Reader Mail: How much do you spend on clothes?

Reader S wrote in, wondering whether she’s spending too much or too little on clothes…

Given some of the comments re: the price of the interesting Tahari dress/suit last week, I thought it might be worth doing a poll on actual price ranges that people think are appropriate for certain items. Sometimes I would like to know where I “stand” amongst women in how I budget my clothing purchases. For example, I try to keep my shoe purchases around $100 or less, even though I COULD spend more, because they get ruined so fast from walking around the city, esp in the winter. But I would spend more on other things. Am I totally normal, or a total cheapskate? How many people buy bags that are over $1K?

There really are no right answers here, but it does strike us as an interesting discussion. There are two kinds of price points to talk about, though — one is what folks expect things to cost (a good pair of work pants), the other is what folks will pay.  As we’ve mentioned, we like the sales — but we don’t buy things because they cost “$X,” we buy them because we like them and we think they’re of an acceptable quality for the office.  For example — an $8 t-shirt isn’t something, generally, that we would say is acceptable for the office.  But we’re happy to buy a $34 t-shirt at $8.  So, that said, we’ve listed below (after the jump) the price points that we would generally expect to pay for something for the office.  For almost every price we’ve listed here, we would absolutely consider something marked at a higher price, but a) only if they look amazing on, b) we’re acquiring a “name” to add to the closet that we’ve lusted after, or c) … c) would be if we had a specific event to go to and knew that in order to run with the chicks who were there we’d need to put our best fashionista shoe forward.  (For example, just for kicks, let’s say we were to have a meeting with Erin Callan or some other CFO who is notorious for wearing amazing stiletto shoes.  You can bet we’d be there with our best newly-purchased shoes on.)  By the same token, we probably would consider things in a lower price range, also, but only as “need them now” splurges or “I don’t quite know why but this cheap dress looks amazing on me.”) (But we wouldn’t wear them to a meeting with a fashionista.)   Pictured: Does “sale” mean lower prices or does it mean “get outta here”?, originally uploaded to Flickr by sylvar.

UPDATE: We’ve been busy with this whole “job” thing but we are told you guys miiiight be misreading the post. All prices we list are the 100 percent price — we don’t actually pay that — in keeping with the example above, it’s the $34 price — not the $8 price. And so while a lot of bags are in the $600-$800 range, we actually pay more like $200….

  • Pants – For basic khakis or whatnot, a cotton/lycra blend should probably cost around $50-$100.  (Although, man, we just had a flashback to an amazing pair of basic DKNY pants we owned that were originally like $225 like ten years ago.  God, we loved those pants.)  A pant in a wool or a crepe or something like that, we would expect to cost upwards of $100, probably up to $350.
  • Skirts – This depends on the brand and the design. Most basic skirts we own cost around $80-$300; if it’s more of a designery design (like a Trina Turk print) we’d expect it to cost more like $125-$400.  (Particularly with patterned skirts — more expensive ones have seams that line the pattern up far better than lower-priced ones.)
  • Blouses/Tops – This is probably the widest variety for us. We try to avoid buying cheap shirts for the office, but we’ve worn shirts that cost us anywhere from $30 to something like a $225 blouse from Thomas Pink.
  • Sweaters – We will almost always buy a black silk sweater on sale — but otherwise we try to focus our sweater purchases on lux fabrics like cashmere, wool, etc.  We generally shoot for sweaters originally marked in the $150-$500 range — if we’re buying in person and can feel the fabric against our skin we might go lower (or higher).
  • Dresses – If it’s a basic sheath dress, we would expect it to be marked around $125-$350.  For a dress with a print or a more intricate design, we’d expect it to cost anywhere from $350-$850.
  • Suits – Again: totally depends on the brand and the design. Most of our “good” suits probably cost in the $300-$600 range.  We know a lot of women who swear by the Theory suit (which does not do favors to our curvy frame), and regularly pay $800+ for a suit.
  • Bags – For whatever reason, our price point seems to be around $600 (give or take $300) for a handbag/purse, although yes, we have bought bags that cost more than $1K.  For a tote we tend to consider anything from $50-$200. Again, if we’re buying something in person and can assess the leather and the stitching, we’ll go lower.
  • Jewelry – We do our best to avoid buying cheap jewelry — if it isn’t real gold or silver we generally won’t look at it. A “spur of the moment” purchase on jewelry could be anywhere from $350 downwards (this is the sale price we’re talking about — sometimes jewelry prices are so inflated, and it sounds laughable to say that we’d buy an $800 necklace on the spur of the moment); we’ve spent a lot more than that on planned jewelry purchases. (Tip: if it’s worth more than $1500, get a separate insurance policy for it — your home owner’s or renter’s insurance generally only covers up to $1500 per item for jewelry.)

Obviously,  we’re generally content to wait for sales on quality clothes rather than have a constant stream of lesser-quality clothes coming into our closet. This is for environmental reasons (we’ve read that better fibers and fabrics break down better), a general dislike of knock-offs (for a variety of intellectual property and sociological reasons), as well as for closet concerns — we live in NYC and our closet is tiny. But we’re curious — how does it break down for you guys? What do you like to pay? Perhaps we should follow this up with a post we’ve been wanting to write for a while — a discussion about when to splurge.  (Stay tuned!)


  1. Woo dog. Ya’ll must not have many other expenses or some kind of amazing salary to pump think kind of money into clothing.

    Even without sales, those figures seem about doubly high; however, I’m not in a *big city* and I know there is a much different mentality between people working in smaller cities/towns vs. those living in metropolitan areas.
    Suits – I’ll pay $200 – $400, but have found many a suit for $100 or less.
    Skirts – $20-$50
    Shirts – $15-40
    Pants – cotton $40 (Dockers has some very nice pants that hold up well, wear nicely, and are under $40); slacks $40-70
    Dresses – $30-75
    Sweater – $20-100
    Bags – $40-300

    I rarely purchase anything full price. But, I’ve had tremendous success with $20 shirts from Kohls (look just fine under a sweater or jacket). I just have a very difficult time justifying spending $100 or better on a shirt. Sure, it may be beautiful, but, I’m afraid I’ve got plenty of things I can use the other money on. And, honestly, I’d rather have more money going into my savings plans than into my wardrobe.

  2. I think the most I’ve ever paid for an item of clothing (in my entire life) was a suit for $99 at an outlet. It was marked down from $400, but even at $99 I had to think twice about it.

    I regularly wear $6 Target tees to the office under my $15 blazers from the JCPenny clearance rack, with my $15 clearance rack Gap pants and my $80 Sofft shoes, with my $14.99 Avon earring and necklace set while toting my $100 Coach bag from the outlet.

    I live in a Big City and have worked at Big Law making Big Bucks, but spending a lot of money for clothes isn’t fun for me. I like buying a lot, so I have to spend less, and higher-end clothes just do not fit me or look good on me. I have a suit from Target, for example, that fits perfectly and I wear it to court. My clothes are cheap, but I don’t ever feel under-dressed or unprofessional.

  3. Wow! I have only recently considered spending more than $100 for a good bag for court. The most I ever spent on a pair of slacks was $200. In general, the clothes at Macy’s (Michael Kors or INC) and Banana Republic are the best value for the money. You must make a fortune.

    • or maybe Corporette isn’t saddled with $100k of student loan debt. Or since Corporette just got married, maybe she married well?

      INC clothes are really cute – but they all pill up where my body parts rub together! Under my arms and in the thigh area. Very disappointing.

      • Anonymous :

        Wow, that comment seems pretty harsh. Judgmental much?

        • oh dear, I didn’t mean to seem judgmental at all, I’m so sorry if it came across that way. I’m very ashamed now, that was not at all my intention and I am sorry for offending.

        • I don’t think that was judgmental at all; just a very astute note that personal circumstances have everything to do with what one’s salary will actually buy.

          I’d be able to spend those amounts too, but my student loans are $3000/month and I also help my parents with $$. So half my monthly salary is gone before I even pay rent. Even half my monthly student loan payment would be a HUGE clothing allowance and enough to buy at the above-listed price points.

      • Don’t forget that for a lot of the categories, the prices listed are what they expect it to be first marked. (ie “We generally shoot for sweaters originally marked in the $150-$500 “). Corporette has made a huge effort to feature TPS and other items that are on sale or marked down by huge percentages and I think the guidelines here take into account that you can almost always find it with at least a 30% discount or more.

  4. When it comes to jewelry, I’ve had a real change of heart. I grew up in the era in which you only wore “good” jewelry – real pearls, real diamond earrings, real rubies and sapphires and emeralds. However, there are so many great pieces of costume jewelry in boutiques for a steal. For example, for a business casual look tomorrow, I’m wearing a camel cashmere turtleneck with black pants and boots, very simple, but a necklace that consists of camel, gold, gray and black beads on a black ribbon, with earrings that coordinate. This necklace could be worn all the way with a dressy dress or with jeans, and it’s not even $50. I find myself leaving the “good” stuff in the jewelry box, to be honest.

    In terms of value for the money, the most value I ever received was from charcoal gray flannel pants purchased at the Gap a few years ago. They wash beautifully, look brand new, travel nicely and I would wear them in front of any client without reservations. For this season, I’m getting a lot of value from a $99 black boiled-wool jacket with a tie at the waist, that I’m wearing over colorful turtlenecks with nice pants, or over long-sleeved tees with jeans.

    As for handbags, I would rather have more, cheaper, fun handbags but that’s just me. I actually rotate them at the start of every month. Right now, in November, I’m carrying a pumpkin-colored leather bag. December starts a JPTod classic black leather bag, and January starts a Coach fabric bag with fur trim that looks great in cold weather.

    • @Sharon, I so agree with you about not wearing my “good” jewelry anymore.

    • Sharon, I mostly agree with you, in that I no longer think it’s important that jewelry be expensive. What’s important is that it look substantial and that it complement the outfit in a way that looks powerful – not too girly or delicate. Something like a beaded necklace sounds perfect for pulling the outfit together. When I am lucky enough to find something like that to go with an outfit, I’ll wear it and feel great. When I was in my “real jewelry” phase I mostly bought smaller and more delicate pieces, which were great for looking pretty and feminine but aren’t substantial enough. I’ve been studying pictures of powerful women in business lately, and they almost always have large jewelry.

      That said, I still don’t like things that are trying to look like something they’re not. I have a few basic pieces (earrings, necklace, watch) in classic styles in real gold and silver that are large enough to be “statement” pieces but hopefully not blingy. These go with everything and can be worn when I don’t have nice costume jewelry to go with my outfit.

  5. Hmm. As a 10 year lawyer, most of my baby partner friends pullling down $300K+ look GREAT and buy suits at Macy’s (Jones New York and carry 9 West bags. They also pay $40K+/year for private school for their kids and $12K/month on mortgage.. I guess it’s where you choose to spend your money.

