Today’s reader mail deals with the inevitable problem: buying the same clothes as your coworkers.
I have just started my career and I am building up my wardrobe essentials one button down at a time so i am kinda slow because i had to start from scratch (my college wardrobe wasn’t ahem ‘ladylike’). I have this amazing pinstripe navy skirt suit. it’s basically my pride! my big-day suit (and for now the only real suit I got….). Today a coworker showed up wearing the same!!! (of course i look better in mine) but i don’t know what to do.. do I have to keep wearing mine and run the risk of bumping into that colleague dressed alike, or do I wear it as separates, or do buy another ‘big day’ suit? For the info: the coworker is two ranks higher than me in hierarchy so it’s flattering we got same suits, I rarely run into her. My problem is how will it be perceived, and what is an appropriate way to make a joke about it… or ignore it.. i am just confused.
We used to work around the corner from an Ann Taylor, and whenever they had a big sale half the girls at the office would show up in the same pieces. It’s an inevitable fact of office life, particularly when there are a finite number of stores catering to professional women. For our $.02: Don’t sweat about it. The only possible exception might be if it’s just you and that colleague, staffed on an assignment that would involve having a “big day” at the same time — e.g., her deposing someone while you assist — in which case you might want to coordinate your fashion in advance, possibly by saying something jokingly like, “Yay, can’t wait to pull out my navy J.Crew suit!”) Otherwise, if you just happen to work in the same office, you might want to try experimenting with different color combos to wear under the jacket or shoes — we’ve sung the praises of purple shoes a number of times; brooches and scarves can also add another dimension to normal suits. If you really feel weird about it, you might want to notice how your colleague dresses — plain vanilla (white blouse, navy or black shoes?) or with pizazz (purple shoes, yellow top) — and go the other way. If you happen to show up at a meeting with 5 or less people, wearing the same suit as your colleague, just nod at her with a smile, say “Great suit,” and move on.
As you build your working wardrobe, yes, it’s fine to wear the suit as separates. We will say, though, that we hope you’re not wearing the same suit every week at the office. (We mean this in the best “big sister” way possible, honestly.) If you’re in a position where a suit looks appropriate that often, you should really have at least two or three suits. (Yes, it stinks that guys can get away with just having one or two suits — it just isn’t the same for women.) If you have a bit of money to spend (say, $500-$1000), look at a place like J.Crew or Banana Republic where you can get multiple pieces (one or two jackets, skirt, pair of pants or two) for the money, and mix and match within those pieces. If you don’t, head to your local Filene’s or TJ Maxx, or even Macy’s — there are plenty of suits available for $99 – $150. (For example, pictured above: Classiques Entier Edith Weave Belted Jacket, available for 60% off at Nordstrom Rack.) (Our older advice on this topic can be found here.)
Readers, what do you think?
When I worked off Wall Street, three of us got the same red J Crew wool sweater as it was on sale for $8 around the corner from our office in what used to to be a great little store with brand name extras. We were all friends and thought it was funny, though I felt a bit dumb the day we all accidentally wore it for a public hearing we were all at, mostly just because I wondered if the male lawyers would think we were silly or such. One of the ladies had put a cute black and white checkered collared shirt underneath, which helped set it apart a bit. Anyway don’t worry about it, you will not usually be wearing it on the same days, and to the extent you can personalize it with some flair that will help.
Try JCPenney for Jones New York suits – with sales on top of the clearance prices, I saw quite a few nice suits for ~$40 on the clearance rack.
I wouldn’t worry for a second about the colleague with the same suit. It happens all the time in my office. Most women probably get at least half their wardrobe from J.Crew, Ann Taylor and Banana, and there tends to be a lot of overlap.
And I mean this in the nicest way possible, but punctuation, capitalization and grammar will probably go a lot longer towards making a good impression in the work place than any fashion statement you do or don’t make.
I’m glad I wasn’t the only one bothered by the punction and grammar of this e-mail.
