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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.

21 comments :

Erin said...

vintage 1960s suits in good condition are usually easy to come by on eBay & through online vintage shops. Buy 'em a little bigger than you think you'll need and get 'em altered.

They're usually conservative enough for a conservative job (if they are MINT condition) and wacky enough for a creative job, if you pick something classic enough and add the right accessories.

The Perfect Closet said...

3 suits from Jcrew lasted me through interviewing with a dozen law firms and 5 years of practicing corporate law. They are well made for the price -- I found them to be much better than other brands in the same price range like Theory and Banana Republic.

Kelly said...

from one recent grad to another, if you can afford it i would try nordstroms and look for the brand classiques entrie, (i think thats how its spelled) and look for nordstrom's sales that helped me a lot, i got mine on sale after the holidays last year They're classic style suites with fun and younger details

Peep said...

Thanks for the advice, Ms. Spinach and everyone else! There is indeed a Zara in Montreal, and I will definitely check out the online stores you all recommended. And your mention of Ya Show Market gave me a good idea, Ms. Spinach: I'm going to Thailand this Christmas to visit family and have asked my sister to haul out her designer work suits so that I can have them copied [that's always gotten us the best results with tailors and seamstresses]. Thanks again! - Michelle aka Peep

missy-j said...

Ooh I bought a suit for S$200 + at Zara Singapore. Had to alter the pants but I like it! I hate wearing suits though - so boring.

At my school, they tell us to never buy a black suit. And the colour of the suit is pretty important. A black suit is very common and makes the wearer look too serious. A navy suit is authoritative. I remember being really wowed by Michelle Pfeiffer's navy suits in the movie "I Am Sam". I later found out that her entire wardrobe was provided by Armani for that show.

Danielle said...

I always think JCrew suiting looks really nice... I had to laugh out loud when you referenced the "charcoal gray number with a French blue button down". So true! French blue was sooo huge and so late nineties!

Anonymous said...

I, too, am a recent grad who had to buy my very first suit. My best friend and I (who are two very different body types and heights, btw) both found suits at The Limited for well under $200!
I have to say, I like the way their suits come with a variety of pant-leg styles and lengths, as well as skirt options to match. I would definitely head back there for another suit if I ever need one!
The one I got wears really well, no wrinkles AND I look my age, not at all old or stuffy, but still professional.

Anonymous said...

I recently got laid off from my comfy casual jeans and a sweater desk job. For a suit I found that Anne Taylor Loft had the most comfortable affordable options for me. ...and also came in petite, so I didn't need to get my pants hemmed which as a shorty is FAB!

SarahHutch said...

Isabel & Nina makes great suits in flattering cuts and interesting fabrics. They are carried in a lot of department stores like Dillards, etc.

Closet Cupcake said...

I find that Express knows how to make suits that really flatter women's bodies. It's affordable, too. I like their Editor line.

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