The Corporette Guide to Suits

suits for women2017 Update: Links have been updated below!

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:

  • Suits for Women: A Guide to the Best Suiting Brands for Women | CorporetteWhen 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 (now closed), Ann Taylor, Boss.)

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.

affordable-womens-suits

 

Pictured: one / two (now sold out) / Lands’ End / Halogen / Tahari

  • 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.) (2017 Update: Sadly, The Limited has closed for the moment.)
  • 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.
  • Lands’ End – Particularly if you’re looking for a washable wool blazer in a wider size range, Lands’ End can be a great, affordable option.
  • 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 For Women (reliably under $500 for two pieces)

mid-range-womens-suits

 

Pictured:  Classiques Entier / Michael Michael KorsTalbots / Ann Taylor / Ann Taylor

  • 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.

classy suiting for women

 

Pictured: Theory / Boss / Reiss / Elie TahariLafayette 148 New York 

  • 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.)

Designer Suits

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 KorsDonna Karan, Joseph, Helmut Lang.

designer-womens-suits workwear

 

Pictured: Armani / Escada / Akris / The Row / St. John / Dolce & Gabbana

(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 suits for women 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? 

Suits for Women: A Guide to the Best Brands of Suiting for Women | Corporette

Comments

  1. anon-oh-no :

    I don’t think Elie Tahari is the “parent brand” to Tahari. I understand that Elie Tahari licensed his name to Arthur S. Levine to make the Tahari by ASL brand of suits, but that Elie Tahari has never been involved in that brand.

    • Tahari is great. I LOVE Tahari! According to Wikepedia, Tahari was born in 1952, the middle son of a Iranian Jewish couple.He has four sisters, Aliza, Diana, Shulie and Illana. He has two brothers Avraham and Yosi. The family immigrated to Israel from Iran and lived in a ma’abara transit camp in what is now Mevasseret Zion. In 1953–1957 the family went back to Iran, returning later to Israel. When his parents divorced and his father remarried, Tahari was sent to an orphanage (“Sde Hemed”) in Rishon Lezion, later moving to Tel Aviv (“Maon Hayeled”).[citation needed] The following years were spent in Kvutzat Schiller and an Israeli Air Force boarding school in Haifa.

      If he was onley 5 year’s younger, I would MARRY him and live hapily EVER after, but he is to old for me at age 64. Dad set a 25 year maximum age diferential for me. That also exclude’s the manageing partner’s brother (YAY!) and Tahari (BOO!) So it’s strictley FOOEY for Tahari. Now if ONLEY Jared Kushner had an unmarried BROTHER!?!

  2. I’d add the J Crew Factory lightweight wool suiting pieces to the top of the “budget” list. You can get 2 pieces for around $200 most of the time, but the fabric is really superior to the poly blends from the rest of the budget list. It’s usually available in gray and black or navy, and there is a dress, skirt, and pants that match the blazer.

    For the budget Calvin Klein and ASL suits (and possibly others I’m not familiar with) I think swapping the buttons on the jacket improves the look so much. The buttons that they come with are brand-stamped, which I think is pretty tacky.

    • Aunt Jamesina :

      I agree, J.Crew Factory wool is as nice as what I find in midrange suiting (and I find pretty much everything else at J.Crew Factory to be very underwhelming). The pants are unlined, but that seems to be common even at the more expensive end of the spectrum these days.

  3. Killer Kitten Heels :

    On The Limited, I just want to put in a plug for the Luxe Collection suits – I think they are waaaaay nicer than the standard “Collection” suits, and look/feel a lot more expensive, for the price point, than pretty much any competitor brand (and some of the “next bucket up” brands as well – I prefer my Luxe Collection suits to, for example, my Ann Taylor and Banana Republic suits). Also, The Limited is one of the only (or maybe the only) brand in that price bracket that offers pants in a “short” inseam (basically, an inseam in between petite and regular), and as someone who is somewhere between 5’2″ and 5’3″, I love that I can buy pants from them that won’t need to be hemmed.

  4. Thanks Kat. I’d like to add- in addition to the mirror test, when you find the suit you like, ask the salesperson to cut the “x”and make sure the jacket still lies right when buttoned.

