Extremely well made office clothes
April 13, 2015 9:02 AM   Subscribe

I've got my personal style pretty well sorted, and am willing to throw money at the problem of hating shopping. Where can I get the most quality bang for my buck when it comes to sweaters, buttondown shirts in non-traditional colors, and pants? Women's sizing, though I do shop on both sides of the aisle.

I have a uniform at work that works for my cheerful androgynous self: brightly colored button downs with sweaters or an occasional jacket as needed, black pants with good pockets, black shoes. I'm happy with the uniform, but I'm less happy having to go shopping. I know that the clothes at most places are basically disposable, and that price is only vaguely correlated to quality, and that some years the fashion is ruffles and I won't see a single thing I'd wear. I'd be happier spending twice as much if I knew I could go 4 times longer without shopping!

So, I'm looking for quality. What stores are worth the money if your goal is go there rarely? I'd prefer plain styles in women's sizing but will get things from the men's section tailored if needed (and I often get sweaters and pants from men's, and find they wear better, though the color/pattern choices are also usually more limited.)

Other possibly relevant info: I'm usually around a women's 8, men's small or xs. I don't live near any store fancier than the Gap but am in large cities in the Northeast US often enough to make a special side trip, or can shop online if the place has a good return policy for fit etc. As this is a long-term project, assume the budget is wherever it needs to be. Tips on getting around this by keeping clothes in good shape for longer also welcome.
posted by tchemgrrl to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (15 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Duluth Trading Co makes durable clothing for rough-n-tumble people who work with their hands. Their women's line is extremely ungirly; no darts or pleats or fancy trimming, just the same clothing as the dudes line cut for people with hips and chests.

Pay attention to the (accurate) measurement charts; they do not bow to vanity sizing. I'm an XS in their women's shirts and I'm not a particularly extra small person (like, most of Forever 21 or whatever looks like tiny baby clothing held up to me).
posted by Juliet Banana at 9:08 AM on April 13, 2015

If you launder your clothes at home: never put clothes you like in the dryer, especially black clothes and shirts. I hang all my work shirts to dry and they look good four times longer than if I use a dryer. If they're too stiff after, just iron them and they'll soften right up.
posted by Requiax at 9:14 AM on April 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Not so much non-traditional in color, and kinda geared towards the 50-60 year old lady market, so you have to pick and choose, but Pendleton's has some of the highest-quality mass market office wear around. The fabric is outstanding, and on the stuff I have, the build quality is top-notch -- it's pretty spendy normally, but watch for end-of-season sales where a lot of high-quality stuff goes on sale for less than Gap prices.

I've had particularly good luck with their sweaters (and skirts, but you aren't looking for that.)

Sizing can be a little chancy, but they have a good return policy for fit. Also, they have retail stores if you happen to be near one.
posted by joyceanmachine at 9:22 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

My uniform at work consists of light wool Banana Republic trousers in black or navy (Martin or Jackson fit) and a button-down shirt or sweater. The trousers seem to be made well and are lined (which aids with both comfort and longevity) and some styles have pockets. I just recently wore out my first couple of pairs, which must have been 5 or 6 years old, and worn 1-2 times per week during that time. I got on their mailing list and now that I know my size and style preferences, a couple of times a year when I get a 40% off notice I order a couple more pairs. I feel like the quality of the fabric isn't quite what it used to be but is still quite good for the money, especially if bought on sale. I dry-clean these about every 2-3 wearings and they've held up well.

For button-down shirts I usually go with Lands' End or J. Crew. I can't wear any of Lands' End's other clothes because they are too boxy/frumpy, but for some reason the 3/4 sleeve stretch button-down shirts fit me perfectly. I have yet to retire any of those shirts nor have I needed to so much as re-sew a button. They are absolutely basic but come in a wide variety of colors, and they keep making the same shirt year after year so at this point I've accumulated six or seven of them, plus a few that have been retired over the years due to stains. Brooks Brothers also makes pretty good shirts but the color range may not be as great. I also have shirts I like from Boden and J. Crew but the aesthetics and the quality of the manufacture are not as consistent from garment to garment, so buying from those stores sometimes involves trying on and returning things. I mostly machine wash and hang dry my shirts, especially the stretch ones, because the fabric starts to wear on collar and cuffs and stretch fibers can break down over time with heat/tumble drying.

