Reader Mailbag: Can a basic black suit be found for under $200?

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Hi folks – love your blog! I’m in a bind, hoping you might have some advice. I’m currently an at-home mom but I’m also an adjunct instructor at the university, and I do some occasional consulting. I got rid of most of my suits when I left corporate 6 years ago.

I have a funeral to attend in two weeks, and don’t have much in the form of a black or navy skirt suit. I’d like to find something reasonable, conservative but hip and somewhat fitted that I can wear for future client meetings or teaching. I’d need to go to a store to try things on. I live near several malls – any suggestions on where to go? We have a Macy’s, Nordstroms, Banana Republic, etc. but looking on their websites, I haven’t seen much in my price range (about $200). Thanks so much!!

First: we’re so sorry for your loss! Second, though, congrats on your position — so many people would dream of that trio of things: the flexibility to be with your child(ren), the status and intellectual challenge of a teaching position, and the option for income with consulting. Well done!

Now, on to your question. A hip black or navy skirt suit for $200 is actually fairly doable. If what you want is one-stop brick and mortar shopping, our suggestion would be Macy’s, given your budget. In the suit section (which for some reason is not completely online), Macy’s has very basic skirt suits by Tahari that tend to fit great, and retail for full price (last we checked) around $140. Look for the most basic skirt suit they have — no ruffles or pleating on the skirt, which will hopefully be straight or a narrow A-line. For the jacket, try to avoid memorable things — toggles instead of buttons, poufy shoulders, a built-in belt — you want this suit to be the one you wear when you want the focus on you, NOT your clothing.

If your mall happens to have both a Banana Republic AND a Macy’s, you might want to check out the 30% off sale that Banana Republic is having through Wednesday, January 28. By our calculation, you can get three pieces of the “sleek black” suiting for $201 — jacket, A-line skirt, and pants. (If you can’t get to the mall before Wednesday, you might want to think about purchasing online and returning if it doesn’t fit perfectly — we’ve never had a problem with BR’s return process. Check their shipping times against your event, though, to make sure it will come in time.


banana republic black womens suit 1
Women: Sleek flap-pocket blazer – Black, was $150, now $104
banana republic black womens suit 2


Women: 718 Martin sleek straight pant – Black
, was $79, now $55
banana republic black womens suit 3


Women: Sleek A-line skirt – Black
, was $59, now $41

Another option in your budget — but more time intensive — would be to head to your local Filene’s, Loehman’s, TJ Maxx, or Nordstrom Rack to see if they have any selections. If possible, head to the the store in the “best” area of town in your city — we’ve found that the pickings tend to be the best at these stores. Another option is always to find a Chelsea Premium Outlets mall — the chain of outlet malls that includes the Woodbury Common Premium Outlets near New York City and Leesburg Corner Premium Outlets near DC — and hit the stores. We’d suggest trying Off Saks and other true outlet stores, avoiding stores with “factory” in the name (the difference being that “factory” stores sell clothes that were never in the regular stores — in our experience they have a lower quality than the regular stuff but cost almost as much as the stuff in the stores).

Finally, a few words on mixing and matching: please don’t. Blacks (and navies) (navys?) are incredibly hard to match if you didn’t buy them together. You’ll think your outfit looks fine and then stumble into some bad lighting and suddenly, you look like you’re wearing red and green together. If you’re going to try to mix, get as far away from any perceived hope of matching as possible. For the funeral: try wearing a charcoal sheath dress with a lighter gray cardigan (the “monotone but not” look). Or, try wearing a black sheath dress with a charcoal suit jacket, perhaps accented by a black scarf.

Comments

  1. JC Penny has great stuff too! I am a law student and required to wear a suit to work every day. Unfortunately I also work on a VERY limited budget. JC Penny has some great options and they are CHEAP and WASHABLE. Cutting out the dry cleaning fees are great when you have a limited budget.

  2. The Limited is a personal favorite of mine. I’m also a law student, suits on a budget are a must for me. Paying full retail might be closer to $300, but if you can get there during a sale you could probably get a suit for about $200.
    If you’re willing to spend a little more, most all of their suits come with skirt AND pant options. Definitely worth the extra money in my opinion.

  3. j.crew currently has 40% off all suiting in store (and the discount is a bit steeper online) i just picked up the navy pinstripe stretch wool suiting, blazer + skirt + pants for about $200

  4. Not 30 minutes ago I complemented a man on his suit – he looked great! Then he confessed he just bought it for $100 from Target (yes, you read that correctly). He says it won’t last more than 6 months but he’s in a short-term contract position so it doesn’t bother him. If you’re only wearing it occasionally it could last longer than that. Add in $40 for tailoring, $40 for shoes from a DSW type outlet, and $20 for a blouse/top from TJMaxx and there’s your $200.

