Ask Belle: Suiting for Under-$250

Dec 4, 2013

Hi Belle,

My husband and I recently relocated to Chicago for his job and I need to start looking for work.  I work as a corporate accountant, and would like to find two or three suits to wear on job interviews.  Maybe a black one and a navy one, what do you think?  And where do you buy your suits?  I need to pay around $250 for each of the three.

Hope you can help me!  Angie

Regardless of the industry you work in, I think every woman should have at least one suit hanging in her closet.  Who knows?  You might wind up accused of a crime you didn’t commit and need a suit for court.  (Okay, probably not.  But it’s good to be prepared.) Here are a few suggestions in your price range:

Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 12.30.20 AM

Contrasting Tweed Colorblock Suit (Jacket: $109 and Skirt: $70) // Single Button Suit (Jacket: $99, Pants: $59) // Modern Tweed Blazer (Jacket: $119, Skirt: $59)

Calvin Klein.  All three of the suits above come from Calvin Klein.  Right now, CK is one of the few labels making affordable suiting that is good quality and not completely boring.  You can find these on their website, along with several others, or you can find different styles at major department stores.

I would wear the basic black suit to a first interview to gauge the corporate clothing culture.  Is it staid?  Is it funky?  Is it casual?  Then, I would supplement with the more interesting suits as needed for future interviews.  I also like this purple (burgundy?) pantsuit.  Need both pieces for under-$100?  Try this skirt suit.

Tahari makes several sub-brands that fall into your price point.  I like this pinstriped charcoal-grey Tahari skirt suit.  This leather trimmed tweed suit is also a good choice.  And if you’re looking for a basic black pantsuit, try this one.  The fabric is not the best quality, but it they are solid suits, though you absolutely.will.need to have them tailored to make them look their best.

Ann Taylor.  Basic suits at good prices can be had during one of Ann Taylor’s regular sales.  The store also carries petite and tall sizes.  So if you need a solid-color, conservative suit in a flash, try Ann Taylor first.

Sale Brands.  There are several suit brands that I would also look for when they are on sale.  One is Classiques Entier from Nordstrom (they also have lovely dresses, like this v-neck ponte dress.)  Another is Nanette Lepore.  Marc Jacobs also makes nice suit.  Kay Unger is another brand to watch, but make sure that you select a suit made for day and not one of the many suits she makes for evening–no shine, no sequins.  And I’m always on the hunt for discounter Rebecca Taylor suits and jackets.

Also, don’t miss J.Crew when the sales start.  I own a handful of J.Crew suits and while the quality isn’t as good as it once was, it’s still a good suit for the money when it is on sale.  They also sell suits through their Factory outlet store.

Lastly, consignment stores, second-hand stores and the like for good suiting at reasonable prices.  Many women buy a nice suit for job interviews and don’t keep it after, so you can find really nice suits at a discount if you don’t mind them being lightly worn.  And I am a long time advocate of eBay for suiting, I’ve purchased most of my business suits on eBay, because it allows me to buy better quality suits for less.  Just try the brands on in the store, so you have an idea of sizing, and then make the rounds looking for the designers you like.

If you have suggestions for suiting, please leave them in the comments.  I’d especially appreciate any comments from petite, plus-size or tall women about where to shop.

P.S. If you love suits, I fell hard for this white Albert Nipon suit with an obi belt.  Great for summer.

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  1. Alison says:

    Is a suit with a short sleeved jacket ever appropriate? (read: should I get rid of the one that I have because it is out of style/never was in style?)

    • Amanda says:

      ooooh I second this question… I have jacket that is a mini short sleeve/shoulder cap. It’s flattering and I love wearing it in the summer. (meaning the 1-2 off site events I go to requiring it) I really hope I don’t need to get rid of it haha

    • Anon says:

      Alison, I know I’m not Belle, but I confess I do think they’re a bit dated. More than that, I’ve always been flummoxed by their purpose. If you need to wear a suit, then it’s a formal situation where short sleeves wouldn’t be appropriate; if short sleeves are appropriate, it’s a less formal occasion where a suit wouldn’t be required.

