Cheap Suits: How Low Can You Go?

Reader K asks about the merits of cheap suits for women…

I’m in the process of changing from a career where pajamas are appropriate work attire to something more “professional” and need all the help I can get. I have been shopping for an interview suit (my first ever and I am almost 40!) and am not sure how to weigh quality vs cost. My clothes budget has been limited to a few t-shirts, a pair of jeans, and maybe a sweater per year so I am unaccustomed to spending a significant amount of money on clothes. I have been browsing at discount stores like Ross, Marshalls, and Kohls to try and find my interview suit for under $100. However, the more I read your blog the more I am wondering if I should suck it up and spend $200-300 on a suit that is wool from a store like Ann Taylor or Banana Republic. Aside from the fact that a well made wool suit will last longer than a synthetic Calvin Klein suit from Ross, do you think there is a significant visual difference? I figure that if my cheap suit works for the interview I can always invest in quality clothes once I have a job that pays more. However, the last thing I want is for the interviewer to think “damn, that’s a cheap suit!”. Any advice?

Great, great question, and I think we should expand the discussion to the differences between LOTS of different price ranges. (The pictured suit is actually not a cheap one, but rather an expensive one — I’ve just been looking for an excuse to share it with you guys without recommending it.  Tee hee.) Here’s my take:

– Under $100. There are lots of suits to be found for under $100, but in general these are going to be sold as a single “suit” — one price for both the jacket and bottoms, whether you’re getting pants or a skirt. While the skirts can sometimes look OK when worn as a separate, the pants almost never do (at least, that’s my experience). Furthermore, because these suits are so inexpensive, the fabric they’re made of is often difficult to work with and may wrinkle easily, hold smells more easily, and start to get a bit shiny when you dryclean them. Bottom line: These suits are great for when you want to bolster a professional wardrobe — particularly if you have to wear suits 5 times a week — but for my money, I would not purchase this kind of suit for an interview/wardrobe basic.

– Under $200. There are suit separates to be had for under $200, particularly at mall stores (think The Limited, Express, or LOFT), as well as at department stores (Macy’s in particular has a number of “Every Day Value” separates from AK Anne Klein, Ellen Tracy, and Calvin Klein). These will be in basic, solid colors, you can get both pants and skirts (and maybe even multiple jackets) to match, in separate sizes (perfect if you need an 8 on top and a 6 in the bottom). The fabric will not be the best (see above), but in terms of bang for your buck, you’re going to get a lot more wear out of these pieces as a wardrobe staple as WELL as an interview suit. Furthermore, if you have to interview twice, you can wear the skirt once and the pants the next time, instead of wearing the same suit. You can also get a better suit that’s sold as a single unit for around $150 or so — I’ve had good luck with Tahari suits off the rack at Macy’s. Bottom line: If you’re working on a very limited budget, these suits are going to be a better use of your money, give you more wardrobe flexibility, and generally look better than the $100-and-under category.

– $200-$500. This is where your ability to watch sales is going to come into play, because it’s pretty common to see a $500 suit go on sale for under $250 if you know what you’re buying. This price range puts you into the better mall stores — Ann Taylor, J.Crew, Banana Republic — and you’ll start to see better fabrics here, such as natural fibers (look for wool you can wear year-round) as well as suiting separates. These suits are going to wear better, fit better, and be easier to wear as separates than any of the cheaper categories.

– $500-$1000.  The fabrics just keep getting better as you get into the range of Theory, Elie Tahari, Nanette Lepore, Rebecca Taylor, Hugo Boss, and more.  In addition to seeing some great basics (Theory suits are, of course, a perennial favorite), there are some more interesting, lovely suits (as we frequently discover in our Suit of the Week feature).

– $1K+.  I’m sure there are differences in the fabrics and fit for this price range, but let’s just say it:  if you buy a suit in this price range it’s pretty much a) to cross something off your Fashion Bucket List, or b) because you’re so rich the price just does not matter.  (Neither of those are bad reasons!)

Ladies, what differences do you see in different price ranges for suits?  How much does YOUR average suit cost (both in terms of sticker price and in terms of what you’ll actually pay, after any discounts)?


  1. CPA to be :

    I would highly recommend getting on a mailing list for whatever brand fits you the best. I am on Banana’s mailing list and they send out emails EVERY DAY announcing sales usually within the 30-40% for one type of item or another (e.g. yesterday, they had a three hour sale 40% off tops and sweaters). If you have a bit of time, you can wait it out and buy the pants when they are on sale one day, the jacket another day, etc. That way you can buy a nice suit, but possibly be closer to the lower end of your price range. Also, stalk the sale racks when they have additional % off sale stuff. I got some wool BR suit pants for $16 a few months ago by doing that.

    • Agreed. I got my grad school interview suit for a steal from J Crew by using a 20% off promo coupon, buying something that was already on sale, and opening up a J Crew card for an extra 10 or 15% off. Ann Taylor also runs good promos on full price merchandise all the time.

      I’m in the process of getting familiar with the higher-end suits like Theory. My strategy involves trying them on in stores to figure out what cuts and sizes work on me, and then stalking sales online. :)

      • Theory has outlets which carry the same exact clothing for 30% minimum off.

        • Alanna of Trebond :

          This might just be me, but the Theory suits that I have gotten from sales at Bloomies and Saks are much better quality than the apparently identical suits I got from a recurring Theory sample sale that takes place here in NYC. I am not sure if it is the same with outlets, but I’ve just decided to spend the extra $200 to buy it on sale, especially since the sample sales don’t stock the style of trousers that I prefer.

