Corporate Career Action Dress-Me-Up Barbie
August 2, 2006 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Ladies' suit shopping, online or NYC - gentle, painless, nurturing, or at least not overtly hostile.

I need to do some serious job interviewing. Therefore I need a tasteful, corporate, to-be-taken-seriously suit for a late-20s size 8.

My closest approximation of what I'm looking for is Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, J. Crew or Brooks Brothers, but I haven't worked in corporate America for a while, so there may be more appropriate sources. Yes, I have staked out the lunch-hour crowd in midtown, and that seems to be the look. Nordstrom's Forever 21-looking offerings horrify me, and I don't want something polyester or cheap-looking. Let's say I have $600 to spend, but would be grateful to pay much less than that. My only major body consideration is that I have hips, so "European-cut" pants like at H&M or Express are not an option.

Q. What stores should I look at? Which locations are the least likely to be swamped / snooty / have limited sizes or styles in NYC and the surrounding areas? Or is there a reasonable way to do this online? Where can I find other workday-appropriate clothing that will cost $80 or under per outfit? Are there other information sources such as websites or magazines that would be helpful to me for current corporate fashion? Should I worry about tailoring? What about shoes? Shirts? Seasonal concerns?

I'm a blank slate here, people. I hate shopping and the Mercury's pushing 100. Help.
posted by Marnie to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've got a bunch of J. Crew suits that I ordered online, and I'm quite happy with them. And they do free alterations at any of the stores if you need them (even if you ordered online).
posted by amro at 8:30 AM on August 2, 2006

Take the train to Westchester, specifically to White Plains. Get a taxi to take you to "The Westchester," a horrifying but air-conditioned upscale mall that won't be as crowded as anywhere in NYC. Said mall has an Ann Taylor store (where the employees are quite helpful), as well as Banana Republic and J. Crew.

I'd go for the Ann Taylor store first. Their suits are tasteful and attractive at the same time, and the middle-aged employees are more than happy to help you find the look you want.

Sometimes the suburbs are actually useful. Weird.
posted by brina at 8:37 AM on August 2, 2006

Loehmans. Either online or in person.

You should be able to find some beautiful, smart, conservative suits in the $150 price range. Most Marshalls or TJ Max will have similar options, but probably lesser brands.

Good Luck!
posted by necessitas at 8:48 AM on August 2, 2006

After you've done your initial run trying stuff on and seeing what things work on you, consider looking at what Land's End has. No actual suits, but plenty of coordinating pants, dress shirts, skirts, blazers, etc.. I buy pants/jeans almost exclusively from them because they hem everything to your specification (and I'm not petite, I'm short). Oh yeah, and shopping in your underwear is nice.
posted by ilsa at 8:58 AM on August 2, 2006

Well, it's always swamped, and you will not get personalized service, but I still recommend heading downtown to Century 21.
posted by anathema at 9:21 AM on August 2, 2006

Century 21.
posted by anathema at 9:22 AM on August 2, 2006

My only major body consideration is that I have hips, so "European-cut" pants like at H&M or Express are not an option.

I have to disagree, I too am a size 8 and have hips and have no problems shopping at H&M for myself or any of the women of all shapes and sizes (up to a size 16 or 18, even) that I've taken shopping there. They have so many things in stock that it's fairly impossible to go in there and not find something that doesn't look good on you; I'd be willing to go shopping with you there to prove this! I regularly take both male and female friends shopping to help them put together new wardrobes and would be happy to do the same for you, my email's in my profile if you're interested.

Having said that, the block of 34th Street that has H&M, Ann Taylor Loft and the super awesome but somehow unheralded in the US Zara is great for business clothes, and the subway stop is right on the corner so you don't have to worry about the heat at all. Between the three stores you should easily be able to put together a selection of chic affordable work clothes.
posted by lia at 9:42 AM on August 2, 2006

Ann Taylor. I've never had a problem with the sales staff being snooty or rude, there, either. (Unlike department stores, where I wonder if there is a sign above my head reading "condescend, please.")

For shells to wear under the suit, I find Ann Taylor, department stores, etc. to be incredibly overpriced -- I buy these at Ross instead.

Also, I have fantastic luck finding good work-appropriate clothes at nicer consignment stores.
posted by desuetude at 9:48 AM on August 2, 2006

Also check out Ann Taylor Loft, it's slightly more casual and a little bit cheaper than normal Ann Taylor, but I have a few suits from there that I really like.
posted by echo0720 at 9:54 AM on August 2, 2006

Every one of these is a fantastic answer and completely on-target. J. Crew, Ann Taylor and the Westchester sound like my best bet for suits, with the other great suggestions for non-interview wear.

