How to Buy Suit Separates

How to Buy Suit SeparatesI’ve always said that suiting separates are far, far more flattering and versatile than discount bin suits (you know the ones, sold on the same hanger with a single size, some for very inexpensive prices) and we’ve seen an explosion in recent years with a TON of options for suiting separates.  Jacket, skirt, and pants, sure — but there may also be multiple jackets with cuts, buttons, and collars, ankle pants as well as trousers, a matching sheath dress or vest — I’ve even seen short shorts. So let’s discuss, ladies: how do YOU buy suit separates? Which pieces are your favorites to buy first (pencil skirt and collared jacket? ankle pants or trouser pants)?  Do you buy as many pieces as you can afford and dry clean all your suit pieces together so they wear the same, or are you open to “sale stalking” pieces from a matched suiting set, ready to swoop in if they go on sale? If you fluctuate between sizes, do you often buy two different sizes to keep in your closet and pull out the day of?

UPDATE: Ah, I’m seeing from the comments I’ve been unclear, so let’s set up a hypothetical. You need a new suit and go to a store like Talbots and find a beautiful suit on the mannequin — you love the color, the fabric, and hey, you need a new suit. You ask the clerk and she tells you there’s a pair of trousers, a pair of ankle pants, a sheath dress, a pencil skirt, a flared skirt, a collared jacket, a collarless jacket, a duster vest, a fitted vest, a pair of Bermuda shorts — all in that beautiful fabric and, wow, they all fit you perfectly. (Hey, it’s a hypothetical.) Do you buy ALL of those pieces at once? If you decide to only buy three pieces (say, pencil skirt, trousers, collared blazer), do you stalk the others to wait until they go on sale? (If you later saw one of the pieces on deep, deep discount — like the Bermuda shorts — would you buy them if only because you already had other matching pieces? Or at a certain point do you say NAH, I’m good, I have enough matching pieces for that suit.) If you buy three or four pieces and it becomes your favorite suit, would you ever go back to buy other matching pieces?

(Pictured: just a few of the suiting options that Theory has offered over the years — I’ll try to update the post later when I’m not having tech troubles to show some of the other great examples for suits with a thousand matching pieces.)


Suiting Brands for Women: Plus Size Suits, Petite Suits, Tall Suits and More

plus size suitsIn case you missed it, we did a major round up of the best suiting brands for women a few weeks ago, from the budget brands to the boss brands. As promised, we’re back with a focus on specialty suiting brands for women — if you’re looking for plus size suits, petite suits, tall suits, or even suits from independent/specialty boutiques, this round-up is for you.

Ladies, if you’re on the hunt for one of these types of suits, which are your favorite brands and styles? Where do you shop the most, and what kind of sales have you found? 

Plus Size Suits

plus size suits

Tall Suits

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The Corporette Guide to Suits

suits-for-womenWhich 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.

(Pictured at top: The Limited, Ann Taylor, Boss.)

Budget Suits For Women (under $250 for both pieces)

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Yea or Nay: Light Blue Suits for Workwear

For busy working women, the suit is often the easiest outfit to throw on in the morning. In general, this feature is not about interview suits for women, which should be as classic and basic as you get — instead, this feature is about the slightly different suit that is fashionable, yet professional.

blue suits for women for summer

Pictured: Elie Tahari / Express / Theory / ASOS / Limited Collection / Antonio Melani / Nanette Lepore 

It’s that time of year, ladies: blue suit time! I’m seeing a million suits out, so instead of featuring one in particular for our Suit of the Week, I thought we’d have a conversation about them in general: do you wear a blue suit during the spring and summer? Which shade of blue have you found to be the most versatile? What colors do you like to the wear the suit with, and do you wear the suiting pieces together or mostly as separates?

For my $.02, I was shocked when I first realized how versatile my light blue blazer was (it was a lighter gray/blue, almost the shade of the Theory or ASOS one above). I wore it a ton, mostly with black (pants, sheath dresses) and white tops and blouses, with the occasional pop of color like a red pendant necklace or purple heel thrown in. That said, while I’ve found the light blue blazer to be amazingly versatile, I think light blue pants or a light blue skirt can be a lot less versatile (although I suppose blue pants could take the place of my beloved staple, light gray pants). How about you?

If you’re looking for blue suits in other sizes, here are some plus-size options (Talbots, Tahari, Lane Bryant), as well as petite options (Talbots, Brooks Brothers, Pendleton).


Putting Together Work Outfits Using Suit Separates

Work Outfits Using Suit SeparatesHow can you make professional, stylish work outfits using suit separates? What are the do’s and don’ts of combining parts of the suits in your closet? Reader A asks…

I’m a 2nd year law student in New York and will be starting work at a firm this this summer — I used your tips and articles throughout the interview process. I would love to hear your thoughts on this: Can I wear suit pieces as separates? For example, can I wear my gray suit pants with a white shirt and then a black blazer?

Great question, and one we haven’t talked about in a while. (For other work outfit ideas, check out this post on building a capsule wardrobe for work, or this old post on building your professional wardrobe.) You absolutely can wear your suit pieces as business casual separates — that’s part of why a suit with separates is such a great investment to make. Here are some suggestions for creating your work outfits:

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Wearing a Dress and Blazer — Instead of a Suit

Dresses and blazersIs an outfit composed of a blazer and a dress an acceptable substitute for a suit? Reader B wonders how to mix dresses with blazers for a fairly conservative space (the DA’s office):

I start work at a DA’s Office next month, and I’m trying to round out my work wardrobe. My difficulty is this: I despise pant and skirt suits. (Yes, I recognize they’re a necessary evil and yes, I own several.) I vastly prefer to wear work-appropriate dresses (always with sleeves) with blazers that I can throw on when I need to go to court.

How do I go about matching blazers with dresses? Must they come as a set? Be the same fabric? What about colors and necklines? Basically, I have a closet full of gorgeous work dresses, but I need more blazers if I want them to work at the new job.

Hmmmn. Reader B, you’re definitely going to have to learn the ropes at your office before you buy any more dresses, because in some very conservative offices — with some judges — a dress with a blazer on top is likely not going to cut it in terms of formality. Hopefully this won’t be the case where you are, but I really caution you to play it conservatively for the first month or so and wear the separate pant and skirt suits you own, and the few matching sets (dress + blazer) that you own.

As for how to mix a dress and blazer otherwise for work:

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