          • YMMV, of course, but my Theory outlet suits still look brand new two years out, even with a full year of constant wear as a frequently travelling litigation attorney. I haven’t gotten anything from a Theory sample sale but in my experience the outlet suits are great quality. The Theory suit I (stupidly) bought full price at Bloomie’s, as I mentioned below, looked like death one year after I bought it, with shiny elbows and the ripping double vented skirt I mentioned below. No thanks.

          • Just wanted to say that I love your handle! Loved Tamara Pierce when I was younger!

    • Kanye East :

      I agree fit is crucial. How it fits is so much more important than how much it cost.

    • i never pay full price :

      Unless you need a suit tomorrow there is no reason to pay full price for a suit. I won’t pay more than 60% of the price for a suit at Banana Republic or Ann Taylor. I can usually get a jacket, skirt and blazer from these stores for under $150 total. At least once every two/three weeks these stores put out promo codes for 40-50% off. If you find a suit you LOVE, buy it before it goes on sale so that you make sure you can get your size, then repurchase at a lower price when it goes on sale.

  2. Good summary. This is my personal yardstick: Straight out of high school = $100 suits. Out of college, $200 suits. Out of law school: $200-$500. No can do $500-$100 suits (10+ years out of law school).

    • i like this.

    • I can do $500-$1000 suits when the Nords Anniversary Sale or a particularly good day at Saks Off Fifth/NM Last Call turn them into sub-$500 suits. Those are wonderful days, indeed.

      • Hey anons, I don’t own any $1000+ suits (whether marked down 85% or otherwise!). I just don’t occupy that rareified pricepoint where I hit Saks and Barneys very often (even for sales). That said, all of my price ranges are all “out the door” prices… ;-)

    • backtowork :

      Hate to burst your bubble, lawgirl, but I’ve been out of law school 10+ years and a $500 and up suit is out of my range. We’re not all partners at big firms!

      • Anonymous :

        Hey backtowork: I guess it’s all perspective, right? I have *one* $498 suit that I paid full price for (thanks, Kat! LOL). I thought I was the only one of the Slums of Macys, $200 suit wearing gang here at Corporette ;-)

        • lawpryncess :

          I’m a prosecutor in one of the poorest states and recently found out that we actually make the lowest salary of any prosecutors office in the nation. $200 suits HURT on my pay, but that is what I buy. You are not alone in the Slums of Macys.

    • Anonymous :

      When I was in law school, I worked and had loans so I purchased some decent suits. When I started working for the state, I couldn’t even afford to have them dry cleaned.

  3. Agree with the commenter above. The sale rack is also a great way to pick up blazers you can use to dress other pieces up (a dress or complementary color/pattern skirt).

    Maybe I’m not understanding what Kat is saying the first $100 and under section, but you can certainly find “all in one” CK, Anne Klein, and Tahari suits at places like Marshall’s and Filenes that I think would be fine if you need to get that one suit for the interview in order to get the job.

    • The one thing that I’d add to this is that you can sometimes find good deals on name-brand suits/clothing at stores like TJ Maxx, Ross, Annie Sez, etc., but sometimes it ‘s a crap-shoot.

      My first “real” suit was a dress suit from Banana that I bought 10 years ago on sale for under $200, and I still wear it. The jacket has some detailing that might make it seem a teensy bit dated (but I still wear it, depending on the circumstances), but the dress is a simple, classic silhouette that I can wear by itself, with a cardigan, or with a different jacket/blazer.

      So, it might be worthwhile to “stalk” your favorite sites like CPA said, because these items are an investment, and you may be able to get a LOT of wear out of them.

    • I don’t see anything wrong with getting some of the “all in one” suits like CK, Anne Klein, and Tahari from places like Ross and Marshall’s. I’ve got a great Tahari suit at Ross (on the clearance rack no less) for around $50. I think a nicer suit from Ross would be preferred to a suit from Express (that I got for interviewing after undergrad), that says more “sexy secretary” than “professional woman.”

      • I agree with LawChick – a name-brand suit from TJ Maxx is 100x better than a suit from Express! Express is cheap and trashy (sorry but true) and I’m always stunned when it’s recommended.

        And what the OP seems to not understand is that TJ Maxx sells the same brands as the Macy’s suits she recommends. I got a beautiful Calvin Klein suit a TJ Maxx last month for $70. Just because I’m a smart shopper doesn’t mean I’m wearing cheap clothes, just less expensive ones.

  4. Also: consignment stores! I’ve picked up a couple of very nice, high quality suits from consignment stores, for well under $100. You have to find the right store – the consignment store in my yuppie neighborhood is a better bet than the one up by the college campus – but you can really score with used.

    • Consignment Stores :

      Second this. We have some amazing ones in my neighborhood.

      • Yes, my friend bought a Theory skirt suit for $75 at a local consignment shop. The tags were still attached.

    • Consignment & Discount Stores :

      I totally agree. Also, depending on where you live, there may be great discount store with higher quality suits for less $. For example, in most big cities in the US you can find a Loehmann’s (the “Back Room” is higher end than the regular store), in NYC you can also go to Syms (until they go out of business in January – great sales now) and perhaps even Century XXI (although their suit selection is small).

    • Don’t forget thrift shops. You can’t plan on walking out with a suit every time you look, but I’ve found some great BR, AT, and Tahari suits at thrift shops for $10-20. My best thrift find ever was a perfectly fitting Theory suit for $10. I’ve been noticing a better selection of suits turn up lately at thrift shops, and Goodwill actually has a billboard campaign promoting buying suits at Goodwill.

