Reader question: Serious suit help!
Thursday, December 13, 2007
We are always extremely flattered when people ask us for fashion advice, though we usually have no idea how to answer (and um, usually don't, now that we think about it, sort of guiltily). Which is kind of how we feel about this question, but we're going to do our best. We're hoping some of you readers can step in and help this nice, job-interviewing girl out a little.
Michelle in Montreal writes:
I was wondering if you had any "working girl" suit ideas for a graduating university student. All of the interview-ready suits that I've tried on just seem stiff, awkward and unnatural! I like skirt suits, and have been searching for something dark (grey or black), appropriate for formal interviews and reasonably priced (under $250) -- but not stuffy or aging. Can it be done?
First, Michelle, a few confessions:
1. We own exactly one suit. We had it custom-made when we lived in Beijing to our exact specifications, which were: slim-cut, very fitted jacket and slightly higher-waisted pants with a long, lean, slightly widening leg. I believe we used a J.Crew catalogue photo as our reference point with a few modifications. I think it cost maybe $90 total, including the fact that we had three pairs of pants made (one in flats length, one in mid-heel length and one in tall-heel length. We cannot overemphasize enough how the right, just-above-floor-grazing length can make or break a pair of pants.)
2. We cannot actually remember the last time we wore this suit. Probably to some sort of interview for a work article. But we like having it around just in case someone invites us to a corporate-y event where our usual ensembles just won't fly.
Now, short of suggesting you fly to Beijing and make a beeline to Ya Show Market to have some suits custom-made, we would probably send you to Zara. (Er, do they have Zara in Montreal?) I find they generally stock a few basic yet nice suit-y pieces each season, in modern, updated silhouettes at pretty reasonable prices. (Guys, we also suggest you head to Zara for your cheaper suit needs – the selection is really not bad.)
And, for just a little more money, J. Crew (pictured above) also has some basic, well-made suit options, with lots of mix-and-match pieces that you can easily rotate between. A good suit will last you for years, so it's likely worth the little extra money to get something well-made in a higher-quality fabric.
[update] J. Crew happens to be having some good coupons right now, which can shave up to $50 off your order.
Finally, though we do realize that some people have jobs where they have to wear a suit (as opposed to, say, cherry-print jammies, which we are still wearing even though it is 2pm), we always like to encourage non-suity options in workwear. A clean-lined dress with a fitted blazer over it is incredibly stylish and less stodgy-corporate than a traditional suit. And we love the idea of a slightly funky blouse under the jacket. Although maybe it's best to start experimenting after you get the job.
One final piece of advice: Do not wear a suit if you are interviewing for a creative job. We can remember wearing a particularly hideous charcoal gray number with a French blue button-down (what can we say? it was the late 90s -- French blue was huge!) to our very first post-college job interview, which was at a Majorly Important New York Publishing Company. Let's just say no job offers were made. We're pretty sure our permanent HR file there probably has some sort of huge red stamp on it that says "Wore a Shoulder-padded Suit – Never, Ever Hire." Ah, hindsight.
And so, readers! Do any of you have suit resources/advice/thoughts to share with Michelle? We have thoroughly exhausted all of our suit advice, and are hoping you can pick up where we left off.