Thanks so much for the comment, actually I was the one who wrote the email. Please excuse my English as it is not my mother tongue, it’s actually the third language which I speak so it’s a bit hard to keep up with native speakers :)
By the way I come from Morocco it’s a beautiful kingdom in the North of Africa, I hope you’d get to visit it some day.
I don’t think the grammar/spelling is a problem – you’re writing an email to a fashion website, not a Supreme Court brief.
Ah! That explains it – I was confused by the wording of the email and thought it was a joke. Do you feel better about the suit after reading the responses?
I start loving my suit again and actually I realized I always wear it with a button down shirt whereas my colleague wears it with sleeveless blouses.
I also have decided to look for a Brooch, because here brooches are not common.
Thank you all for the comments
Agreed. It happens. Nothing to worry about here. Occassionally, several colleagues and I all end up in similar black dresses with similar cardigans on top. We joke about looking like flight attendants and go about with the day.
I would worry a lot more if a colleague and I had the same “statement suit” (or even just a statement piece) than if we had the same basic “big day” suit. Honestly, if it’s your standard black/navy/pinstripe suit, odds are that no one but you will ever notice. My office has a Macy’s down the block and many of the young female associates end up with the same suits from the suit sale rack. I assume that someone else in my office will have every single thing that I buy from Bananna/J.Crew/Ann Taylor.
If my co-worker in the next office over and I both bought yesterday’s TPS report yellow blazer… well, then I might be tempted to start checking with her before I wore it.
I’ll also second s-k-s’s friendly reminder re: grammar. Feel free to call me old school or out of touch.
I am curious about Corporette’s comment that you shouldn’t be wearing the same suit every week. I don’t normally have to wear suits, but I often wear them anyway. I feel that the less fashionable ones – basic navy or black solids or pinstripes – don’t leave much of an impression, so I don’t worry about rotating them in once a week. The more fashionable my outfit, the more I feel I need to space out the wearings. It’s not that I can’t afford to buy more suits, but it’s a pain to get them altered and I change sizes frequently so I just have a few in each size and some feel more comfortable than others.
I don’t notice what navy/black/gray suit a partner is wearing enough to know if they’re repating; do people think that others notice when I repeat mine?
I sometimes do this with my suits as well. Sometimes it is just easier to wear a suit five days a week, and with plain suits I think it is no big deal. I try not to wear the same shirts with them every week though. Would hate to have people know what day of the week it is by what I am wearing!
Also, as many have said, mixing the pieces helps expand your options without increasing the effort or cost of your wardrobe.
Yep, agreed that if it’s a pretty conservative, classic suit, what you wear with it will define it enough that no one is likely to notice unless you call it out.
True story: One day after a hearing in federal court I happened to be in the elevator with an elegantly dressed, established attorney who had had a hearing right before I did. I plucked up my courage and complimented her lovely navy suit and dared to ask her where she bought it. Her answer: It was a Jones New York suit she picked up at TJ Maxx! No shame in that!
I’m with Karen. If a suit has any detailing (even if it wouldn’t necessarily be categorized as trendy) I try to wait at least a week between wearings. But if a suit is completely classic and doesn’t have any detailing, I think it is fine to wear it every week, although I will try to rotate my tops so that, for example, if I wear the red cowlneck with a black suit during week 1, I won’t wear that combination again until week 5, although I might have worn the cowlneck with a different outfit in the interim.
Also, although I have a number of suits, I only have two that I would wear to court or on a similar “big day,” and I definitely prefer one of them. So I have been known to wear the same suit twice in one week, as long as it’s not for the same client/case. I am pretty sure that no one at my office notices, and to the extent they notice, they do not judge. Of course, I have the advantage of living in Seattle, a notoriously unfashionable city. :)
I’m about to start working in a firm that requires us to wear a suit every day. I have 5 suits; is that too few?
I wouldn’t be so concerned about having the same suit as someone else, as long as you try not to wear it on the same big day. Like everyone else has said, you can do a lot to personalize a suit and no one will probably notice as long as your styles are dissimilar enough.
Ditto the other posters who commented on grammar and capitalization. Maybe the email was supposed to be cute, but nothing bothers me more than women who play dumb to look cute.