  5. Diana Barry :

    I will occasionally buy J Crew suits full price (eg when I was postpartum and needed bigger size suits RIGHT THEN), but I normally wait for them to go on sale and then buy. Caveat that this strategy occasionally results in not being able to get all the pieces I want – sometimes the size I need is sold out. I find (at least between pregnancies, we’ll see how my body is after this one) that J crew fits me best.

    I did splash out and buy a Theory suit this past summer (before I got pregnant again), but it was a Bloomie’s 30% off sale with additional $25 off coupons.

  6. Theory suits are often recommended on this site, but I find the quality very poor for the price. The skirts and pants are all unlined. I recently had to return a skirt in Theory’s “tailor” line, because the unlined fabric clung to my tights, bunched up, and looked just awful. I would’ve had to wear it with a slip. No thanks.

    • I’m glad you mentioned this. That has forever been my biggest peeve with Theory.

    • I completely agree. While I find the cut of Theory’s suits to be extremely flattering, few things scream “cheap!” like unlined pants and skirts. They will hang poorly, accentuate flaws, and all-in-all fail to provide the well-cut, polished fit that lined bottoms will provide. IMO, only buy Theory for jackets, shirts, or coats; shop elsewhere for suits and bottoms.

      • Marie-Christine :

        Actually, unlined bottoms is the way to go for me. Yes, a lining is good for wrinkle-resistance, for hanging properly and preventing bagging, for more time between cleanings. But I get all that and more from slips, including pant ‘slips’. Then I can wash them pretty much every time I wear my pants. Most importantly, I can get really good quality in outer fabric, and replace the linings several times over the life of the pants.

        No lining fabric can outlast good wool. This is especially true in rtw linings, which aren’t up to snuff even in the $500+ category. And replacing lining in pants is heinously difficult, so very expensive if you pay for it, in fact it’s more difficult than making pants from scratch.

    • I bought a suit from them two years ago and it is shiny at the elbows. Also the skirt (the one with the double vent in the back) keeps ripping. Will never buy anything from them again unless it is at the outlet for nothing near retail. Luckily at my new job I don’t wear suits very often.

    • SF Bay Associate :

      +1. I’m not paying that much for unlined pants. Actually, I won’t pay anything at all for unlined pants.

      • Diana Barry :

        I am the opposite – I don’t like lined pants bc they are hot, and also bc the lining bunches up and looks all weird.

        • And sometimes rips! I had this happen with a pair of BB outlet pants. The cost of a new lining was almost as much as the pants themselves.

    • Haven’t purchased anything lately, but my theory stuff from 3-4 years ago looks like new and I am not particularly great at taking care of my clothes.

      I also don’t find I need a lining when an item is good quality wool. One of my favorite suits is a random Italian suit I picked up for about $150 on sale that is 100% wool and unlined. It’s fantastic year round. I think lining is more important when the cut and fabric aren’t good enough on their own.

      FWIW, I never pay full price for theory and got most of my suits for btwn 250-350 on sale.

      • I agree that a lining can sometimes be hot, and I agree that you can sometimes get away without a lining on suit pants (though personally, I’m not sure I would ever (willingly) purchase unlined suit pants again– too much like an intern in a cheap EXPRESS suit for me).

        With skirts and good dresses, however, I find a lining to be an absolute requirement. Without a lining, many skirts will cling, bunch, accentuate body flaws, and generally create a very unflattering silhouette. (This was particularly true of the Theory Outlet suit skirt I tried on most recently. Honestly, I wouldn’t have paid $15 at Forever 21 for that skirt, let alone the price Theory was asking for it.) And for an interview suit, you certainly want to look your absolute best from every angle.

    • Okay, I don’t get lined pants when you’re in a hot climate. My suit jacket already clings to my arms the moment I walk out of Houston’s airport. I can’t imagine how much more miserable I’d be if my pants did the same.

      • I generally like lined pants and skirts. I think it makes them stay cleaner longer (then again, I’m also a hose wearer). However, I have a question about lined pants. What do you do when the lining rustles? I recently bought a pair of lined black pants from J Crew (suit pants) and they audibly rustle as I walk. It drives me crazy and makes me self-conscious. So I’ve stopped wearing them (only wear the skirt and jacket). Is there away to make the noise stop? Do people walking next to me notice or is it just in my head?

        • There is a Seinfeld episode about this very subject!

          If you’re worried about the rustling being noticeable, I’d ask a trusted friend.

      • Lain in TX :

        Also in Houston, in nonprofit finance, not law. Nine months out of the year, anything lined is torture. I carry a lined jacket to work, but often have to wait an hour for the humidity to wear off before I can consider putting it on. At 80-90% humidity, it permeates everything, especially fibers!

        Today (it is 54 for those of you not here) I would actually consider lined pants, but everyone in my office thinks when the thermostat outside drops below 60, the indoor one needs to be moved up to 80 and I am in short sleeves right now.

    • Lain in TX :

      This! I think Lafayette 148 suits at Nordstrom are much nicer!

  7. What about Brooks Brothers? Excellent quality. Natural fabrics. And, I always buy the suits on sale at the outlet/factory store in the $150 to $250 range.

    • I forgot about factory stores and outlets. a GREAT place to shop for suits.

      Off 5th (Saks)
      Nordstrom Rack
      J. Crew
      Banana Republic

      Any others?

