Sure, we all know what wardrobe essentials for work professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.
This post was last updated in December 2022.
While seasonless wool pants are warm enough, and velvet and corduroy pants are great for more casual days, I thought we’d go on a hunt for the best women’s winter dress pants for cozy but professional work outfits.
Personally I’ve always loved the softness and drape of wool flannel pants, and although the styles change from year to year, I always feel like that’s a polished look for the office.
Wool blend pants are also great, although they can be on the itchy side, particularly if unlined — you may want to check out our last discussion on what to wear beneath unlined pants, and I’ll drop a collage with links to my top suggestion for what to wear beneath unlined pants — thin long johns.
(Particularly for silk long johns, but true of lots of the other ones out right now — they do an amazing job of blocking the wind when you’re outside but not adding too much extra warmth or bulk when you’re inside, so they’re great for ALL pants, but particularly as a layer between you and itchy wool pants.)
Ladies, what are you wearing to work on the coldest days — are you on Team Fleece Tights? Team Wool Pants? Or have you found another solution for staying warm on your commute on the coldest days?
related: what to wear to work when it’s cold outside
Pictured at top: red velvet / green corduroy / black wool blend / lavender cashmere silk blend / olive wool flannel
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Admin note: this post was originally published in 2019, but we’ve completely updated our product selections for Dec. 2022 but kept the original comments on the post.
My Top Choice for Women’s Winter Dress Pants: Wool Flannel Pants
Flannel pants are, I think, the holy grail if you’re looking for warm winter pants. They don’t have the itch of wool or tweed, but they drape better and feel more versatile than velvet or other options. Of course, the downside is that you often end up paying a lot for them…
Loft is a surprisingly good spot to check for affordable wool flannel pants — for a few years now they’ve had a nice selection. For 2022 it’s a pleated, cropped look — you can wear it with loafers as pictured here or ankle boots for more coverage.
Some reliable spots to check for wool flannel pants (in addition to Loft) include Brooks Brothers, Saks (which has options from brands like Theory and Vince) and Eileen Fisher. If you’re looking for soft, warm wool pants also keep an eye out for Italian wool options like those from J.Crew.
(Menswear blog Die, Workwear has a good comparison on flannel pants vs wool twill pants if you’re interested — wool twill is a bit harder to find for women, but it can be done — M.M.LaFleur has a bunch as of 2022. For my money I’d still prefer the softer option (flannel), but that’s just me.)
Another Great Option for Women’s Winter Dress Pants: Other Wool Pants and Wool Blends
I’m separating out wool flannel because I think it’s the softest, the warmest, and the most versatile — but there are a zillion other wool blends and woolen fabrics, including wool gabardine and wool blended with something for stretch. These may be itchy, though — note that silk long johns are amazing for this because they’re soft, block the wind, and don’t add bulk or too much extra warmth when you’re inside.
Note that seasonless wool (aka tropical wool and “lightweight wool,”) is also great for winter, but, as we’ve noted before when advising on whether you can wear a tropical wool suit in winter, they may be a bit chilly on the windiest and coldest days. Tweeds may be a wool or polyester — but for my $.02 I’ve always preferred tweeds as a skirt than a pant because the inner thighs of pants may wear unevenly and/or get nubbly.
Wool blends are a lot easier to find than flannel — but you really have to try the pant on to see how warm it really is. Nordstrom has a ton of wool blend pants for work, including some classic pants from Theory, Boss, and Lafayette 148 New York. And don’t forget about Banana Republic’s trove of washable wool work clothes, including a ton of pants; M.M.LaFleur also has a lot of great washable wool styles.
related: how to dress professionally on the coldest days
Warm Winter Dress Pants, Lux Edition: Cashmere
Cashmere pants are easier to find than ever, but a lot of these (a LOT of them) are barely one step above athleisure or even lounge pants — so know your office. The more structured cashmere pants are going to be more appropriate for conservative offices.
You can find a ton of cashmere blends (usually cashmere/silk, but sometimes cashmere/wool) from the very high end brands like Akris, Max Mara, Lafayette 148 New York, Loro Piana, and more — accordingly, Nordstrom and higher end department stores are good spots to check.
Velvet & Corduroy Pants for Work Outfits
I’m putting velvet and corduroy together because they both can go either way, although corduroy is inherently more casual and velvet is inherently more dressy. But if you see either fabric in a five-pocket style (like denim), the pants may only be acceptable for a more casual office in general (or, say, a weekend workday in a conservative office). (Know your office!)
On the flip side, if you see cut like trousers or other work pants, or even just without pockets (or only welt pockets), then they’re far more acceptable to wear to conservative offices. Note that the swish-swish sound both pants make while walking can be a problem in an office with very quiet hallways — and that lint can also be a problem with both. (If you’re having a lint emergency at work, a Fed Ex mailing pouch works in a pinch…)
Recently there has been a TON of velvet jeans — note that those are not acceptable at every office, so know yours. You can find a wide variety of colors and fits at Banana Republic, Loft, and Talbots, as well as from brands like Paige. Also of note, some nice trouser-styles of velvet pants at Nordstrom.
related: how to do business casual in cold weather
Some of our all-time favorite cords (again, mostly for casual offices) include the Kut from the Kloth ones at Nordstrom, available in regular, petite, and plus sizes. If you prefer a tighter fit, check out corduroy from denim brands like AG; if you prefer a looser but still tailored look check out NYDJ cords. Madewell also has a ton of great cords right now, and I’m drooling over all the colors of these cropped, flared cords from Tuckernuck.
BONUS Category for Warm Women’s Dress Pants: Long Johns and Silk Leggings
One last thing worth noting: long johns can be lifesavers, whether you’re using them to make an already warm pair of pants SUPER warm, to warm up a favorite pair of less seasonal pants (such as a washable pant for work probably in a cotton blend), or to use as a liner for an unlined suit pants.
These are particularly great when the problem is the wind (such as in a city like Chicago) more than the temperature — especially because while a silk long john will block the wind, it won’t overheat you once you get inside.
Readers, which are your favorite warm women’s dress pants for the office? Which fabrics are your favorite — which wear the longest — and where have you bought them recently?
related: what to wear to work in winter
Our Favorite Dress Pants for Work in General
These would all be great with the long underwear pictured above…
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Social media photo credit (businesswoman in pants and winter coat) via Deposit Photos / Astroid.