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Career & Work Style Dresses & Separates
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Although Elegant Plus earns a small fee on all purchases made through the shopping recommendations below, it is a completely free shopping resource for the consumer, and many times we are able to provide links that offer consumer discounts and free shipping offers upon landing on the partner retailer's site. All selections are available at time of posting and purchases can be made directly from the retailer on the associated shopping link. All of the shopping guides include designer selections which are noted with the designer's name in descriptions.

Dresses and separates suitable for professional women are widely available on-line, and one of the most worn and sought after shopping categories in extended sizes. 

Those working in casual and creative office environments are able to mix and match more  than their  conservative counterparts in fields such as banking, pharmaceuticals or law, using color, patterns, textures and silhouettes to create individual and trend conscious looks. 

Even so, it is not unusual to have wardrobes with core basic black clothing, often in quality knits, that mix and match with more interesting pieces.


 Karen Kane and Eileen Fisher are two designers that work in modern classic black knits at different price points and fibers. Some of the best high-end, tailored black career trousers come from Louben and Lafayette 148 in sizes to 24W. 


St. John is another premium label with sizes regularly offered to 16 misses that is appealing to conservative executives and business professionals. Those in the know regularly have St. John's Milano knit styles professionally blocked by dry cleaners to fit up to size 20.  Luxury label Marina Rinaldi offers exquisitely tailored, polished dresses and separates in luxury fibers such as silk and linen in sizes 14 to 24W which is getting increasingly easier to find on-line. Meanwhile Joan Vass and Caroline Rose, both available at Neiman Marcus, offer high end selections of separates in sizes to 3X.

Mid-level designer options include Vince Camuto, LAUREN Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, and DKNY lines, along with labels such as Jessica Howard, Maggy London, and Gabby Skye which are widely available at both department stores such as Lord & Taylor and Nordstrom and an increasing number of other internet retailers such as Zappos.  The very stylish, contemporary designs of Rachel Roy are available through the brand website, in addition to a growing list of upscale department stores.

Knit dresses and separates that work for busy, on-the-go women who need to look polished are very popular with creative professionals at Nic + Zoe.  This designer mixes contemporary patterns with easy, no fuss style that flatters a variety of body types from XS to 3X.  Women who enjoy Eileen Fisher's aesthetic will find Nic + Zoe a more contemporary and compatible label for mixing and matching.


Plus-size dresses suitable for work come in a dizzying variety of cuts, colors, prints, fabrics and silhouettes now that the plus market has finally opened up.  Although hem lines are beginning to come down into below the knee midi styles, many younger women still prefer a length that grazes the knee in sheath and shift styles. Silhouettes and detailing are also softening this year to include looser styles in flowing and light fabrics that are sometimes flounced, even for daytime work wear.

 Classic fit and flare, in addition to shift styles can take on a vintage flavor at eShakti with easy customizations for talls and petites. Many styles also allow changes to necklines and sleeves for a very small fee. All dresses, and a growing collection of tops and skirts, are available from 0 to 36W. 

Jacket dresses act as quasi-suits and often work well in environments that require them.  The most reliable resources for these styles include Catherine's  and Avenue in sizes 14 to 32W, and Dress Barn in size 4 to 24W.  All are moderately priced.  High end, luxury options are most readily available from Saks Fifth Avenue.

Classic wrap dresses in knits are a figure-flattering specialty at Kiyonna which carries to size 10 to 32W.  Ralph Lauren was one of the first premier American designers to offer lower priced bridge and diffusion collections in extended plus-sizes.  His signature, modern classic style dresses are perfect for the office.  The both mid-tier lines Lauren by Ralph Lauren and CHAPS are available from many department stores in sizes up to 22W. 


A few retailers specialize almost exclusively in career separates.  Foxcroft is known for high quality, moderately upscale priced shirts and blouses in more tailored classic to contemporary styles.  Often available from better department stores and retailers, their extended size range to 24W is completely available from their brand site.  In contrast, Ralph Lauren offers a small fraction of their women's collection directly with the majority of their line available from department stores such as Dillard's, Lord & Taylor, and Macy's.

Talbots is a classic must stop for contemporary and classic business clothes, including a generous collection of more casual separates that mix and match well.  Natural fibers such as cotton, silk, and linen are well represented with impeccable quality.  Sizing ranges from 2 to 24W with many styles available in plus petite to 22W.

Those who enjoy a contemporary designer vibe will want to check in at Rachel Roy for an upscale collection or work appropriate separates in sizes up to 24W.


Cataloguers also offer contemporary to classic dresses appealing for many working environments. 

The dresses and separates at Draper's & Damon's will appeal to women who prefer lower hemlines and a more mature look while remaining stylish. Separates include a variety of pant leg styles from slim to palazzo with tunics, blouses, and jackets that have a contemporary feel for size 6 to 24W.

Coldwater Creek has a contemporary style with a more relaxed vibe that often mixes artisanal details with natural fibers.   This is a good spot for both layering separates and dresses for size S to 3X.  More modestly priced, the selection at Blair can be surprisingly good for business casual dresses with looks leaning toward classic and East Coast preppy for sizes S to 3X for women and petites.  Lands End in recent years has increased its business casual selection considerably, many times working in natural fibers and easy ponte knits for sizes 2 to 26W, with petite and tall dresses available to size 18. 

Moderately priced classic separates including classic career trousers, blouses, and sweaters are regularly available through Bedford Fair with sizing available as large as 28W, and petites to 20P.  A little bit more upscale are the tailored pants, shirts, and coordinate styles available from Appleseed's which also emphasizes natural fibers, including wool in the winter months for sizes up to 24W.

Those looking for extended plus size career separates will find a particularly good selection at Ulla Popken which offers styles from size 12 to 38W.  Prices range from moderate to upscale and includes more options in fibers such as silk, linen, cashmere, and organic cottons.  The blouse selection is particularly strong.


Eloquii is a particularly good resource for fashion forward and contemporary dresses appropriate for work with collections that sell out and change rapidly.  A majority of their collection is available from size 14 to 24W, with a selection extended to size 28W.  This is also the best spot to find jumpsuits, culottes, and other fashion trends as they emerge.

Equally popular is the City Chic line in size 14 to 24W, and labels such as Paris A/X, Anna Scholz, and Joanna Hope at Simply Be for size 8 to 28W.   New York & Co carries a variety of trendy works styles from dresses to suiting and separates with a very popular celebrity capsule collection from Eva Mendes.  Sizing in most styles is available to 18/20 with some options available in petite and talls. 

Perhaps a surprise to some shoppers is the advances made by Lane Bryant, especially on-line, in the realm of trend conscious work wear.  In addition to their own label they've been developing capsule collections with leading upscale designers such as Isabelle Toledo, Lela Rose, and Christian Siriano with limited edition work appropriate looks available in size 10 to 28W.  Exclusively on-line they've also been actively developing a deep inventory of well known dress labels at moderate to upscale price points in contemporary styles for size 14 to 24W.  You'll find well known labels such as ABS by Allen Schwartz, Gabby Skye, Otis and many others.

Target is another surprise entry with considerable effort put into beefing up their on-line exclusive plus-size selection.  Both in house labels to 4X, and well known brands at moderate price points are trend conscious contributions to professional working wardrobes.

Rounding out this category is the modestly priced collection at Ashley Stewart.  Styles change frequently here in extremely trendy styles.  Although some of the barer and more figure conscious looks may not be appropriate for many professional work environments, this can be an exceptionally good spot for linen (in season), and dresses for size 12 to 32W.

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