      • Ann Taylor has factory stores as well.

      • Blonde Lawyer :

        Ann Taylor Outlet
        Jones NY Outlet (also online I think)

        Almost all my suits are from the outlets on major shopping weekends with major discounts.

      • spacegeek :

        And “Triple A” Auto club member discount is also 15% at many outlets!

      • Neiman Marcus Last Call
        Barney’s Warehouse

      • I would add to this the caveat that factory store can often have much poorer quality clothes than the full price line. I live off JCrew & Banana outlets for casual clothes, but all the work stuff I’ve purchased has either been too quirky for interviews (odd details, colors, cheap fabric) or low quality. Or both. Especially for someone just starting to look into work clothes, it’s easy to get tricked by a low price and end up with a one-season item.

        I now look at outlet pieces and ask if I would pay full price for them. If so, I will get them. If not, on the rack they stay. Look at it as a deal on something you would buy anyway, not a base point, if that makes sense. It’s the same logic that’d been effective at keeping me from buying too much on Rue la la & Gilt.

        • I hear this often about outlet clothes, but I think it’s in attention to detail while shopping. If it looks inferior or trendy in the first place, don’t buy. That’s true for any clothes in any store.

          I have a wardrobe full of beautiful suits and blouses purchased at the Banana Republic and Ann Taylor outlets that have held up just as well as my Nordstrom suits.

      • Anonymous :

        Jones New York is great and you can buy as separates. As far as cheap brands are concerned, you can get Le Suit for pretty cheap at the department stores if you wait for sales. I used to like Kasper but lately, they have gone insane with color. Oh, I HATE Nordstrum Rack with a passion. It

    • Kanye East :

      And you can get 15% off full price items if you’re an ABA member.

      • AnonInfinity :

        At Brooks Brothers?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

      • lawpryncess :

        You also get the same discount if you’re a member of Phi Alpha Delta. If you joined in law school you’re a member for life, even if you never paid alumni dues.

    • I second the comment on Brooks Brothers, particularly if you are petite. If you go to the outlet store and check the labels carefully – apparently they make 2 lines one for the outlet and the higher end “retail” line – you can get a suit that was about $800+ in the store for much less than that. A few years ago I bought 3 suits which included a jacket, pants, and a matching skirt. They are all incredibly classic and did not need to be tailored. The pieces are sold as separates so you can buy different sizes. The jackets alone were originally about $400 each but I found them on the 70% off rack on a fluke and paid about $500 for 9 pieces.

  8. I can’t wear wool – I break out if it touches my skin. This limits what I can wear, unfortunately. I buy all my suits at the Limited or LOFT and occasionally when I see a synthetic suit at a nicer place I snap it up. Anyone have any tips for those of us who can’t wear wool? I love wool so much, I think it’s beautiful. But I can’t wear anything that has more than about 5% wool in it.

    • I see nothing wrong with synthetic fabrics. These days many are very high quality and don’t have that same cheap look as synthetics tended to have 20 years ago. In some parts of the country, wool isn’t readily available as it’s just too hot to be practical. I understand that there are tropical wools, but when they stick that godawful acetate lining in wool suits, it’s just like you’re in some sort of sweat factory. Unlined wool in summer is just hell on earth for me as it makes me break out.

      • YES! Someone else who hates the fabric that is used for lining! I have never understood why it is used in clothing for which one pays a premium for natural fiber.

        I developed a wool allergy a few years ago. Was a real pain with sweater but I’m much more comfortable in silk or cotton. Boiled wool is fine too.

    • What about raw silk? I have a silk/linen blend pant suit that I wear in the summer. It has a beautiful drape and feels really nice to wear. Unfortunately it does need steaming/ironing a little more frequently than a wool suit, but silk could be a good option for you.

      Is it just wool that you are allergic to? What about other animal fibres, such as camel?

    • fly a way :

      Macys seems to have a lot of synthetic suits and the prices, cuts, and styles can well move out of the $100 appearance, while still being a good value. I must get paper coupons from Macys twice a week and their dates are staggered so much that whenever there’s a sale, I can apply a 20-30% off coupon on top of that. On some days (in store at least), there’s another discount for using their store credit card. While Macys is known for buying out local, traditional stores, they’ve finally expanded their offerings here past high school styling. Huzzah.

    • A lot of the Classiques Entier line at Nordstrom is man-made, and high quality. I have a man-made suit from them that fits me perfectly, and I think that very few people would identify it as such.

      • I love Classiques! At least at the Anniversary Sale, there was slim pickins for non-wool options. I’ll check again.

        • FYI– I don’t recommend the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale as it has most recently offered very limited sale options. In my experience, your best bet is one of Nordstrom’s pre-season sales (which rock!) or one of Bloomingdale’s 30% off sales (sign up for the emails and check your inbox).

      • Former MidLevel :

        I am also highly allergic to wool and also love Classiques. I’ve had good luck at the AS in the past but agree this year was bad. For day-to-day (i.e., not interview) suits, I also have become a fan of the Halogen line at Nordstrom.

  9. Also worth checking out – they usually have a number of the brands mentioned here (Anne Klein, Tahari, and Calvin Klein) for under $100. And if you’re on a real budget and have the time, it’s worth checking out Goodwill and other thrift stores – you have to weed through some really outdated stuff and keep an eye out for stains and pilling, but I’ve found some really nice suits and seperarates in great condition there from BR, J.Crew, and Ann Taylor for $6-12, which really can’t be beat anywhere!

