Women’s professional dresswear that is preparedness appropriate

After I graduate in December I’ll be moving away from my parent’s farm and beginning a position where I’ll be expected to dress professionally. I’ve always felt pretty comfortable in the casual clothes I am able to wear to my classes and the work clothes I wear on the farm because in the event of an emergency I feel set and have never felt like my clothes would inhibit me in movement/coverage and it’s easy to dress in clothes that seem fit for preparedness when going casual. I’m interested in advice anyone may have on women’s dresswear that is also still appropriate for moving about uninhibited in an emergency scenario. Essentially I am looking for women’s dresswear that is prepping appropriate: easy-movement, durable fabric and functional pieces (I’m excluding skirts and dresses based on this last requirement as they don’t have great coverage for the most part and often don’t have pockets). Lots of womens dresswear is super impractical, made of fragile fabric and has special restrictions on how to care for it and I’d feel unprepared wearing most of it. My searches so far have been refined to clothes that are machine-washable, have pockets and that also look professional (I do not want to look like I went shopping at a tactical shop for clothes). So far, I’ve found two brands that hit my requirements and a few pieces I like:

1. Betabrand Women’s Dress Yoga Pants, Straight Leg with 7 Pockets: https://www.betabrand.com/womens/pants/dress-pant-yoga-pants-collection/7-pocket-stretch-wrinkle-resistant-dress-pants

2. Betabrand Women’s Blazer with Functional Pockets: https://www.betabrand.com/womens/outerwear/womens-four-way-stretch-transcendent-blazer-black

3. Eddie Bauer waterproof trenchcoat that I wear all the time that has many pockets but seems to have been discontinued.

Finding professional blouses, a tote/purse and shoes (I won’t consider anything but flats) is proving to be a bit more difficult. I welcome any input!


  • Comments (7)

    • 9

      Such a good question, and I think about this all the time! Here are some of my favorites:

      • The Exercise Dress by Outdoor Voices — it has bike shorts under the skirt! And the bike shorts have a pocket! I love this dress and wear one almost every day. It’s so comfortable and looks great on so many body types. It would require a blazer or sweater for the workplace, though. 
      • Everlane’s straight leg crop — these pants are SO comfortable and also professional! I wear them with clogs or the day heel a lot, both for meetings and for gardening. 
      • Everlane’s day glove shoe is surprisingly durable, comfortable, and breathable. 
      • I’ve used this Heshe backpack as my work bag for a few years, and I love it. It can be worn with a shoulder strap or on the back. And it has lots of hidden pockets! It also looks professional and is super comfortable. 

      Let me know what you think of these options! Always happy to talk about comfortable, durable, and flexible women’s wear! I’ve heard great things about Betabrand, but never tried their stuff. Would love to hear what you think. 

      • 6

        Love Everlane. I haven’t been shopping for clothes much right now, but I would not be surprised if there are really nice discounts to be found there. 

    • 9

      Wool, especially short and long-sleeve t-shirts. The layer well under cardigans or blazers, you can get solid colors and dress them up with necklaces and scarves. My favorite long-sleeve shirts are Smart Wool 250 base layers, which are warm and come in lots of colors. I think I have 3 at this point, but would buy a couple more. If there’s nothing else I want at one of the REI member sales, I use the coupon to buy another one. Short sleeve, I haven’t found one I’m as happy with because the ligher weight knits can be a bit see through depending on the bra you wear under it–IME you have to wear one that matches your flesh tone. And the short sleeve Smart Wool tees are not as durable as the heavier knit of the 250s. Icebreakers are better. I wear them in very button down work environments and also to ski, hike, whatever.

      I prefer dresses and skirts to pants generally, but for pants I like a very slim fit almost legging-like trouser which has a ton of stretch. You can sprint for a bus, squat heavy file boxes, and meet a potential client. Some have patch pockets in back, but since they are essentially leggings you can plausibly pretend are not leggings, most don’t have pockets at all (which is fine with me, for my needs). When last I wore normal pants, I relied on Banana Republic pants in the Sloan fit. They run a ton of solid sales, so unless I was in a pinch for time I wouldn’t pay more than 60% of the tag price.

      For dresses and skirts, which I know you said you’re not as interested in, I agree it can be hard to find good, useful stuff. But since there’s less decision fatigue (1 dress v. 1 pants + 1 shirt, ughhhhh exhausting!) I do my best. My habit is to look through all the options on REI’s site, once for spring/summer and once for fall/winter, and out of 100 dresses there’s maybe only 1 or 2 I could wear to the office, but once I get them I wear them into the ground. Yes, with pockets. My motto generally is to be picky.

