How to dress like a Young Urban Professional Woman?
February 16, 2006 2:09 PM   Subscribe

I look younger than my age (25) and I've found the best way to combat that is to 'dress up'. I want to know where to get good quality, reasonably priced professional clothing.

I want to build a wardrobe of classic, quality pieces that I can use for years. Some things I already have are white button-down shirts and black wool slacks, but I'd like to expand beyond that. Adding some personality with accessories would be great too.

As I said above, people often mistake me for a 16 year old, even though I'm 25. I don't want to dress older than my age, but I do want to look my age.

The only place I know of to get somewhat reasonably priced "suiting" is jcrew.

I'm looking for style tips, favorite brands or stores, what pieces you can't live without, etc.

If this helps: I'm of average height/weight but small-boned and curvy. I find that a lot of professional clothing with a tailored look doesn't fit me well.
posted by alma to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (30 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Banana Republic. Zara. Hugo Boss. Depends on how good you want to look.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 2:14 PM on February 16, 2006

Ann Taylor.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:15 PM on February 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

And how do you wear your hair?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:15 PM on February 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sorry, missed the 'curvy.; Scratch Hugo Boss.

In addition to Ann Taylor :

Theory button down shirts, black red, white.
Vivien Tam skirt.
Donna Karen pant suit.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 2:18 PM on February 16, 2006

I usually wear my hair up.

I want to look good! But I don't think I want to spend more than $170.00 on a pair of pants.
posted by alma at 2:19 PM on February 16, 2006

Vivienne Tam, Theory, DK, Zara.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 2:21 PM on February 16, 2006

Theory isn't really for curvy folks.

If you want to spend, try Tse cashmere.
posted by kcm at 2:21 PM on February 16, 2006

You might want to try outlet centers. The ones in my area have the same quality clothing that they sell in the regular stores, but left over from last year (but not unfashionable by any means). I've gotten nice suits (Donna Karan, Jones New York) for under $200.

Beware of stores, however, that sell lesser-quality goods in their outlet stores, as these won't last nearly as long.
posted by elquien at 2:22 PM on February 16, 2006

How long is your hair? How is it styled (when you put it up, do you do a bun or a ponytail?) Have you ever thought about cutting it? Long hair can make young people look younger.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:23 PM on February 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ah yes, Off 5th, NM Last Call, Nordstrom's Rack, Filene's Basement, etc.
posted by kcm at 2:24 PM on February 16, 2006

My hair is a bit past shoulder length. When I put it up, I put it in a bun or a sleeker ponytail.

I have fairly straight hair of a normal thickness, but a ton of it. If I cut it short, it gets really poofy and I look like I have a giant head. heh.

I loove Zara.
posted by alma at 2:27 PM on February 16, 2006

I am 24 and I manage an office. This is something I struggle with too. I get pants at Banana Ridiculous when they are on sale because $90 is still a lot for me for one thing. I just got a white courduroy jacket at Calvin Klein that was 1/2 off, and all the other jackets that I have gotten so far were on sale and are also "fun," thankfully we're not the world's most serious office, so I would look kind of dumb in plain black suits with just white shirts. I don't own any suits yet. I wear some color with in button down shirts. Sometimes I'll wear trousers that I got at Express, but I also only buy pants from them on sale. I just don't feel like the quality there is worth $78, even if I had that kind of money to blow on one piece.

I think the next step for me is going to be sucking it up and buying one (fairly) expensive thing at a time.