    • Ditto. I actually got 3 really good quality suits, which I still wear (2 Banana Republic, 1 Armani) from my local Goodwill when I first started working. I’ve also gotten Theory dresses, and brand new Banana Republic wool slacks (identical to the ones which match my first interview suit) at Goodwill. The key is to go to a thrift store in an expensive neighborhood.

      • Also, outlet malls in locations that don’t traditionally attract shoppers looking for work clothing can be a goldmine. For example, I got a Theory suit at the outlet in Las Vegas for $170 (the same suit was still almost $400 at the Theory outlet near Chicago).

    • Same for me! It does take some time but it can definitely be worth it. I also get nearly all of my button-fronts (especially white) at either Goodwill or TJ Maxx.

  10. i think the true difference between a high quality and a sub-par quality suit is how well it wears over time. For example, i have a j.crew super 120s suit that i’ve been wearing for 4 years now that still looks as good as new. meanwhile, i have some kenneth cole and banana republic and ny&co suits where the fabric was worn down and become pilled and just are not “professional” anymore. these suits are fine for a bis-casual look because they aren’t gross yet, but they don’t project the polished look you want when you go with a suit. since you’re shopping for an interview suit, i am 100% about going for something lower-end but that mimicks the styling, cut, colors, etc. of a higher end suit — keep it fresh with a stream or ironing and it should get you through your interviews. also, a great blouse and some tasteful jewelry, good shoes and an overall neat and polished appearance will be enough to get you through the process — of course, once you land the job you can decide whether suits are even what you need for the job and decide to invest appropriately at that time.

    • plus there’s something to be said about sale prices. don’t necessarily think certain items are out of your price range — outlet stores, in store promos, and even ebay make a lot of things more attainable and practical. you’d be surprised how many banan a republic suits i’ve been able to get for under $100 if i time it right. and macy’s always has one-day sales

  11. Threadjack! My guy and I are going out today, and as it’s kinda rainy, I’m looking for ideas of activities/things we can do together that are not outside. I was thinking pottery painting, but do you guys have any other suggestions? I’ll take any!

    • holiday shopping
      browse book store
      lunch at nice restaurant
      rock climbing gym
      roller skating
      massage for 2

    • depending on what city you’re in, museums are of course great for this! they’re perfect for rainy days and if you’re lucky you might have a cute cafe or restaurant in the museum.

    • Go get some groceries and cook dinner together, and then cuddle and watch a Homeland marathon on Showtime On-Demand. That’s what I’d do today if I could. =)

    • Thank you! We signed on an apartment, painted pottery, and then went grocery shopping and had a bite. It was fuuun!! :)

  12. Somewhat related to the topic threadjack: Does anyone have recommendations for a good clothes steamer? Perhaps I just suck at ironing, but I always seem to crease up my clothes even more when I try to iron them, and I’m thinking that a clothes steamer might work better for shaking out a couple wrinkles. Does anyone have a brand/model that they like?

    • I want one of those too!

    • I have a Jiffy Steamer that I love and use on a daily basis. Went from ironing every day to rarely ironing at all. Link to follow.



      only $50 and has worked well for me, but not sure how long it lasts since I’ve only had it for a month.

    • Classof2011 :

      I recently received the HoMedics PS-250 Garment Steamer, HomeTouch Perfect Steam Deluxe from Macy’s as a wedding gift (web id:478773). I would just link to it but I don’t want to get stuck in moderation…
      It is great for suits, pants, skirts or things you normally don’t want to press a hot iron on. But, I like an iron for blouses. Keeps my suits fresh so I don’t have to take them to the dry cleaner as often. It’s on sale for $38!

    • Anonymous :

      I’ve had several in the $35-50 range, including my current Jiffy from Amazon. They last a couple of years with daily use for me. My last replacement was because I dropped the hose on tile, the cap on the wand fell off, and I got tired of regluing it. Otherwise, it would still be going. I’ve never been inclined to buy a pricier version because they have been so effective.
      You do need to clean them occasionally, but that is not tough. They recommend using distilled water, but at that price, I use tap water and just expect to replace them at some point.

    • Thanks ladies! I think I’ll try the Jiffy travel steamer and see how much use I get out of it. Hopefully I’ll be better at steaming than I am at ironing….

    • Even with a steamer you’ll still need to iron (sharp creases! collars! cuffs!). If you can afford it, get a Rowenta iron

      How is your ironing board? If the pad is wearing thin it can cause trouble with your ironing.

      Also you should always be pulling on whatever it is you are ironing. That is my BFs big problem with ironing: he just lays the shirt down and runs the iron over it. It’s a two hand job! Make sure you iron each gore or segment of the clothing completely before you move on to the next. And cool clothes completely before you wear them.

      Well tailored women’s clothes are actually harder to iron than any other type of clothes. The have more pieces, more seams and more curves. You may want to look into getting a sleeve size ironing board and even a “ham.” They are sometimes called dressmaker’s hams, tailor’s hams or pressing hams, but are basically a pillow like item shaped a little like a ham for ironing curves like shoulders.

      (Gosh I feel like I should give you my recipe for apple cake next and remind you not to forget the bluing!)

      • You shouldn’t be ironing the shoulders or any curves in tailored clothes.

        My sister worked in high-end retail for years. A Jiffy steamer is standard equipment behind the scenes. Many clothes are shipped to the store in boxes, and every article is steamed before it hits the sales floor.

        Irons are NEVER used. They make fabric shiny, make hard creases where a soft fold is more elegant, and can cause damage.