    I find Corporette’s “no cheap jewelry that isn’t real gold or silver” shocking. How do you accessorize without cute bangles, long fake pearls, stone, fake pieces, and CZ? Most of the “statement” necklaces you everywhere could only be worn by the likes of Cindy McCain or Oprah if they were 100% genuine gold/silver/platinum/diamonds/pearls :o)

    • I also don’t accessorize with costume jewelry, just because I would rather have a few choice pieces of fine jewelry that I wear all the time. But then again, I accessorize with scarves and shawls :)

      • @Anonymous – I used to be anti-costume jewelery too for a LONG time. It seemed so fussy and clankety and too TOO. I was very austere – diamond studs, gold necklace, nondescript watch, no bracelets. Now I’m a total convert to cheap jewelry accessories after working with some store clerks who have helped me with my wardrobe… Also, I adore and am inspired by Michelle Obama and her creative use of belts and stylish jewelry accessories (especially necklaces and bracelets and broaches) .

  6. I don’t have a minimum price – sure, some things look obviously “cheap” and I avoid them, but I couldn’t care less what they originally were priced.

    Otherwise, I make a reasonably good salary but have very high student loan payments and live in a high COL area. I’ve also only been out of law school for two years. So I don’t have a ton of spare cash. I’ll pay up to, oh, $75 for shoes or a bag, and up to $200 for a suit. Otherwise, it’s rare that I’ll spend more than $50 on something (I tend to pay a bit more for dresses because I figure they count as skirts and a top in one).

    • Actually, I’m speaking theoretically on the bag. I paid $20 for one from H&M and then inherited a nicer one from a friend who didn’t want it anymore. I could imagine paying up to $75.

  7. Interesting post!

    I make ~200K, no kids, live in a big city. I probably spend an average of $200 a month on clothes/shoes, with an occasional splurge. I prefer quality over quantity and don’t have the time to hunt the sales. I typically pay the following.

    Suits: $200-$600 (usually J Crew, Elie Tahari, etc – I love a J. Crew sale. Also have my eye on a Hugo Boss suit for sometime in the next year)
    Pants alone: $75-$200 (J. Crew, Banana, BCBG)
    Jackets alone: $150-400
    Skirts alone: $50-200
    Shirts: $50-100 (J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, etc)
    Sweaters: $50-200
    Dresses: I rarely buy dresses, but I’ll spend $150-350
    Bags: $200-500 (Coach and similar)
    Shoes: $75-300 (only rarely near $300, and then only for shoes I will wear for a long time and will make a special effort to keep clean)
    Jewelry: $20-100 for everyday stuff (usually the racks at Nordstrom)

    • Ditto, almost to the dollar.
      I will spend a great deal of money on suits. I do this because I try to buy the jacket, pants, and the skirt. $800 not on sale is about average. Buying all three pieces means that I can take more advantage of the expensive jacket.

      • My guidelines are close to Kate’s. I tend to go less expensive on the tops (Ann Taylor and even Target) that go under suit jackets. When I go cheaper on other things, such as skirts, they never seems to fit as well and wear out quickly. I only buy one good handbag, not in black or brown but a color that looks good with both, and use it for about 4 or 5 years. I can’t take the time to move my things from one bag to another on a daily or even a weekly basis. Sharon’s post has made me consider having two or three bags (gasp) and changing them seasonally.

  8. BTW, no offense intended, Corporette, about your spending ranges for clothes and jewelry. When stock options ruled the tech world in the San Fran Bay area, the favorite “status” splurges were 5-star trips to Maui…. (and yes, I did partake!). But boy, how the recession has changed my mind on all of that…

    • divaliscious11 :

      Now I love Maui…but I’d have spent Maui money on a bag and gone to Jamaica, instead (warmer water)… and would still be carrying my bag longer after the sun tan faded. Ah well, different strokes…

  9. I have to say, I invest the most in shoes. I’m on my feet most of the day, whether it’s running to meetings or standing around places, etc. I’ve found that bad shoes are really hard on my feet and my knees, so I’ll spend $300 on a pair of shoes that I know will keep my comfy all day. I really like the cole haan nike air kind, which I’ve found are really worth their weight in gold. If I can find them at the outlet, I’ll get them, but if not I’ll happily pay full price.

    Like many of the commenters, I try to find things on sale. I work in government (read: not so much money), but I’m often on camera or around cameras or in front of people, so I try to look as nice as possible.
    Suits: $120 – $350
    skirts: $30 – 100
    shirts: $20 – 70

  10. Especially right now (I’m back in school), I have a really hard time paying more than $80 for a shirt/sweater/khakis/twill pants, $100 for a skirt, $125 for dress pants, and around $100 for shoes (maybe $150 for boots); ideally I’d pay a lot less! I’d probably go up to $200 for a suit (and maybe more because I find it REALLY hard to find suits to fit me). Bags are super hard for me – I can’t bring myself to spend more than about $150, but I can’t find anything I like in that price range. So sometimes I just buy vinyl stuff from Target for cheap.

    But like I said, I’m currently a student. And before I was a student, I was a teacher, so I wasn’t exactly buying the kind of stuff usually featured here.

  11. Thank you for this post! I just started law school after several years in a much more casual profession, so I’ve been thinking about how drastically my professional clothing budget will need to change after school. It’s great to see the range of answers here, even while I’m still in the $300-400 for One Really Good Interview Suit and then NO MORE SHOPPING phase.

  12. I now feel that I’m a terrible spendthrift! I have zero debt + no college loans (have worked for 12 years now) and live in a country that (unlike you lucky folks in the US) has ZERO sales on anything but items that would pill as soon as you touch them!

    I don’t own any suits for work as we’re a business casual office. For the rest, I would spend upto………
    $75-100: jeans, pants, blouses & dress shirts (exception being DvF blouses at $200)
    $400: DvF/ Anne Klein/DKNY dresses at full price (but I own just a dozen that I can wear to work and when I go out as well)…but try to get them for maybe $300-350 (that’s the lowest they’re priced on sale where I live)

    My splurges are shoes (upto $400) as I have flat feet and really need comfy ones that I can wear all day and bags (over $1k) – BUT I own a total of 3 bags.

    Jewellery – I forego costume jewellery entirely but spend big bucks on 1 piece of really great jewellery each year.

    • These are about my ranges too – although I do have to wear suits so factor in about $500-800 per suit (with alterations, and at the upper range only if it includes a skirt as well as pants). Lately I’ve been experimenting with cheaper custom-made suits, which means I could spend up to $1200 or so for the suit.

      I also splurge on shoes, because I find that when I buy cheaper ones I often find after I get them home that they are uncomfortable in some way that didn’t manifest itself at at the store, and/or I can’t break them in. My feet are an unusual size, and now I also have started to develop bunions so I have to be very specific about heel height and shape of the toe box as well. My favorites are Varda (around $300) and Cole Haan (around $200), but I also love the two pairs of splurge heels (Jimmy Choo and Taryn Rose) in basic colors and simple styles that I splurged on. They took no time to break in, and they always look fantastic. I keep them at the office as much as possible, so I expect to wear them for years.

      I also am trying to build a wardrobe of real jewelry gradually, spending $500-3000 on each piece. My goal is to have chunky earrings and a chunky necklace in silver and gold, plus a few other nice pieces that complement specific colors.

      The one thing I don’t splurge on is bags – I have been able to find bags that I think are nice leather and that look professional for around $200-300. I just don’t see a point in spending more – the more expensive bags don’t really seem nicer or more functional. I would be willing to spend more if I were convinced it would upgrade my professional look, but I’m not.

  13. I work in local government making a decent salary, but law school debt does cut back on the cash I’m able to spend on clothes. I try to hit the sales to get the best quality for my money. It helps that my office is business casual and that I don’t have to be in court very often. I’m working on building a good quality wardrobe, but am doing it slowly. At the moment, I can’t see myself spending more than $100 on any single piece of clothing or $150 for a suit. And at $100 for a single article of clothing, it would have to be something I was in love with — I usually try to keep myself within the $30-$50 range for any single item. I have mostly costume jewelry but am slowly building a collection of nicer pieces. As far as shoes and purses go, I have had good luck finding higher-end brand names second hand. (This doesn’t work as well for clothes for me because there’s not a lot out there in my size. I’ll occasionally make a good find, though.) I wear a lot of Ann Taylor and Jones New York and then supplement with stuff from Target or Kohl’s.

  14. I’m surprised at how much people spend on dresses! I get nice ones at Loehman’s, Cache, Nordstroms, even Saks, (onsale) and wouldn’t dream of spending more than $200. Even David Meister (whom I love!) goes down to $200.

  15. No matter my income, I’ve always enjoyed the treasure hunt of finding clothes that look fabulous and fit well at discount stores like Ross and Marshalls. Not only do I treasure finding pieces that I love for practically nothing, I feel free to wear them all the time, because I won’t be devastated if they’re ruined by a stain or a tear…after all, I’ll surely find something just as amazing and inexpensive to replace it!

  16. divaliscious11 :

    Hmm… I have broad ranges on everything except for shoes and bags…

    My caveat is that I very rarely pay full full price for anything except some of my bags, because, for example, Louis Vuitton does not go on sale, period (Although if you travel to Europe during SALE, pretty much everything else will be on sale – I miss the deals in the currencies prior to the euro!). I am a shopper though, so I am pretty good at finding good deals! I shop at outlet malls, but only in certain stores, as too many of the stores in the outlet malls sell inferior clothes that they’d never sell in the regular store. Barney’s, Sak’s Off Fifth, NM etc… Depending on the location, Nordstrom Rack etc…. but you have to know what you are buying. I have a beautiful Burberry cashmere coat that was $1900 that I got for $650, for example. Timely classic that my daughter will probably be able to wear in 10 years.

    I will not wear cheap shoes! I have one pair of feet and I am not screwing them up in Cheap shoes. I have paid as much as $800, but that is a rare splurge, as I an usually find the $700+ shoes in the $250 range. I’d rather have less, than lots of cheap!

    Sweaters – typically range in the $75 -$200 – but I mostly only buy cashmere, just in different weights, and I usually stock up on tee style sweaters as Saks or Neiman’s outlets (Neiman’s is also great for shoes) at the end of the season, as classics are perfectly fine for years

    Pants, dresses, skirts, shirts – whole range – I have great pants from H&M for $12.99 to Prada dress trousers that were $600, and I’ve worn a top from Target with said Prada trousers

    Bags…so here is my weakness, although I haven’t bought a new one this year and I am putting my dollars together because I want a Birkin. The first bag I bought for myself was a Coach bag I bought 20+ years ago when I was 16, and I still have and use it today.

    Suits – I tend to pay a bit more for suits, but I have few of them since I have been in different business casual environments for the last 5 years or so… but I am planning (long range) to get a couple of pant suits custom made now that I am in a colder climate so I’d say $300-$600.

    Jewelry – I LOVE jewelry, but I never actually wear it, other than my wedding rings, a pair of diamond studs. I have 2 watches, and I want a man’s style Rolex. (I’m 6 ft tall so can carry a man size watch) I do have some cute broaches/pins but the rest ends up being a waste of money in terms of actual usage.

    I also love good consignment shops and used to have a great store that bought out high end department stores and boutiques were I could get very good deals on really good stuff….they closed, and then I moved, so I am still looking for a good shopping spot!