I have just discovered the wonder that is Ann Taylor and I think that is where I will probably go for more expensive slacks and shirts, but the jackets there are a bit...intense.
posted by bilabial at 2:28 PM on February 16, 2006

Express is not worth any money, skip it entirely. Same with H&M save the occasional fun thing for cheap. Zara is a step up while still being affordable. The higher-ticket items really do pay off when you can keep them for twice the amount of time or longer, though not everything (e.g. Express) is worth the money. :)

I'm not a big GAP or J Crew fan either, not the greatest materials and their prices are really inflated. BR is a bit better, and they always have sales. Try Bluefly, Revolve, Shopbop, eLuxury, or any of the other online places, too.
posted by kcm at 2:40 PM on February 16, 2006

(hell, in general, ask this question at makeupalley.. I don't dare tred there myself with all my chromosomes and that.)
posted by kcm at 2:41 PM on February 16, 2006

It's down at the moment but you will get much more detailed answers over at Style Forum. There is also Ask Andy's forums. Be prepared to hear that black anything is a big no-no for anything except a tux. J. Crew probably isn't real high on the list for pieces that will last but they have actually improved in recent years. On the web, it is possible to find high quality stuff at Sierra Trading Post believe it or not especially when you tack on some coupon codes and also ebay if you know what you are looking for. Put your wallet away for a while and educate yourself on quality then start by carefully building a basic wardrobe that can be mixed and matched. Sooner or later somebody is going to recommend Jantzen Tailor for full-custom shirts where you can't beat the price with a giant heavy stick.

As you are 25 and asking this I'm guessing you don't have infinite $ to throw around so do some research and you may find you can put together a smashing, quality wardrobe for far less than you thought. The Sartorialist is a fun photo-blog where you can see some street photos of people who are well-dressed and some that are well, not so well dressed perhaps.
posted by well_balanced at 2:43 PM on February 16, 2006

Nordstrom, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor - I agree with all of those. Nordstrom sales are great, so are their Rack stores. I would avoid places like Macy's (although their INC line has some cute and fun pieces and I have found it to be of pretty decent quality). Buy your suiting as separates, the suits sold as sets don't seem to generally be of the same quality.

I cannot live without - basic black suit (one with pants, one with a skirt almost to knee length) in a lightweight wool, basic pearl necklace, diamond stud earrings.

Don't forget not to skimp on the handbag and shoes.

Don't underestimate cosmetics - if you aren't using any, I would go with some light mascara and lipstick.
posted by KAS at 2:43 PM on February 16, 2006

Don't I feel embarrassed. For some reason I assumed white-button down shirt and J. Crew indicated a male questioner. Oh well. Jantzen will make custom for women I believe and The Sartorialist is fun for both sexes.
posted by well_balanced at 2:45 PM on February 16, 2006

I had a somewhat sort of related question a few months ago - some of the answers there might help you. I've also found that having the right accessories (shoes, bag, jewelry) makes me look closer to my actual age.
posted by srah at 2:54 PM on February 16, 2006

Talbots. You may think their stuff is for older women, but much of it is exactly the style and price point you are looking for. Avoid the pink or pastel colors.

Their bags and shoes are an especially good bargain. Their quality is much higher than you'd think for th eprice, and the shoes frequently go on sale.

Once you get an idea of how their clothes fit you, you can order from them online, and then return at the stores if necessary.
posted by AuntLisa at 2:54 PM on February 16, 2006

Oh, another thing. Style Forum is for men's clothing but there are a few women lurking over there and a lot of people who work in the industry who would probably be delighted to throw out what they know about women's clothing.
posted by well_balanced at 2:58 PM on February 16, 2006

I'm 25 as well, and as of last week, people still mistake me for anywhere from 16-20. It was on a day without makeup.

On top of dressing up - long wool coats instead of parkas, pumps instead of regular ole' highheels, stud earrings instead of dangly things - I find that makeup helps a lot. Get a makeover at Sephora/MAC which isn't overly expensive, yet still very professional. You can usually talk yourself into a free consultation if you buy a few products they recommend. You can ask for a more mature look, and it's magical how matte lips add a few years, brown eye shadow another few, perfectly tweezed eyebrows.

I buy most of my stuff at Fairweather. It caters to a 20 - 30 something crowd, with VERY reasonable prices. On a budget, Suzy Shier has some great suits - you can get respectable pieces for under $30.