    • I just got one last month for my birthday from my mother and I love it! It is a Conair professional one. I’m not sure how much it costs — because it was a gift. It has a long hose and sits on the floor (not one of the hand-helds) but I have a door to my laundry room so I just put up a hook on the back of the door and steam there. It takes about 10 minutes to heat up, so do all of your steaming at once or do what i do — turn it on before I get into the shower, then steam my clothes in my bathrobe right as I get out.

  13. Thread jack…

    What do you do when you start to get overwhelmed by work and are facing deadlines?? I mean, other than wasting time on corporette…

    PS JJill is an online store with some natural fiber suits, all in an understated style, not too prices. They have misses sizes and also up up to 3x or 4x in plus size.

    • Make a to do list of everything that needs to be done broken down into bite size pieces (e.g. draft fact section of brief instead of write brief). Then order these items in the exact order they need to be done in and just follow the list.

  14. MeliaraofTlanth :

    I never, ever buy a suit full price, unless it’s the most amazing suit in the world. My go-to stores are Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, and J.Crew, and they consistently have 25-40% off if you wait.

    I did buy a suit at Limited a couple of weeks ago. It’s their “travel” line–some sort of wool blend. I probably wouldn’t wear it to an interview, but I have to wear suits to work at least 2 or 3 times a week, and this one is washable, so that was a huge perk (Haven’t actually tried washing it yet, but I believe them)

  15. Can I just say that I would love to rock the suit shown? In theory, of course.

  16. My Jiffy J-2000 clothes steamer is in daily use and I’d swear it has saved its purchase cost in dry cleaning many times over.

    • Get a steam board for the back of the door, too. I managed without one for two long and kicked myself when I finally got one and realized how much time it saved.

      • What’s a steamboard?

        • Do a search on amazon for Jiffy Steam board. It hangs on a door or wall and you hang your skirt/shirt/pants from it, allowing you to make good contact with the fabric as you steam. Otherwise your clothes are hanging in the wind, and if you try to hold them down with your fingers, steam burns are inevitable.

  17. To the OP:

    I think you can buy a relatively inexpensive suit to an interview, just look for something that is classic and simple. My problem with cheaper suits (like the Tahari, CK, AK, etc.) is that in addition to not being very durable (which is not a big problem for your interview purposes), they often have one or more details that I just think aren’t that interview appropriate. Sometimes it’s as simple as bad buttons (in which case, buy it and replace the buttons), other times it’s weird ornamental details. If you just look for a simple suit in black, gray, or navy, without too many superfluous details (e.g., bows on your pockets), you’ll be just fine.

    And, I do agree that fit is the most important thing. If you’re new to wearing suits, keep in mind that they shouldn’t fit you as snuggly as jeans or other regular clothes. You should be able to comfortably button your jacket, and there should be no “smiley” lines across the front of your pants/skirt.

    Just get something you feel good in, and you will do great!

    • Marie-Christine :

      Very good advice AIMS, replacing buttons is the easy step that makes your suits look $200 more instantly. To be done no matter what the suit I think :-).

  18. Just one thing to add re suits on the expensive end–I don’t necessarily think “fashion bucket list” or “only if I’m rich.” When I spend a lot on something like suits (which I did a few months ago), I just think “how much is it worth to me to not worry about suits?” I never want to wonder whether I have a suit that is clean, flattering, professional, and appropriate, and I also hate shopping for suits. When I find a good one, I’m willing to spend on it, and I get more than one color if possible. My goal is to be done.

  19. Anyone else suffering from “doing anything but work, anything at all”itis today?

    • Yes! And this always happens when I have pending, but not immediate, deadlines. I have Corporette up on one computer screen and my doc review up on the other screen.

      • Yep! I have been suffering with that ‘itis for a week now. It’s terrible. And I do have stuff piling up, just nothing with an immediate deadline, as JJ said.

        • That kind of day um ... week :

          I was just lamenting to my hubby that I am feeling very unmotivated etc. not sure why?? I a looking forward to taking some vacation time in a week.

        • me, too! all week! what is going on?

          • I organized my contacts into groups in outlook instead of working, and it felt productive yet doable!

  20. attiredattorney :

    I have never paid more than $100 for Ann Taylor suits. I wait for their 50-60% off everything sales (usually online) and wait for the styles from the store to hit the Ann Taylor Factory Store (warning: not everything from the factory store is “real” Ann Taylor). But under $100 is my sweet spot for AT suits.

    For Talbots, it’s $150. And again, I wait for the items I like to go on sale and then stack that with a promotion. This almost never works in stores though, as none of the Talbots stores with me have good sales sections.

    • Second the Talbots suggestion. I just bought a suit in the tweed that Kat featured last week (the one-button, not three-button, jacket and the skirt) for about $170 during the recent spate of sales. The jacket actually looks really cute with jeans.

  21. Go to store. Try on suit in $200-$400 range. Find one that looks good. Look for it on ebay/amazon/other sale site. Save hundreds!

    • Roses – good recommendation. I also think it is wise to go to a nice department store (e.g. Bloomingdales and even Nordstrom) take a close look at the suits, fabrication, color and cut. Then go to Macy’s and do your best to get as close to the nice suits as possible. A good polyester is very durable and can wear much like a high quality wool. Spend a few extra dollars on your *cheap* suit to get it tailored to fit you to a T. No one will be the wiser, but you will have more dollars in your pocket!

