How can you make professional, stylish work outfits using suit separates? What are the do’s and don’ts of combining parts of the suits in your closet? Reader A asks…
I’m a 2nd year law student in New York and will be starting work at a firm this this summer — I used your tips and articles throughout the interview process. I would love to hear your thoughts on this: Can I wear suit pieces as separates? For example, can I wear my gray suit pants with a white shirt and then a black blazer?
Great question, and one we haven’t talked about in a while. (For other work outfit ideas, check out this post on building a capsule wardrobe for work, or this old post on building your professional wardrobe.) You absolutely can wear your suit pieces as business casual separates — that’s part of why a suit with separates is such a great investment to make. Here are some suggestions for creating your work outfits:
- Pay careful attention to texture — particularly when you’re adding a blazer on top. This matters almost as much as color! If the texture of your pants or dress is too similar to the blazer texture, it’s going to look like you’re trying to make a suit instead of wearing separates. (Affordable suits can be found really easily — I think my record was $30 for a skirt suit set.) So I’d suggest keeping the textures very different. Pair seasonless wool or thick ponte with tweed, winter wool, velvet, corduroy, and more.
- Better yet, avoid the blazer issue completely and wear your suiting separates with cardigans or other toppers. You can always keep the matching jacket in your office and throw it on if you’re heading to a big meeting.
- Don’t wear the same piece two days in a row, unless circumstances force you to (such as traveling with a small capsule wardrobe for work). Clothing like suiting separates will always benefit from being hung up and allowed to fully dry/air out between wears. Plus, even if you’re wearing the same gray pants as part of two different outfits, someone might notice — there’s a limit to how often you can repeat work outfits and rewear the same pieces.
- Dry clean all of your pieces together to ensure they wear the same.
Readers, what are your thoughts on using suiting separates to expand your wardrobe?
You certainly can, but I don’t, because even if you clean them at the same rate, pieces that are worn more frequently will show more wear and tear and then they won’t look right when worn together as a suit. Also, I think suit blazers tend to look frumpy when worn as separates. Maybe this is because I don’t tailor my suits, but I think my suit jackets look boxy and don’t look right when worn over a dress or with non-suit pants. Blazers that are made to be worn as separates, especially from trendier stores aimed at young people (H&M is my favorite place for affordable blazers) look much better when worn as separates, in my opinion.
Yes, my dad told me to do this –wear my suit as a blazer, b/c my skirt’s were weareing out in the seat while the suit tops were not. I told him I did NOT want to look like I was mixeing and matching, particularly b/c my skirt’s were wearing out in the tuchus. He said that if I had ONLEY used my FITBIT more, then I would NOT have worn out my skirt’s in the seat from that much sitting. I said FOOEY b/c no matter how small your tuchus is, sitting will wear out the clothe.
Mom agreed, b/c she to knows that her skirt seat’s wear out, primarily b/c she drives around alot, and dad alway’s says that her tuchus is wearing out the driver’s seat on her Mercedes 320. Mom says she would like to get a BIG SUV that has a big seat that would not wear out but dad does NOT want to have to spring for a new Mercedes for mom, just b/c of her tuchus. FOOEY!
I agree with the comment about blazers. Suiting blazers don’t look right as separates and I can’t quite put my finger on why. I would buy a few blazers that actually are separates and mix those in to your wardrobe.
lo & sons pearl
I’m thinking of buying one. Would anyone recommend for or against?
Absolutely recommended! I got the Pearl last spring and love it. It was the perfect size to take all over the place during a couple weeks in Europe this summer. I also like being able to fit my iPad mini and keyboard cover in one of the zipper sleeves. This makes it really easy to go right from a conference or other work event to a reception/dinner without dragging along a large laptop case.
also thinking about it
I’m also considering the Pearl, but something about it seems just the tiniest bit too plain to me. Anyone want to lobby for something similar? Rebecca Minkoff maybe?
I put my purse charm on mine. Seriously.
I love my Pearl too – especially that my main planner/notebook fits comfortably in the center section, so as long as I don’t need a laptop I can take this to work events with all my stuff in it.
I really love mine — it’s great to be able to easily transform it from a cross body, to shoulder bag, to clutch and have it look “right” in all three iterations.
I say go for it! My wardrobe is meant to cross between two suiting fabrics. I have 4 pieces in Boden’s navy wool (a-line skirt, trousers, pencil skirt, and blazer) and two pieces, hopefully more coming out this year, in Boden’s donegal grey (pencil skirt and blazer). The donegal grey is best found by searching for the fabric composition, as not everything in that fabric is identified as donegal grey. The donegal grey is tweedy, so it goes with nothing/everything and navy blazers go with everything. I can also wear both blazers with jeans or my khaki trousers and skirt for more casual days. I also have a couple cardigans in rotation for toppers. I would definitely recommend getting multiple bottoms for a single topper because you will always wear through the bottoms faster.
My one warning might be this- if you are wearing the jacket closed and not wearing anything work appropriate underneath, then you may want to reconsider because you will wear through your toppers faster. But if you are treating your suiting like the guys do- wearing shirts and substantial undergarments (Thongs and commando means you’ll clean pants more often!) underneath, taking off the jacket when it doesn’t absolutely have to be worn, get dressed after makeup to keep the suit clean and buy better pieces (lined wool instead of cheap synthetic blends without linings) they’ll last longer and you’ll get better usage overall out of them.
I buy feminine shapes, but I absolutely look to my time spent working in menswear for fashion tips with my suiting. Keep in mind bright colors and patterns are more easily remembered. Save those for blouses and accessories instead.