Why can’t I find long-sleeved professional dresses?

The lack of work-appropriate winter wear for women is a real issue
By Dalene Rovenstine  Published on 01/14/2019 at 9:00 AM EDT
Looking for long-sleeved dresses and coming up empty? We know the feeling. Shutterstock

Long-sleeved dresses are the holy grail of dresses. And I’m not talking about the long-sleeved mini-dresses you wear to look cute when going out in winter but actually freeze in all night long. I’m talking the long-sleeved, work-appropriate dress. I mean the dresses that look nice with tights or panty hose and a sensible heel or boot. Or the dresses that are—gasp—long-sleeved and long-skirted. These kinds of dresses are impossible to find.

Because I have so few of these items hanging in my closet, most of winter I find myself putting cardigans over my spring and summer wardrobe. Inevitably, three weeks into winter I start to feel like a fuddy duddy. I’ll try to mix it up by wearing a belt over the cardigan, which I don’t think is even in style anymore, or opting for a chunky sweater. I once got really crazy and wore a long-sleeved shirt under a sleeveless number. All of that certainly helps to mix up my winter wardrobe, but it’s still not quite the same as wearing a dress that was designed for the season.

No matter the time of year, if I see one of these elusive long-sleeve dresses, I snap them up and they become a staple of my wardrobe for years to come. And I know I’m not alone: Riding in the elevator at work a few years ago, I told a coworker I loved her long-sleeve dress. I asked where it was from. She said, “I don’t even remember; I bought it so long ago. I can never find long-sleeved dresses.” An extended, out-of-the-elevator conversation ensued about how long-sleeved dresses are impossible to find. I had never felt so validated! I thought I was on the hunt for these dresses alone, but turns out it’s a fairly universal issue.

My working theory for the lack of professional winter wear is that all fashion designers live in LA and don’t give a rip about the rest of us. True, we have Diane von Furstenberg, who gave us the wrap dress—many of which are long-sleeved. However, nine times out of 10, wrap dresses are made with light fabrics that are more appropriate for cool spring or fall days.

RELATED: One woman explains why she’s made wrap dresses her fall staple

Or maybe the reason is short-sleeved and sleeveless dresses look better on the runway and on mannequins in the store? Or possibly because it’s cheaper to make clothing with less fabric? Or could designers think women would rather show off their arms than dress seasonally appropriately? Whatever the reason, I’d love for this trend to change. In the past couple years I have seen more long-sleeved dresses available than in the past decade, so I’m hopeful that it can. (Target’s Who What Wear line, in particular, has had numerous choices over the past few winter seasons. And the fact that these dresses are at a great price point is an added bonus.)

But until the long-sleeved dress options are as plentiful as the sleeveless shifts in stores and online, we must continue to seek out these rare finds and hold on to them like gold. If you, like me, find that long-sleeved dresses are invaluable to your winter wardrobe, here are a few currently available options to stock up on.

Oh, and fashion designers, if you’re reading: Throw a girl a couple sleeves once in a while? Our cold arms will thank you.

Studded Doubleface Shift Dress by Loft

Although this is a long-sleeve shift dress, with darts at the bust, this Loft dress is a flattering fit for any shape.

Purchase from Loft for $79.50.

Floral Velvet-Burnout Dress by Vince Camuto

Who says floral is just for spring? This dark floral print on black is perfect for colder months.

Purchase from Bloomingdale’s for $189.

Women's Long Sleeve Collared Shirt Dress by Prologue

This simple, yet classy, shirt dress comes in two prints and three solid colors.

Purchase from Target for $29.99.

Colorblocked Sweater Dress by I.N.C.

Stay extra warm in winter with this past-the-knee sweater dress.

Purchase from Macy’s for $119.50.

Long Sleeve Lace Mix Midi Dress by Who What Wear

With lace details and a sheer overlay, this plus size LBD is flirty while still suited for the office.

Purchase from Target for $36.99.

Blissful Beginnings Floral Maxi Dress by ModCloth

Color blast the doldrums of winter with this pretty green floral dress available up to 4X.

Purchase from ModCloth for $99.

Ponte-Knit Shirred-Sleeve Sheath Dress

This semi-fitted dress (available in two floral prints and solid black) is tailored enough to look professional but loose enough to be comfortable.

Purchase from Old Navy for $39.99.

First Impressions Pleated Velvet Dress by Blutsgeschwister

Velvet isn’t just for the nighttime! Plush up your daytime in this luxurious blue number.

Purchase from ModCloth for $99.

Flaunted Confidence Long Sleeve Dress

Available in both red and black, this long-sleeve dress is all tied up with a bow!

Purchase from ModCloth for $69.

Long Sleeve Maxi Knit Dress by Who What Wear

From one of my favorite collections, this Who What Wear dress is perfect to jazz up with a colorful blazer, sweater or chunky necklace. May we suggest one in this year’s color of the year, Living Coral?

Purchase from Target for $29.99.

Checked V-Neck Sheath Dress by Theory

While this dress boasts a V-neck, it’s subtle enough to still be appropriate for the board room.

Purchase from Bloomingdale’s for $355.

Nine Lives Long-Sleeve Leopard Dress by VICI

Paired with black tights and booties, this fun leopard print number can have you going from the office to happy hour with ease.

Purchase from VICI for $58.

Grommet-Trim Sweater Dress by NY Collection

This plus size sweater dress would be great in late fall with booties, and even better in winter with tights and tall boots.

Purchase from Macy’s for $70.

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