    • Anonymous :

      This has worked for me too! I have auction watchs set up on eBay. I have gotten $200 for $25-50 (then the problem I face is spending more in dry cleaning then I paid for the suit).

  22. The biggest thing that determines my choice in suits is who carries tall sizes in both jackets and pants. The only brands I know of (and have) are J. Crew and Banana Republic. I did see a Jones NY suit in talls at the tall girl store at Mall of America (I think it’s now called Long Tall Sally) but I couldn’t find it online or anywhere else. Anyone know of any other brands that carry talls?

    • Ann Taylor carries Tall sizes on their website…not sure about their in-store selection though.

    • Amen–why do so many stores think that you might have long legs but not long arms, and thus only carry pants. SOOOO annoying. However, I am tall _and_ allergic to wool, so JCrew is on my []hit list for not lining any of their pants for the past few seasons.

  23. I totally disagree with Kat. I have gotten several beautiful Anne Klein suits for less than $100 (in petite sizes that fit me perfectly, no less!) at Ross, Marshall’s, and TJ Maxx. I have received compliments from partners on a couple of them. You just have to look and try everything on. Also, Macy’s always has Anne Klein on sale, and often for $100-150.

    • I guess we need to clarify the price points: is “under $100” the sticker price?..
      I am just hoping that if I buy a $200+ CK, Anne Klein or Tahari suit for 1/3 of the sticker price at Macys or a discount retailer, that it will place me in a “better suit” category.

  24. work stoppage :

    I am so happy/sad to read that someone else is having issues with Theory’s quality. It makes me furious when the seams rip/loosen (even when I lose weight!) and the fabric thin out and get shiny. It doesn’t matter where I purchase them (Theory, Outlet, Nordstroms, Neimans). I’ve seriously considered sending a letter to the company. I refuse to purchase any more of their suits.

  25. Anonylawyer :

    Maybe I’m cheap, but I buy the suit sets at Macy’s all the time. I really like the fit of the AK Anne Klein suits. I also have several Nine West suits that I really like (though I wouldn’t wear them for interviews, mainly because they have trendier details). Most people I know do the same. My interview suits were Ann Taylor (sale rack) and I can’t tell the difference in Fabric or construction from my AK Anne Klein Suits. I say, go to Macy’s with a coupon and pick up 2-3 interview suits on sale (and stack a coupon) so you always have a clean suit while the other is at the dry cleaner.

    • Texas Lawyer :

      Macy’s and Ann Taylor. Never interview in unlined skirt/pants. Ann Taylor frequently has 40% entire store. Add that to sales prices and you can easily find a nice suit there for $200 to $250. Same is true for Macy’s. Theory jackets (Saks Off is good place for these at great prices) only. Pants and skirts are not worth anything. No one has mentioned Lafayette 148. Again, Saks 5th Off has this line and they are well made and hold up.

      Don’t forget your shoes!

    • i have a cheap one piece nine west suit from macy’s that i get a lot of compliments on because it fit perfectly off of the rack and the style suits my body. i have another anne klien one piece that i wear still but it started to look grungy after one wear.

      i really dislike br suits, all of the ones i have tried seemed to be constructed poorly and fit awkwardly.

      i usually end up buying ann taylor on sales for around 40% off. i also think bb sales are good, and the quality is the best that i can afford. although i get many more compliements on the ann taylors for some reason.

  26. Andrea Mercado :

    I’ll share a secret. Once you know what brands and sizes fit you, ebay can be a great place to get quality work clothes. You have to be brutally honest with yourself when it comes to measurements and read carefully as sometimes clothes may have been altered. I have gotten a couple of Brooks Brothers suits— that were basically copies, in a different fabric, than a one I already owned, that way for around$100. Don’t forget shoulder measurements since sometimes listings can be for older suits with line-backer shoulders.

    • PittsburghAnon :

      Where are these linebacker shoulder suits? I have size 12-14 shoulders on a size 4 body. I need those!

      • lawpryncess :

        Thank the weird body gods I am not alone! I’m an 8 on bottom, 12-14 on top.

  27. Instead of starting out with a suit at the bottom of your budget range and then upgrading after you get the job, invest in a better suit (whatever you can afford) for the interview process itself. What job you get now, and what salary you are offered, will impact what you are paid for the rest of your career and will more than pay for pushing against your budget a little now.

  28. macy’s suits are fine unless you are in a high end profession, really.

  29. If you really want to know what >$1000 gets you in a suit, it’s fabric and subtle detail. But it’s recreational, at that point.

  30. anotheranon :

    One upside of a $100 suit that I haven’t seen here yet is that you probably don’t have to dry clean it. Fabrics at that cost can be thrown in a washing machine :)

  31. STEAMER: my bf and i both wear suit separates every day so we love this:

    I saw it on bloomies for about $110 a few weeks ago.

    SUITS: I like stalking the AT/BR/jcrew sales.

    I bought an Anne Klein polyester suit from Macys a few years ago for $150 and wore it once.

    I usually buy suits from AT or BR for under $150 by stalking sales, stacking those extra 40% off, and by being willing to wait on something (ie. buy the jacket with the risk that I’ll have to order the skirt online or check out another store). I recently got a wonderful black suit for approx $70 but then lost the skirt, but replaced it for $40. I also love being able to get the jacket/dress or skirt/ pants for about $150 because that means I have 2 suits for that price.

  32. really great blog post and really the cheap fashion suits.

  33. You can definitely get suits under $100 – especially those Tahari, Anne Klein, Jones NY, even Calvin Klein – wait for sales and use coupons at Macys, TJ Maxx, Filenes, and K & G (in NY). These are $200 suits for much less. I actually recently got an Anne Klein suit for only $40.