    I spend my money on top quality classic pieces, and make them fun with trendy stuffy from H&M, Target etc….

    • I’m also addicted to bags and just got my Birkin in January! Keep saving for it, you won’t regret it!

    • Dress pants from H&M and Prada are long enough for you?

      • divaliscious11 :

        Yes, I am not “all legs” like most people my height. the designer pants I actually had to get shortened. the H&M I wear with flats.

  17. I think yikes! and I would get along well. I’m a first year lawyer with the government and am frequently on TV (not speaking, necessarily, but shown). I try to buy quality pieces but nearly all my shopping is done on the internet because I live in a small market, so I tend to rely on tried and true brands.

    Suits – I’ll pay up to $400, but try to always buy on sale. My favorite skirt suit was a full price find at Talbots, but my next favorite was $50 for the set on clearance at Boston Store.
    Skirts – up to $70. Skirts are so easy to find on clearance!
    Shirts – $50 is my limit. I am partial to the no-iron ones from Land’s End and try to wait until they go on sale.
    Pants – $100. I only pay that if I’m desperate for a new pair, otherwise I try to stock up on sale.
    Dresses – $100. I just bought two full price that I am hoping will work, but most of my work dresses come from the Banana Republic outlet for around $30.
    Sweater – up to $70. I buy cashmere classics on sale at the end of the season.
    Bags – $300 is my absolute limit. My nice bags are all from the Coach Outlet or clearance sales.
    Shoes – up to $200. I only wear leather shoes. I haven’t had a problem finding stylish and comfortable work pairs in this range. In fact, most of my shoes were under $50, but that’s because I sold them for so long that I got employee discounts and now just keep repairing them.

    I tend to dress conservative or preppy with a twist at work, so just about everything I wear can be purchased when it’s clearing out for the season. I can live comfortably on my salary by waiting for sales, and I live in a small enough city that even when purchased on clearance from the outlets or a mall store, it’s still in fashion here.

  18. Wow, these price ranges are steep. I’m happy to see other commenters feel the same way. I like this blog because it gives me ideas, but I’ve always been intimidated by the cost of the clothes, particularly some of the things featured in the TPS report. Now I know I’m not the only one not shelling out $300 for a sweater on a regular basis.

    With the exception of a suits, I could probably count on one hand the number of items in my closet that cost more than $100. I’ll buy full price at Banana Republic or something similar if I love the item, so I’d say their prices are probably my upper range.

    Generally though, I try to spend less than that.

    I am willing to spend $300-$400 on a suit, though. When I was a poor law student, I had a job that required I wear a suit nearly every day and stocked up on the $150 and under suit sets at Filene’s Basement. They all fell apart after a few months. So, it’s just not worth it. I don’t find such a noticeable difference in quality when comparing, say a NY & Co blouse to a J. Crew one, so I’m generally willing to go cheaper on tops, skirts, sweaters, etc.

  19. Thanks for the post, C. I think my spending is about the same as what you’ve described. I make just under $200k and feel like the amounts you listed are pretty crazy to be spending on clothes, but I definitely feel that for me it is necessary to get the right look for the office. That said, I don’t have much creativity, fashion sense, or time. I know that I can pull a bunch of items from the Theory rack at Bloomingdales (where I know my size and what styles I look good in), mix and match them and look great every day. I also bank on the fact that my Theory suits look crisp and non-wrinkly at the end of a long day, no matter what I was doing, and that most of those pieces don’t really go out of style.

    I think if I had time go to many stores to try on lots of clothing and if I also had some fashion sense to coordinate outfits, I could probably get by on much less. For instance, I happened to get a cute black skirt at H&M once and it has become a great addition to my wardrobe. I also picked up several pairs of flats to keep at my desk from Marshall’s and TJ Maxx.

  20. Love, love LOVE this post. I’m definitely showing Corporette’s numbers to my husband to prove to him what a marvelous wife I am for combing Ross, TJ Maxx and (yikes) Good Will for work wear. That said, as soon as I have a decent post-JD salary, my price points will go up, probably to the bottom end of the Corporette range on just about everything.
    (It must be pure accident that that price list didn’t include a shoe price-range with which I might blow my husband’s mind…err…I mean budget!)

  21. I very rarely spend $100 on anything. My good work bag cost $100, as did a couple of my Cole Haan Air Shoes (bought on clearance; the rest I buy on eBay for about $50). I did invest in a Theory suit (dress, pants, skirt and jacket) and 3 additional Theory sheath dresses when I just started working after law school. All of these pieces totaled about $1500 at the Theory Outlet.

    I’d be really interested in doing a SAVING poll with Corporette readers…if people are spending this much, is there anything left at the end of the month for savings and fun? I make a good salary, but I cannot imagine spending $200+ on a single item of clothing more than 1-2x a year.

    • divaliscious11 :

      That’s an excellent point! I max my 401K, invest in 2 separate non-retirement accounts as well in cash savings from each check! I treat saving and investing like a bill and its all on auto-deduct. I am married so I don’t cover all of the household expenses etc… alone, but shopping comes after bill paying/saving!

    • divaliscious11 :

      For those trying to figure out how to save, there will never be anything left at the “end of the month” for saving….saving needs to happen at the “beginning of the month” so to speak……

  22. I spend about $1500 a year on clothing and shoes… that’s $100-150 a month at Ann Taylor Loft, Banana Republic and Nordstrom Rack. I used to spend more at JCrew, but they have disappointed me in quality and choices in the last couple of years.

    I buy most of my shoes at Nordstrom Rack, and never pay more than $60 for a pair of heels or flats. Granted, I wear Steve Madden, Mia, BCBG, Michael Kors and the occasional pair of Cole Haans. I don’t own a Coach bag or Jimmy Choos. :) I would feel crazy amounts of guilt spending $1000 on a handbag…it doesn’t really matter how much money I make! $100-300 is enough to buy a high quality leather bag.

    I’m on the saving train though. I max out all retirement account contributions and have extra stashes for investing and saving.

  23. this is a fascinating post on a topic i’ve wondered about before. i tend to splurge on clothes — i don’t have very many vices, and having spent ten years paying off my student loans, i feel entitled. sadly, we’ve just paid our first college tuition bill, so my glory days may be over, lol.

    i find myself pretty much in agreement with corporette on most items.

    Suits: most of mine are lafayette, at $700-$800. they’re easy to wear, and look great. and, after years of wardrobe building, i have all the basics and only need to buy maybe a suit a year. i also work in some theory pieces.
    Pants alone: theory works well for me, although i sometimes buy eileen fisher pieces for casual wear, so somewhere in the $125-$350 range.
    Jackets alone: i won’t buy a jacket if it isn’t part of a suit, unless it’s on sale.
    Skirts alone: $100-350
    Shirts: the lafayette underpinings are outrageously expensive — around $200 for a simple sweater. but, they’re easy and they look good. everytime i buy one, i swear to look around for something less expensive and just as easy to wear, but since they come from the same personal shopper who does my suits they’re easy (and time is money)
    Sweaters: $100-400. i like cashmere.
    Dresses: I rarely buy dresses–i’d like to buy a couple of black ones, but no clue about a price.
    Bags: i generally only buy one to two bags a season. i had a love of kate spade when she was fresh and new, and felt very splurgy paying $400 for a bag. now you can get kate on sale, but i think with the exception of one vuitton bag, i’ve never spent more than that. i’d rather have just a couple of good things.
    Shoes: $150-400. i’m a trial lawyer — i live on my feet, even when i’m not in the courtroom. and, i don’t live in the north, so the wearing is easier. i love thierry raboutin for their comfort, and wear pliner, cole haan nike sole shoes and a good bit of anny liu or other brands that cost a little bit more but add some comfort in.

    Jewelry: i have the same prohibition against costume, and won’t buy it unless it’s 14k. i shop indie designers, people like dana kelin, and a small local boutique with good stuff. i’ll spend a couple hundred dollars on earrings, and a bit more on a necklace, but have found some great indie stuff at good prices too. maybe once a year i’ll splurge on a major statement piece.

  24. Just noticed that Corporette spends far more on separates than “suits.” Seems somewhat incongruous to spend $125-$400 on a single skirt yet $300-600 on a suit (that should include the skirt). And why spend $500+ on a sweater? A sweater?!! I have a beautiful Catherine Malandrino cashmere sweater that cost $200 on sale. Don’t mean to sound critical, but am I missing something…. ?

    • divaliscious11 :

      But what was the full price on the Malandrino? I think most people put where their price points begin at full price, whether they actually pay that is different.

      • @divalicious I think the Malandrino sweater was $400 full price. You do make a good point. But C said she’ll pay MORE than the upper ranges on items if they are killer or she has a meeting with someone who’s a fashionista. But fashionista CFOs make $50M+ a year. I’m like the other poster: “Woo dog!” I can’t hang…

  25. I think it greatly depends on what exactly you’re doing, what your branch of work is, etc. At least over here, government doesn’t dress anywhere near as fancy as corporate, even though the job itself may be similar – you can be a lawyer and work for the government here just as well. On the other hand, government doesn’t pay nearly as well either (but my mom had 52 vacation days a year when she worked for them a few years back, free dental, free public transportation… top that!)

  26. This is a great post, C! I agree with divalicious that saving is incredibly important and too easily overlooked. It’s interesting what people choose to spend their money on (and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way). Personally, I HATE spending more than $100 for bags and shoes, but cheap shoes hurt my feet. I buy a lot of shoes from Zappos. I also don’t like to pay full price for clothes, but I have little time to shop and bargain hunt. I buy a lot of my work clothes from Talbot’s and Nordstrom because I can usually pick up a number of pieces at one time. I have a suit from Banana Republic that I like, also.

    Thanks for the tip about Land’s End blouses. Do they look professional enough to wear on their own or are they best under sweaters and jackets? I’m at a midsized law firm on the East Coast.

    Also, how much do people spend on undergarments? Wacoal fits me very well, and they’re $60 each. I fork it over because I think a good fitting bra is essential.

    • I love Land’s End blouses & I wear them on their own regularly.

      I am also a Wacoal girl. Back when I lived in a bigger city I found great deals on Wacoal at Nordstrom Rack and TJ Maxx. Macy’s will often have “last season’s nude” on sale as well if you’re willing to dig.

  27. I think to put Corporette’s figures in context, it would be important to know her situation. UES living and accoutrements? Is she in court? In the public eye? In a position where she has primary responsibility for bringing in clients, and if so are they old money or new money? The dresses and the bags are the ones that seem particularly high to me, but I’m not a big dress wearer and as I said before, I personally would rather have more bags to play with.
    I shop a wonderful boutique near my office where I just got a camel knit fitted sheath (will go with the necklace I mentioned upthread) for $60 and a black cocktail dress for the same price. I personally wouldn’t be spending $350 on a dress unless it was a LBD I expected to wear the rest of my life.

    Coats weren’t mentioned – I do invest in a wardrobe of coats. Winter-white cashmere (hand-me-down), camel and burgundy peacoats, black Nanette LePore topper. Those are my bags, I suppose!