      I’ve really gotten a lot of wear out of short sleeve cardigans in the summer when working at less formal places. Perfect for staving off overactive AC.

    • GoGoGo says:

      I’m no expert, but I do think there’s such a thing as a “casual suit” day. It may sound like an oxymoron, but there are totally days here in DC when a short-sleeved suit, or a suit with funky jewelry and casual hair, seems like a good choice. (Not to mention weather-appropriate.)

      A casual suit might be good when you’re running an event or briefing, but it’s a pretty informal one for the attendees and you want to look relaxed and not effortful. It’s like, I’m in charge here, but it’s no big deal because I’m in charge a lot and this is just my Wednesday suit.

      I’m with Amanda in hoping the consensus is that short-sleeved suits are still cool. I wear my three-quarter sleeved one a lot in DC.

    • Stephanie says:

      I agree that they’re dated. But my boss wears them (e.g., short sleeve lime green linen), along with tons of funky colored or metallic skirt suits, and looks great somehow.

    • Belle says:

      I owned once. It worked, but I think it was the exception, not the rule. A lot of short sleeve suits are silly looking, but sometimes, there’s a good one. I think the differentiation comes–for me, at least–when the suit is a good fitted basic with short sleeves, as opposed to a linen suit with short sleeves and zebra printed belt, or something.

  2. A.C. says:

    You would be surprised at the high-quality suits you can find at thrift stores. My boyfriend recently found a Calvin Klein suit jacket and pant for $50 total! While the jacket does need to be taken in a bit, we were impressed at how well it fit him and in what great condition the pieces were in.

  3. DC Atty says:

    Theory is great for suiting separates, and if you join the Nordstrom VIP shopper’s club (called Nordstrom Fashion Rewards), you get free alterations. (I’m on the tall side so alterations are usually called for.)

  4. Anon says:

    Belle, Ann Taylor has recently changed their policies, and most suiting is now excluded from their sales. Some of their special “fashion” suits will go on sale, but their mainline traditional workhorse suits rarely do these days. Irritating, since the quality isn’t worth the full price they’re asking.

    Angie, don’t overlook places like TJ Maxx in affluent, corporate-y locations. I get beautiful designer clothes for work at a TJ Maxx near me in the business district. I also recommend Benetton if you can find a location near you that sells suiting. I paid about $250 each for suits from there this fall and I really like them.

    • neurosciency says:

      oh no, that’s really sad about ann taylor suits being excluded from sales. i just bought one of their suits last year (at 40% off) so i guess i’m glad i did (i don’t think i could afford their suits at full-price…not for a while, anyways!)

    • Katie says:

      I’m sad about this news too! Both of my suits are Ann Tayior and were purchased on a 40% off sale. Their petite suits are the only suits that fit me passably off the rack.

    • Belle says:

      That totally sucks. Why should a brand give working women a break? That stinks.

  5. M says:

    I’m petite (5’1″ on a tall day) and I’ve had good luck with Lord and Taylor for Anne Klein suits. They’re fairly basic, but you can get some great discounts at their annual sale. I have an especially hard time finding pant suits that don’t make me look like I’m playing dress up, but I did snag one Anne Klein 4P that I can wear with 3″ heels without having to take up the hem.

  6. strin012 says:

    I have had good luck funding Tahari and Calvin Klein suits at places like Ross and Marshall’s. The Calvin Klein suits are usually between $40-$60, which leaves plenty of room in the budget for tailoring, shoes, and jewelry.

    Ross can be frustrating, but give yourself time to go and flip through the racks in your size(s).

  7. Mary Beth says:

    Angie — Welcome to Chicago! I too just moved here because of my husband’s job, and it’s been an adjustment period. It’s also freezing cold much sooner than I anticipated.

