Where should I buy a suit?
October 1, 2007 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Where should I buy a suit? I'm a 23-year-old woman interviewing for my first real jobs, which will be entry level in marketing or printing.

I'll be interviewing in a college town in the south, so I probably won't be dealing with fancy urban people with fashion sense. That being said, I still want to look as nice as possible and I can spend up to $400. I don't know the level of formality at the offices but I would guess business casual. I looked at suits at Banana Republic and Ann Taylor Loft and I like them, but I have very little frame of reference and I don't know whether the quality is good enough. Also, I have a very young face - should I be dressing to look older? Do I have to buy black? Can I wear grey or pinstripe or herringbone? If it helps, I'm 5"6 and 140 lbs and I have a big ass and hips.
posted by tatiana wishbone to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Based on the information you've given, I would think Banana and Ann Taylor would be fine. You might also want to check out Club Monaco. Just don't buy too tight, too short or too trendy. Heels should be around 2-3 inches high.

No, you don't have to buy black but you should eventually on those days you don't want to think about what to wear. Yes, you can wear grey, pinstrip and herringbone.
posted by spec80 at 8:43 AM on October 1, 2007

I'm about your size and I really love my suit from Talbots. I think the gray (which is dark) would be fine, in fact that's what I got at first--I exchanged it for the black because I was having trouble finding a good blouse that went with the suit and with my hair/skin (I'm a red head), but if your skin is more forgiving than mine you'll be fine with it. The people at the store were also very helpful and correctly pointed out when I was trying on a jacket that was one size off, their return/exchange program was also excellent.
posted by anaelith at 8:44 AM on October 1, 2007

Buy the suit that fits you best. The quality will be fine. You shouldn't have to worry too much about black v. grey etc unless you're interviewing for something with very specific sartorial requirements -- if you're a banker or lawyer, for example. Typically dark/charcoal grey is more professionally appropriate than black, though that's looser for women than for men.

As far as quality goes, the quality for the money at the places you mentioned will be fine. Neither will be the finest suit money can buy, but neither will be problematic.
posted by YoungAmerican at 8:47 AM on October 1, 2007

I bought my first interview suit at Ann Taylor, partially because the saleswoman told me the fabric they use for the suits stays the same from season to season--so if I needed to get a new pair of pants after a few years, I could still use my blazer with it. I haven't actually needed to test that yet (although I recently tried on that suit and realized I should buy a new pair of pants because the old ones are too small).

I'd recommend an Ann Taylor suit in black (although gray is also fine)--they're pretty timeless. I'd definitely stay away from the Loft, though--as much as I like their tops for just wearing to work on a Tuesday, the quality is not nearly as good as regular Ann Taylor, and they're more trendy, so they won't age as well.

You'll probably not need to wear the suit again for a while if you're at an entry-level job, so if you're going to be spending a few hundred on it, it's good to get something you can pull out of the closet 2 years later and still wear to your next interview. Personally, I wouldn't spend much more the $200 - $250 on it, because unless you'll be wearing it every day it's not worth the investment--wait until you are in a position to wear something often before dumping a lot of money on a perfect suit. (If you're like most 23-year-old women I graduated with, you probably won't fit into the suit you buy today in 3 years--boo on the secretary spread.)

Haven't had much experience with Banana Republic suits, but while I imagine them to be better-made than Ann Taylor Loft, I'd still be worried about the overly-trendy factor. I really think you can't go wrong with Ann Taylor--suits seem to be their bread-and-butter.
posted by iminurmefi at 8:50 AM on October 1, 2007

Regular Ann Taylor, not Loft. Gray or pinstripe is not only fine, but is probably more flattering -- go for it.
posted by desuetude at 9:06 AM on October 1, 2007

I was surprised to find some great suits that weren't too expensive at Benetton. They were a bit different and more stylish than the "average" suit, and I got lots of compliments on them. I went for brown on one suit, which was just a bit different, but I know women who've looked great and perfectly professional in rich purples or reds. Having something a little different may help you stand out. You can also play with colors of the shirt/shell you wear under the suit. Good luck!
posted by walla at 9:36 AM on October 1, 2007