  28. I spend somewhere in the middle of the range here – right around Banana Republic prices (love their stuff and it fits me well). $350 or so for a suit, under $150 for pants, under $100 for sweaters, under $40 for tops (like to get those on sale for $20 or less). I don’t buy bags (last bag was bought 2 years ago, ‘coach’ on ebay) but I want a new briefcase bag – I may go to the coach outlet this xmas season and get one for DH to give me for Xmas. For trendy items I buy at forever 21 for under $30. (I have gotten a couple of wedding-guest dresses there too!) Shoes I spend less than $100. I do go through a lot of sneakers though between working out and commuting to work (all of my work shoes live at the office). After reading this blog I am considering investing in some cole haan shoes after my foot size stabilizes (I am currently pregnant so my feet are bigger than normal, waiting to see if they go back down).

    I also spend close to $0 on jewelry. I buy from forever 21 (I only wear necklaces, no pierced ears and I have sensory issues with wearing a watch or bracelet) for under $10 each. Except for my engagement ring, which cost $3500 6 years ago.

    Laura, I get all my bras from Vicky’s and usually end up spending full price since my size is never in stock in the sale areas. They run about $40-50.

  29. For what it’s worth, I’m a midwest gov. attorney, kids, etc. I don’t really have a “budget” for clothes, but I have had to buy a variety of sizes due to pregnancies. (Not everyone can go right back into their pre-pregnancy suits after 12 weeks!). Anyway:

    suits – I wear a full suit every day. I never pay full price, and find Tahari, JNY, Ann Klein, Ann Taylor and Banana at the outlet stores. A three piece (pant, skirt, blazer) at the AT outlet is $199; for most others, I won’t spend over $150 for a two piece. Generally, with a Macy’s 20% off coupon and sale racks, I can pick up a Tahari or Calvin Klein suit for $120 or so.

    shirts – I stick with JC Penney, Target, Kohls, etc. I’m always wearing a jacket, so I don’t spend over $50 on a shirt. I recently picked up the Banana no-iron (reg. $60?) with atheir points gift card and 25% off in store.

    bags – I like the Coach line, and have spent up to $350 on a purse. But I only own two – one black (Coach outlet for 50% off), one brown – and don’t plan on buying a new one anytime soon. I keep my purses for about 3 years.

    shoes – I’ve never spent more than $100. I like the Softshoe brand because I have wide feet.

    Hope that helps!

  30. I have found this thread so interesting, I just had to reply…

    As a young lawyer (2nd year associate) at a firm with only about 25 lawyers in small-town America, I most certainly don’t pull in the big bucks. Right now, with 60k+ in student loans, a car payment, rent, utilities, etc., I don’t have a whole lot of money to throw around for work clothes; however, even if I did, I don’t think that I would. I’ve become quite the frugalista through the years and now love to shop for quality items at bargain prices (and I’m not talking bargain prices as in “ooo this is marked down to $300 from $450). Mind you, I really don’t have a ton of time to do so, but I manage. Once per day I log onto to check out what’s for sale. I’ve found some really wonderful work-appropriate pieces there that have been about 50-75% off the regular retail price. About once a month or so I troll around town checking out store sales and bargain stores like Marshall’s and Gabriel Brothers.

    A little over a month ago I found a pair of really nice black leather Naturalizer loafers for less than $20 at Gabe’s that are great for a day at the office or long drives to court in other parts of the state. I also recently found a nice pair of black suede Clarks Bendables that look very stylish with a black pant suit or skirts with tights. And, as much as I love J. Crew and Banana, I think both are incredibly over-priced for their clothing’s quality. I try to only buy from their sales or their outlets. Just prior to beginning my practice, I took a day to go to some outlets (including J. Crew and Banana) about 5 hours from my home and, while I spent something like $1,500 that day, I bought a large selection of work-appropriate staples: 2 suits, 10+ dress shirts/short sleeve sweaters to wear under suits, 4+ pencil skirts, neutral camis for under suits and dress shirts, etc. That same selection at retail prices would have easily cost at least $3000.

    I take so much pride in being dressed well for less and love telling people about the bargains I find. And, in this economy, I think it’s silly and somewhat tacky to spend more. Plus, when I’m going to court defending a large corporation or insurance company, I don’t want a flashy suit or flashy pair of diamond earrings to make a jury or the plaintiff’s attorney think that my client has a ton of money to throw around. No one is really secure in a job right now and no one knows when things are going to get better for the long haul, so why risk it? Pay your monthly expenses, squirrel money away for a rainy day, save for retirement and then and only then, buy some clothes. But for goodness sakes don’t have more money hanging in your closet than you have accumulating interest in your investment accounts.

  31. Way to alienate you audience, guys.

  32. Like JV, I am a Lafayette gal, and that means I fall in with C’s ranges. I’ve splurged on a $500+ bag once or twice, but usually am in the 200-300 range. Shoes are anywhere between $100-$350/pair. I should add that I am in the plus sizes, and I find that a lot of the less expensive brands do not fit well or look very sharp, even after tailoring.

  33. I am a devoted outlet store shopper – I can always find suits at Banana outlet for $150 or less, and if I want to splurge I can go to JCrew outlet. The non-iron shirts at Brooks Brothers outlet are much better deals, and I have only had one that lacked in good quality/didn’t last. Since a female attorney can’t get out to the outlets very often, I supplement when the big sales hit Ann Taylor. But these days, for the fabric choices out there, pretty much everything seems cheaply made in my price range, so I would never pay what they typically ask for full price items. And while I love the idea of a smaller wardrobe of more luxe items, I just can’t get over the idea of spending that much on clothes — plus, I know myself, I will always have those urges to shop, so might as well keep it affordable.

  34. BigLaw Partner :

    I make about 500K a year, and my husband close to the same, and I spend less than half what you do, Corporette, and look good doing it. I think the fact that you run this blog (and so are very interested in fashion) probably says more about your budget than anything else — I like to look good, but the marginal difference to me between a $150 pair of pants and a $300 one is Just Not Worth It. And I promise you — I wouldn’t notice the difference on you, either.

    • @BigLaw Partner – Thanks for the confirmation. I thought for a moment that I was living on another planet! I was in-house counsel at BigTechCorp, working with BigLaw partners all the time (who are some of my dear friends). I never saw a Chanel suit. Once. Or gaudy bling. And if I did, I’d be offended ;-) Life is too short…

    • Wow, that was rude.

      • BigLaw Partner :

        My goodness why? Look — she can have clothing as a hobby (and an occupation) if she wants — why not? But she ought to at least know that the rest of us aren’t so tuned in to these things that we’d know (or care) if she was wearing a Donna Karan blouse or Classiques Entier one.

        • divaliscious11 :

          Just because YOU aren’t tuned in, doesn’t mean others aren’t. In case you missed it, fashion is an entire industry. And most people aren’t rude enought to say to your face that you look dowdy etc.. in that cheap top, but it doesn’t mean they don’t think it. And even if they do – who cares? You should dress for yourself. I love clothes and shoes and bags etc… and each piece I purchase and wear makes me look and feel good, so I could care less if someone else likes it etc… I don’t get people who are into boats, doesn’t mean they waste their money on them, just that boats aren’t my thing. Because something doesn’t work for you, doesn’t mean it, or the person its working for, is bad.

          • I think clothing manufacturing has really changed the fashion industry. In the 70s, shopping at K-Mart, you looked like, well, you shopped at K-Mart. Not so anymore. Knock-offs of runway fashions are made quickly, with great fabric, and excellent tailoring. For instance, people thought the black, silk suit with the belt that Sarah Palin wore for her debate with Biden was Valentino. Well, it was an original Tahari design carried by Nordstroms. I got it on sale last winter for $250 (regular $500). The gulf between “designer” and “non-designer” is virtually non-existent now. If you’re paying big $$$ for fashion, it’s because you covet the designer name and place a premium on it. Nothing rude about that. It just is.

          • I think clothing manufacturing has really changed the fashion industry. In the 70s, shopping at K-Mart, you looked like, well, you shopped at K-Mart. Not so anymore. Knock-offs of runway fashions are made quickly, with great fabric, and excellent tailoring. For instance, people thought the black, silk suit with the belt that Sarah Palin wore for her debate with Biden was Valentino. Well, it was an original Tahari design carried by Neiman’s. I got it on sale last winter for $250 (regular $500). The gulf between “designer” and “non-designer” is virtually non-existent now. If you’re paying big $$$ for fashion, it’s because you covet the designer name and place a premium on it. Nothing rude about that. It just is.

          • I don’t think anyone is saying that it’s bad to prioritize fashion if you want to prioritize fashion. Hell, I’m spending the price of a couple of very expensive handbags on my trip to Mongolia this summer; I’m not want to talk. However, at the same time, I don’t think we should foster a culture where we act like it’s obligatory to spend a lot of money on clothing. It’s not beneficial for anyone who’s not the fashion industry.

            I also want to add that, yes, some people get confidence from having a killer pair of expensive shoes when they walk into an important meeting. Other people get just as much confidence from the fact that they are living their lives as they want to live it and not buying products that they feel are unnecessary. (Most people, I suspect, are a mix.) Conformity and oneupmanship are not the only routes to confidence.

            As for other people seeing that I’m wearing something from Target and thinking I’m dowdy? C’est la vie; you can’t please everyone, and I’m not going to kill myself trying. That was a hard won lesson, but one I’m much happier for having learned.

        • divaliscious11 :

          V- I think that Is what BigLaw Partner was saying. and i don’t disagree that at some point on the spectrum, the return becomes less significant. But just because mass production permits knock-offs etc… there is a difference in the weight, texture drape, fit and construction of the clothes/bags/shoes. I meantioned that i still have the first coach bag I bought when I was 16. I paid like $150 dollars for it in the mid- 80’s. I still use that bag, which will be 30 years old sooner than I’d like to admit. Coach still sells a similar style for around $300. The value in being able to use what I buy for years to come makes the cost per use much lower than buy a cheap bag and having to discard it. at the end of the season. If its particularly trendy, then that is a different story. I don’t think it about one-upmanship for most people, just liking having good quality stuff. And while I love the “I have a dress that makes me feel like a million bucks!” sentiment, I hope you feel like at least $999,999 when you take it off!

          • @divalicious11 My Coach bag that I bought 3 years ago from an Outlet in Orlando (reg. $500/sale $200) is looking tired because I’m so DANG HARD ON PURSES! And I do rotate it with other purses, to no avail. Wish it weren’t so :(

      • So, unless you just like to sit on your pile of cash, you spend your money on other things. Why be judgmental of C, and obviously others here interested in fashion, for how she spends her money?

        • Spending more money can mean the difference between looking put together and looking dowdy. It is important for women in powerful positions to look good and to feel confident. But, at some point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and the higher prices are not worth it at all.

          At my government office, the one lawyer who spent the most on clothes and who looked fabulous (family money) also spent too much time worrying about the fact that other women had their roots showing.

