The Next Step: Bags

How to Upgrade Your Handbag Collection | CorporetteHow to Upgrade Your Handbag Collection | CorporetteWhat are the different “levels” for handbags — and how do you upgrade your handbag collection?  I’m curious to hear what readers say.  We’ve already talked about how to upgrade your professional wardrobe, as well as where to buy grown-up furniture… up next in our Next Step series: handbags. I’m pretty solidly in Bucket 3 at the moment.  I had a lot of fun wearing purses a few years ago, striving to wear a new one from my collection every week — but now I tend to reach for the same one whenever I head out, so I can see the sense in having a Bucket 5 bag if that’s the only one you wear. (Here’s what I usually carry in my bag.)  To me, the must-have details in any bag are a good leather or durable canvas (unless it’s a really fun color that I’ve never owned before — and a good sale), interior pockets, feet, a zipper on top — and I always appreciate an attached key fob and fun lining.  Ladies, what are your must-haves?  Which buckets of bags do you currently own — and have you been upgrading them as you move up the career ladder? Which brands am I forgetting in the different buckets? 

Bucket 1: Budget Bags

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Tales from the Wallet: Financially Preparing for Grad School

financially preparing for grad schoolWe had a great discussion a few weeks ago about wedding finances, and now it’s time for the next post in our Money Milestone series:  grad school. We’ve talked about how to adjust your new student budget once you get to grad school, how to pay off student loans, how to juggle grad school and a full time job, and even whether you should get an MBA — but not this. Some of the best tips came from folks on the Corporette FB page and some of my personal FB friends, so a huge thank you to everyone! (Check out U.S. News & World Report’s Paying for Graduate School Guide for some additional advice.) (Pictured: J.Crew Factory Magic Wallet, $14.50.)

Before Grad School

  • Live like a student before you go. Keep your expenses down while you’re saving up — and create a new budget. This helps you save more, and also prevents culture shock once you have to dial back your lifestyle when you get to grad school.
  • Manage what you’ve already borrowed. Form a strategy to pay down your existing debt. In some cases you may even want to postpone applying to grad school until you have more of a handle on your finances and achieve a higher credit score (which can earn you lower interest rates). Consider deferring your undergraduate loans if it makes sense for your financial situation.
  • Make sure you know the numbers. In a recent post, Above the Law mentioned a new, “brutally honest” student loan calculator that shows you your future monthly payments in comparison to your expected salary after earning the degree.
  • See if your current employer offers tuition reimbursement. It may be slow going but you can pay for a grad school degree through this method alone!
  • Set up a 529 plan for yourself. While you’re saving, you get a deduction on your state taxes, and you can then use that account to pay for your grad school expenses. If you have money left over in the plan, you can roll it over into your kids’ plans. (Rules vary widely by state.) Resist the urge to raid your 401(k) for tuition costs.

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The Hunt: Tweed Blazers

The Great Tweed Blazer Roundup of 2014 | CorporetteSure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

It’s been a while since we last rounded up tweed blazers, so I thought I’d go on a hunt for some on the market right now.  Some of my favorites are below — ladies, which are your favorite from the options below? Have you bought any tweed blazers recently, or do you have some in your closet from years past?

Other options in the budget price range, not pictured below: Ann Taylor (three great options in regular, petite, and tall sizes, all $72-90 with code FASHION50), Talbots ($75-$130, regular, petites, woman, woman petites), White House | Black Market ($99), Calvin Klein ($104),  Anne Klein ($139), Limited (three great ones in regular, petite, and tall sizes, all for $168 full price), and J.Crew ($186 with code STYLETREAT).

Here are some plus-size options, not pictured below: here, here, here, here, and here.  Also, I’ve tried to note in text where there are petite or tall sizes available throughout the piece.

