AdviceStyle + Ask The Edit

Ask Belle: Matching Suit Sets

Dear Belle,

Last week, you posted a dotted suit from JCPenney.  I really liked it, but one of my early career mentors told me never to buy a suit from Kasper or Le Suit.  Aren’t matching suits, the kind not sold as separates like at Banana Republic or The Limited, really dated? I’d love another opinion.

Thank you for reading my e-mail, hope I get a response! Alyssa

Suits like the kind you describe can be purchased at any mall in America.  From Macy’s to Marshall’s, these types of suits are hanging on the racks.  And the best part?  It’s a great way to find an under-$200 suit, and sometimes and under-$100 suit.  But your question about them being dated is a good one, because no one wants to show up to work dressed like an old lady headed to church.

Perhaps the best way to explain which suit sets are stylish, and which ones should go straight into the sale bin, is with some dos and don’ts.

Don’t buy a suit with sequins, decorative buttons, or a bow belt.  Don’t buy a suit in a fabric that is even the least bit shiny or could pass for evening fabric.  Don’t buy suits with jackets that are a different color than the pants/skirt.  Don’t buy suits that have short-sleeve jackets.  Don’t forget that you’re not Elle Woods.

There’s also one item that is more of a personal preference than a don’t:  Suits with dresses instead of separates.  I usually don’t like them, but this Jones New York suit is nice.

And, I can’t believe I am about to say this, but this Kasper studded jacket and dress.  They have a Rebecca Taylor look to them.  I would not wear them together, but separately, a dream.  Both pieces under-$100?  Put them in my closet, right now.

Do look for suits with modern cuts, like this black one from Tahari ASL.  If you decide to go with a classic style, do choose something simple and elegant like this white Le Suit ensemble or this pinstriped suit.  Do choose a fabric that has a good feel to it and looks more expensive than it is.

The most important do of all: Do tailor your suit.  If you’re going to buy less-expensive suits, you need to spend the money having them tailored.  If they don’t fit you, they will absolutely look like you borrowed your mommy’s clothes.  But if they fit you like a glove, you’ll timeless and chic.



  1. Michelle says:

    I don’t understand this question. Why would buying matching pieces sold together be any different from buying matching pieces that happen to be separately?

    July 16, 2014/Reply
    • Michelle says:

      *Sold separately

      July 16, 2014/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I many cases they’re not. However, you don’t often see suits for sale at BR, J.Crew, etc. that are meant to be worn without a blouse underneath. Those were more the type that I was referring to, because I thought that was what the reader was asking about. The kind of matchy suits you see Palin or Clinton in for example.

      July 16, 2014/Reply
    • Julia S says:

      It’s the cut of the suits and the fabric – they’re really cheap. Plus when you buy a matched suit, you’re stuck with often the wrong size. For example, I take a 4 in a jacket because I have long arms, but a 2 in a skirt except BR because they’re too tight. Still, I always get my jackets and skirts tailored. It makes them much more comfortable and attractive.

      I’m not happy with BR suits lately though – jackets are great, skirts and dresses not so much. I’ve had a lot of luck with AT and WHBM, and for pricier, I like Elie Tahari. Occasionally, I’ll find a good jacket at Talbots but that’s rare.

      July 16, 2014/Reply
  2. Kate M says:

    Just bought one of the suggested suits…Thanks Belle! Anyone have a suggestion for a good tailor in the Bethesda/Silver Spring area?

    July 16, 2014/Reply
  3. J says:

    RE: the dress suit comment – I usually just always wear a generic solid colored sheath dress with a suit jacket over it. Is that not okay? Maybe i’m just confused by the OP’s questions – why wouldn’t you want to wear a top and bottom that go together? You can put any variety of blouse underneath it to make it look less matchy.

    July 16, 2014/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I think that’s fine. I do that too. My issue with dress suits is when they are made of the same fabric, same color, so you end up looking like a column of crepe fabric. They’re just not my favorite, there’s nothing wrong with them though. That’s why I said it was iffy.

      July 16, 2014/Reply
  4. Beth says:

    I think the reader means suits where the top and bottom COME together – as in, they are not sold as separates. Akin to what’s all over the racks at department stores, vs. specialty stores. I’m glad for this question and answer – I love the prices on these combo suits, but worry about looking too old.

    July 16, 2014/Reply
  5. Liz says:

    Biggest DO of all for me: when you take your suit tailored (always a must), also get the buttons replaced!

    I’ve been known to cull the racks at TJ Maxx, and many of those suits have buttons that look cheap to me, by replacing the buttons with something more polished I feel like it really elevates the suit.

    July 16, 2014/Reply
    • Belle says:

      Excellent tip. Cheap, plastic buttons are a total giveaway.

      July 16, 2014/Reply
    • Jenna Dillier says:

      Where, oh where, can you find good buttons? Online? I’ve checked Michael’s and Joanne’s and they’re a no go. I’m a good sewer and can replace them myself but not sure what to look for online.

      July 16, 2014/Reply
      • Kate says: is one place to look.

        July 17, 2014/Reply
      • tnm says:

        if you’re in the DC area, check out G Street Fabrics. Mood, maybe Amazon.

        July 20, 2014/Reply
  6. June says:

    I think this is some really solid advice, Belle- especially the tailoring bit. I’ve realized that no perfect suit fit exists, but that’s because, much like men’s suiting, women should also have their suits tailored. Who knew why this took me so long to figure out!

    July 16, 2014/Reply
  7. GingerR says:

    I think it depends on where you work. If you need to wear a suit every day why not have one in a seasonal color or with a little decorative jacket detail? The Kasper suits that I’ve had were nice, with a lined jacket and skirt. I think that helps the skirt look good and last longer.

    If they come with a blouse/cami I don’t wear it with the suit, I think that is too matchy. I have plenty of nice blouses, no need to wear a cheap poly blouse just because it came with the outfit.

    If you only need to wear a suit now and then classic separates are better. If you need to wear a suit every day why not have a little variety?

    I do think if you buy suits that are more stylish, which is what brands like Kasper often offer, that you need to be sure you retire them when it’s time.

    July 16, 2014/Reply
  8. Nicole says:

    I definitely think it is all about the particular suit, fabric, cut, buttons, etc. I have tried on an insane number of suits, and most have stayed at the store. Either I hated the jacket and loved the pants, or hated the pants and loved the jacket, or loved the jacket and hated the skirt. To me it is all about trying things on and being very selective when it comes to an already paired suit. Definitely important to remember the miracle of tailoring, but if it really doesn’t work, just put it back! I think a really great suit, which is already paired for you, is rare, just because they are trying to make something a sort of “one style fits all” when we know that just isn’t going to work in most cases.
    I do still think it is worth a trip around the department store, because every once in a while you will find something really great, at a great price.

    July 16, 2014/Reply
  9. Dee says:

    I think it is more difficult to get a good fit with the suits sold as a set. I am hourglass shape and when the jacket fits the matching skirts or pants are very often too large.

    As it happens though, I purchased the white Le Suit shown. I loved the color and shape as seen online and the price made it irresistible. But when it arrived,I found that the fabric was indeed shiny and suggested evening. I was sorry to return it.

    July 16, 2014/Reply