          • BigLaw Partner :

            I know I’d just adding fuel to this unexpected fire, but I will say, too, that if you make a point of dressing in a way that is obviously super-expensive in my line of work, you run the risk of alienating in-house clients, judges, and jurors, who don’t make the kind of money you do. And frankly, I suspect that it might be a liability with some colleagues, too, who would wonder if you were a serious enough person. That last part’s probably sexist (because nobody thinks that when my male colleagues buy fancy cars, etc.), but if I were mentoring an associate who was also a high-fashionista (though perhaps tellingly, there are none here), I’d probably put that issue out there for her to at least consider, along with a feminist diatribe about why that’s not fair.

          • divaliscious11 :

            LOL – BLP – I am in-house and I promise I will never be alienated by well dressed outside counsel. I don’t go to court so I won’t worry about judges/juries. I iwll admit to being put off by outside counsel who wanted business who looked unkempt and disheveled. Ill-fitting clothing, unfairly or otherwise, looks like you don’t care about yourself, and if you don’t care about yourself, you aren’t going to care about my company or my needs. I think that, however, is just knowing your client…

          • Anonymous :

            I have to second BigLaw Partner’s comments. As insurance defense counsel in one of America’s “judicial hell-holes,” I would sooner die than wear anything flashy to court, whether a jury is present or not. When I go to more rural locales for motion hearings, I wear very non-descript clothing and minimal jewelry because I fear the judges, who may have a “protect our own” mentality, are going to be needlessly harsh if they view me as a big, bad lawyer coming to their county to either (1) take their fellow citizens’ money away or (2) not give their fellow citizens money. This means no logos, no expensive-looking pearls, no flashy watches, no fierce shoes, absolutely no diamonds of any kind. While off the topic of clothing/shoes/accessories, I’ve even gone so far as to contemplate getting a non-descript car (think something you see in mass quantities everywhere, like a Ford Fusion, Chevy Cobalt, Toyota Camry, or some kind of Honda) because I feel like I stand out too much in some places when I park outside a small town’s courthouse in my Lincoln. (I hate to think how I’d feel driving anything fancier)

          • Seriously? You’re in “big law” and there are NO fashionistas??

  35. While lots of commentators seem surprised by how much Corporette spends on her clothes, I’m more surprised by how much the commentators seem to spend (some seem a bit low for “corporate” types). I’m a lawyer in a big city and subscribe to the “fewer but nicer” school when it comes to clothes, and only wear wool or wool blend suits, and natural fiber shirts like custom-made button-downs (a must for any woman to get a proper fit!), cashmere sweaters on sale from J.Crew, and silk-blend sweaters from Ann Taylor and Saks. To me, almost anything synthetic or from the Gap just doesn’t cut it for partner meetings or court appearances, so I just don’t buy it. My time is also very precious, and while I do know you can get good deals from lower-end places, the
    “hunt” just isn’t worth my time and I would rather follow sales online from a few trusted, high-quality shops. I can’t justify several hundred dollars on shoes, but I do spend a lot of money on jackets (Armani, Valentino, on sale at Saks for $350-600) and cultivating a small but timeless collection of handbags (Bottega Veneta, Hermes). Since I’m still in my collecting stage of building my wardrobe, I estimate that this year I’ve spent about $10,000 on clothes, bags, and accessories. And yes, I do have big expenses to save for and save for retirement; it’s entirely possible to cultivate a drool-worthy wardrobe, but it does take time and very serious discipline! I like that Corporette features clothes at a variety of price points!

    Shoes: almost never more than $200
    Suits: always wool, always lined, almost always at least 3 pieces (skirt, pants, jacket), add matching dresses whenever possible. Usually $400-800. I often get the pants and skirts tailored for a true fit, and don’t usually purchase pants separately; I will purchase a skirt on its own sometimes.
    Sweaters: cashmere or silk-blends. Not usually more than $150; usually on sale (J.Crew)
    Jackets: I splurge here with classics from Valentino and Armani when on sale at Saks. They go beautifully with black pants and skirts, and as a topper to a suit dress. About $500
    Jewelry: only the real deal: I want to have a timeless collection of fine jewelry, and wear pearls, a stainless steel watch, and a simple diamond pendant daily. I have fancier jewelry (Tahitian pearls, diamond studs) that I wear for special occasions. I save up my “gifts” from my partner for one or two fine pieces a year.
    Accessories: This is where I accessorize, and it’s with scarves and shawls. Price varies, but I do love Hermes, which runs about $350/scarf.
    Bags: I only have a couple of bags, but they are timeless. I save my money for classics from Bottega Veneta, Oscar, and Hermes, which cost $1000-5000. No “it” bags for me!

    • My bags inevitably end up with ink blots, half-opened equal packets, and random hard candy in the crevices. No way could I justify spending $5K on something that I’m hauling around the way I do… But to those who can keep it pristine and museum-worthy, God bless ’em!

    • J.Crew’s cashmere is crap. I wouldn’t pay more than $35 for it because it won’t last more than 2 seasons.

      • Agree 100%. They used to have great, thick, lofty cashmere but they clearly switched mills a few years ago (which coincided with a giant price hike). Now the JCrew cashmere pills or gets worn in a season or two. I’ve had great luck with the house brands at Macy’s or Bloomingdales for cashmere – it’s a higher quality, higher ply cashmere at the same or lower price.

        • Agreed–I’ve had awesome luck with house-brand cashmere at Macy’s.

          • incidentally… i believe the j.crew cashmere is loro piana. “from a mill in quarino” (or wherever?) — that’s the reason. it’s ‘sposedly better. we have a LP scarf (bought on sale at an outlet mall) that is like butter against our neck and a no-label LP sweater from brooks bros (also, deep discount) that is, well, meh, but is holding up well. don’t generally buy j.crew but after reading the WSJ article re: the LP we were considering it.

  36. Though I’m right in line with those who cited BR/AT/Nordstrom (sale or Rack) price points, I can’t help but wonder whether I’m doing something wrong.

    As an entry-level government attorney, I earn 62K/year, but of course, that means I actually bring home just under 40K. $1K/mo goes to rent (still doing the roommate thing, with another similarly-situated attorney, as we’re in a high COL area), with another $1K going to law loans (with which I won’t be finished for 25 years). Retirement? A measly 3% of base.

    What’s left over should perhaps NOT be going toward clothing price points that once seemed frugal, but look outlandish when compared to my take-home pay. I need to wear a suit every day, however, and my preference is to own suits that are of sufficient quality to stick around for more than a season.

    I now am officially depressed.

    • divaliscious11 :

      Don’t be depressed! Reorganize your priorities! I’d have my retirement as my first spending priority, then rent and loans. Allocate money for building a wardrobe monthly, but that doesn’t mean you shop monthly. Do an analysis of your wardrobe abd figure out what key pieces you need. For years I kept a list in my wallet of what foundation pieces I needed. then you need to figure out whose clothes fit you well, whose need a little tailoring and whose line look great on other people but don’t work on your body. Build your foundation a pice at of time of good quality pieces. Once you have that built, then you get to add in the other stuff. Figure out where you can find good quality pieces. Are there any high-end consignment shops near you? If so, go in and meet the sales associates, build a relationship. Let them know you are building a work wardrobe… get on the mailing/email list. They’ll call you when stuff comes in… I don’t really like department store shopping, but you can get the same type of assistance if you relationship build. No one with a great wardrobe builds it overnight unless they have unlimited disposable income, and even then, they need and get help!

  37. Well… wow. I make significantly less than the typically Corporette poster/reader does, but I do work in BigLaw in DC. It’s always been a struggle because I feel that tinge to keep up with the rest of the office, if for nothing else than to project professionalism. I grew up with thrifty parents so I know how to shop the sales, and that’s what I usually end up doing. I tend to break even every month as far as expenses go, so a lot of factors go into my purchases. For example, as nice as it is to get a cashmere sweater on sale, I have to think about how much I’d wear it and as a result, how many times I’m going to get it dry cleaned. Those bills add up fast! Thinking about my current wardrobe I have a mix of classics that I’ll spend the money on and lots of things that aren’t meant to last more than a season or two. And when I say “spend the money on” it is certainly not at a level as was originally suggested in this post. My regular haunts are: The Limited, Macys, Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, Target and sometimes Khols. On vacation I’ll hit those outlets and stock up on the basics.

    Even when I do make my way up to higher pay, I still can’t see paying certain prices for things. I don’t care who made it, but I’m going to spend $500 on a vacation, not a bag.

  38. amongst my friends i definitely put the most $ towards clothing, but i feel pretty cheap now compared to everything i’ve read from you guys :) i’m a HUGE sale person. in fact, i rarely buy anything not on sale. i cannot justify it because well i know it’ll go on sale within a few weeks. if i care that much about it, i will stalk the item until it goes on sale or if i need it for an impt event i will buy full price (rare). on average i probably spend less than $50 on any kind of top. i am a frequent at target, gap, and banana (outlet mostly – i have wonderful luck there). for pants, i spend maybe up to $80 but it’s unlikely i’d pay $80. i have banana and jcrew pants originally abovve $100 but i did not ever pay full price but they last for years. skirts, under $50. i rarely buy dresses, so for those i’ll go up to $250 probably – depending on the occasion and amount of use. i have a great LBD from ann taylor loft and paid maybe $100ish, and have so far worn it 3 or 4 times and will be next week, plus the fit is flattering as can be. what i consider splurges are jeans. im a big designer jean person and it’s totally worth it to me. i even got my boyfriend to get lucky’s! my favorites are my citizens and those were $200. i own several designer or non-designer yet pricey bags, but always buy outlet/sales. i cannot justify spending over $200 on a bag either. for shoes, i spend maybe up to $100’ish and usually that’s because they are boots and i always get those on sale too, macys, dsw, etc. i found cole haan air black patent pointy toe heels for $20 at marshalls! my latest cheapie splurge is the cardigans at old navy, they may of been featured on here actually. im wearing one today and got it in 3 colors. i was never a big old navy person but i’m liking it more and more. i know it wont last 10 yrs but because i own so many clothes i dont wear things that often so maybe that makes it last longer (at least in my head haha). i however have no kids, or student loans but just bought my first house on my own so i can tell u ill be gunning for even bigger sales now! and i make a very average income.

  39. I think so much of this has to do with where you are in your career. I expect someone who’s been working for a number of years has 1. a higher salary, and 2. many of her staples, so she is able to spend money on higher quality/more expensive items.

  40. I admittedly spend way (WAY) too much on clothes each month (WAY too much), at places like J. Crew, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, etc. on brands such as Theory, Nanette Lepore, and Cole Hann, and still find C’s price ranges ridiculous. I agree with shooting for items with higher starting prices and taking advantage of markdowns and special offers, however, unless C is in 40-50% off territory, some of these price ranges are just ridic.

    • no, i’m a sales snob — my “shop it to me” is set at 60% off, and i only look at sales rounders in the store if they’re at least 50% off, but preferably 66-75-80% off. unless i’m at a sample sale, when i take what i can get.

