Stephanie nabbed me after church with a big problem. She had scored an important interview, but had nothing to wear! “Big Biz” would be flying her out to Washington D.C. for a two-day interview. The instructions said “business professional” for the first day and “business casual” for the second. “I have looked everywhere, literally everywhere! And I can’t find a suit, and what the heck is business casual for an interview anyway?!” she said, ready to just give up and wear yoga pants and a sweatshirt (I feel ya, Steph, I feel ya.) We picked a night to go shopping for Stephanie’s first suit, and the experience prompted this “what you should know about shopping for your first suit” blog post.
1. Cost v. Quality If you’ve never bought a suit before, the first time you browse through the suiting at Nordstrom’s you might be floored by the cost, especially the nice stuff. What?! This skirt costs over $300? And the matching jacket is over $500??? How are you supposed to afford the clothes before you even have the job? Good suits, that won’t break your budget and will last a while, are out there, but you may have to do some digging. Think about what you’ll be doing with the suit, then set your budget and shop accordingly. Stephanie might get this Big Biz job and need to wear a suit everyday! But…if she doesn’t, she may never need to wear this suit again! So…in the balance of things, we went hunting for something at less-pricey stores that would still fit well and look great for the interview. (Like this fabulous dress that I found on a clearance rack).
2. What styles to look for Baseline rule–a suit will be sold as a set. Don’t buy a jacket from one store and a skirt from another, even if they’re both ‘navy.’ There are SO many shades of ‘navy’ and SO many materials, that the odds of finding a perfect match that will look professional are basically nil. Just don’t do it. Look for a jacket and skirt/pants that are sold as a set. Nowadays both a pantsuit and a skirt suit are acceptable. Go for whichever makes you feel the most confident. But, if you do take the skirt option, make sure it hits at or below the knee. (Thighs are for nightclubs, not offices). Oh, and for a first suit (and potentially your only suit) stay away from the trendy stuff. Ruffes, giant bows, petal sleeves, bell bottoms–and gads of other trends will come and go. You’ll get more use and wear out of a classic or traditional suit. Classic and well-tailored is the dress code for a Big Biz interview. You want to give the impression that you are “put together” but not draw so much attention to your clothes that all the interviewer will remember you by is “that girl who wore the ruffley skirt with butterflies…” By well-tailored, I mean that the curves sewn into the design of the suit should compliment your curves (compliment, not exaggerate) and all the hems and lining look tidy and well-placed. When you look in the mirror, does the jacket make you look boxy, like you’re about to pop-out, or that you’re drowning? Then it’s not the style for you. For interviews, black and navy are the way to go. Stephanie and I passed over some darling pink, cream, and white suits because she’s going for the “business” look, and that means black or navy. (See a black suit and a navy suit here). Pinstripe of either is great, too.
3. Where to look. This is the most common question I get, and I ask it of my ladyboss friends all the time. Unfortunately, there is no Brooks Brothers, Allen Edmunds, Jo.S. Bank, or even Mr. Mac store designed for providing working women with professional attire. (Not yet, anyway. I may have a few plans to change that….) Those stores, and department stores, and even the Banana Republics of the world may have a women’s section that might have some suiting and maybe just maybe there will be a suit of the appropriate style and color and size you need for you. MAYBE. Inventory gets swapped out often enough, you sort of have to be on the lookout all the time. If you’re in a crunch, like Stephanie and I were, then here’s some ideas of where to look–Nordstrom’s and Brooks Brothers have beautiful stuff, and you might find something on sale. Dillard’s, Ann Taylor, White House Black Market are my go-to’s. The Limited, Banana Republic, Express, or even some random store in the mall, if you’re a size 0 and on a tight budget. If you’ve got any other ideas, PLEASE share them!