Oh yes, I also found a fantastic and relatively inexpensive suit at Filene's Basement. I saw the exact same suits on the same day at department stores for 2 or 3 times the price.
posted by walla at 9:37 AM on October 1, 2007

I'm your weight, give or take a few pounds, but three inches shorter. A pair of straight cut wide legged pinstripe trousers that almost touch the floor when you're in heels do wonders for slimming your hips and making your legs look longer.

That said I prefer a skirt suit for interviews. Knee length, flared, nice pair of court shoes.
posted by corvine at 9:47 AM on October 1, 2007

Whatever you buy, make sure you can comfortably sit, stand, bend at the waist, rotate your torso, life your arms up and out, and walk with your natural stride - and all of these things without getting caught in the fabric or having it warp, distort.

Also, think about how wrinkle-prone things seem. Don't buy things that are likely to wrinkle easily.

Don't pay any attention to size numbers. For my first couple of suits, I was so excited about being able to fit into a *insert size small here* that I bought suits that were really too tight. Tight clothes look unprofessional and make days spent wearing them uncomfortable.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:11 AM on October 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Banana republic has some good, timeless suits and if you buy them full-price, they do alterations for free, which is great. Tell the salespeople there that you are looking for a classic, serious suit, and if they say "fun skirt length" or "new cut this season" steer clear.
posted by rmless at 10:41 AM on October 1, 2007

I'll tell you what I wish someone had told me.

1) If you only buy one suit, make it black. And make sure you like the pieces of it on their own. When you aren't interviewing, you'll want to be able to throw the jacket with a pair of khakis or whatever. If you can't get pants and skirt with your suit, pants are better for life, but many industries/people think a skirt is a requirement for formality and interviews.

2) If you are only thinking you'll need this for interviews, check the sales at Macys, etc and maybe an outlet or two. Ann Taylor and BR are nice, but actually spendy when compared to some of the other options out there.

3) Do not spend money on a suit when you are 23. It doesn't really need to be "quality." Especially if you don't truly need to wear one to the office. If you are anything like me or my friends you will change sizes in the next year. And this will suck. My lovely quality suits went to goodwill.

4) Pay special attention to the jacket cut and style. If you are new to suit-buying, you'll think they are all weird or all the same. Depending on your body type, different lengths, etc, may be best for you. I have curves and hips, and prefer shorter jackets with 2-3 buttons and some real seams/waistbanding action. Don't fall in love with any aspect of the suit until you have evaluated the fit of the jacket.

Brands to try to at least help you figure out what you like.

Jones New York
Ann Taylor Loft
Ann Taylor
Banana Republic
J. Crew

Also try your department stores and places like Off 5th and Nordstrom Rack.
posted by Mozzie at 1:58 PM on October 1, 2007

if you have a hard time making a jacket fit, get one that fits well in the shoulders and have it taken in at the waist. i do this for lots of fitted shirts and suit jackets (especially ones i find for cheap), and it's totally worth it.
posted by twistofrhyme at 3:22 PM on October 1, 2007

Just a quick addition: tailoring will make all the difference when it comes to fit. In fact, it makes sense to spend fifty dollars less on the suit itself and have it professionally tailored to your size. This is especially true if you're one among the many of us that don't fit the exact dimensions of a particular size from head to toe! Also, if you can afford it, get the skirt and the pants (or the coordinating dress). Many outfits can be made with a few quality pieces.