  5. Anonymous :

    I actually hate wearing skirts so all my suits have pants! I really don’t think pants look less formal than skirts.

    • lost academic :

      +1 MILLION

    • I’m more comfortable in pants, that’s what I wear most of the time, so that’s why I’d ignore this advice about skirt suits, even if it was true. If I’m interviewing or meeting an important client, the last thing I’d want is to feel awkward about my outfit.

    • Power woman :

      Honestly, I have always felt that women professionals wanting to be treated as equals should not be wearing skirts…especially as the trend is skirts with bare legs (or nude for you hose).

      It’s like, look at my BARE LEGS…… in HIGH HEELS…. so LOOK AT MY BUTT and SHAPELY CALVES…. but DON’T THINK OF ME AS A SEXY OBJECT….

      I know these are historical dressing norms, but why don’t women get with the program and take control and realize that if you don’t want to be treated like the only woman in the boardroom, don’t walk into it with bare legs in 3.5 inch heels, with the heads turning as they hear you stomp.

      Yes, that is not the entrance I want to make. I want you looking at my face… not my legs.

      I wear pants, and I run up and down the stairs just as fast as my male co-workers. THAT’S the way to do it.

      • Speed of stair running has a lot more to do with your shoes than your workwear bottoms.

        IDK, I don’t think I need to wear traditionally male attire (pants) to be treated equally. Men who are going to look at my butt in a skirt are going to look at my butt in pants, or my boobs in a jacket. Trying to hide all of that isn’t how I want to live – and I’ve been successful without doing that. I’m a woman. Let them look. If they want to get awesome deals done and make a sh*tton of money for the company, they get over it and start listening to me, because I’m a boss whether I’m in a skirt or pants.

        Signed,
        Pants-hating AmLaw 50 law firm partner in a traditionally male practice who wore a powder-pink skirt suit to a client meeting today, and killed it

      • Anonymama :

        Power woman has got to be a troll, right?

        Also, Madeleine Albright says “cha cha cha”:

        http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/secretary-of-state-madeleine-albright-dances-in-front-of-a-news-photo/663387

  6. You say to avoid zippers on suit jackets if you’re busty: what do people think about this one? http://www.reasonablypresentable.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/crowninshield-silver-keystone-1.png I tried it on at a craft fair last weekend, and I thought it was beautiful: I’m somewhat considering it for work, but it’s pretty pricey if people don’t think that it’s work-appropriate.

  7. I would tend to agree on the advice about not wearing sandals with suits. However, as a woman nearing menopause, I have found that in the summer months I now must wear sandals for work because my feet swell so much (a problem I never had when I was younger). I hate wearing sandals for work, and I’ve been hoping that maybe the fact that I’m wearing a pant suit rather than a skirt suit might make the sandals less noticeable (plus I hate how nylons look with sandals and bare legs aren’t an option in my field). I would be curious to know if anyone else feels forced into sandals for this reason, or if anyone has found another way to conquer the problem of swelling feet.

  8. Cassandra :

    I really like Antonio Melani suits. This would go under the $500 range, but when Dillard’s has a sale you can get a suit for under $250 (which is pretty frequent). I believe they are exclusively at Dillard’s. Also, it seems that this brand is not for curvier women – at least not the suit dresses.

  9. I agree with Of Mercer! I tried their long wraps because I like my knees covered at work, and I get compliments every day. I haven’t yet tried their blazers, but the one you linked to seems like a good basic, maybe will give it a try next paycheck :-)

  10. Officedronette :

    If you are busty, or in what Kat has called in the past the Pregnancy Corridor, I think the Theory Lanai blazer is a much better option than traditional blazers with lapels and many buttons.

    I wore that blazer almost every day during pregnancy, and now that I’m nursing (and up to a G cup), I found the cut incredibly minimizing – it looks professional and was much less distracting on than their other, more traditional blazers, which seemed to emphasize my chest.

  11. Pendleton Seasonless Wool blazers and skirts are good quality and very reasonably priced on sale.

Add a Comment

Thank you for commenting. On the off chance that your comment goes to moderation, note that a moderation message will only appear if you enter an email address. If you have any questions please check out our commenting policy.

work fashion blog press mentions