    I’m in the government (not corporate) world but on this side of things I’ve found that things are a bit plainer than in DC. I’d recommend black and navy, or maybe black and grey so you can wear the same heels with both suits!

  8. H says:

    Talbots is great for mid-price conservative suits, esp for specialty sizes. They make tall sizes, plus sizes, and plus size petite sizes.

  9. Anon says:

    Calvin Klein has to be the most user-hostile site I have come across in a long time. I cannot find those items even if I search by name. The links just get directed to the front page, from which there is no rational connection to any definable type of clothing *suits/blouses/dresses etc). And I tried changing the country pocatin, but still no joy …..

  10. Heather says:

    I can always find the highest tahari brand (Elie Tahari) on ebay, cheap. I got a three piece grey all season wool blend last year for about $100.

  11. Jenn says:

    I’m tall (5’10”) and curvier on the bottom than top, and all my suits are Banana Republic lightweight wool. Choice is super limited but I need tall pants and a tall jacket in different sizes. I get them for around or under $250 a suit on sale. I love love love Tahari and sub-Tahari sheath dresses and separates, but the suit jackets usually don’t work on a tall frame.

  12. Linda says:

    I’m a tall girl (5’9″ with a 35″ inseam) – its hard to find suits at a good price. I find that Theory and Tahari both are long enough in the inseam and the arm length. For a more reasonable price, Banana Republic pants are too short with heels, but I can do their skirt suits since the jacket sleeves are always extra long.

  13. A says:

    I have an acquaintance who used to be a staffer in a congressional office. Her boss’ district office was based in a small city in the Midwest. She told me she used to get the best deals on dressier clothing at places like LOFT. Her thought was that people in that particular city just don’t dress up as much as we do in DC so that kind of stuff went on sale more frequently and there were more options left. It might be something to think about for anyone who travel to smaller cities for work or to see family!

  14. Sara says:

    I’m petite, and got my suit at J. Crew. You’re right – the quality isn’t as good as I’d want it to be, but as a 24-year-old, this was an affordable option when I got it at a random 25% off suiting sale.

  15. s-p-c says:

    Agreed – especially at consignment stores. I found my favorite suits (a navy J. Crew skirt suit and a grey Ann Taylor skirt suit – both 100% wool, and higher-quality than the current lines) at Current Boutique in Old Town – even if I hadn’t had store credit that meant that I picked them up for practically nothing, each piece was priced at well under $100.

  16. Melissa says:

    I’d go with one solid suit – in black, with a sheath rather than a skirt – in a good brand like T Tahari or Theory. Then you’ve got the sheath for wearing out, pairing with a cardigan for a more casual work look. Then add some flair jackets – try White House Black Market, Ann Taylor, or occasionally Talbots. Budget in tailoring. Add a pair of black trousers and then once you get the job you can expand. I’ve been very disappointed in my J Crew suit – blazer is great for casual wear but the suit doesn’t hang well and the fabric is thin and wrinkles. I have two Talbots jackets that I got post-xmas sale last year that are staples, and a few Elie Tahari jackets I scammed off of eBay and their outlet store. I have a few other colored suits that I rarely wear but keep around to rotate in. My favorite is a light grey pantsuit from Ann Taylor. I pay to get everything tailored – pant pockets sewn up, waists taken in, jackets taken in at the back seams, sleeves let out, pant legs shortened slightly… thus my clothes look more expensive than they are. I have a Calvin Klein charcoal grey suit that cost me $70 at Macy’s two years ago but because of the tailoring, it looks fab year round. Accessories and key blouses that you love are important once you start working. I went from a SAHM to working full-time in less than a month, so I had to ramp up quickly. GL!

    • Belle says:

      See, I have to disagree here. I’m not crazy about dress suits. Just because you can change the blouse and wear the same suit twice in one week, can’t do that with a dress.

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