Poll: Can younger women wear colorful suits?

colorful suits for younger womenA few weeks ago there was some debate about whether younger women can get away with wearing colorful suits without seeming like they’re too . . . old.  This was particularly interesting to us — we’ll admit we’ve never worn color suits, but it had never occurred to us that it was something exclusively for older women.  We didn’t wear them because it seemed… not us.  (A friend of ours bought such a suit once on deep discount — a purple suit — and it has sat in her closet for three years now with the tags still on.)  But since those comments we have thought long and hard and no, we generally don’t see younger women wearing colored suits.

We thought we’d open a thread on this and maybe take a little pollsky…Multiple answers are allowed.  To clarify:  by “colorful suits” we mean a color other than a neutral black, gray, navy, white, or beige.

(Should you be looking for a nice red suit, however, we thought we’d suggest this one at left, from Ann Taylor — it is currently $219 for the jacket and $109 for the skirt, but today there’s a sale: 30% off every single purchase.)

colorful suits younger women or older women only



  1. Yeah, I don’t think it’s an age thing. It’s a self-respect thing. In my mind, colorful suits are associated with secretaries and school administrators: basically, people who work 9-5 and don’t overly exert themselves.

  2. i’d feel silly in a colored suit, and very dated circa 1989, which was when i was 5. i do have a black/taupe/red tweed skirt suit and the red is pretty prominent, but i doubt that counts and it satisfies my thing for color- also have a brown suit with blue stripes in it- also doesnt count. also have a glen plaid gray suit with lots of pale yellow and pale blue in it
    in generally, i own a lot of tweedy/pin stripey suits to get the color in….
    but what about colored button downs/tops though? i always feel like i’m a little too loud if my button down under a neutral suit is red, or magenta, etc.

  3. Oh, disagree. The women I see who can pull off a colorful suit are almost always older – the bright red, blue or purple power suit doesn’t play well on a 28 year old. Part of the reason is cost – a colorful suit often looks cheap, so you have to go high end. And a secretary or school principal is not throwing down money on a Chanel, Gucci, or Valentino suit for the office.

  4. Wow, secretaries and school administrators don’t have “self-respect”? No classism there, I’m sure.

  5. Yeah, and school administrators and secretaries never, ever exert themselves. It’s not chic to be rude, Lawchic.

    I’m with kng–I have some suits that have color in them, but I don’t own any “color” suits where a non-neutral is dominant or that are a solid non-neutral. A red suit makes me think of shoulder pads.

    I do wear more colorful button downs and tops under a neutral suit–maybe nothing BRIGHT, but I think colorful jewel tones are perfectly acceptable.

  6. I own a blue suit that couldn’t be classified as “navy” — it’s more of a medium blue. I also have a brown/white tweed that is a little “non-traditional”. That’s as far as I’ll go for solid colored suits. On the other hand, I would potentially buy and wear a suit that is a red jacket and coordinating black pants/skirt (like the one discussed earlier in the staff party post) or something similar — some color, but not all-over.

    Also, maybe it’s just me, but I think that “colorful suits” need to be skirt suits — can you imagine wearing red pants to the office?!??

    And — this is important: NO PASTEL COLORED SUITS for anyone, ever, no matter what your age is… unless you LIKE looking like an easter egg.

    I do think, frankly, that it’s an age thing. There are older women who I can absolutely see pulling off the red suit in the office, and looking fabulous and professional. I don’t know a single younger woman in my office who could do it.

  7. Isn’t the trend to wear dark suits trying a little too much to look like “one of the boys”? It reminds me of recent female law graduates who tend to wear dark pinstripes and floppy bow blouses. You can tell how recent a graduate a woman is by how feminine she dresses. I know plenty of women of a wide variety of ages that look great in bright colored suits, they look great. Maybe the older women get the message that dressing like a man and thinking like a man are not necessarily always an asset.

  8. No to bold suit colors for the masses…has a Joan Collins feel to it. I can’t even imagine colorful pant suits – blech!

  9. I think it depends on the color and the style. If the colored suit were more trendy and out-there looking, it would be cool for a younger woman in an office that wasn’t very conservative. Seems like a burgundy suit would be for an older woman, but something in another color with the righ accessories might be more youthful. That said, I would never attempt to pull this off, especially not in my conservative office.

  10. Umm.. I’m not denying it’s a classism thing. Secretaries and school administrators are solidly middle class, whereas professional women are not.
    Hence, the self-respect comment. I respect myself enough to admit I belong to a certain “class” and dress that way.

    Also, yeah, most secretaries and school administrators don’t exert themselves. Go find me a school administrator who works as many hours as I bill, and then we’ll talk. (Notice I didn’t say teachers. Teachers do work hard and long hours.)

    • Christine :

      I think Europe and the US decribe middle class in different ways sometimes.

      A professional is generally clearly middle class here. Upper class is blue blood or old, old money. Okay, if you happen to be from a patrician family and work as a lawyer, you are upper class, but not for the average professional. You’d be upper middle, or just middle. A secretary can be either lower middle class or working class.

