Dresses for Success?

I was doing an image update for one of my female executive presence coaching clients. She works as a financial advisor in a male dominated industry and has typically worn suits to work.  While suiting helps her project professionalism and polish, she wanted other options for the office. I suggested adding some dresses to the mix.

Sleeveless dresses in the corporate world?

Sleeveless in Seattle?

While doing a pre-shop for her, I was thrilled to see so much colour and variety in the stores. But as I was going through the racks I noticed that the majority of dresses were sleeveless dresses. Uh-oh!

Finance and law?

In less conservative fields and more creative professions, wearing a sleeveless dress is certainly more acceptable. But in a corporate role or where you look after people’s finances or personal affairs they are less prevalent. (Contrary to the popular TV show Suits see photo, most female lawyers especially managing partners; do not wear a lot of sleeveless dresses at the office.)

Sleeveless options?

I just finished reading I’ll Drink to That, a fascinating autobiography by Betty Halbreich an image coach who has worked at Bergdorf Goodman for decades. Like many of my clients, she doesn’t much care for the design trend of sleeveless dresses and sleeveless garments for woman of all ages. She believes that designers should at least provide us with more options like a short sleeve.

Protecting your assets?

She writes “You can always alter the fabric of a sleeve – shorten to your liking or let the fabric down. However, when there are no sleeves, there is nothing you can do. Today designers feel the no-sleeve look is younger.  Nonsense—it has nothing to do with age. Women should at least have some options.” I couldn’t agree more.

Sleeveless Dresses Tips and Advice

If going sleeveless is not always suitable for your profession or brand, here are a few options that I give my executive presence coaching clients for adapting the sleeveless dress.

Tip 1. Add a jacket and some colour
This can instantly turn sleeveless dresses into a classy, pulled together outfit. And if you want to update a dress from a previous season, you can choose a jacket from any one of this season’s shades to compliment your skin tone, hair and eyes. Click here to see the 2017 Fall colour trends

great option for sleeveless dressesTip 2.  Add a little ‘false’ sleeve
Try a sleevey wonder, this provides maximum mileage from your existing wardrobe and makes dresses look more polished and professional for the office. As an added bonus they are more comfortable in air conditioned environments.  (Now available in many Canadian boutiques.) http://www.sleeveywonders.com/

Tip 3.  Add a cardigan in a fine gauge knit.
You can choose from short-sleeved, three quarter length or long sleeved. This is a great option for a business casual day.

Tip 4. Shrug your shoulders
Shrugs are great for the office or after 5 dressing. They allow you to cover your arms without covering up too much of the dress or top. You can then safely wear a tank style or strappy dress to the office without baring too much.

Tip 5. Add a mesh tunic
This season many tunics and cardigans are coming in mesh fabrics. Great for women who heat up in the summer, yet still want to cover up a sleeveless dress.
As I tell my audiences and clients – dress for your brand and the job you want.

Posted by Joanne Blake – Canadian corporate image consultant and sleevey wonderer

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About the author 

Joanne Blake

Canadian speaker, corporate image consultant & business etiquette expert. If you're interested in booking a presentation, keynote or coaching, contact me. Based in Calgary / Edmonton, Alberta in western Canada.

  1. Hi Joanne, I just came upon your article and I am also very familiar with this wardrobe conundrum. As a fashion show coordinator for the past 20 years, women would share with me that this is their biggest wardrobe issue. That is how the idea of an attachable sleeve was born. I am the designer & owner of Sleeves 2 Go, a pretty attachable flutter sleeve that snaps over your bra strap offering coverage & great style.It’s a lighter option for women who don’t want to go sleeveless. The flutter design is flattering on many shapes & sizes & is available is several colors. Please visit http://www.sleeves2go.com to view the collection.Thank you for addressing this wardrobe issue and offering solutions!
    Susan Costanza

  2. Susan, I’m glad you found you the tips useful! Hope you have a productive conference and are able to build in some fun on your trip.

  3. Barbara,
    On occasion I have also found light weight tops that work well underneath dresses. The challenge is finding the right weight and having them look like they are part of the outfit rather than an afterthought.

  4. This article was so timely. I’m so programmed to purchase suits or separates – skirts, blouses, and suit jackets. Last week, I went out and bought 4 plain sleeveless dresses for a conference I am attending in Palm Springs. I intend to wear them all with what you mentioned in your article and bring accessories to liven them up. I have never heard of or seen the false sleeve and I think it’s great! Thanks for the info.

  5. I do understand Sleevie Wonders, the problem I have with them is they are so expensive. You can actually buy a complete top (I have purchased sheer scoop necks and turtlenecks) for the same price and you can wear them under dresses as well as over a camisole for different looks.

    Thank you for your posts, I really enjoy them.

  6. That a good point Cecile! I’ve tried dress/jacket shields to protect clothing, but they always seem to shift and bunch under the arm. I find that wearing unlined jackets helps as they don’t trap moisture the way that lined jackets do.

  7. The problem with a blazer over a sleeveless dress is to be blunt, perspiration and the cost to dry clean the blazer. I love the sleevey!

  8. Excellent tip Karin! I have a few three quarter length jackets as well in lighter weight fabrics.

  9. For the office I own a few short (elbow length) sleeve blazers, which I find great on hot days.

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