Just my two cents, but I would think you would need more than 5 suits if you have to wear one every single day – otherwise you will have to rotate the same things every week, and you might be in trouble if you forget to stop at the dry cleaners. You might be able to get away with 5 if you own multiple matching pieces for each suit (dress, slacks, skirt, jacket), but I would still think you might get bored with so few options.
I don’t think so, especially if you can mix and match a few of the pieces to create new looks. If you wear gray suit with a pink shell one week and a light blue button down the next, I think more people will notice the shirt than the suit. I know with men I’m more apt to notice the shirt/tie combo than the actual suit and I think it’s the same with women unless it’s a fashion forward suit in an unusual style or color.
I think 5 is plenty to start but you want to work up to at least 10. Since you’ll need to get them cleaned and will forget them at the cleaner’s for a week, will probably spill occasionally, keep one at the office, rip one, etc, 5 is not really enough to wear a different suit every day of the week. I wouldn’t go out and buy more, though, until you’ve gotten a feel for the way most women dress at your firm and a sense of what kind of suits you want.
I wear suits to work every day, too. I currently own about 10ish. I recommend trying to purchase the three-piece combos when you can (jacket, pants and skirt) so you get two suits out of one jacket. Also, I have found that using a clothes steamer helps with keeping the trips to the drycleaner to a minimum.
Would you mind sharing the brand of steamer you bought and a rough price range? I have been thinking of getting one but I don’t want to spend a lot, especially on a dud. Thanks.
I got a cheap $20 model at Target. I don’t know what the brand is, but it should be the same model they have there now. I’ve used it on many of my suits and other types of clothing and it works fine.
I bought this one (but last year’s model): http://www.target.com/Conair-Deluxe-Garment-Steamer-Hanger/dp/B000696OGY/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&searchView=grid5&frombrowse=0&node=1038576&keywords=clothes%20steamer&field_browse=1038576&searchSize=30&id=Conair%20Deluxe%20Garment%20Steamer%20Hanger&field_availability=-2&refinementHistory=subjectbin%2Ctarget_com_age%2Ctarget_com_gender-bin%2Ctarget_com_character-bin%2Cprice%2Ctarget_com_primary_color-bin%2Ctarget_com_size-bin%2Ctarget_com_brand-bin&searchNodeID=1038576&field_launch-date=-1y&searchRank=relevancerank&searchPage=1&field_keywords=clothes%20steamer
edit: Don’t know why the link is so long. It’s a Conair Deluxe Garment Steamer with Hanger for $79.99. I think it works great. This one pictured is slightly different in that mine has an attachment for creasing; it holds hangers; and it has clips on the bottom to hold your skirts/pants taut while steaming.
I think everyone really ought to dial down the criticism of the grammar/spelling in the reader’s letter. This is a fashion blog, not a legal brief, the reader wrote in to explain that she’s from a non-English speaking country and is still developing her language skills, and (unless I missed it) we don’t know what sort of job the reader has and the extent to which English language and writing skills are relevant. Continuing to comment on this subject is rude.
My original comment was posted before the email-writer explained that English is not her first language. I agree that we can cut non-English speakers some slack.
The following isn’t directed toward the email-writer, because you’re right in that we don’t know whether or how English writing is important in her personal life.
But, I will stand by my original point that use of capital letters and some sort of punctutation is important, even on a fashion blog. Why would you write something if you don’t want people to easily understand what you’re saying? I’m not talking about the distinction between laying and lying or something small like that; I’m just talking about basic readability. Blackberry grammar can be very difficult to understand and highly irritating.
Most of us who visit this blog are professionals (or soon-to-be professionals), so why are people getting upset that some of us have suggested that we should act like educated people, even when we’re not at work?
The most beautiful woman I know–she was featured on several of The Firm workout videos, buys her suits at TJ Maxx and has them tailored to fit like a glove. She looks incredible.