FWIW I second walla's suggestion of Bennetton; their suits are well-made and versatile. I've also had good experience with JCrew. And, if it were me, rather than splurging on the suit, I'd get a pair of killer heels and great jewelry instead! The most important thing for any interview is to go into the room feeling confident, capable, and looking fierce!
posted by B-squared at 4:33 PM on October 1, 2007

I also have a youngish look to me, and I used to always feel like when I put on a suit, I looked like I was playing dress up or something, like I was trying to look older. And then I hated suits. I looked like I shouldn't be wearing one or something. But, then I realized something about the way the jackets are cut. You see, many suits have only one or two buttons, which means they have a very deep neckline, such as this. I found that suits cut like this, while very attractive on those tall, willowy models, made my chest and shoulders look huge, and looked too much like 80s power suits. But I found that suits with three or more buttons that were cut higher in the chest looked much more appropriate on me, such as this one, from Target of all places (minus the turtleneck, unless you want to look a bit stiff). Anyway, I think you should keep this in mind when you try on your suits. I have found that Ann Taylor Loft seems to have more suits cut for younger women than Banana Republic does, which seems kind of odd. I mean, as far as "classic" suits go. Banana Republic does have some nice, sort of trendier suits, but for the price, I wouldn't buy one. Also, even though I showed an example of a bad suit from J.Crew, they have very high quality suits, and you should look at some of their other styles. And, frankly, I have purchased two suits from Target for under $100 a piece, and I love them!
posted by foxinthesnow at 5:46 PM on October 1, 2007

Hmm, my Target link didn't work...

posted by foxinthesnow at 5:46 PM on October 1, 2007

I've had good luck with Jones New York. They carry that at good ol JCPennys.
posted by CwgrlUp at 6:12 PM on October 1, 2007

1. Buy a suit you feel comfortable in. (Size, movement, length of skirt if you buy a skirt.) Don't think twice about the size.

2. Buy a suit you love. I bought my first suits when I was 23, and I HATE them. They are dowdy, imo. (My boyfriend recently volunteered that he thinks so too.) I didn't wear suits for the next 5 years, but lately I wear them every day, and I would wear them (since suits are so classic in style) if I liked them. There's a reasonable chance you could keep wearing this suit for years. Since then, I have found several suits that I think are very attractive and feminine (all in the cut and the fabric - you have to try stuff on, and realize good suits are out there), and they make me feel strong. I have grown to love a good suit.

3. Don't buy Ann Taylor the Loft - my only suit from there is so cheap it annoys me and I never wear it - and other suits I've checked out since are similarly not very well built. If you knew a lot about suits, you could probably find good ones there, but you don't.

4. Don't spend more than $250, including alterations. This can certainly be done at BR by checking out sales, and probably AT. There is almost always a BR black pantsuit on sale on ebay for a good price. I have found BR has very standard sizing, and so if you found a suit at BR that you liked the fit of, you could probably by a BR suit on ebay, get it altered (of course), and save some money. Bennetton does have nice suits. J Crew has great suits, but tend to be pricier (and fewer real sales) than AT or BR. I have heard Target has some good suits (Mizrahi?) but I haven't purchased any. I'd say BR is a bit more stylish than AT, which is very classic. Bennetton and Club Monaco are a bit more stylish than BR.

5. Really think about skirt suits, and the heels you would wear. I hate to interview in skirt suits bc it turns out I feel more confident in slacks. But you may feel differently. In any case, buying a skirt + pants + a jacket could get you more use out of your suit down the line.

6. Buy a top you are excited about. I have some lovely blouses (some camisoles, some button downs, some lightweight sweaters, some typical blouses) and they always improve my mood and confidence. When I bought those first 2 suits, I also bought dowdy blouses, and I regretted it later. If you have a black suit, a bright top (high color saturation in any case) could be nice. Caveat: I would not wear the camisoles to an interview.

7. At BR, check out the petite line - at least if you are buying on sale. I am 5'7" and I don't have to hem their petite pants, whereas I do have to hem their regular pants.

8. Your interviewers may not be stylish, but what you wear and how you look (makeup, hair etc.) will still create an impression. In general, it is helpful on a job interview to be as attractive and clean and neat as you can be.

Good luck!
posted by Amizu at 7:27 PM on October 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

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