  41. I can’t pin down price points on clothes. I wear everything – Forever 21, Target, BCBG, Marc Jacobs, Thomas Pink, Theory, etc. etc. I try and purchase the bulk of my clothing on sale, but I also live in a fashion forward area where the selection is rotated quickly in stores; thus, sales merchandise often times is still very in fashion.

    I DO spend $$$ on handbags. At least 3 of the bags I own are over 1k (I budgeted for ’em!). And since I’m tall and not the thinnest thing in the world, I need a quality high-heel. I’ve purchased two pairs of Prada shoes, 1 pair of Jimmy Choos, and a pair of Taryn Rose flats – all on sale I might add ( for under 300$). I’m eye-ing some Louboutins, but I want to find a work-worthy pair on sale. ;)

    Also, I wear a Cartier watch daily (probably the best gift I’ve ever received !) but I <3 my fake 3ct CZ studs. =P

  42. I am also a big *sale* person. I never buy clothes or shoes at full price. I do most of my shopping at Nordstrom Rack- thanks to them I have a closet full of prada, ferragamo and manolos that I got for about $120-250. The handbags I like are never on sale, so that is usually a splurge or something I get for christmas/birthday.

  43. My price points are about the same as C’s, though it seems like nice dresses seem to go a little higher pricewise these days. My main expense lately has been shoes. I have slowly started upgrading and wow, nice shoes are expensive. I am buying classics that will last forever, though, and my feet are thanking me. Yes, Louboutins cost as much as three pairs of regular shoes, but they also stay on my feet all day, even under the desk. So comfortable and supportive, and always flattering.

    I agree that there’s no need for a constant stream of cheaper things. Just a few nice items per season works fine once you have the basics. I do tend to buy less expensive jewelry each season to update the look though. Banana Republic/J Crew usually have some good, inexpensive trendy pieces that work. Also, you can usually find good, inexpensive layering tees there.

  44. Wow, I’ve found this discussion to be incredibly interesting!

    I’m in BigLaw, but in a non-NYC market with a lower COL. I own a home in the city, and I will admit that I spent more on clothing before I had a mortgage payment. I have $150k of law school debt (and so does my fiance who is currently unemployed). I max out my 401k every year and have additional savings on audo-deduct. That said, I “feel” like I live paycheck-to-paycheck. I know that I could save less and have more wiggle room. I’m not a “natural saver” though, so the automatic route is the only way for me. That leaves a small budget for clothing. Luckily, when I was first starting out and building up my wardrobe I was still renting. Now I’m just adding to my wardrobe as fashion changes and replacing as things get worn out — and that’s cheaper to do than starting from scratch.

    For me, it’s not about what the “retail” price of an item is because I rarely pay full price. I enjoy getting a good deal on sale. So my price ranges are what I’d pay on sale or otherwise. In the past year, I have begun to recognize that sometimes it’s worth it to pay more (although still get it on sale). I have a DVF sweater dress that I feel like a million dollars everytime I wear. I bought it at Nordstrom Rack for $180, which at the time seemed insane (and is the most I’ve ever spent on a dress) — I believe that retail was upwards of $350. I can’t think of anything except a suit that I would pay more than $250 for. I like quality, but if I wait for a sale I can get even high quality skirts, tops, dresses, and shoes for (less than) that price point. Even at the $250 price range, I would expect it to be on sale from a higher price and be really spectacular.

    I love clothing. If I had more money (or less debt), I imagine that I would spend a little more.

  45. As a young, west coast associate, I make under 100K a year and am currently the sole breadwinner for my family. The price tags on even the Friday “bargans” often shock me. Just to pick one item as an example, I would NEVER spend more than 50$ on shoes I didn’t plan to wear daily.

  46. Wow. As a 2nd-year government attorney making $50K, with over $150K in student loans, I can’t even conceive of spending ANY money on clothes. It’s just not in the budget. Currently, my work wardrobe consists of a couple of suits purchased at extreme outlet discounts, and some pants and tops left over from when I weighed 15 pounds more (binder clips and safety pins work surprisingly well for “tailoring” a too-big waistband, and they don’t show when you have your jacket on!). I do have some nice-ish shoes, because fortunately shoe size doesn’t change much when you lose weight, but I’ve never spent more than $200 for shoes, and that was for the La Canadienne suede boots that I live in during the winter.

    Is my wardrobe substandard for my position? Most definitely. Am I in a position to do anything about it right now? Absolutely not.

    • Okay, I’m not sure if you’re kidding about the binder clips. If you are, you got me. If not, and if you have NO budget, please try removing the stitches and doing the mending yourself. It isnt hard, and really binder clips and safety pins are SO not a good solution.

    • Don’t fret: I interviewed for my public defender job in a $6 garage sale suit. It will get better with time!

      • female banker :

        don’t worry. i interviewed for my job in a 50$ suit from a cheapa$$ store and now i make >100k out of school. it gets better

  47. Gosh, I must be cheap. I’ve never dreamed of spending most of those figures on those items. Hope my husband appreciates. :-)

    I work in a small firm where the associates make less than the media would lead people to expect lawyers to make, and we all dress pretty frugally and don’t judge. You can look nice on less if you need to, and re-wear your more expensive items frequently. Each of us has one or two “court day” suits, and no one blinks that it’s the same one every time, even if there’s court three days in a week.

  48. What an incredibly interesting discussion! I’m starting in Big Law next week and just spent the last year in a clerkship making $60K. I have no law school debt and am married, so I have more discretionary income than most. Even so, for the majority of my life I have shopped at Marshalls, Ross, or other outlet stores. In the last few years, I have upgraded to Banana Republic, Limited, Express, Macys and Lord and Taylor. In preparation for my new job, I recently “splurged” at Nordstrom on some really beautiful pants and skirts, but spent no more than $120 on a single item. Here’s my breakdown:

    Suits – less than $200, purchased most on sale at Lord & Taylor

    Shirts/tops – $30 – $70 (I just bought a Classiques Entier shirt at Nordstrom for $70, the most I have spent for a shirt ever)

    Pants – $60 – $120

    Shoes – no more than $75

    Skirts – $30 – $130

    Dresses – $60 – $120

    Bags – no more than $50

    I think my purchases on bags on way off compared to most of the posters here. I like nice bags, but I tend not to take good care of them and am scared to purchase a really expensive bag that will end up getting torn up. Now when I read these posts, I wonder if I should reconsider.

    At any rate, this post has given me a lot of food for thought.

  49. Well, I’m sure I’m a cheapskate here, but the most I’ve ever spent was $350 for a law-school interview suit (same amount I spent on my wedding gown). More typically, I’ll spend $100-$200 for suits, and up to $100 for a nice outerwear coat. Everything else is under $75/item, including blazers/jackets.

    I especially love inexpensive “costume” jewelry from $10-$30 from places like Francesca’s Collection (mostly beaded necklaces), which is a lot nicer than “cheap” fake silver/gold jewelry.

  50. I think two things are being conflated here — spending a lot of money on clothing, and looking / coming across to others as though you spend a lot of money on clothes.

    • Very true. The items I love the best are ones that are just that little bit nicer than what you’d typically find in a lower price range – the basic shoes with the really high quality leather, the jacket that hangs and fits just perfectly, the jewelry that completes the outfit in just the right understated, yet interesting way. For me, it’s not about showing off diamonds or having the latest fashion item. Even though some of the pieces I wear cost more than most people on this site seem to spend, I doubt that people notice them and think “wow, she spends a lot of money on her clothes.” I hope they look at me and think that I look put together and professional.

      BTW, I’m sure if I had more time and fashion sense (and a different body type) I could look put together and professional on a lot less – I don’t mean to suggest that those who aren’t spending the $ don’t look that way.

  51. I am a JCPenney, Kohl’s, Marshall’s, TJMaxx, and Nordstrom Rack shopper. I rarely spend over $100 on a suit and usually spend under $50 on separates. I’ve been out of law school for a long time, but chose the slow/non-career track, so don’t make that much money. Nor does my husband. I’d say I spend maybe $1500/year on work clothing. Maybe even less.

    We sock away about $1000/month in savings, which doesn’t include retirement accounts (those are maxed out pre-tax). I have a lot more money in savings & investments than I do in my closet.

  52. FWIW, on a salary of $60,000, spend between $100-$400 per suit, BUT never bought more than 3 per year, AND they were mostly St. John’s that I got either on ebay or at consignment shops. (The best purchase was the $1200 suit for $120.) Moreover, my body hasn’t changed in years, so I actually haven’t needed to buy ANY suits this year, as two years ago, finally bought the last missing piece for my wardrobe!

    Unfortunately, now I need to replace my cashmere sweaters and silky Ts that I wear under suit jackets. My last bunch of sweaters came from Lord & Taylor 5 years ago, and the silky Ts from Brooks Brothers that they no longer make. I really like the shirts from, but think they are way too expensive for lycra.

  53. I think this is so incredibly dependent on circumstances and style. There are times in my life when I wouldn’t have dreamed of spending this much on clothes, and other times when this would have seemed like a low-ball list. It also varies so much by city and type of job. Here in the midwest I have an enormous closet and make use of every inch, which also means I buy cheaper clothing that is more “disposable” than when I lived in NY and had a tiny closet. I think Corporette’s ranges are reasonable for a big city corporate woman. Furthermore, I’m interested in workplace style and fashion. If I weren’t, I wouldn’t read this blog. So if you’re upset about the type of clothing that is featured here, maybe this isn’t the site for you. If you like it but can’t afford it, maybe you should start a blog that features less expensive items that are appropriate for where you work. I think C does a great job for the niche I’m in.

    • I agree – for those of us in positions of authority in law firms, accounting firms and large corporations, our image is an investment. I think it would somewhat defeat the purpose of this blog for C to ignore those of us who are willing to drop some cash. Others may not be able to spend that much but may still want to hear about the expensive items so they can try to approximate the look for less. I, for one, don’t really read this blog for the purpose of identifying specific pieces. It’s more to get a sense of what C and others think about what TYPES of clothes are work appropriate, how to accessorize, etc. So whether the clothes are above or below my target price range for an item (and C features both), I still get something out of reading about them.

      • I am a younger associate who can’t afford most of the items listed in the blog, but I do read it for EXACTLY the reason you suggested. When a female partner sent the link to this blog to all the female associates, I saw that I could be work appropriate and tasteful without wearing a suit every day. Although I have never actually purchased an item listed on the blog, reading it has helped me design work outfits that I can be sure are tasteful and professional, without having to stick solely to suits.

  54. Anonymous :

    It was said at some point in this thread but it is worth pointing out again, particulary to those who are disparaging C: the price points she listed are her general ranges for the *non-sale* price of the clothing. She noted the not-unheard-of phenomenon that often price correlates to quality, which can mean a lot with respect to how clothing looks. C very cleary stated that she shops the sales and, thus, in many cases is likely coming in under her stated ranges. In the end, everyone makes their own choices, informed by their own personal circumstances, on whether their purchases have worthwhile value to them and work to their advantage (i.e., conveying what ever message you want your clothes to say about you). Don’t hate. Uniformity is boring.

    p.s. I’m a slightly older, 2nd year, big law associate with a medium COL and six figure loans that match my six figure salary. I’d say my targets for *original* priced items are the same as or 20-30% less than C’s but, currently, it’s a rare day that I am willing to pay full price on anything and actually spend much less than these ranges would suggest. Once my loan-to-salary ratio drops, I’ll be a lot more comfortable buying items not on sale (particularly because sale shopping takes up so much damn time and, sadly, I have little access to outlets). Woohoo, there goes 0.3.