  34. I have 2 really good suits (Classiques Entier) that I wear frequently (in sales so I can get away with it). My favorite suit is going on 3 years and it still looks great. I’ve lost 15 pounds this year and have had the pants altered twice. The tailor has remarked on the nice quality fabric. That’s a great investment in my book, and if you get the right color/cut/style, it’s the blouses and accessories that are going to keep it fresh.

    One of my tricks is to use the personal shopper service at Nordstrom’s to have a professional help me find the best looking suit. No obligation to buy once you have that service. However, it is a real confidence booster. Oh and fun too to get the center of attention for a while! I’ve bought from the service and have also just taken a camera picture of the look and labels to try and find on sale later. Nordstrom Rack is an amazing resource if you check in frequently.

    Finally, I remember reading some article (NYT? Corporette? Salon?) about a study that looked at how people who were wearing imitations felt vs. those who wore better quality/name brand. They found that even though many imitations were not meaningfully distinguishable from the original, the person wearing knew and there was a decline in confidence and satisfaction. Not sure I buy that entirely, but I definitely feel less happy when I wear something that is less quality.

  35. Hello Corporette :) I’m loving browsing this website – I have an internship starting in 2 weeks!

    Anyway, I’m a college student with a toddler and on student loans! I had been working out and lost some weight, and needed a new suit for recruiting season. I REALLY wanted to be good and tried the Macy’s and TJ Maxx route. The fit and quality just weren’t there. Maybe if you have a perfect body, you can get away with one of these. I ended up spending around $200 on the tropical wool suit from BR (plus cotton sateen shirt – Love), and am very happy with it. I feel that if you are interviewing for a position which involves client interaction, it would be a mistake to underrepresent your taste level.

    I have an email address dedicated solely to my online store subscriptions, so I log in there if I need a coupon.

    With that said, I recently got into shopping at Goodwill! You certainly have to dedicate some time to picking through the smelly sea of god-awful polyesters. However, every time I come out with several nice items from brands like White House Black Market, Banana Republic, Ralph Lauren, Club Monaco, J. Crew, etc. If you have a good eye and experience with higher end clothes, you can find some gems.

    • Anna – you are right about knowing what to look for at thrift/consignment stores. I’ve found Banana Republic and JCrew trousers at my local Goodwill, good as new for under $10 each! Eye is key, as you mention – I find in second hand stores my “eye” gets lazy after a while, usually because there is so much not so great fashion there, that when something looks good, I think it looks really good… I also like to bring a good piece along with me (such as a classic pencil skirt) when I am looking for something, to see if what I am trying on works with my wardrobe and still looks as good with professional clothes.

  36. Oh, and don’t forget nice shoes! Mine actually cost me more than the suit… I have seen so many girls in pleather/stripper heels… at Big 4 office visits, nonetheless!

  37. My work attire is business casual and I don’t wear suits except for interviews and occasions. I’m also a grad student and don’t have a lot to spend. I bought my suiting from The Limited during their end of fall sale and their suiting was marked down and on top of it used coupons. I have narrow shoulders and finding jackets that fit me is difficult. I have two “3 piece suits” from there – A navy set and a grey set. I will keep this for many years.

    I also want to ask for some advice. During early February I will be going to a job fair in Boston and most likely it’d snow. What should I wear with the suiting so that I dont freeze. FYI, I will be commuting by public transportation for 20 mins maximum.

  38. Gretchen Neels :

    In my experience, professional men understand that their clothing and accessories will be scrutinized and they pay much more attention to detail than most women (how many women get their shoes shined, for example?). I asked Style writer for the Wall Street Journal, Christina Binkley, why this is so in my e-book, I Hate to Shop! But Still Want to Look Great – Volume II Corporate Environment Advanced. She contends men are conditioned very early on to dress to convey power and confidence, and most women are not.

    Think of your next suit as a long-term investment. Select a jacket, pants and skirt in a neutral (black, gray, navy, brown) that will serve as the foundation for the rest of your wardrobe.

  39. Fit and fabric are key!!! I am 5ft tall, and it is really difficult to find a good petite cut. Make sure you can breathe while the jacket is closed, and check the quality of buttons/decorative details. I could write a whole thesis about trying to find a good pant for my age/proportions! A good pantsuit should feel comfortable, like a pair of pajamas. Go ahead and laugh if you don’t believe me, but my first suit out of college was about $400, red wool (can’t remember the label), and fully lined – it was comfortable, making me feel great (which increases interview confidence!) Recently I broke my rule of “wool only” for suits, finding a pale grey poly Ann Taylor petites pantsuit (single button blazer) for a steal, that only needed a basic hem. I get so many compliments every time I wear it!

  40. I’m looking for suits which can be worn to interviews in summer (90’s to 100’s the past two weeks). I have had a hard time finding a conservative, navy misses suit in tropical wool with at least 2 buttons.

    I have several other suits–polyester with polyester lining–by designers mentioned, but they just make me sweat in temperatures over 60. Not a good feel for an interview! Washable, yes; breatheable, no.
    Some natural fabric suits I have found still have synthetic linings in them. Even a cotton blend pantsuit from 9 West has a synthetic lining in it.

    Do natural fabric suits require linings?
    If not, how is tropical wool against somewhat sensitive skin?
    I can sew somewhat, and am about to order tropical wool fabric to try to make myself a suit. That should be interesting!

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