I see nothing wrong with wearing the same clothes in the same week, much less every week. Every day is a bit too French for me, but under the heading of “buying less but better,” why ever not? Obviously, you wouldn’t wear something really memorable, but then again, this is Corporette, so we aren’t likely to be wearing outre stuff!
ooh I love The Firm. Totally off-topic, but their workouts are amazing!
Just my two cents-
I would be more concerned with how people perceive you for a comment like “(of course i look better in mine),” rather than for possibly showing up in the same nondescript navy suit as a remote coworker or superior. Those types of comments have their place – the middle school cafeteria. They don’t belong in a professional workplace where women should be supportive of each other, or at the very least make a concerted effort to check snarky pettiness at the door.
Agreed. I was surprised this wasn’t immediately jumped on – it’s more unprofessional than anything she could possibly wear except maybe a clown suit.
It was a comment in an anonymous letter to a blog probably meant to be a humorous aside; it doesn’t reflect on how the author deals with people in real life, I would bet.
I agree, it was clearly a humorous aside, not a catty comment.
I wrote the email, and I am surprised why people are shocked, maybe the fact that I am from North Africa means I do not share the same sense of humor as North Americans.
If it is culturally inappropriate, I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended.
Don’t apologize. Some folks just think it’s their job to police everyone else’s comments and actions.
Do pay attention though Houda, knee-jerk female competitive comments which seem perfectly fine in Southern Europe will grate on everyone’s ears in the US. If you’re a legal professional, being mildly competitive about your legal skills can be understood, but being visibly preoccupied with your looks isn’t cool. Men will perceive you as an insecure ditz, and women as a ditz and a jerk.
I must be a lot stinkier than everyone else, because if wore the same suit two days in one week, I’d probably have to burn it.
if “I” wore (speaking of poor grammar)
My problem with a lot of the discount stores or even Macy’s is that they tend to sell suits as a set. I need to have the separates in order to get a good fit, and alterations for jackets are simply too expensive to make buying a cheaper suit and altering it worthwhile.
I don’t really see a problem wearing suits once a week, especially if they’re conservative. If it’s a bright red fashion statement suit, then yes, perhaps spacing it out more makes sense. If it’s a traditional gray suit, I don’t think anyone’s going to notice if you wore it last Monday.
The “you have the same suit / sweater / shoes as me” is a big topic in my office. We actually have an unofficial rule to ask other female coworkers what they’re wearing the day for a big meeting or pitch so there are no duplicates. Nearly daily two of us wear something similar. Normally not a big deal, but we’ve had some major problems when something distinctive, say a cranberry top or a light grey suit, is worn by two people during a client meeting. Similar to another commenter, male colleagues (and once, gasp, clients) have made some not so nice matchy-matchy comments. I guess it’s the plight of aiming to be fashionable in the workplace!
I travel with my business partner to do workshops where we are highly visible to crowds of between 20 and 50 people. While we wear business casual clothing, not suits, we have found the hard way that it’s a good idea for us to at least ensure we are not wearing the same colors. We did have one unfortunate time when both of us showed up in pink and green. One of us would have been just fine; two was too much!
BTW, Corporette, I’d emailed you a question about what to wear when leading workshops in front of clients who themselves are either casual-casual or business-casual, and we need to have more panache and style and presence, but need to be able to move about freely to hang up posters, facilitate workshop exercises, etc. I would love to hear thoughts / suggestions from anyone else who does this. My clients are often in khakis or jeans and for us to wear business suits would be way too much. We do have license for some trendiness (like the yellow jacket of a few days ago).
I am in the exact same situation and would love some advice in this area. In addition to the activities listed above, I also have to open boxes on occasion. Lately I have been feeling like all I wear is black pants with a solid top, and it is getting boring.
When I started out (as a law clerk), I had 5 work outfits. However, I have tended to dress more formally than most and always wear a jacket. I think that always looking professional is more important than variety. Frankly, despite my interest in clothes, I do not remember what my co-workers wear from one day to the next.
I think this is hard to control. Accessorizing your outfit would be your only solution. I also try to pick out items when I travel: scarves, necklaces, etc–so that when I get home, I would have less chances of people having the same things I own!