You guys are pros. And thanks in advance for any additional advice. This heat-addled, shopping-impaired tomboy appreciates the help.
posted by Marnie at 10:01 AM on August 2, 2006

I have some great suits from Banana Republic. Good quality cut, fabric, detail work. There should be someone at the store that can advise you as to where the suit should be altered - spend some money on that, because the suit probably won't fit you perfectly right off the rack. If you're not super tall, you might want to check out Banana Republic Petites - I'm 5'7, and would not consider myself petite, but I find the petite sizes actually fit my legs without alterations, whereas the regular length is always way too long. This is often true for J Crew, Ann Taylor (and the Loft). I just got a Banana Republic suit for $100, also - they can have good sales.

If you are willing to put in some learning time, then you could go to Marshalls or some other discount place - they do have good suits at great prices, but you have to find them. Also, Target has actually been winning rave reviews for some of their suits (e.g.).

The first suits I bought, I purchased because they were cheaper but still reasonably nice. I hated them. I hated the fabric, I hated the cut. I'm now buying suits I love, and spending a little more money on them, and I'm much happier with the whole situation.

I'm not sure what kind of interviews you'll be doing, but I find pant suits perfectly acceptable these days (not true everywhere though), and I am much more confident when I wear pants.

lia, I have a theory that Zara doesn't carry as good quality clothing in the US as it does in Europe. At least, the clothing I've seen in the US is often cheap fabric and cheaply constructed, whereas I remember Zara from Europe (Spain, specifically), as being quite nice.
posted by Amizu at 10:38 AM on August 2, 2006

My favorite brand of suits is Jones New York. I have a great pinstriped suit for which I have a jacket, skirt, and pants that all match. The pieces are sold separately, so you can buy a larger size on the bottom if need be, and the cut tends to be curvy in a way that Ann Taylor, etc. are not. The pieces also often work as separates, so you'll be able to wear the pants with a twinset or the jacket over a dress to create other outfits from it.

Jones New York is normally pretty pricey, but I've bought all of my suits on sale and gotten really good deals. Macy's seems to have perpetual sales on women's suits and work clothes, and if you sign up for their charge card, you get an additional discount on your first purchase. (If you ever shop at Macy's, I'd recommend getting the card, as they seem to have a pretty good ongoing discounts for card holders.) Ebay also has a decent selection in the brand, and the sizing is consistent enough that I've been able to buy some beautifully fitting pieces online. If you buy at a department store, they'll often have a tailor on staff who can do hems and such at a decent price.

For other work clothes, sale racks are your friends. Department stores and all of the stores you mentioned in your post will likely be having sales for most of this month on summer items, but you can probably wear summer shirts under a suit well into the fall. For plain blouses and tops, I like Old Navy; just stay away from the super trendy offerings and you'll be able to get a lot of very wearable work clothes. If you tend to sweat a lot (as many of us do this time of year in NY), I'd go with sleeveless under suits unless your office is uber-conservative.

For shoes, since you live in the city, I assume you do a lot of walking. You basically have two options. The first is to buy cheap or cute but uncomfortable shoes and plan to commute in sneakers/flip flops. It's not the most flattering look in the world, but lots of women do it. The second is to plan to spend a lot of money (probably $200+) on a pair of good dress shoes you can walk in. My most comfortable pair is from "Beautifeel." I've heard others recommend Aerosoles. Go to a real shoe store (e.g., not Payless) where they can make sure that the shoe fits you properly. Some really good stores will let you return shoes if you wear them once and they tear your feet apart, so ask about guarantees and returns. You'll shell out a lot on shoes up front, but a good pair of shoes will last for years, so it's worth it in the long run.
posted by Amy Phillips at 10:38 AM on August 2, 2006

Hippier women can correct me, but I seem to have heard that a tip for women with bigger hips can be to buy pants a size bigger, and have them altered to fit, rather than just buying suit pants in sizes that accomodate the hips.
posted by Amizu at 11:04 AM on August 2, 2006

The Ann Taylor people near me (New Orleans) were so helpful. I love my suit from there. Ditto that AT Loft also has good stuff. To interviews I usually wear my AT suit jacket and pants with a sleeveless buttondown from Loft (no need to wear long sleeved shirt in the summer if your sleeves aren't showing!).

I would also recommend the Limited - I am curvy and their Cassidy pants fit me nicely. If I don't want to wear the full suit I will wear my suit jacket with gray Limited pants.
posted by radioamy at 1:54 PM on August 2, 2006

Oh, and stay away from flared slacks. Nothing wrong with 'em, I suppose, but they scream "juniors department," especially compared to the cut of suit slacks.
posted by desuetude at 2:02 PM on August 2, 2006

Charles Tyrwhitt now has women's suits and a NY location. Their sales are fantastic.
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:48 PM on August 2, 2006

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