Which are the best brands for basic, classic-cut suits for women — worthy of use as interview suits and other outfits for important, career-advancing events? We haven’t talked about simple women’s suits in ages, so I thought we’d discuss. (Update: check out Part 2 of this post, featuring plus size suits, petite suits, tall suits, maternity suits, and independent suiting companies!) First, some general notes on buying a suit:
- When constrained by budget: go for a black skirt suit rather than a pants suit, because pants fit is by far the hardest thing to get right. In my experience a $60 skirt suit looks OK but a $60 pants suit makes you look like you come from Planet Frump. Furthermore, the skirt suit will go farther — you can wear the pencil skirt as a basic bottom in your wardrobe (but always dryclean all pieces of a suit together!), plus if you have a “dressed up” occasion, a skirt suit is always going to be the more formal option. Another pro for a simple pencil skirt: you completely bystep the trends that pants have been subject to the past few years — to shop online you’d think that cropped pants suits are de rigueur now, but they are still a fringe/trend item in a lot of workplaces. Other trends I’ve seen with suits: jumpsuits! culottes! short suits! You want 1) a pencil skirt + hip length jacket or 2) a fitted sheath dress + hip length jacket — these combos have been in for years and probably will be for years to come.
- If you’re shopping online, look for words such as: seasonless wool, stretch wool, tropical wool, gabardine, triacetate. Avoid words like sateen, shimmer, linen. Crepe can be really tricky — sometimes it means a polyester drapey blend for suiting and sometimes it means a bridesmaid’s dress/MOB type thing.
- If you’re busty: traditional wisdom here is that you want more buttons on your blazer, not fewer. I’m plenty busty and have had some favorite one-button jackets over the years, though, so your mileage may vary here. Depending on trends you can sometimes find suits with as many as four or five buttons. But avoid zippers instead of buttons on jackets — they look wrong more than they look right.
- Please do not wear sandals with a pants suit. It just looks really weird to me, but perhaps I’m alone there. I would argue that if you’re at a dressy enough occasion to require a suit, sandals will always be inappropriate.
- Treasure hunting for a suit (where you MAY or may not find something good): T.J. Maxx, Yoox, ASOS, Off Fifth, and Nordstrom Rack
- Consider taking your suit to the tailor. Common suiting alterations include shortening sleeves, adjusting the waist. Note that the blazer (specifically the shoulder/arms) are the hardest part to tailor, so focus on that fit when you’re shopping.
- Please don’t forget to cut your Xs, always dryclean suiting pieces together, and — if you’re wearing the suit somewhere Very Important like an interview, make sure you use the mirror trick.
- For other tips on buying a basic interview suit (including considerations on colors, care, accessories, layering, and more), please check out The Corporette Guide to Interview Suits.