Maybe I am too young but I really didn’t see a problem with the OP’s grammar. It is an internet posting. There is nothing cutesy about it. The …. symbolizes train of thought.
I too wear the same outfit once a week. Honestly, do you remember what the person in the office next to you wore today? I don’t.
OP – wear the suit and rock it. I’m sure you were just being funny by saying “obviously I look better.” It is called sense of humor ladies.
but, when you email C, your goal is having the message published — I would appreciate a little less stream of consciousness and a little more editing. I agree that the “look better” is probably meant to be funny — let this be a lesson in how tone doesn’t translate over email!
if you need to wear a suit 5 days a week, I’d have 6 jackets (ideally with more than one matching bottom each). Saves you from any dry cleaning desperation and from boredom. For once-in-awhile wearers, I’d have 2 on hand — that’s when I think it would get obvious (oh, she pulled THAT one out again!). Female partner near my office has 6 suits (which I’ve noticed, although she does mix in a dress or slacks/sweater occasionally), but when they’re all Brooks Bros you can’t really judge her for not having a month’s worth…
Except C published the letter, so clearly that wasn’t an issue.
my point wasn’t that editing is a prerequisite to C publishing it (C has to take her questions as she finds them), but that the message is ultimately intended for an audience of professional women. I hope that in “real life,” the reader tailors her tone/grammar more appropriately.
I am in my mid-twenties and agree with the posters below – not an age issue.
I do not think it was the ellipses that got the attention of readers. More likely the “i” instead of “I” and several instances of missing punctuation.
The letter being an email or internet communication is no excuse for “Blackberry Grammar”. I do not think it has anything to do with age. I am in my twenties and found it a little hard to take seriously.
I am not old, and yet I thought the tone of the entire email was childish. The poor grammar emphasized that. It’s not the lack of capitalizations or ellipses so much as the rambling, almost nonsensical sentences. It makes me want to shake some sense into her.
Yikes. I’m far more offended by how judgmental people are in this environment than by her grammar.
In reality, people make judgments about others daily based on what they see. That is how humans learn to interact with each other, learn what is appropriate behavior and learn what to expect from others. Actually, all primates do that, not just humans.
On the internet, its written word that does the communicating. People use the words – since that is all we have – to determine where to “slot” someone in our minds, and then how to respond. This is clearly a group in which proper communication is important – easily understood after simply reading a few posts. My point is, after knowing the audience, it may be better to do a quick reread of your email – particularly if you are looking for serious advice. No matter what your age may be.
The way the email was written, I sort of thought it was an internet troll trying to be funny. Sorry if that is being judgmental, but with the information at hand, that was the conclusion I formed. Again, showing why it might be important to do that quick re-read or spell check – particularly if you are being earnest. :-)
If you’re working with a tight budget and want to build your professional wardrobe, try Ross. Believe it or not, they usually have lots of suits in the $50-70 range. Not all of them are equally nice, but they tend to have a bunch of Calvin Klein and Anne Klein ones that are well-made and professional-looking. They also carry petite suits (unlike TJMaxx or Marshalls – or at least unlike the ones in my town).
I second all of the comments about creatively accessorizing. I wouldn’t worry too much about wearing the same suit, especially since this sounds like a pretty conservative, basic suit.
I’m on a 3-day business trip right now. I packed one skirt suit, a blazer, a pair of pants, and one pair of shoes. I plan to wear variations of these clothes for three days, including at a client meeting, a deposition, and speaking at a conference. I think it’s unfair that women need to show such variety in their clothes, while men do not, yet I am a scrawny little person who cannot carry much luggage. So, I will absolutely wear the same things over and over again sometimes. I don’t think anybody notices — or maybe they just don’t want to say anything. What do you all do for travel?
I’m on a business trip right now (conference) and frankly the biggest thing that I’ve found useful is a pashmina. My business partner and I each brought different colors and trade them. Conference rooms get chilly!
I think travel is a little different because you are typically exposed to different people each day. Even if you aren’t, I doubt anyone would judge you for wearing a limited number of pieces combined in different ways – no one wants to haul his or her entire wardrobe on an airplane!
