual dress is sleeveless. But if you sweat easily or live in a place where the temperature goes over 80 degrees, these are your best bet for surviving the elements.
The key to keeping this look feeling office-appropriate is balancing it out with more formal elements.
Take this blouson-bodice piece. It’s sleeveless, but no one would accuse it of being too casual. That’s because it’s paired with a detailed top, fitted silhouette, and crisp clean fabric.
Complete this ensemble with a pair of ballet flats—one of our favorite office shoes for women. Or slip on a cardigan if your team loves to blast the AC.
Interested in something slightly more casual? Try this off-white business casual dress from Lafayette. The skirt is shorter and looser for a more laid-back look.
Again, flats go great here (like the slingbacks in the photo) or you can modernize the outfit with loafers.
Summer Business Casual Dresses: Sundresses for Work
Did you know that business casual summer dresses include sundresses?
You don’t have to save them for the weekends or vacations anymore. As long as they fit our other guidelines about coverage and material, you can bring sun-fun into the workplace.
Here are two examples of how to wear business casual sundresses:
What makes sundresses different from other summer business casual dresses is the more relaxed feel, breezy shapes, and seasonal fabrics.
This fit-and-flare option from Lafayette 148 checks all of those boxes while still feeling polished.
It features an airy skirt and 100% cotton fabrication for maximum breathability.
The midi length and short sleeves make it feel modest while the collar gives it an extra professional touch.
You can also keep your casual work dresses for summer simple with something like this v-neck by St. John.
It’s not too structured, not too soft. It goes just past the knees and the no-frills design makes it easy to dress up or down.
Everyday Work Dresses for Summer: The Business Casual Wrap Dress
To close out our five top work dresses for summer, we have the business casual wrap dress.
Why do wrap dresses work so well for office wear?
1. They’re a classic. Wrap dresses stay “in” no matter the ups and downs of trends.
2. They’re universally flattering. Whether you’re shopping for plus-size corporate wear or straight sizes, these dresses look good on everyone. They complement the curves on mid-size body types without overwhelming petite frames either.
3. They’re comfortable without looking sloppy. You get all the flexibility of an a-line dress while still defining your shape. Whether your dress has a tie-waist or not, the wrap front is just enough detail to feel put together.
If you’re curious about professional summer dresses in a wrap silhouette, try this one from Ralph Lauren.
The magenta provides a seasonal splash of color while the half-sleeve and collared neckline gives off a professional attitude.
Or for something more subtle, throw on this vintage-inspired frock from Shoshana. This color works especially well for business casual settings because it reads as more approachable and modern than black.
Do you want hands-on assistance with incorporating business casual summer dresses into your closet? Apply for NLW’s personal styling services or women’s image consulting services. We have a team of experts ready to find your style and change how you shop for good.
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Cassandra Sethi is a NYC Personal Stylist and Image Consultant. After working over 15 years in the Fashion Industry, most recently as a Senior Buyer for Equinox, she created her business, Next Level Wardrobe – a luxury personal shopping service for successful professionals.
Next Level Wardrobe has been featured in Wall Street Journal, Today and CNN. See here.