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.
Budget Suits For Women (under $250 for both pieces)
Note that the two big risks with a budget option will be frumpiness on one end — and “sexy secretary”/ formality problems on the other. Try to look for a material that drapes well, doesn’t wrinkle, isn’t too seasonal (such as a cotton suit — a tropical wool or triacetate will go farther) — and be wary of trendy cuts like collarless jackets, huge slits in your skirt, cropped pants, and more.
- Anne Klein (separates) – Nordstrom has a few Anne Klein suits; Macy’s also carries them.
- Calvin Klein (separates) – It’s next to impossible to find a good link to one online, but Calvin Klein suiting separates are also sold at Macy’s and are pretty reliable; here’s a link to the classic two-button blazer.
- Kasper (separates) – I believe Kasper just started selling their line of separates; it’s nice to be able to buy pants/skirts/jackets individually. I haven’t tried them on for quality or fit, though.
- The Limited – a friend was recently on the hunt for an interview suit after having her second baby, and reported back that of the budget options her favorite by far was The Limited. Their “Collection” suiting line is their most seasonless one. (Scroll down on that page to see it.)
- Halogen – Nordstrom’s affordable suiting line, produced in house — cuts and fabrics may be on the trendier side.
- Tahari / Kasper / Le Suit (not sold as separates) – You can find huge deals on these brands at places like TJ Maxx, Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Smart Bargains, and Overstock — but it’s very hard to break the pieces up and wear them as separates, at least in my experience. If you need a skirt suit for under $100 all in, though, these brands are the first places I’d look. Note that because these suits are sold as one product (rather than as separates) you usually have to pick a single size — if you’re a 10 on top and 14 on the bottom, for example, this is not going to be the way you want to go.
- Chadwicks – I have no experience personally with these suits, but some of the printed blazers are as low as $13 (!) and the brand offers regular, petite, plus, and tall sizes.
- Express – If you’re a fan of their Editor/Columnist pants it might be worth checking out their matching blazers as well.
- Loft – Sometimes you can get a basic dark suit here, although I’d be worried about wrinkling and trendiness/formality (compared to other options, like Tahari or Anne Klein)
- NY & Co. – I’d be wary of the fabric and fit here, so it’s hard to recommend them online — but if you have a store near you, these are some of the most budget-friendly suits you can get.
Mid-Range Suits (reliably under $500 for two pieces)
- Classiques Entier – Like Halogen, this is another brand that is in-house to Nordstrom. Their suits (and dresses… and tops… and sweaters) are all well made, classic but on trend, and generally great.
- Ann Taylor – Ann Taylor currently has a lot of their tropical wool blend in stock, a “lightweight wool blend and is good for any season” — they also sell a polyester blend “all-season stretch” suiting fabric, as well as (occasionally, online only usually), triacetate suiting. Watch for sales, but note that it’s hard to go wrong with Ann Taylor for your first major suit.
- Banana Republic – Obviously, watch for sales — if you can find a style of pant you like here it can be a great, easy way to buy suits.
- J.Crew – Their Super 120s suiting has been around forever!
- Talbots has been gaining in reader popularity over the years — note that if you’re hard to fit, they often carry multiple suit separate options in regular sizes (often up to 18 or 20), tall, petite, plus sizes, and (holy grail of rareness here), plus size petites.
- This Michael Michael Kors suit at Bloomingdale’s is one of their bestsellers.
- Austen Reed – This British brand has a lovely line of suits for women, as well as a lot of other workwear.
Classy Suits For Women (Fancy Affordable)
For many women this is going to be the first “splurge” suit — two pieces will cost you more than $500, but less than $1000.
- Theory – The classic — but be warned, if you have curves you may have to size up here. If you’re confused about the differences between the Theory fabrics or the cut of different jackets or pants, take a look at this post.
- Hugo Boss – My admiration for this brand has only grown the more I’ve done this blog — everything they do is beautiful quality, extremely classic and stylish.
- Reiss – This British brand is always droolworthy for me — they specialize in classic takes on modern styles. Note that their fits can be a bit body conscious. Note that Bloomingdale’s also carries the brand; also that the sale/outlet section on their site has some amazing deals.
- Lafayette 148 New York – If you’ve got curves or are in need of cusp sizes (16, occasionally even 18), take a look at Lafayette 148 New York — the quality is lovely but the cuts are much more forgiving. Their suiting pants are incredibly highly rated at Nordstrom, as well. You can also find the brand often on deep discount at Last Call.
- Elie Tahari – This is the parent brand to everyone’s starter suit, Tahari – the prices are much steeper but so is the quality and the cut.
- Brooks Brothers – They don’t seem to have anything terribly classic in stock online at the moment, but this brand is obviously a stalwart for women’s suiting.
- Hobbs – This British brand has a few locations stateside, and carries a lot of gorgeous workwear, including some nice basic suits.
- Sportmax – This brand is hard to find online, but if you happen to see a store, do pop in — the fabrics and cuts are amazing, and a suit should run you less than $1000. (The brand is owned by the same company that owns Max Mara.)
All of these brands are classics for designer workwear — when you win the lottery, stop here first. Brands in this bucket who might have a classic, simple suit: Armani, St. John, The Row, Max Mara, Akris, Escada, Michael Kors, Donna Karan, Joseph, Helmut Lang.
(Stay tuned for Part II where we look at the best suiting brands for plus sizes, petites, tall women, slow fashion suiting, and boutiques/independent brands)…
Ladies, what are your favorite suiting brands for basic, classic interview suits? For those of you who’ve bought across the different price ranges, what differences have you noticed in quality? What pieces are the most worthy to stalk at sales and on eBay?