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The Next Step: Professional Clothes

workwear next stepHow to Upgrade Your Work Wardrobe | CorporetteA lot of people know where to go for inexpensive professional clothes — and then they know the brands that celebrities wear.  But the middle ground can get confusing for people — particularly, how to step up your game when it comes to fashionable workwear.  We talked a few weeks about what the next step is for furniture (based on a commenting thread a while back), and this week I thought we’d talk about the spectrum for professional clothes. (Obviously, some of these brands could fit in multiple buckets — any big disagreements, though?)  Readers, where did you shop when you started your careers — or when you need budget pieces?  What was your next step, and the step after that, and the step after that? When did you notice a big change in quality?  Am I forgetting any brands?  What are your top 3 in each bucket? 

Bucket 1: Budget Fashion

  • Dorothy Perkins
  • Express
  • H&M
  • Loft
  • Modcloth
  • New York & Co.
  • Old Navy
  • Target
  • Zara

Bucket 2: Midlevel Fashion

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The Next Step: Furniture

Where to Buy Grown Up Furniture | CorporetteThere was a fun discussion a while ago in the comments section — where do you go for furniture when you’re upgrading from Ikea (or otherwise buying “grown up furniture“)?  I thought it might be fun to round up the answers, and perhaps to start a series on “the next step.”  (We’ll obviously do fashion as the next one in the series — are there any other categories you would be interested in, ladies?)

Furniture is a really funny thing — it tends to stay with you for years, so hopefully you like the purchases you make. Post-school budgets don’t always allow you to buy the good stuff, though, so for me (and most of my friends) we “leveled” up after our first few years in the work place — but only if we could find something we loved.   For example: When I was setting up my first post-grad school apartment, I compromised on a blue leather sleeper couch from Ikea, thinking, hey, I need a place to sit, and I can always buy a new one in a few years.  After my husband and I got married we visited a TON of shops for new couches, prepared to spend money (he haaates the couch), but we didn’t quite find anything we loved, so we tabled the discussion… and then got pregnant.  The Ikea couch is still a big “meh” in our house, but we are thrilled that we didn’t buy a new, non-leather couch whenever my son decides to do something silly, like eat yogurt with his hands.  (Why, Jack… why?)  We did “level up” with our bedroom furniture and dining room furniture, though, after trying to read a bit about furniture shopping….  In the bedroom, my parents generously gave us a housewarming gift of a bedroom set from Homestead Furniture in Amish Country (in Ohio, my home state), and my parents-in-law graciously got us a rug when they went on vacation to Turkey.  That’s my husband pictured, clowning around with our massive mule chest).  We also eventually bought a dining room table from Jensen Lewis, as well as a rocking recliner from Best Chairs‘ Storytime Series.  Some purchases have been lucky — we’ve bought a number of rugs from online flash sale sites like Hautelook, Rue La La, and One Kings’ Lane, which have all turned out fine for the quality we need right now (see above re: Mr. Yogurt Hands).  We have unfortunately made a few purchases I regret, including a china hutch and credenza from a mass market store — they were floor models so were already dinged when we got them, and the little details bug me, like drawers that don’t extend all the way (and break easily).   Otherwise… my son is still using my old Ikea bedroom furniture (that stuff holds up, I will say that!), most of our lamps are still from JC Penney (I forget how I found their lighting department, but I generally like the stuff we’ve gotten, including the huge hanging lamp we have over the dining table), and, well, the couch is still the couch.  Readers, when did you buy nice furniture?  What stores did you go to when you decided to “level up”?  Has anyone made special trips, such as to North Carolina, for furniture?

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The Hunt: Strappy Pumps

The Best Strappy Pumps To Wear With Tights | CorporetteSure, we all know what basics professional women are supposed to have in their closets, but if you’re buying one for the first time or replacing one you’ve worn into the ground, it can be a pain to find exactly the right incarnation in stores. In “The Hunt,” we search the stores for a basic item that every woman should have.

As we approach tights weather, I thought it might be fun to round up some strappy pumps (see also our roundup of t-strap pumps).  Although boots and booties are much more acceptable to wear with tights than they used to be (just for kicks take a look at our 2010 poll on peep-toe booties), the most conservative option is still, I think, pumps or flats, whether with straps or without.  So without further ado… readers, what are your favorite shoes to wear with tights?  Have you made any killer purchases recently (or classics that are still available) that go the distance in terms of comfort and style?

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