The Best Summer Work Dresses: 40+ Size-Inclusive Options!

the best summer work dresses

After a year at home, many are returning to the office. Forgot how to dress for work? Wondering how to look polished and professional when it's hot out? Here are some great summer work dresses I've found lately I just HAD to share with you!

Summer Work Dresses; What to Look For

When it's summer, especially when you have any sort of public transportation, bike, or walking portion of a commute, you want clothing that won't cling and won't cause you to overheat. For casual wear that's easy: linen, cotton, all the high-tech moisture-wicking fabrics are there for all sorts of garments. But for the office, those fabrics don't always read professional. Here are some tips when shopping for summer work dresses:

  • Look for dresses that have flow: swingy skirts, fuller sleeves, surplice or wrap bodices will help catch any breeze while still being work-appropriate. Little details like structured shoulders or puffed sleeves can make a big impact on your comfort level in the heat.
  • Consider at or below the knee styles: When the dress is a bit longer, you can get away with dresses that may have more body to not stick to the skin, or styles that catch the breeze. When shorter, they can read Juniors; with a bit of length it feels more retro-inspired while also providing a more professional appearance.
  • Cover all the bits: If in doubt, size up and take a dress to the tailor to be sure your bra is hidden, your underwear lines aren't prominent, and the dress fits comfortably and isn't clinging. Too tight, and you'll be uncomfortable in the heat (and sweat will be more likely to show). Too loose, and you lose your polish.
  • The print/color sets the tone: Dresses usually come in more than one color or print. Think about the general vibe of your office and choose a print or color that fits it. A more subtle print or color will read more conservative, dressy, and professional. Bright colors and prints are fantastic for creative workplaces. Novelty prints, neons, and the bolder pastels that are popular now can read juvenile or casual so wear with care.
  • Be careful with embellishment: Beading, sequins, and embroidery can read vacation attire; sharkbite, high-low, and scarf hemlines (especially with chiffon overlay) can read wedding guest. Eyelet and seersucker can read casual, and cut-outs rarely are a good choice for the workplace. However, you know your office environment best; my advice is a guide not gospel.
  • Shoes make the person: The same summer dress can be perfect for a wedding, a backyard barbecue, a baby shower, a brunch, a Target run, and the office. The difference is your footwear. Switching out sandals for a pair of professional-looking flats or kitten heel slingbacks can make all the difference in adding a professional touch to dresses already in your closet.

Stylish Summer Work Dresses: My Picks

Below are a few collages featuring summer work dresses I've found. Below each collage I will have links to the dresses along with the size range available. Below that will be carousels of those and additional dresses in that category. Use the arrows to scroll through the carousel. If you click on an image in the carousel or a link on this page, a separate browser window will open to the shop page with additional details.

Sleeveless Summer Work Dresses

sleeveless summer work dresses with options in plus sizes
Shop Sleeveless Summer Work Dresses:
Top Row: red fit and flare (sizes 0-16, six colors available) | blue belted (sizes 0-16) | yellow belted sheath (sizes 4-18 in two colors; click here for the same dress in sizes 14W-22W)
Middle Row: brick red printed belted (XXS-XXL) | navy asymmetrical hemline (XS-XL; two colors available) | blue and red print (sizes 8-22)
Bottom Row: yellow belted (sizes 0X-3X; click here for sizes XXS-XXL) | blue belted (sizes XXS-XXL in two colors; click here for sizes 0X-3X) | red belted shirtdress (sizes 2-14)

Shop Sleeveless Summer Work Dresses:

350

I know not everyone is comfortable baring their arms, especially in the workplace. But for those who do, the dresses above have professional enough of a look that the exposed arms aren't an issue. Note that these aren't tank or wide strap styles, they are just sleeveless. As I mentioned above, better to size up and tailor to not have it gape at the bust or expose your bra under your arms.

Summer Shirtdresses for the Office

shirtdresses are a great choice for summer work dresses. They look professional and keep you cool.
Shop Summer Shirtdresses for the Office:
Top Row: white with blue print (sizes 1X-3X; click for sizes XXS-XXL) | blue floral (five prints to choose from; sizes 2-22 with long options) | black print (sizes 00-24W)
Middle Row: plum and black print (sizes 00-16) | off-white with blue (sizes XS-3X) | beige belted (two colors, sizes 0X-3X; click here for the same dress in sizes XS-XL)
Bottom Row: blue and white (sizes XXS-XL) | dots with pink accents (sizes 14W-24W; click here for sizes 2-18) | navy shirtdress (sizes 12W-24W and different fits per your body shape; use WARDROBE20 for 20% off)

Shop Work-friendly Shirtdresses:

350

You can't go wrong with a shirtdress for the office. The collar and buttons automatically give it a workplace vibe, even in more casual fabrics like cotton poplin, linen, and Tencel. With an a-line or fuller skirt, you can catch the breeze while still looking polished and professional.