As for noticing what coworkers wear, I typically only notice distinctive pieces, although I do get a general sense of the TYPE of clothes that a certain person gravitates toward (i.e. the girl who always wears flats and clothes that give off a slightly hippie vibe, the guy who only wears french cuff shirts, etc).
To the OP, I would get at least one more suit, but don’t worry about looking the same as your coworker unless you both also wear the same kinds of tops and shoes with it. (And as a side note, I hope that at your job you use correct grammar and capitalization in your work emails!)
I wear the same jacket at least once per week, but right now I only have 2 jackets (black and gray) since I am pregnant. LOL. Otherwise I try to vary them more. I try not to wear the same outfit more than once every 2 weeks – in my non-pregnant state that would stretch more to once every 3 or 4 weeks.
I have similar worries about rotation. Overall I’m happy that I went with the “buy less but better” approach I’ve taken, in contrast with the “cheapish and more” of a lot of my intake, but the reality is that for 4 days of the week (Friday’s business casual) I have only three suits, and not easily mixed ones at that. At least the black blazer goes over a couple of dresses I have.
But our building is warm, and blazers tend to get thrown on chairs immediately on arrival. So I’m very, very careful about mixing up all my tops and think I’ve been getting away with it so far.
First thought in my mind upon reading the title: “But certainly she doesn’t have the same shirts?”
I could see where it would be a problem if you two have the same hair color, haircut, preference for white shirts and same shoes but… Otherwise, it probably won’t look really that weird. I mean everybody is either in black or navy or dark brown and either with or without pinstripe. No biggie.
I ended up buying the same red leather briefcase purse as another associate and one of the paralegals at my firm. We just laugh about it and compliment each others’ taste. It’s a pretty distinctive piece, and all three of us get lots of compliments on them. I’ve happened to show up at the same CLE with the other associate carrying the same bag, but we really don’t worry about it. It’s a great piece–why should either of us give it up?
Back in the early 90s, I had a skirt suit in black/white hound’s tooth. A male coworker had slacks in the same fabric – what can you do but laugh? At the same office, many of us showed up in the same color scheme (black & red) all the time. We joked that it was a team building exercise.
I also would not be concerned about your suit. It is likely that your “big day” suit is not her “big day” suit and, therefore, you would not be wearing it on the same day to the same event.
That being said, I went to my first trial wearing my custom navy pin striped suit purchased by my bosses as a bonus. My boss, male, was wearing his custom navy pin striped suit made from the same fabric AND my law clerk was wearing a navy pin striped suit, though not from the same tailor. We joked about it, but it was a little embarrassing.
Tom James in case you were wondering.
Am I reading this correctly – your boss(es) gave you a navy pin striped suit that matched the navy pinstriped suit that one of your bosses already owned? Or subsequently had made? This is funny. I get how this would be embarrassing for you or for the law clerk, but your boss kinda brought this one on himself…
I work in a small office of about two dozen people, and less than 10 women.
So what are the chances that two of us show up — not in the same suit — but in the same ironically loudly colored, plaid, boucle, DKNY jacket? Seriously. A navy suit you can maybe get away with — not this.
Doesn’t help that we are among the few petite Asian women in the office. We look like flipping twins in our outfit!
Now we SMS each other before work if we’re planning on wearing it.
I work for a nonprofit and am a major bargain hunter. At the end of this summer, I was checking out Macy’s.com and they were having a huge suit sale. I got two Tahari suits – priced at $280 EACH, for $99 TOTAL. It’s by far the best deal I’ve ever scored. They are unique suits too – one is black with white pinstripes and has 3/4 sleeves. The other is gray and has a skirt with a ruffle on the bottom, and a skinny black rope for a belt around the jacket. I love them and they both fit so well.
jesus christ, it’s not her cover letter. i didn’t even notice the informal grammar/punctuation/etc when i first scanned this post, and the “(of course i look better in it)” just struck me as a bit of irreverence. the chastising comments, though, seem silly and sad.
— a professional who thinks many of you should stfu, lol