I have yet to find a reliable supplier of high-quality sweaters so I'll be eagerly looking at others' responses.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:28 AM on April 13, 2015

Nordstrom + a Nordstrom personal shopper is my "throw money at it" solution for work clothes. They are the best in the biz and, in my experience, very comfortable working with people who would not usually consider themselves "personal shopper" types.
posted by whitewall at 9:35 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Based on your description of the way you like to dress, my first thought was Brooks Brothers. It's pricey but their clothing is classic and very well made.
posted by something something at 9:44 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

2nding Brooks Brothers. I've had a button-up shirt (women's, but indistinguishable from men's) that has lasted 10 years and looks great except for a button that popped off. I'm considerably smaller than you, but I just asked a question about androgynous office wear that may provide some resources.
posted by desjardins at 9:55 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

As to care, launder in cold water only, turning things inside-out and closing all fasteners. Never put a bra in the dryer! (You didn't ask about undergarments, but, still.) Hang bright colors to dry. If you do use a dryer, use the lowest setting and keep things inside out and fasteners closed.
posted by jgirl at 9:57 AM on April 13, 2015

Seconding Nordstrom. I've never been disappointed when I've invested in clothes or shoes there. They have great in-house tailoring, too. Last time I was shopping for work trousers they tailored any full-price item for free. Even when I have to pay for it, it's not that expensive and all I have to say is, "I'd like this tailored, please" and they bring their in-house person to the dressing room, pin the garment, and I'm on the way. No extra trip to a tailor's.

They are also known for their amazing returns policy.
posted by Pearl928 at 10:12 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have had good luck in the woolovers unisex sweaters section; they are warm, inexpensive and high quality, and I think they'll wear very well. Don't get the cotton cashmere blend; i got one that pilled instantly; but the heavy British Wool and the Pure Lambswool makes are good quality.
posted by Hypatia at 10:32 AM on April 13, 2015

Cashmere sweaters at Orvis (now on sale), very well made, nice weight, and last forever.

Fa├žonnable linen shirts on eBay. Once you identify your preferred style and size, order away. Wash and iron them (clothesline if outdoors an option), beautiful colors.
posted by xaryts at 10:59 AM on April 13, 2015

I wear linen (tons of it from eBay!) from May through September in D.C.'s hot and humid climate. I wash it on cold, inside out, with fabric softener. When my building's dryers had a no-heat setting, I used that. Now, I put it in the dryer on a heated setting for just a few minutes. Then I hang it all in the shower and smooth it out.

The book Home Comforts will tell you every possible thing you could ever need to know about textile care.
posted by jgirl at 11:35 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would say Banana Republic and/or J Crew would mostly cover your needs. I would go try things on in their stores so you get an idea of their sizing and fit; after that you can order online. Don't pay full price at either place; as someone above says, get on their email lists and watch for discounts. Banana Republic in particular has pretty regular 40% off.
posted by JenMarie at 11:46 AM on April 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have two pairs of Gap wide leg trousers that I've been wearing 2x week for 3+ years. Look new, I've been hanging them out to dry (no dryer!).
posted by jrobin276 at 9:44 PM on April 13, 2015

Oh God, I so feel you on the disposable clothing and the ruffles. Blahhh.

For wool (not cotton) work trousers, check out Theory. They are expensive but often on sale, and I am still wearing some from 15 years ago. They're comfortable and flattering, and most of the cuts are timeless.

Button-downs are all about fit, and although they're pretty good quality, personally I find most of Brooks Brothers are cut too hourglass for me. For me, Steven Alan fits better, but the quality's variable. Theory is okay for button-downs. (Not awesome. The fabric is sometimes a bit thin, and some of the cuts are too trendy/feminine.) I've had good luck with Thomas Pink and Etro, too: I'm still wearing their button-downs from five or ten years ago.

J. Crew is very good for cashmere sweaters in lots of vibrant colours, especially online where the selection is much broader than in-store. For cashmere stick to middle-cost: too cheap and it will be thin, but too expensive and it will also be thin, and therefore fragile. J. Crew is about right, and very classic. I find sweaters have a limited lifespan -- no matter how well you treat them they'll get stretched and baggy and pill-y after a couple of years.

A tip: shop in the fall and winter. That's when the clothes in shops are maximally androgynous, mostly because of colour and pattern (grays, blacks, red, camel, plaid, houndstooth), but also fabric. Fall and winter are heavier-weight so you get flannel, broadcloth, felt and wool. In spring and summer all that's available for women are flimsy fabrics and skimpy cuts. It took me years to figure out that I never actually wore anything I'd bought during the warm seasons -- and then finally I realized it, and stopped, and everything was better :)

Good luck!
posted by Susan PG at 2:23 AM on April 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

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