  5. I hit submit too quickly, I presume Target is selling women’s suits as well!

  6. I buy a ton of suits at the Ann Taylor Factory store at an outlet mall about an hour from where I live. Can definitely get pants + jacket for under $200 and often the skirt too. Only bummer is that you can’t order online.

  7. Ann Taylor (online only) is giving $80 off a suit jacket when you purchase it with pants or skirt.

  8. anonymous :

    I agree with the recommendations for TJ Maxx, Nordstrom Rack, Loehmann’s, or other stores like that. I got a grey Anne Klein suit for $60 last week.

  9. Hope you’ll use shopittome.com as a resource for affordable suiting as well! when you sign up, you can select to receive updates on blazers, suiting, and skirts — so your Salemail will arrive with items all in your size and in your budget.

  10. 'nonymous :

    If you are a be-bosomed woman like some of us, Benetton. The prices aren’t ridiculous, either, and I swear to god, the fit on the jacket is worth it. Not too cropped, either (something I have a huge problem with at both Ann Taylor and J Crew, and sometimes Banana Republic).

  11. R – Target is a great suggestion. I have two suits from there. One was bought at “full price” for a little over $100 for skirts, pants, jacket – wore it to the mall and got a compliment from the sales girl at Neiman’s. I just smiled a knowing smile and politely said thank you. The other is a basic black with subtle pinstripe that was purchased on clearance for about $35 for a jacket and skirt – I got complimented on it by a partner in the office who is a complete clothes/ brand snob. Again, I just smiled and said thanks. Both the suits are from the Mossimo Black line.

  12. S – good for you. i laughed at the Neiman’s compliment. sounds like you handled the compliments graciously & maturely, unlike me. recently when a Neiman’s saleslady complimented me on my purse, I went into the bargain I got for it, unnecessarily.

    i must say the target pieces probably fit you like a glove. fit is the most important, regardless of fabrication, price, etc. if it fits well we are more confident and comfortable which comes out in our persona.

    i’m checking out benneton for the be-bosomed, i’m supposing that equates well-endowed?

  13. I have a hard time buying suits in that I really prefer that the pants be lined–not necessarily for warmth but to have a smooth line and drape. The suits at the Limited rarely have said lining. Banana Republic usually carries at least one or two. BR also has petite sizes, and its “Jackson” fit pant (versus the “Martin”) is nice when you are curvier. Jcrew has lined pants and petite sizes, but I can confirm what this site has already said in that JCrew is a tough fit for curvier girls. Unless you are slender, avoid their “City Fit” pant at all costs. Go with the “favorite fit.” I recommend JCrew’s black gabardine suit and two button jacket. The pants and jacked are lined, and the fabric is a nice, classy feeling weight.

  14. I have bought women’s clothes at Target (Isaac Mirahzi pants and skirts in solid black look exactly the same as much more expensive ones.)
    Also, do you have an H and M near you? Very cheap, lots of selection.

  15. I’ve spent ridiculous amounts of time at the local Off 5th, Kohl’s, and Burlington Coat Factory and can always find a decent suit there.

    I’d also recommend checking out Goodwill (or your local thrift store). Again, look for the ones located in more affluent areas. Fit is key, so see if there’s a decent tailor in your area. Even if your $12 thrifted suit is a little big, spending another $35 to have it tailored still = a great suit for $47!

  16. H&M will do in a bind. Their pieces don’t hold up well, but they’re priced to be disposable. Not very “green,” I know…

  17. Anonymous :

    I got a great black suit from AT Loft a few months ago. It was probably $150 and I got 3 pieces, which saved me recently when I had to wear a suit but all my pants were at the dry cleaners! AT also has good suits but are more conservatively cut (which may be better for someone older) and more expensive. I was pleased with my Loft suit, I didn’t think they even made non-casual clothes, but the suit that I got looks great.

  18. Higher-end consignment stores may be a good bet.

    Those stores usually are selective about brands, season and condition and you can probably get a very high quality suit in a classic style that originally retailed for over 600 dollars.

  19. Carissa – it is always my first instinct to brag on the awesome deal I got, and I usually do so among friends, but I am working on the just smiling and saying Thank You when I get a compliment.

    For anyone else who like myself is a fan of Thakoon – Target’s international GO line has Thakoon right now and it has several nice pieces.

  20. Don’t discount Victoria’s Secret, either. They have some reasonably-priced and well-fitting suits (I have a few).

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