  55. I think a lot of it also has to do with how you started out — what basics. I know as a twenty-something young corporate woman, I was fortunate enough that my parents bought me several classic suits and the appropriate accessories to start me off with, and then I got a lot of hand-me-downs of some very nice quality (Escada, St. John, DKNY, Anne Klein, etc). So when I bought my own workwear, I was filling in gaps or responding to pieces I liked instead of starting from scratch. Some other women on here may be starting from scratch.

  56. FrugalShopper :

    Heidi, I’m interested in workplace fashion too. I love reading Corporette. And, I am a careful shopper like B above. These things are not incompatible.

    FWIW, my work wardrobe is mainly from Ann Taylor/Loft, Banana Republic, and Target. Occasional purchases of stuff from Express, H&M, Zara and on rare occasion eBay, Gap, Old Navy, MetroStyle, or JCPenney.
    I make one exception: I buy only classic real jewellery: gold, silver, and/or semi-precious stones. e.g. pearl strand, black pearl strand, jade, amethyst irregular cut strand, coral earrings, and so on that I match with the color of my top.
    I dont wear suits at work, only business casual. Pencil skirts, cardigans, dresses, shirts, knits, formal trousers, occasionally blazers.
    Here’s my budget:
    Tops/sweaters: usually buy stuff for around $30 on sale.
    Pants and skirts: skirts always under $50, pants around $50-$70.
    Dresses: Target dresses under $50 or Zara or other dresses slightly more (but under $70).
    Blazers or other choice pieces I really like: $50-$70.

    I use pants and skirts for a few years and they dont die, so I buy only 1 or 2 a year. Tops I buy often and (since they rarely last more than a season or two, and because I get bored and do not really want them to last forever) cheap.
    And I dont really care about bags.
    My salary before tax is over $100K but below $200.

  57. Sharon TN :

    I don’t buy a lot but I do buy good items. Here is my list of items and what I am willing to pay for them:

    Handbags: Carry Coach, LV, Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Desmos. Gifts from husband and younger sister for my special occassions. But, I would pay $800 – 1k for a bags and….a Birkin is on my wishlist.

    Shoes: I refuse to wear cheap shoes. Still, I never pay full price even for expensive shoes. My motto is: “If I like a shoe at $400 – $1k then, I will absolutely love them when they cost $200 – $500.”

    Skirts: I wear more skirts than suits and love a well-made, well-fitted classic skirt. Will pay up to $300 on sale.

    Suits: Tahari, Ann Taylor, Banana R, BB, Talbot’s and a few Barrie Pace. Would pay up to $500 but have never paid that much for any suit.

    Shirts/Blouses: Must be tailored cottons and/or silks. $40 – $200.

    Sweaters: Cashmere, fine woolens and linen/silk only. $40 – $200.

    Jackets: I will buy “special” jackets separately and pair them with my skirts. Up to $400.

    Coats: My favorite everyday coat is Cashmere and retailed for $1700 but I bought it for $400 from in July, four years ago.

    Jewelry: I own some good costume pieces but mostly wear 18k gold and pearls. When I wear a watch, it must be a man’s watch. I like how large men’s watches look on a woman’s smaller arm.

    I like higher end items but… not a snob about how little I will pay for them. In fact, until a year ago I would never have set foot into a Good Will except to drop off donations. Then, one day I had a conversation with the Receptionist manning the desk in the lobby of my building and she started telling me about how many “nice” things she found at one of the local Good Will stores. So, one day during a long lunch break, she took me to that Good Will. At first, I was like, please God, let me out of here. Then, I found a large 4-ply Cashmere Shawl in perfect condition. Good Will wanted $6.99 for it. Since I had purchased the same shawl in a different color during the winter clearance a couple of years previously and paid $80 for it, I snapped it up. Since that time, I have visited the Good Will on my own and….while I do not find bargains everytime like the bargain I found on my first visit, I have supplemented my high-end closet with some very nice items for practically nothing. And, I tell myself that I am actively being green by purchasing “recycled” items at this Good Will. (Smile)

  58. Anonymous :

    I generally spend a lot on investment pieces, but other things I get super cheap. I’ll spend around $500-$750 for a suit, but I only own 6 (each including pants, skirt, and blazer, and some also including dress). I spend around $100-$300 on shoes, because a pair of basic work pumps HAS TO be comfortable, and nicer shoes wear so much better. I also spend a fair amount on handbags (most are Coach, but I have a big Marc Jacobs that I use most days, which cost over $1,000). You can find great deals on work tops–I wear these little scoopneck short sleeved sweaters I got over the summer at Old Navy constantly. I also buy a lot of cheap dresses that can easily be dressed up with a blazer and wear them on days I don’t have to be in court or have a big client meeting.

  59. Seeing C’s update about being a sales hound … So, what’s the best deal you’ve all ever gotten on a great piece of clothing?
    Mine were:
    – 2 Escada jackets, one $1000 retail and $1200 retail, for $200 apiece
    – Prada flats, $450 retail, for around $80 at DSW
    – Missoni flats, $400-450 retail, for around $50-60 (also at DSW)

  60. Once, I got dressed for work and looked in the mirror. I realized I was wearing a designer suit (bought for $120), my Kelly (bought for $1000 at auction), and my pearls (also bought at a steep discount)…in fact, I was wearing close to $10,000 worth of sh*t. I tried to think how this made me feel, because it certainly felt weird. Undeserving? No…. Decadent? No, (not with the discounts!)… Superficial? Perhaps… It’s been years since I obtained most of my investment pieces and it still shocks me EVERY SINGLE DAY when I wander into my closet to get dressed in the morning.

  61. I’m obviously late to this discussion, but I don’t really understand the animosity toward C’s spending plan.

    Some people are talking about how no one notices if you spend less on clothing and that folks who spend more are wasting their resources on something that doesn’t even matter and is silly. Aren’t those posters wasting their resources (their time and sanity) fretting that other women appear ostentatious?

    We all have things we choose to spend our money on. If a woman enjoys a designer pair of pants, then why can’t she choose to spend her money on those (even at *gasp* full price) without other women judging her so harshly?

    • Corporate type :

      I agree with Amber. I thought Corporette had an appropriate response. She’s obviously someone for whom fashion is important, and she spends to get quality (and knows a good sale when she sees it).

      There’s something to be said, as you progress in your career, for dressing with predictable quality. I started in BigLaw for a half dozen years then switched to a corporate position. Nearly every day you’ll see me in a St. John tweed jacket (but nearly always bought on sale), silk blouse or turtleneck, nice slacks, and some pearls and gold chains or an interesting scarf. On casual Fridays, I tend to wear a twin set (usually Land End cashmere) and trouser jeans (Tahari makes good ones). My jewelry is understated, and always real (gold, pearls, etc.). I have a few really good handbags (Dior, Carlos Falchi), and then some perfectly nice bags for travel (Furla, Michael Kors). I don’t go to court, so formal suits are necessary.

      I realized awhile ago that although I enjoy fashion and love looking at the new collections and fashion magazines (and really enjoy Corporette), I’m also the “face” of my company. A reassuring corporate image is classic and assumes reasonable quality. I think cultivating this style has been very helpful in moving up the ladder as time goes by. It can be helpful for your superiors in the company to feel that you’ll always look dignified and appropriate for the context.

  62. I’m an undergrad, going into graduate school for pharmacy next year. Professional dress (business casual) for most days from then for four years. What pieces can I splurge on (and my splurge is like 1/2 or 1/3 your normal range, at this point), what what pieces should I buy cheaper?
    I’m pretty stain-prone, and scoff my shoes terribly. And I’m lusting after a Burberry scarf, which I know I don’t need. I never throw anything away, but things wear out for me rather quick. So what stuff will last?

    I need to start to dress up now, to get used it it. I only have a few months to go!
    That, and once I graduate I’ll join you gals, more or less (but obviously, with the out-of-school drains on funds).

  63. Amy,
    Firstly, congrats to entering the medical/pharma field; it is always exciting to be at the launch of one’s professional career, and that you wish to look the part at this stage of your career, thus embracing your chosen field bodes well, too! I am a senior attorney, carrying brief cases and wearing suits all through and even before commencing my law studies, so I understand completely (and while you might be questioning as to why a lawyer might “pick up” your query, my spouse is in the medical field and hence I thought I’d take a stab at it, certain that others here will pipe in to “correct” me should I in any way steer you wrong ;)

    As to the original post, and keeping in line with what has already been suggested either directly or indirectly, you will want to spend within your budget of course, and that you are starting to collect pieces early allows you to do so at your convenience, well on your way to having a proper professional wardrobe before you actually need it, which is a very good thing. Elsewhere on this blog you can read about sales, depots and other relevant information so as to scout out the sales and end-of-lines which will no doubt be of great interest to you, along with other tidbits of very excellent and useful information (which I wish I had known when I was first starting out, and especially back then when on an articling student’s salary, which in the first year of legal practice keeping in mind in Canada where I practice we also must purchase our “court dress” consisting of barrister’s robes and waist coat, court-striped trousers, patent leather shoes, legal tabs and wing collar shirts — in both summer and winter weight wool, and before we are even called to the bar — on the other hand, it makes the practice rather easy so far as one knows what they are going to wear when seeking an audience before the court, but add to this the need to wear semi-formal business suits, etc. when not at court, well, a blog and advice on how and wear to shop etc. would have come in most handy back then, indeed!). That said, my spouse would argue that dressing for the medical/pharma field is no less intimidating when first starting out, realizing that he could not forever attend to live in his scrubs, and that is because we, as professionals, regardless of our chosen profession or calling, well understand that in doing so we’re taking on a professional “brand”. That you understand this early on in the game is outstanding, and once again bodes well for you and all others who no doubt are reading this blog (go forth and conquer, ladies!); indeed, understanding that people’s perceptions of us are affected by our clothes, such that our clothes in turn must represent the image that we as a “brand” (meaning, our products and/or services) are trying to convey is half the battle, and once realized it’s not intimidating any longer (so many young women today who may not have had the good fortune to have had a professional mother to “groom” us from birth as so many young men in our society do and often take for granted, I agree) .