Printed Summer Work Dresses

Stylish printed summer work dresses that add fun while still looking polished for the office
Shop Printed Summer Work Dresses:
Top Row: blue floral (three colors available; sizes 0X-5X) | warm graphic stripes (regular and petite sizes 00-16) | navy dots (sizes XS-4XL)
Middle Row: red floral (sizes 2-16) | blue print (two colors; sizes 14/16 – 26/28) | graphic print (sizes 2-18)
Bottom Row: teal print (sizes XXS-2X) | green dots (sizes 1X-3X; same print in a sleeveless dress sizes XS-XL) | black floral (two colors available; sizes 12-26)

Shop Professional Printed Summer Work Dresses:

350

Prints are so fun to wear, but some prints can be too juvenile, casual, or too statement-making for many workplaces. While a lot of creative, education, and support fields welcome cheerful prints to uplift clients, students, and patients, they can be too much for Corporate America. These dresses offer fun and whimsy while still looking professional enough for your next staff meeting.

Solid-Colored Summer Work Dresses

chic summer work dresses for 2021
Shop Solid-colored Summer Work Dresses:
Top Row: brown eyelet (sizes 00-16/18) | yellow belted sheath (sizes 14W-22W; click here for the same dress in sizes 4-18) | pink gathered (two colors available; sizes 14-28) | black fit and flare midi (sizes XS-XL)
Middle Row: blue pleated dress (sizes 2-16) | gray gathered dress (four colors available; sizes 0-14) | navy short sleeve (three colors available; misses, petite, plus, and tall sizes XS-4X) | brick red belted (regular and petite sizes 00-18)
Bottom Row: orange with open-work sleeves (sizes XS-XL) | brown v-neck (two colors available, sizes 00-40) | yellow gathered (sizes 0-14; click here for the same dress in pale blue) | pink fluid shirtdress (two colors, sizes XS-XL)

Shop Solid-colored Summer Work Dresses:

350

A solid color can read more dressy, conservative, and polished. Pair with nude-to-you heels or pointed toe flats and a simple and elegant necklace for a serious meeting, add contrast shoes and fun earrings for a more casual and creative office setting. Solid colors are more likely to show sweat; consider wearing a sweat-catching garment underneath and sizing up and using a tailor for a custom not-tight fit.

If you have found a really great summer work dress that isn't featured here, do share in the comments! And if you have tried any of these dresses, we'd love to read your feedback, positive or negative! Your thoughts help fellow Wardrobe Oxygen readers and shoppers!

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6 Comments

  1. Christine
    June 24, 2021 / 4:23 pm

    I was super pleased to see Zuri Kenya in your lineup! I have three of their dresses (all the same A-line shirtdress pattern) and three shirts, and can attest that they are comfortable, modest, flattering, easy to wear, well-made, and available in a wide variety of prints and colors, from solids and small rep prints to bolder geometrics and batiks. They’re made in Kenya by a women’s cooperative though the fabrics come from all over Africa. Look good and do well at the same time.

    • Erica
      June 24, 2021 / 5:23 pm

      I’m curious…do they drape better after being washed a couple of times? I just ordered two and sent them back. The L sleeveless one was the right size in the body but the pattern didn’t suit me. (They were out of nearly all sleeveless options.) The XL with sleeves I ordered was far too big in the body but the sleeves would be too tight if I sized down. But I didn’t love how much the dress stuck out at the sides. I love a-lines usually, these just had too much stiffness. I’d consider trying another sleeveless option if I knew they softened up!

      • Christine
        June 24, 2021 / 11:12 pm

        Hi Erica yes in my experience they definitely do. I had one I wore literally to death where the fabric was shedding under the arms after years of wear. Bear in mind though that they make the dresses in different fabrics these days, some of which seem more starchy than others. I’m sure Zuri customer support could guide you on that point. As a data point, I’m smaller in the bust/shoulders/arms than in the lower body, so I wear a smaller size than I otherwise would. It’s a definite A-line cut, which is great for the hot climate I live in and also makes the dresses work as duster coats or over jeans/leggings. Having just that one cut for dresses I guess means it will work better for some bodies than for others.

  2. Batty
    June 24, 2021 / 11:59 am

    Those sleeveless dresses could be great with a light cardigan or blazer — office AC can be freezing, even tho’ your commute is sweaty!

  3. Darlene
    June 24, 2021 / 10:55 am

    Thank you for this! I love dresses for work – in the summer with sandals and in the winter with tights and boots. Several of these caught my eye; some plus size dresses can be too overwhelming on my shorter self. My favorite work dresses are Eliza J found on Nordstrom rack’s website – I check back often to see since their inventory changes.

  4. E
    June 24, 2021 / 10:01 am

    Thanks for this amazing compilation! I feel cheerful looking at these dresses, LOL.

    For a conservative office, I really think MM LaFleur is a great choice. While their dresses can be pricey, they now have a resale shop (MM Second Act) where I’ve scored a few gorgeous dresses and blouses recently.

    https://mmlafleur.archiveresale.co/

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