Marcie: Career Edition – The Curse of the Sleeveless Dress

By Marcie Everhart

Photo by Darrin Presley

The classic sleeveless sheath dress is such a flattering piece on everyone, all sizes, all ages, a closet staple. What’s not so flattering can be the exposed underarm for us over-fifty. But, we have a whole slew of shirts in the closet right now with fabulous sleeve treatments – bell, tie, split, tulip, puffed, mutton leg, etc. We can give the dress whatever sleeve we want it to have, by simply layering.

Photo by Julie White

You get an additional layer of warmth to keep wearing summer’s dresses into the fall and coverage in an area where the majority of us would like to have it.

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Photo by Julie White

Let’s Pretend We’re the Dress Designer!

Do you love “Project Runway” and Tim Gunn like I do? Let’s make it work! You can approach this in a variety of ways.

Simple color-blocking. Put together a solid color top with a solid color sheath dress, in any color combinations.

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Above we have cut-outs for both shoulders and toes to repeat a special feature, and color-blocking carried through to accessories.

Pattern-mixing. Experiment with stripes, geometrics, florals, polka dots, textures, connecting them with any similar color the pieces share in the pattern.

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A banker’s shirt and a floral…seriously happy.
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The similar color? The orange-yellow flower in the voile shirt, on one of the plastic circle outlines in the necklace, and in the buttoned suede gloves.

Enhancing similarities. Are the pieces different shades of blue? (Like navy, turquoise, and powder blue? This could look like paints mixed on an artist’s palette.) Do they both incorporate circle shapes somehow? (Polka dots, a curved neckline or large, round buttons? Bringing together 3-D objects like buttons or jewelry with the flat 2-D fabric featuring the same shapes looks clever.)

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A gingham check smock with big square pockets with a sweet lace sleeve incorporating little squares in its texture. You can easily duplicate this idea with a floral lace texture sleeve with a floral print sheath.
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Abalone necklace with a silvery blue and black floral bell sleeve.
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Leopard print and tiger’s eye/ tortoise jewelry.

Do necklines play nicely together or fight for dominance in the space near your face? Sometimes two very different necklines can surprise by how interesting they are laid together. Turtlenecks and bow blouses are almost always going to work.

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The Real-Real Behind the Scenes

I wore the navy and taupe to my college alumni board meeting where I knew our annual official photo would be taken — these things end up on Christmas cards for the board, for Christ’s sake! I was not gonna have any arm nonsense going on, lol, so I added the blouse under the sleeveless dress specifically to appear more polished in any photos going down.

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A Little Background Music

I’m gonna make you’s a dress like you ain’t never had a dress made before… my way. ;^)

Shopping Links

This post is more about you shopping your own closet and finding layers to extend your own sleeveless dresses into cooler weather. Or just encouraging you to experiment and have fun with the color, pattern, and textures of clothing you already own, enjoying the things you have.

In case you saw something you really dig, though…

The belted, navy and taupe sheath dress is Calvin Klein, and the navy silk blouse is Talbot’s. A focus of Calvin Klein is minimal sheath dresses.

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Calvin Klein Blue Floral Sheath Dress, $134.

Macy’s Link to Over 200 Calvin Klein Sheath Dresses, including Plus Sizes.


An Ann Taylor Banker’s Shirt, $80.

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Calvin Klein Colorblocked Sheath Dress, $134.

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Tahari Jacquard Sheath Dress, $55.

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The Alyx dresses at JC Penney can be very inexpensive on sale, and they’re super low maintenance.

JC Penney Alyx Sheath Dress on Sale, $18.

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This is the silvery bell sleeve top, Lauren Conrad, $33.


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