    In the case of law, for e.g., the “image” is rather a traditional one, meant to convey knowledge and authority and reason why most lawyers stick to well fitted suits (be they skirt suits or pant suits) and dark colors, and reason why I personally spend much time, effort and money making my clothing reflect my goals and personality. (In keeping with the OP’s question, I am at that stage in my career where I personally wear Armani black label, for I enjoy the well tailored “power suit” with Hugo Boss long-sleeved shirts and blouses, and I find they suit my trim, athletic frame perfectly, with outerwear by Burberry and Christ, and my shoes/boots for the most part are handmade in England (yes, I spend a lot on quality clothing, then, these are timeless pieces in classic colours (namely, black, charcoal and gray, tan/beige and navy), which I “freshen up” with coloured shirts and blouses, so as to keep the “look” updated – which for me at least I find is best and easy to do, thus reflecting my “brand” as a lawyer but at the same time my “personality” and style — in terms of the cost, as a senior lawyer, I can well afford it and enjoy quality for its own sake but also see it as an advertising expense so far as my clothes are (it bears repeating) reflect not only upon me but also how my firm is perceived in the eyes of my clients and the public.

    Of course, when one is first starting out, no one expects you to wear top drawer brands, nor would it be reasonable for them to do so, but that is not to say that you can’t achieve that look or even find exceptional deals on designer clothing on a budget (even a student’s budget), because you can, and what this wonderful blog will indeed help you with (indeed, this blog is quite wonderful really, and must say I am enjoying it immensely).

    Before heading off on your shopping spree, however, you must first (in my opinion) understand for you what it is that you wish to convey — in other words, your “brand” which depends in large part on what it is you are doing and what it is you wish to convey.

    In the case of the medical/pharma profession, I should think that, like a lawyer, you will want to appear knowledgeable but, unlike a lawyer, you will also want to convey an image of being helpful and approachable, and this I believe is readily achieved by choosing your colours appropriately.
    I would think neutrals (beige/tan, navy, etc.) give off this impression best, though by no means should this be taken by you (or anyone else in your chosen field) as a suggestion in any way to avoid the darker, more conservative/authoritative colours — if you are confident and feel great in darker colours such as black (which isn’t dangerous) or charcoal/gray (which connotes safety and tradition), then by all means run with it as what is most important of course is that you own it and wear it “well” (and only you know what that means; that goes for skirts vs. trousers as well, for above all else (it bears repeating) you are dressing to convey a professional “can do”/”I know” image, and this image will hardly be perceived by your client/patient/etc. if you are uncomfortable in your outfit no matter how splendid said outfit looks on the rack and/or its price tag.

    This, in addition to the standard “rule” re: women professionals in general, be we lawyers and judges, investment bankers and/or corporate leaders, media/communications consultants to doctors and/or pharmacists, politicians or business magers in general, which is oft repeated here (and also told to daughters by their professional mothers, or should be) and simply: be neat in appearance, avoid revealing clothing (i.e., don’t show off too much arm, cleavage or the mid-riff so no tanks or halter-tops, etc.), as well as shorts, jeans and athletic shoes, with the latter caveat adjusted for your own particular field (i.e., in the case of the medical/pharma profession, slacks and khakis along with rubber sole shoes / trainers are very appropriate, and far more appropriate than leather soled boots or heeled shoes, and especially with all that running around from patient to dispensary etc. you’ll be doing). Otherwise, the whole gambit pretty much is open to you as your profession as you say calls for business casual, aka casual smart (namely, dresses, dress suits be they skirt suits or slacks, only instead of the suit jacket/blazer, you can of course don that trusty white coat as my spouse does – oh, have fun! ;)

    As to how all of this cashes out, at this stage in your career, I’d be inclined to splurge on one nice suit jacket/blazer, with matching trousers and a skirt so as to have two suits in one, aim for a good quality pair of shoes also, and build from there. Of course, this is just my 2-cents, being based on my own experience when first starting out, keeping in mind also the differences of the “brand” as b/w the legal and medical/pharma profession, and what in turn is the image we as professionals are trying to convey in turn. As to fitting this and more into your budget (which I do appreciate), not to worry: depending on where you reside, there are readers here who would be very happy I am sure to direct you to outlets/factory stores etc. where you can pick up great bargains on designer clothes, where you can also have the benefit of trying them on for “fit” to see how they wear before you buy (note: if in the Greater Toronto Area or environs, for e.g., you might try Vaughan Mills, serving southern Ontario and upstate NY etc. where for e.g. Holt Renfrew’s national clearance and outlet center is located, among other great outlets and factory stores). Hope this helps, and best of luck to you in your studies and career! ~ DW

    • Thanks so much!
      I have 2 dress pants (navy and white-striped black), 1 semi-jean-type dark grey dress pants (thicker cotton material, in other words), and a blazer that’s ligher grey with stripes and gorgeous hand-stitching details that is however a tiny bit short (i’m 5’9), hence why i’m saying blazer rather than suit jacket. I have like 3 dress shirts, 1 regular, and two more teen-ish (my new one is summer weight linen, and pink!)
      But I need better shoes, or maybe to sandpaper to sole or something. I just wore them last week, and the right on is perfect, but for some reason the left one feels un-broken in. I looked, and the right one was flat from use, but the left one, at the balls of the foot area, was still new-ish, still uncomfortably rounded (I use the balls of my feel to walk, versus just lifting my feet completely off the ground).

      Sorry, going on a rant there.
      Thanks again!
      (btw, i’m in NJ. But i have an aunt in Canada; she works with carcinogens, so has the special gear.)
      And my mom isn’t the best person to get an idea of professional dress from, considering she wears t-shirts to work! Guys wear ties, girls were anything they want at her workplace… ??? (I have no idea why either). (She’s a computer programmer/analyst/developer, whatever the title is nowadays, so that could be why.)

  64. I live in a rural community, and have been a public defender for almost 10 years. Prior to that, I worked in federal court in the city. As I told my new colleague from a DC suburb who was worried about clothes, “as long as you put your teeth in here, you’re fine”. A few years ago, I would go to Lord and Taylor and get really nice suits, etc. I’ve realized that as long as my clients are wearing pajamas and butts that say “Juicy”, I could probably get away with a snuggie. I shop ebay religiously. I don’t have label pressure so it’s fine. I do love me some cashmere and Fluevogs, though!

  65. I’m a student and unfortunately I am really limited in what I can wear due to my spine. I can only wear pants with an elastic waist. I have ten pairs of Juicy Couture track pants which run $100+, but I have been able to get some on sale. I would kill to be able to wear a pair of True Religion jeans, but wearing denim is extremely painful, even with narcotic painkillers. All my tops have to be really stretchy or I can’t get them on. I really like hoodies and open cardigans. I spend a lot on make up. I love mac. I have a large collection of fine jewelry thanks to my grandma and fiance. I used to buy cheap shoes, but I bought one designer pair and I can’t go back. They are just so much more comfortable. I love Stuart Weitzman. I abuse my purses so I rarely spend more than $25 on one. I have got good deals on eBay. I just bought my dog a designer dog bed, but she loves it so much it was totally worth it. I pick out nice clothes for my fiance, but he hates ties and hated spending money on them. $50 for a tie is so stupid. I found some ties at the dollar store and he gets compliments on them all the time!

  66. Anonymous :

    I have an overflowing walk-in closet with probably 50 pairs of high heels and maybe 15 boots/booties.

    I love a good sale as much as anyone and probably 1/4 of my items were sale purchases. I also love online shopping.

    My cheapest handbag is a $398 leather juicy couture bag. My most expensive is a $5k python fendi.

    I own, probably, 25 or 30 dresses ranging from $65 to $800 (most clustered around 100-250).

    Since I’ve moved to a cool climate I’ve spent, probably. . .$7k on warm clothes (including a long cashmere coat, a couple of loro piano items, but no fur).

    Shoes and boots probably average out in the $twohundreds.

    I’m in my early twenties.

  67. As a personal shopper for mostly, corporate women, I loooooved reading this post. Thanks to all those that contributed! I will say, I was suprised how “low” many of you women are buying- just for the reason of cost per wear. But it seems to be similar with what my clients want spend (I am not buying couture for any of my women.) I cannot imagine many of you have the time to go out, often and keep purchasing tops/jackets etc that lose shape. Don’t get me wrong, I buy and love Banana Republic for my clients, you can make it work. But I also encourage and hope many of you are investing in pieces you can wear often and are staples to your wardrobe!

    And, I must say- I have purses from my grandma (Chanel and LV) that I inherited, and they are very worn in but 15 years later, I have them and am very fortunate for her having such beautiful taste. I also have much of her wardrobe (she kept sizes 2-18) totally extreme situation here and probably unhealthy, but it goes to show that quality LASTS. Seriously that size 4 YSL skirt she had probably in her twenties, fits me 45+ years later and is still in style?! Talk about craftmanship.

    Out of curiosity, do you spend on other “frivolous” products aka are you all buying inexpensive makeup and hair products? Drugstore brand lipstick versus higher end?

  68. You know, when I first found this site, I was one of those that said, i’d rather have many to choose from than just 1 expensive suit, or pair of dress shoes, etc. since then, I’ve gotten older (no longer a teenager, w00t), and my views have changed.

    I have multiple pairs of shoes, for example, but I’ve found myself coming back to my Naturalizers over even sneakers for classes and whatnot, they are that comfy – and I like the look of the leather a lot. I’m more willing to spend closer to $100 for something I know I’ll use over and over, or at least keep around.

    Of course, in terms of dress shirts mine are still cheap – I’m one of those people who cycle through color schemes. I still have pinks, and blues; did not buy any in my green phase, now I’m more into purple. Probably will buy a shirt or two, I look good in purple :). So yeah, some things I’m willing to pay a lot for, but some things…eh. I’ll only wear it maybe 6 months every 3 years, it’s not worth it to pay for quality. Especially since my washing machine puts holes in things, and I keep tugging at threads instead of taking better care of my stuff. But I’m saving up for a good wool coat right now, looking at around $100, or higher for a good quality and brand one (Burberry, drool).

    Anyways, later, girls!

    • And by cheap for dress shirts i mean like $20 ($40 original price, I shoot for). I’m a student, I wear one exactly once a week, so I only really need one or two anyways.

  69. Is it just me or is anyone else blown away by these salaries? I work in California as an engineer and I am shocked at how little I make in comparison! I didn’t think I was uninformed about the law field because I have a cousin who is a lawyer and based on posts on this site in the past, I thought the hollywood stereo type of lawyers making big bucks was 1% of lawyers out there! Is 175k +/- per year typical for a lawyer or are these numbers being thrown out there skewed because most of you are in the top bracket of lawyers who work for Big Law and have been at the job for years? Props to you ladies earning top dollar but now I am reconsidering my career choice lol. A little insight on these insane numbers I’m reading would be helpful.
    Btw, I’m am 3 yrs out of college, in engineering making $65k per year. I spent about $3,000 on clothing and makeup this past year but mostly because I needed to build a professional wardrobe and I prefer quality over quantity.

    • 3 years out of college? 65k is a respectable amount, if it’s undergrad only. If you have a PhD…

      You gotta remember that on average, people have worked what, 10 years or more? Plus there’s all that overtime… At least you won’t have too much overtime!

      I’m getting a PharmD. 100k+ baby (minus insurance, etc.). That said, i think my clothing cost will mostly be on the white coats – 50 bucks a pop, and they get dirty so easily! (The ones I have now bleach yellow, yuck!). A suit jacket can last a couple of years. A white coat…eh, maybe 3 months.