On top of that, get a sewing machine. A sturdy, decent one about $200. I get not-too-expensive clothes, and I make up for it by reinforcing the more fragile looking seams.
posted by Sallysings at 3:31 PM on February 16, 2006

I second Ann Taylor and Talbots for clothing. I'd suggest sticking with mostly dark neutrals for suits. One way to stretch your clothing budget is to get jacket+pants+skirt in the same fabric (you can almost always do that from the Talbots, and quite frequently at Ann Taylor.) Jackets last longer than bottoms do, in terms of wear and tear. If you want to invest in a classic look, avoid too many fussy details- contrasting stitching, prominent labels, belts, buckles, etc.- that will make a suit look dated before it looks tired.

Even though it may be out of your budget, it's worthwhile to go look at the expensive suits (Anne Klein, Garfield & Marks, Dana Buchman, etc.) to educate yourself. Try them on. See how they fit, how they drape, how they are finished. That will train your eye to find better quality suiting that is actually in your budget.

Ann Taylor stuff seems to quickly rotate onto the sale rack, so it might be worth visiting frequently if it's convenient.

If you don't want to be mistaken for a 16 year old, think about a haircut. A ponytail will make you look younger. Heck, I'm 37, and when I have my hair in a ponytail, I still get carded for booze. Do you wear contacts? Women wearing glasses are often perceived as more serious.
posted by ambrosia at 3:38 PM on February 16, 2006

I'm small-boned and curvy too, and I look good in Jones New York. (Well, I think I look good, and that's what counts). I'm a cheapskate, so it's all from Nordstrom Rack or Ross Dress for Less or TJ Maxx. Ross is my favourite. I've picked up Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren there in the last month or two. They have Ann Taylor, too.
posted by rdc at 3:46 PM on February 16, 2006

I'm suprized no-one has said H&M. That or Zara will get you Euro-style fashion from the mall at reasonable (i.e. not that much more than the gap) prices. I'm a 26 year old male, and a nice-sized H&M giftcard from my parents this past Christmas transformed my wardrobe from jeans and t-shirts to that of a well-dressed hip young man. Well, I'd like to think so anyways.
posted by thecjm at 5:00 PM on February 16, 2006

I did. H&M is crap quality and Zara is a notch up, while not top-tier. I'm glad you found stuff you like, hope it holds up. :)
posted by kcm at 5:02 PM on February 16, 2006

Where I live, there are several consignment shops that cater to a youngish stylish clientele and only accept clothes that are a) in good condition and b) are some sort of name brand. I score fantastic work clothes, like Ann Taylor, for 12-25 bucks per item.
posted by desuetude at 6:43 PM on February 16, 2006

I'm 21 and also often mistaken for a 16- or 17-year-old. I'm also pretty short (5'1"), so I feel your petite pain :p. I finally found a nice-looking classic petite suit with some shirts at New York & Company, which I'm quite happy with.
posted by Trinkers at 8:56 PM on February 16, 2006

Land's End. The best part is they hem most pants to your inseam. If, like me, part of the reason you "look young" is your height, this is a Good Thing. Some stuff is available at Sears if you take standard inseams. Be sure to try the "virtual model" to get an idea how stuff will look on you.
posted by ilsa at 9:15 PM on February 16, 2006

I wear a lot of Liz Claiborne. They have a lot of professional-looking separates, and I find that the clothes fit well and are really comfortable.
posted by sueinnyc at 9:29 PM on February 16, 2006

Sort of mentioned before, but find a hair salon (ask friends who have great hair who they recommend) and get a great haircut. You don't have to go short, but if your hair is long and plain, a chic cut with some layers or even some non-drastic highlights can make a world of difference in helping you attain a more "mature" look.

For cheap looks, I'd also try Old Navy - it's a great stop for "basics" on the cheap, and they're cuts and quality have improved over the last few years - go to the store though. Their web options can be a little deceiving.
posted by bozichsl at 7:53 AM on February 17, 2006

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