+ Career Style

Career Style: Spring Suiting

J.Crew Factory Blaine Jacket ($148)Over the next few months, the stores will be flooded with new suits in lighter colors and fabrics.  There will be white suits, and tan suits, and grey suits, and navy suits.  But what color and fabric should you buy?  And what separates a good suit from a cheap suit?

Get in Line.  If you buy a light-colored suit in a lighter fabric, it needs to be lined.  Every summer, I see lots of women in unlined white suits and they look absolutely vulgar.  A heavy, black wool suit can exist without a liner but a white, light grey or light tan suit absolutely cannot.  

Wool vs. Cotton.  Whenever I buy a suit, the first thing I look for is a fabric that feels nice to the touch.  There is nothing that I hate more than a suit that feels plasticky or scratchy.  I like a nice, soft fabric that has some weight to it.

Most of my suits are a year-round wool that is warm enough for winter and cool enough for summer.  I’ve owned a few cotton suits in the past, but they don’t hold up quite as well and aren’t nearly as versatile.  

Also, I never buy crepe suits.  Crepe rarely feels nice.  Crepe doesn’t breathe well, so it’s stuffy in the humidity.  And crepe can look shiny, and shine is the enemy of good suiting.

Color-Coded.  If you were going to buy just one suit for the summer, I would tell you to make it a navy suit.  Navy is summer’s black.  If you have a navy suit, your second choice should be grey and third should be white.  Even though some folks see warm weather as a reason to buy a white suit, I would not buy one until I had navy and grey already.  

You’ll notice that I didn’t mention khaki.  The reason is that I don’t like tan suiting.  To me, it doesn’t look as rich as grey or navy and it doesn’t look as summery as white.  If you like brown, feel free to buy one, but it’s not for me.

Style and Shape.  In my opinion, skirts are better for summer suiting than pants.  And shorts are absolutely forbidden.  

Skirt suits are lighter, breezier and more versatile during the summer months than pants.  Can you imagine wearing pants on a 100-degree day?  I think not.  Plus, skirts allow you to show off your cute summer shoes.

Also, during the summer months, retailers start selling jackets in boxier or shorter cuts.  Unless you already have a wardrobe of tailored-suiting, these should be avoided.  Boxy and short jackets are not flattering on the majority of women, and they’re not nearly as versatile as their tailored counterparts.

Lastly, I recommend buy suits that are separates, not suits where the jacket cannot be removed.  Why?  Because when it gets hot, being able to remove the blazer is critical.

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  1. LTH says:

    What about the cropped/ankle suiting pant options? Appropriate just for summer? Only in more 'modern' working environments? I'm talking specifically about all the cropped suiting pants from Jcrew. I personally love the way they look, but wonder how they'd be perceived in a work setting. Although I would happily wear them on a day-to-day basis, I think I'll always opt for a skirt suit when meeting with a new client, court, etc. Thoughts?

    Oh – 25yr old attorney located in conservative TN.

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  2. Anna says:

    A suit where the jacket can't be removed? That exists?! How strange. I want to see this.

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  3. VA says:

    I too would love some suggestions for styling ankle “cigarette” trousers for a work environment – I just bought a pair of J. Crew Minnie pants for spring!

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  4. CA says:

    Belle, what about dress suits for DC in the summer? Would love to see a post on finding sheath dresses and matching jackets – they are often hard to find but good for DC spring/summer weather.

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  5. Belle says:


    You will never see a dress suit on this blog. Apologies, but I find them to be matronly and antiquated. They look nice on some women, but I've never cared for them.

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  6. Brian Boitano says:

    I once had a costume where the jacket was attached, so that it didn't fly open when I did my triple Salchow. But off the ice, attached jackets are just weird.

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  7. Southern Mom says:

    Anna – I was thinking the exact same thing! Now I can't stop imagining Belle prancing down the halls of Congress in a jumpsuit. I hope she meant something else.

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  8. Anna says:

    Belle – Haven't you said before that you like the look of a blazer over a dress? Maybe you could give us a post on that in lieu of matchy-matchy dress suits?

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  9. Melissa says:

    I am coming out of the closet to admit that I never wear navy because I don't know what color shoes to wear. Help.

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  10. Belle says:


    You see a lot of suits where the jacket is cut so that a blouse underneath is not necessary. https://www.overstock.com/Clothing-Shoes/Tahari-ASL-Womens-Blue-Crepe-3-button-Skirt-Suit/5197612/product.html

    Melissa-Nude shoes, brown shoes, grey shoes or black shoes are all okay. Though I would only wear black shoes in winter.

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  11. Belle says:

    Whattokeep: It would probably be less expensive to just buy new pants. Lining a pair of pants cost between $40 and $80.

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  12. Anna says:

    ohhhh! I get it. Like Miss America interview suits from the 90s!

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  13. Marie-Christine says:

    Ahem… I believe you mean POLYESTER crepe is vile. Crepe is a weave, basically overtwisted fiber that has some spring to it, Wool crepe not only exists, but it's lovely. If you had this experience, it must have been polyester. I totally agree that in DC's humidity, a lightweight wool is much more comfortable than any sort of polyester.

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  14. Belle says:

    Yes, I was referring primarily to polyester crepe. There is some cheaper blended-fabric out there masquerading as wool crepe, but the feel makes it pretty easy to spot. A wool crepe suit, like from J.crew, would be fine.

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  15. Sarah says:

    Re: what to wear with a navy suit — depends on your office, but I love red patent-leather shoes with mine (they're somewhat cut-out so it's not tons of red — I've never been able to describe them so they sound good, but I think they're fantastic), or yellow, etc. – bright colors that work with whatever else you're wearing. Dark purple or wine would work too, though probably not as well for summer.

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  16. whattokeep says:

    Slightly off topic, but I bought a pair of white pants a year ago, and they're great, except they aren't lined! Which means I have never worn them. Any suggestions? Is it possible to find a tailor that can line pants?

    March 7, 2011/Reply
  17. Jessica says:

    Belle could you comment on the cropped pant issue for suiting in the summer? it is SO cute.

    March 8, 2011/Reply
  18. Kim says:

    I hope Belle doesn't get upset that I'm suggesting something she hates, but the dress/jacket combo currently at Boden is a lovely dress suit option for those of you who like dress suits. I bought the skirt and jacket and then bought the dress separately but find myself wearing the jacket with the dress occasionally.

    March 8, 2011/Reply