As temperatures heat up, women can use summer dresses for work as a way to stay cool and professional at the same time.
In my work with women on image consulting and styling, business casual summer dresses have proven to be a staple for any working woman’s summer wardrobe, and there is a wide variety to choose from.
For an important event
If you find yourself hunting for the perfect outfit for a significant work event, such as a presentation or interview, consider the length, fit, and coverage of a business casual summer dress.
You can elevate the formality of a dress by choosing more conservative colors and more professional cuts, such as a blazer dress, sheath, or tie neck dress.
My selection: Mixed Pinstripe Long Sleeve Blazer Dress | Rebecca Taylor for Nordstrom
This tailored blazer dress in Italian twill is a perfect pick for a professional setting, and can be easily paired with black pumps for an interview that just might be more than a business casual environment.
It also can be reworn with more casual shoes in your business casual setting.
The pinstripes add visual interest that creates a more exciting look than a plain black dress. When selected blazer dresses, consider belted options like this that accentuate the natural waist.
My selection: Densina Wool Blend Sheath Dress | BOSS for Nordstrom
Wool blends are a classic choice for a more formal work event, but this sleeveless style will keep you cool throughout the summer months, making it a strong choice for a summer work dress.
The brand promotes this dress as lending a “dash of menswear,” due to the windowpane pattern and wool fabric.
Sheath dresses should fit your figure without pulling around the chest or hips, and this tailored option offers a tailored waist.
My selection: Tie-Neck Flounce Dress | Adrianna Papell Plus for Bloomingdale’s (sizes 14-22)
This plus-sized option is a classic black and white flounce dress, meaning the hemline has some fun swing to it and can inspire confidence for even the most difficult presentations.
The high neckline and necktie detail is both formal and fun, showing you can mean business without taking yourself too seriously.
This option also features upper arm coverage if you aren’t a fan of sleeveless dresses.
For your average weekday at the office
Shirt dresses in various lengths (at and below the knee) are fuss-free easy throw on options for your typical weekday. Luckily these dresses often have buttons such as a button-down or polo would so you can control how conservative you want to be.
My selection: Pinstripe Midi Shirtdress | Mark + James by Badgley Mischka for Nordstrom
A midi is a stylish choice for business casual summer dresses, as it’s more unique than a typical knee-length pencil skirt, but not as casual as a beachy maxi dress.
It also looks excellent with heeled sandals, such as the model wears here in camel/nude. The matching belt at the waist creates a form-fitting yet appropriate look.
My selection: Cotton Shirt Dress White | Scanlan Theodore
A crisp white summer dress for work looks fresh and instantly put together. I advise my female clients to have at least one shirt dress in a solid, core color, as it serves as a versatile addition to your capsule wardrobe.
It can be paired with a fun or formal belt, statement jewelry or heels, and the sleeves can be pushed up or buttoned down to full length depending on the weather and your plans.
My selection: Edith City Crepe Fit & Flare Midi Dress | Gal Meets Glam for Nordstrom (available in up to a size 18, which they say is equivalent to a 14W in this case)
One of the most universally flattering styles is a classic A-line dress, such as this midi with demure sleeves and a v-neck.
This capsule wardrobe essential can be paired with heels or flats in a variety of colors, jewelry or belts, and can also be worn as is for a simple, beautiful workday outfit.
For a day to evening look
Summer is the best time to grab a cocktail with coworkers on a sunny day after work, and these dresses mean you don’t have to make that trip home to change.
My selection: Sleeveless Midi Dress | Eliza J for Nordstrom
It doesn’t get any easier than this transition piece that can be worn under a blazer and then all by itself at 5:00 as you move into your evening plans.
This polyester/spandex blend will be so comfortable you will not feel like you need to change from your workwear to meet your partner for dinner.
Navy is one of the core colors I recommend using often when building a capsule wardrobe with clients, and this staple will be worn and re-worn in many combinations of outfits.
My selection: Printed Silk Twill Asymmetrical Dress | 11 Honore (Plus sizes 14-22)
This luxurious silk dress will have coworkers and dinner party friends complimenting you day and night.
The two print style, cut vertically into complementary but different print panels (a paisley and a floral) make for one of the most interesting business casual options available.
The asymmetrical hem and tailored look will be a step up from your typical day wear.
For a statement look at the office
Who says workwear has to be boring?
Those old fashioned images of business casual as a terrible polo and khakis will be so far from your mind when you realize the pop of color and statement pieces you can integrate into your summer business casual wardrobe.
My selection: 3/4 Sleeve Fit and Flare Dress | Eloquii (Plus sizes 14-28)
This bright and bold yellow, also available in green (but sold out for a reason), will turn heads in the office.
The unique square neckline is different from most pieces in your closet, but this knee-length fit and flare remains appropriate and classy for the workday.
My selection: Plaid Wrap Midi Dress | Chaus for Nordstrom
This summer staple proves plaid shouldn’t have to be confined to just your annual holiday party, but can be worn all year.
This three quarter sleeved v-neck wrap dress is figure-flattering and cool and comfortable for summer with a polyester/spandex blend. Polished, stunning and comfortable can coexist, and this dress is out to prove it.
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. Cassandra’s been featured in Greatist, Livestrong and NY Mag.