      For flats, I’m much pickier about finding non-ugly zero-drop shoes than necessarily requiring materials that can handle extraordinary wear and tear, but I have two pairs of Massimo Matteo loafers that I can happily walk for miles and miles in. They are mostly either suede or soft leather so they won’t survive the apocolypse, if that’s what you’re looking for. I also have found several boots with 2/2.5 inch heels that I think are great from a comfort/utility/style perspective, but if it’s not what you want, it’s not what you want, I get it.

    • 7

      This is the thread that finally got me to join the Forum! Believe it or not, tradeshows are great training for finding preparedness-suitable professional wear, because if you can survive eight hours on your feet in a tradeshow hall, in clothes that got beaten up in your suitcase and maybe drenched in the rain, you can likely use those same clothes for a “get the heck out of Dodge” kind of scenario too if you have to hike home ten miles on the highway.

      Footwear is the most critical but since you seem to be asking more about the clothing, I’ll recommend two brands I love:  MM LaFleur and 5.11 Tactical.  

      MM LaFleur looks SO froo-froo and it is so NOT.  I have been known to do yoga (at home, by myself!) in their dresses, and most of their dresses have actually useful pockets.  Their skirts look great but are cut in such a way that it wouldn’t be a problem to hike those ten miles.  Most of their outfits are machine-washable and in delicious, durable fabrics.  Their pants are fantastic – I have the Foster pant and am completely comfortable that if I had to kick someone and run in them, I could and would. Read the description of each item carefully – they do have a few things that are more silk and dry clean and some are a bit more fitted – but I’ve absolutely loved everything I bought from them and feel like I’m getting away with wearing pajamas to work. 

      I know you said you didn’t want tactical-looking clothing, but the pants from 5.11 are just the BEST.  I particularly like the Stryke pant, which is admittedly somewhat tactical looking, but has so many fantastic features that I do sometimes wear it to work in my professional office (at least in the pre-pandemic days when I went in to an office).  They are cut specifically so you can move freely in them – I’ve done hours and hours of martial arts in them and washed them a thousand times and they still look great – and pockets everywhere. 5.11 offers some other pants that are less tactical looking but I have not yet tried those.  

      As for footwear, Dansko and Born brands have been the best for me.  Pro Tip: Look for footwear marketed to nurses or chefs.  They tend to be designed to look professional while being impervious to water and other fluids and providing great foot support.  They are my secret weapon at tradeshows . If you have no choice but to wear more of a pump (heels are a big NEVER in my book), then you can tuck a pair of Tieks into your purse in case you have to make a run for it – you can swap out the shoes and Tieks, though not particularly supportive, will get you those ten miles home far more effectively than the heels and are light enough to carry around as a backup.

    • 9

      I wanted to link to the bestest trench coat I’ve ever owned, but they don’t offer it anymore 😭

      This is what it looked like: Nau Radiant Trench Coat https://www.rei.com/product/837156/nau-radiant-trench-coat-womens

      I lived out of my suitcase and worked with startups for a couple of years so I needed something practical, versatile, and professional-looking, and this was the only outer shell I owned: waterproof, windproof, big pockets, adjustable back flap, you could take the hood out to make it look more refined, same for rolling up the sleeves or tighten them down in case it was too cold. Ticked all boxes.

      Knowing that this brand produced such a high-quality garment, I’m happy to recommend it https://nau.com/

      Re flats, I have been very impressed by Rothy’s; they also were my only professional-looking shoe when I was travelling https://rothys.com/.

      The flats are comfortable even with my wide foot, comfortable for walking, they have a non-slip sturdy but not stiff rubber sole, and it’s really true that you can throw them in the washing machine!

    • 7

      I think it depends on just how professional you mean – some offices would not blink at the 511 pants mentioned and others may judge at anything less than designer suits.  And for me it always starts with the shoes.  I primarily wear loafers, oxfords and brogues as I’ve learned socks are a happy thing for me and want more support than most women’s shoes provide but still would prefer to not hike 10 miles in them.  They also serve better for several flights of stairs during a building evacuation than any heel or potentially floppy flat.  I’ve found some good options in Cole Haan and Ecco.  Cole Haan even has some ‘dress sneakers’ that have worked for me as well.  I also have trail runners in my Get Home Kit in the car I drive to work.  And if you are walking to the office, choose shoes that work for that.  It will take quite a determined effort to build a women’s professional wardrobe with comfort and functionality, but it can be done.   I’ve also found that accessories can change the perception a lot.  And conversely the shoes can be a give away or pull those travel pants up a notch.  

      • 6

        Similar thing, I keep sneakers in my car, just in case.