      Back on topic:

      Colourful suits can be okay, but are generally better on an older woman. They often already have renown for their skill plus they can afford something of better quality. On a suit that is conspicuous, the quality is very visible. A young woman would on one hand not want to draw attention to cheap purple polyester, and on the other hand not want an exceedingly refined suit to tell her employer that he may be overpaying her. But I like some colour in tone-on tone outfits for younger women. Maybe a skirt that has a grey and red pattern with a red sweater and a grey jacket or a skirt in steelblue with a teal top and a navy cardigan.

    • In my town and several other neighboring towns school administrators make six figures. Also, Hilary Clinton wears colorful suits and she is an attorney & politician.

  11. I think NB is on to something re: quality of the suits. I think maybe it has to do with wanting to draw attention to yourself as well: a navy or black suit blends in the sea of every other attorney wearing a black or navy suit. I think you have to have some confidence to own a look like a red suit. (I do love that Ann Taylor suit, though!)

  12. I wasn’t sure what to answer in the poll because my answer would have been that they’re fine for older women and those in politics, etc. but not so much for younger women in legal/corporate fields. Colorful suits make me think of my mom and while she more than exerted herself over the course of her career as a teacher, guidance counselor, and school administrator, she’s 58 and I’m 28 and I just think the colors she wears make me look silly and out of place. I do have a few tweed numbers and brown pin-striped numbers but generally I go with neutral suits and colorful accessories because I think that’s more suited to my environment. Also I’m in DC which is not known for being fashion-forward and outside of politics people definitely gravitate to navy/gray/black.

    And lawchic, please watch what you say. I agree with you that colorful suits are more often seen in schools and on secretaries but it’s comments like yours that make people think us female lawyers are b—–s.

  13. Judith Kaye was on New York 1 tonight wearing a bright purple suit. Perhaps lawchic should contact her to tell her that she has no self-respect and doesn’t overly extert herself.

  14. I wish I could wear colorful suits! I think they look great on the middle-aged law partners and other successful professional women I see in that age bracket, but I agree that they would look out of place on me, a thirty-something New Yorker (who, incidentally, would categorize herself as “solidly middle class,” Lawchic!).

  15. What do you ladies think about a wearing brighly colored jacket (e.g. red) with black pants?

  16. I aspire to be “solidly middle class”! After taxes are taken out, and paying student loans and credit card bills for this professional wardrobe, I’m BROKE.

  17. BethesdaLaw :

    I’m just going to say what other’s have politely tip-toed around: lawchic, you are a b****. I understand why you think secretaries don’t “overly exert themselves”. Any secretary who works for you can tell what you think about them, and they probably don’t do one iota more than is necessary on your tasks. Also, I hate to break it to you, but lawyers are, for the most part, “solidly middle class”.

    Generally, people who “respect themselves” are classy enough to know that class isn’t in what color suit they’re wearing, it’s in how they think about and treat people who are different from themselves (even if those people don’t make the same amount of money).

    To stay on topic, it does seem to be a bit of an age thing – I’m young, and I wouldn’t want to wear a brightly colored suit for fear of looking too young. Then again, I live in DC, and I might wear more colors when I go to work in Phoenix next year.

  18. Jill – I would say that’s fine. Black pants, black top and red jacket, with understated accessories. I think that could work.

  19. Old School Girl :

    Oh, guys – I wear, and have always worn, bright red. If you use very conservative accessories and a very conservative cut, in great fabric, it looks fantastic. I should admit, I am a pale brunette with green eyes, so that could easily account for the love of red. I am a lawyer, and I go to court. Usually not in the red suit. I also will readily admit that you had better like the size and shape of your butt to plaster barn red all over it.

    But this could also be a regional thing: I am from the deep South, and there we’re a lot more colorful, especially in our summer suits. I also own a baby blue one, with matching silk sweater, that I think is lovely.

    I would never wear a purple suit. For some reason, purple is downwardly mobile to me – and I’m the girl with the baby blue and red suits. Again, highly regional I’m sure.

    Oh – I forgot. Every woman over 25 in my town owns a tweed suit in a pastel color for charity lunches. I am not kidding. Mine is mauve. It’s Tahari.

  20. I am a law student who worked in DC for three years first. I have a bright lime green suit, a soft yellow suit and a beautiful light sea green suit with a paisley design in a soft beige threading. I wore them often in DC and yes I stood out but no one (that I know of) looked down on me because of it. If anything I became better known and my work ethic in the end was what was important. I have not decided how to work these suits into my law career yet, it may need to be a gradual introduction but I certainly plan to. The law is tedious, difficult and often boring. I do not plan on looking that way. (not to say that traditional suits are always boring. I certainly own those too!)

  21. Anonymous Associate :

    I have been waiting to look old enough to wear a fun colored suit for YEARS, and I recently got tired of waiting. I’m 32, but I still get carded at R rates movies. So I gave up on the waiting and now sport a lavender tweed St. John suit, and a bright red suit from time to time. I think it’s easier to pull off in a skirt suit than pants in a bright color at a younger age. But I think it ends up coming down to how many sh*its you give about what other people think….